Aqua urbana – Part II

Note: This is the second part of a tour in three parts. Part I is here and Part III is here.

I hope you’re rested up, because our survey of the fountains and cascades and other water features in the downtown area continues. I keep finding more, and it has also occurred to me that there are plenty of indoor fountains and dribblers as well (though for the life of me I can’t think of a single one at the moment). So I’m going to make this a three-parter and I’ve decided to limit this tour — all three parts of it — to outside installations in the area bounded on the east by the freeway (sort of, as you’ll eventually see), on the west by the waterfront (obviously), on the south by Main Street in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, and on the north by about Pine or Stewart or so, even though I already included an installation as far north as Broad Street in Part I, and even though I have a bonus fountain outside the prescribed area for those of you who make it to the end.

Well, let’s get started. This time we’ll explore the area south of Seneca Street and east of Fourth Avenue. Everyone got their walking shoes on?

Fourth and Cherry

It takes a pretty sunny day to get this river flowing. Alas, not today.

Double dog dare. Wo, time to find Eddie Shoe Shine.

City Hall, bounded by James and Cherry streets and Fourth and Fifth avenues, represents the first of two places on this list that I’ve been kicked out of. (Because, grasshopper, I had a camera and that’s what happens when fear and power meet in the same hand.) The current City Hall replaced the one built in 1962, the year I was born. That one had a fountain, too, up t’ Fifth Avenue side, but it seems that that mod building was no longer much beloved at the turn of the century, so in 2003 it was eliminated — fountain and all — and a new City Hall was built. The new one has two fountains, both very impressive when they’re running. They weren’t running the day I walked over there, but on sunny warm days (har!) jets of water squirt three or four feet straight up out of holes in the pavement to delight kids and other visitors who might care to stroll or gambol among them. And a wee brook tumbles down its own narrow set of stairs parallel to the people stairs that ascend to the main entrance.  Rating this one will be problematic: sitting on the City Hall stairs would allow you to hear this cascade but not see it, and you’d look like a troublemaker, a sit-in-er. But there are benches near the squirty holes.

Sound quality: If memory serves, both waterfall and squirty holes are auditory winners. Plus, the sounds of children playing in water are always a delight to this reviewer.
Good by the squirty holes, ungood by the stair cascade
Best time to go:
When the forecast calls for sun most of the day

Fifth and Cherry

Not as lonely as it looks: the stressed out City employees are enjoying a smoke-break in a corner to the left.

This little sparrow (?) came for a municipal dip.

Directly behind City Hall is the Municipal Court, which has a square pool in one corner that in theory spills over a low edge at the sidewalk. When I was there two days in a row it didn’t seem to be quite full so it wasn’t spilling over. And there is no “fount” per se; like many water features these days it was bubbling like a cauldron, filled from below the surface like a jacuzzi. Consequently there wasn’t that sheeny sound, just this glurping and glopping.

Sound quality: A sinister bubbling sound, like trouble brewing
Very good if you ignore the anti-skateboard cleats
Best time to go:
Just before you go in to pay your parking ticket

Fifth and Madison

It cascades and it rankles.

You’ll recall that I got hustled out of the courtyard in which the diminutive urban canal here tumbling over a double falls finds its headwaters. No problem, mister Man…I shot this from the PUBLIC SIDEWALK!!! Obviously it still rankles. All the cascading is here at the sidewalk. Up in the plaza it’s just a little canal you step over, so there isn’t really much of a sit-and-listen draw here. But they don’t really want us here anyway. Let’s move on.

Sound quality: As a momentary phenomenon that you walk past, it’s okay
Best time to go: When you have a hankering for scintillating conversation with a security guard

Fourth and Marion

The Fountain of Wisdom in its new setting.

I knew there was a fountain in front of the Seattle Public Library’s downtown location, but I hadn’t really regarded it, you know…looked at it with my focus. When I went round there with the old point-n-shoot, I had a funny feeling that this fountain with its ’60s curves and geometry had not been created new when the new library was built in the first decade of this century. It just doesn’t seem in keeping with the new structure at all. And indeed, a little peeping on the Internet reveals that this is the sculpture that George Tsutakawa created for the 1961 incarnation of the library. You can’t expect librarians to throw anything away. I’m glad they didn’t. It’s really the only decent fountain from Cherry to University from First up to Sixth, unless I’ve missed one. It’s called “Fountain of Wisdom”, and I’m sure it had a whole different feel when it was not towered over by its host. If memory serves it used to be located in a courtyard on the library block’s opposite corner, up at Fifth and Spring. I took several other photos showing it dwarfed by the angular facade of the library, but I chose this one that, to me, allows it to hold on to its dignity.

Sound quality: Soothing, slightly intellectual
Poor (one bench close by, usually occupied)
Best time to go:
Might as well return that overdue copy of The Searchers today

Sixth and Seneca

Treat yourself to walk on the edge, and rest here. The locals don't bite, but they smoke and they mumble.

If they had waited a year, they could have asked me and even as a mewling, puking infant I would have been able to convey to the Deciders that cutting our downtown in half with a freeway — as an idea — was doubleplusungood. But there are several silver linings on the cloud of I-5 through Seattle, and one of them is that it was deemed expedient to soften the blow of this indign swath by erecting a fountain at its edge, which is why we now have the Naramore fountain. In the last week I’ve gotten to know the handiwork of George Tsutakawa to say hello to (partly because Paul Dorpat has always preceded me to these places and written them up — as in his Now & Then article here). This is another one of George’s creations, and this time we get to see a GeoTsu fountain right where he put it. The Naramore fountain, named after the man who commissioned the work, has a number of what I might call petals at different heights and of various widths, and a broad runoff surface with another low edge, so the water’s sound is very expressive while not being deafening. Shape- and soundwise, it’s my favorite of the three Tsutakawa’s I’ve encountered. The downside is that it’s located in the curve of an off-ramp — by intention, sure, but you get the impression that GT’s fountains were appreciated more as workhorses in the service of softening the harsh edges of the cityscape than as foci of contemplation and reflection in themselves. Oh well, he made something like 70 fountains around here before passing away in 1997, so maybe someday I’ll come across an organic, multilevel fountain in the middle of some quiet park or garden and recognize it as a GT. As for this one, I’ve walked within a block of this fountain several, maybe many, times lately, and hadn’t even noticed it. It’s on the freeway side of the street, which means you’re not likely to be walking past it unless you’re going to visit it. Please do so now.

Sound quality: Exquisite
Sittability: Excellent; you can sit on the edge all the way around
Best time to go: Now


4 Responses to “Aqua urbana – Part II”

  1. 1 Louis June 30, 2011 at 03:07

    aaaah. Now I’ll put my feet up. Excellent walk, Matt, thank you. Looks like the sparrow wasn’t the only one dealing with a municipal dip. ( Leave it to security to suck some joy out of doing something so simple as taking pictures of fountains..and fountains that were built with the help of your tax dollars, I might add! Somebody needs to teach these thumb heads to exercise some discretion and integrity rather than just blindly going after someone because they have a camera. That can’t be good for tourism either…

    It’s nice to finally have a name to go with those fountains -George Tsutakawa. Looking at the fountain from the library, I know I have seen his work many times before – I think he’s done waterless sculptures as well. But I never knew who the artist was behind these creations. I’m ready for the third installment!! Your shoes look comfortable.

    • 2 Matt June 30, 2011 at 08:16

      I was sure that some fun could be had with the phrase “municipal dip”. Thank you for doing the legwork there, Lou. I have in my possession a printable PDF copy of a memo sent out to federal and contract security employees instructing them not to put their bootheels on the necks of people taking pictures of government buildings. I found it online shortly after receiving the bum’s rush in the plaza at Fifth and Madison, even though that is not a government property. I wanted to know what my rights were. The shoes, the shoes! Yes comfortable. Those are my legendary and once-resoled Rockports, the ones I wrote about in Puttin’ the Realness In ( I’m fixin’ to buy a second pair after four years.

  1. 1 Aqua urbana – Part III « Just Wondering Trackback on July 1, 2011 at 20:13
  2. 2 Aqua urbana – Part I « Just Wondering Trackback on December 1, 2011 at 10:50

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