Ruth and I go to Seattle often and have visited all of its attractions except for one that opened in 2007. For some inexplicable reason I didn’t think it sounded like something I wanted to see. I was wrong. The Olympic Sculpture Park is not only excellent, it’s 2 attractions with only one drawback.
In the first decade of the 21st century, Seattle had a single undeveloped waterfront property downtown. A former fuel storage and transfer facility that had contaminated both groundwater and soil doesn’t sound like a viable candidate for a park, but that’s what happened to the site.
The Seattle Art Museum partnered with the Trust for Public Land to return a despoiled area to a functioning, usable green space with plenty of red chairs along zigzag paths that connect diverse landscapes containing more than 20 sculptures.
Promoted as Seattle’s largest downtown green space, Olympic Sculpture Park attracts runners, dog walkers, folks using cell phones on breaks or lunch hours, etc. Most of them aren’t paying attention to the sculptures. That would be the tourists who enter via Paccar Pavillion at the corner of Broad Street and Western Avenue. OSP opens every day of the year 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes after sunset. Unlike its parent, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), OSP is free.
The sculptures SAM has installed, like Richard Serra’s “Wake” and Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle”, are mostly large and, so far, contemporary. The oldest one dates from 1965 and the newest from 2011. You will surely find one to really like. For me that would be Louise Bourgeois’ “Father and Son”. Across the Mimi Gardner Bridge, which spans tracks used by freight trains, and down many steps to Alaskan Way and Pier 70 is a fountain in which a man and a boy, arms outstretched to each other, are alternately covered by upthrust jets of water that keep them separated.
Park planners might reach their green space, native plant goals, but they probably won’t be able to do much about the traffic and train noise, the harbor water that, when you’re near it, smells of industrial effusion, the less-than-pristine urban air, etc. Nevertheless, I applaud their effort to create both a park and an art venue right in the heart of a busy port city.