Structure Type: built works _ industrial buildings - processing plant; landscapes - parks - urban parks

Designers: Haag, Richard, Associates, Incorporated, Site Planners, Landscape Architects (firm); Olson / Walker Architects (firm); Richard Haag (landscape architect); James W.P. Olson (architect); Gordon Kendall Walker (architect)

Dates: constructed 1971-1988

view all images ( of 3 shown)

2101 North Northlake Way
Wallingford, Seattle, WA 98103-9122

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map
Google Streetview (new tab)
click to view google map
Located on a promontory jutting into Lake Union, Gas Works Park is the largest section of publically-accessible land left on the lake; Lat: 47.64556 Lon: -122.33417

Overview

Gas Works Park was one of the most significant adaptive re-use projects to use a former industrial brownfield and turn it into a heavily used urban park. Landscape architect Richard Haag was a maverick and iconoclast, and few would have had the force of will to propel a project this outlandish through a city bureaucracy. It occurred in Seattle as a wave of environmentalism and historic preservationism reshaped the city during the late 1960s and 1970s. Opened in 1975, this remarkable oasis, located on a Lake Union peninsula, anticipated Latz + Partner's well-known Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord in Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany, another reclaimed industrial site turned into a park, by almost two decades.

Building History

During the early years of Euro-American settlement of the region, in the 1850s-1960s, lumbermen used the edges of Lake Union to locate sawmills; the shoreline location was perfect at the time, as it was close to supplies of trees and the lake to transport logs cheaply. This particular site, on the north side of Lake Union, had been used by the City of Seattle as a place to burn refuse from 1890-1905. While the shoreline had utilitarian advantages, some also saw its natural beauty; the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects, in their 1903 Seattle Park Plan, envisioned the dump as a 20-acre park. In the near term, however, utility won out. The Seattle Gas Light Company gradually purchased parcels on Lake Union near what was known as Brown's Point, between 1900-1905. (The utility saw this site as strategic because coal could be delivered via an adjacent railroad line, first developed by the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway in the mid-late-1880s.) The Seattle Gas Light Company was the largest private utility operating in Seattle at the time, and was later known as the "Seattle Lighting Company," (from c. 1906-1930) and, subsequently, as the "Seattle Gas Company" (from 1930-1956). Initially, the Seattle Lighting Company used the plant to convert coal to gas for use in lighting; the product later found use for heating, refrigeration and cooking purposes. Seattle Lighting maintained a coke oven at the plant to transform coal into its constituent parts, water, coal-gas, and coal-tar (as well as ash and carbon residue.) By 1937, this process was no longer commercially viable, and the coke oven and related coal-to-gas machinery were removed. Two oil-to-gas conversion mechanisms were installed in 1937, and two more ten years later. This Exhauster/Compressor Building was erected at this time to shelter the new oil-gas equipment. Additional machinery was also installed in 1946-1947 to produce charcoal briquets from residue produced during the oil-to-gas conversion process. This shed fell into disuse when the Seattle Gas Company closed the Brown's Point facility in 1956; in 1962, the utility sold the plant to the City of Seattle.

The City hoped to locate a park on the property, just as was envisioned by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm when it created its Seattle Parks Plan of 1903. Richard Haag first formulated his park design for the plant property in 1969. It took several years to convince local politicians, park administrators and the public to accept this unusual adaptive reuse proposal. Haag made his proposal at a time when enthusiasm for historic preservation was at its peak in Seattle; between 1970-1975, the Pioneer Square Historic District had been formed as was the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority during this period. Additionally, Seattle was in the midst of its "Forward Thrust" legislative initiatives, in which expanding the city's park system was a key element. The remains of Seattle's gas works (the first erected west of the Mississippi River) stand as the only American example of its kind, down from approximately 1,400 operating between 1900-1930.

Building Notes

This 20.5-acre site stands as one of the most innovative and celebrated urban parks designed during the 1970s. It reused polluted land occupied between 1905-1956 by the City of Seattle's Gas Works complex. The plant produced "illuminating gas" (vs. natural gas) with a changing group of core production structures (boilers, compressors, coke ovens and stroage tanks) and ancillary support buildings (including an office building, a blacksmith house, and electrical, welding, carpentry and machine shops). Landscape architect Richard Haag (b. 1923) retained the Boiler Building and Exhauster/Compressor Building for public use as well as some of the plant's machinery. Initially, Haag wanted more public interaction with the plant's obsolete mechanisms, but the Seattle Parks Department was antagonistic to it. As historian of landscape architecture Thaisa Way has indicated, the park stands as a very early example in which bio- and phyto-remediation techniques were employed to reclaim toxic sites into urban park land. Haag took pride that not one shovel full of soil had been removed from the site. He worked with scientists at the University of Washington to plan the groundbreaking natural remediation techniques. His site plan used diverse elevation changes (mounds, culverts, and slopes) to facilitate water's movement to assist in the remediation efforts. Charles Greening created a sun dial on a mound on the park's west side. Sally Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery in their "A Guide to Architecture in Washington State," (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980, p. 207) dated the park as from 1978, which is a bit too late to use as a starting date, too soon as a final completion date. The park opened to the public in 1975, according to the City of Seattle Parks and Recreation Department web site. (See "Gas Works Park,"Accessed 06/29/2011.) Construction of the park was not complete until 1988.

PCAD id: 3311