Posts Tagged 'water features'

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


Aqua urbana – Part I

Note: This ended up being in three parts. Part II is here and Part III is here.

There are a number of ways to be near water in Seattle. Until this week it was starting to seem that all you had to do was walk outside and let it fall on you. But even when the rainclouds mosey on over the mountains and the sun comes out again, there is still plenty of water about. Lakes and waterways abound, and last time I looked (which was at lunch) the Puget Sound was out there, a vast inland saltwater sea that those with wide anthropological perspective and those given to causing trouble call the Salish Sea.

Water actually gets in our way and, when bridges fail, it imperils our collective bustling around from here to there. And our bridges do fail — the floating ones float away and sink in storms (Hood Canal, 1979; Lacey V. Murrow, 1990), the high and gracefully arched ones fall into the deep channels that separate the twisting islands and peninsulae of the Sound (Tacoma Narrows, a.k.a. “Galloping Gertie”, 1940) and the drawbridges get stuck open when ships crash into them (Spokane Street Bridge No. 1, 1978, and what a sorry tale THAT turned out to be).

Hey, we’re a port city. Water water everywhere, sure. But there’s a different water experience that some of us seek out, and that’s the babble, chortle and roar of water splashing around in fountains and other man-made cascades solely for our serenity and refreshment. Water not on its way somewhere, water just circling.

I’ve been collecting these “water features” around town in recent weeks in order to present them to you here. I don’t often go and sit by them for long periods, simply because my impulse in the middle of the day is to get my blood circulating. If I had more time I would.

Nevertheless, here are several places downtown where you can go and be near water in feckless, frolicking motion. The list is not exhaustive, I’m sure, but it’s big enough that I’ve had to break it into two parts (I set out thinking I’d find nine or ten, but I’m up to fifteen already) and includes one fountain that’s been dry since the last millennium. Let me know of other ones you’ve discovered! First off, we’ll explore places west of Third Avenue toward the bay, then later we’ll range further up the old slope.

First and Union

West of here, Union Avenue is a series of stairways.

We’ll start at the point where Union Street ends abruptly in the driveway of the new Four Seasons Hotel. I see from satellite imagery that the hotel has a pool on the roof for paying guests, but for working stiffs like you and me shuffling around at street level, this little bench fountain will have to do. I’ve walked by this installation a million times and even probably sat on it, but I didn’t realize that water was trickling over the back side of it until I was out with my camera specifically looking for water trickling over the back sides of things. The view directly across this man’s pad thai from him is really a nice one. The ferries from Winslow and Bremerton shuttle in and away again as your eye muscles practice looking into unobstructed distance.

Sound quality: Almost imperceptible
Best time to go:
Morning, when the sun is on the Olympic Mountains and the bay is really blue.

First and University

There are fountains all the way down the Harbor Steps.

You can sit right on the water jets if you've a mind to.

University Street used to “go right through”, to repeat Woody’s phrase from three posts ago, from the waterfront up to Capitol Hill. In the late 1990s the old buildings on both sides of University between First and Western avenues — buildings which I assume were derelict — were razed to make way for Stimson Bullitt’s pet project, the Harbor Steps development (if you sniff around, you can find some stone arches from one of the original buildings’ facade that have been preserved). I can’t imagine the political power one would have had to wield to get a street closed off but the prince of the King Broadcasting dynasty had just that kind of clout. Well, what’s one less steep hill to drive up in Seattle; we’ve got loads of ’em. What we got in exchange, besides four mixed-use towers of apartments and ground-level retail, is a long and wide set of public stairs with fountains at several levels and space midway up for musical performers to play for a populace that loves to sit outside whenever it isn’t raining.

Sound quality: Varied and soothing
Best time to go:
Fridays in summer, when there’s free music.

Second and University

A cool sound on a hot corner. One of the fountains in the Benaroya's Garden of Remembrance.

Further up University, on Second, Benaroya Hall reposes like…like…well, it’s there if you care to go see it. It’s a nice symphony hall, built as a structure within a structure, the first sitting on giant springs inside the second to keep the building from shaking the horn section offstage when trains pass through the downtown tunnel in the bedrock directly beneath the hall. The Garden of Remembrance at the Benaroya’s southwest corner honors our war dead, the names of fallen local veterans carved in the thousands in giant blocks of what I believe is basalt. Next to these monuments, water cascades over rough walls of the same stone. It gets hot on this corner if the sun’s out, so this one is ideal for springtime.

Sound quality: Soothing
Good, but you will be in the way of people making a beeline for the bus tunnel
Best time to go:
Springtime, or mornings in summertime

The courtyard at the old bank.

Nextdoor to the Benaroya in the lower courtyard of the WaMu/Chase Tower, water just pours out of tubes into a pool as from any old gutter spout, but the environs, which I’ve written about before, are very pleasant.

Sound quality: A little “ploppy”, but okay
Good, but smokers own this plaza
Best time to go:
Before or after WaMu becomes Chase

Third and Yesler

Duke remembers goldfish in the Prefontaine fountain.

I found no water here, but I encountered something even better so I’m including this old fountain. Heading south via Third Avenue we pause, as the gentleman named Duke pictured here has paused, at the corner of Third and Yesler. The site supposedly (and coincidentally, and even ironically) corresponds pretty well to the site of the first Seattle home of Monsignor François Xavier Préfontaine, who was a missionary in the city’s early days and who bequeathed the City $5,000 to be used for a fountain in a public square, although the City didn’t get around to building it until 1925, sixteen years after his death. I’ve never seen the fountain with water in it, and I think a lot of drug deals and other unsavory hookups take place here. Duke, who was born in Seattle and raised in Seattle and Tacoma, was on his way up the hill to the hospital when he stopped for a rest. He says the fountain hasn’t been turned on in about 15 years. He says it used to have goldfish in it and everything. According to Duke, “some fella got drunk and fell into it and drowned hisself, so they turned it off”. I told Duke I was born and raised across the water in Bellevue. “A whistle-stop,” Duke declared. “I remember when Bellevue wadn’t nothin’ but a whistle-stop.” When I asked if I could take his picture in front of the fountain, he said “sure, if you can get the fountain in it with me sitting right where I am.”

Sound quality: NA
Best time to go:

Second and Main

How do you hide a waterfall in the middle of a city? It's been here for more than thirty years.

Here’s one you may not ever have seen because it’s easy to miss. On the corner of Second and Main, just east of Occidental Square in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, is a bona fide waterfall. It’s inside a miniscule park surrounded by high walls on the site of the offices — now gone — of a little company once called American Messenger Service, which became United Parcel Service. Jim Casey, one of the founders of the company, also started the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the philanthropic outfit that commissioned Waterfall Park in 1977. Bring a sack lunch or some take-out and sit at the tables and chairs. This one is good during the heat of the day because of the cooling mist. And unless you see a jet fly over, there will be nothing to remind you that you are in the heart of one of the West Coast’s biggest metropolissesses.

Sound quality: Loud but soothing because the rocks fracture the sound into higher frequencies (my theory)
Excellent (tables with chairs always available)
Best time to go:
Whenever you can

Alaskan Way at Yesler

This is the best I can do with this location.

The real story.

I kept thinking, didn’t there used to be a fountain at the Ferry Terminal before they remodeled its entrance? I zimbered over there recently and found this vintage fountain which I’m almost sure is by native Seattlite George Tsutakawa. It looks a lot like another one that I know to be his creation that we’ll look at in Part II when we head for higher ground. My very unreliable (yet native!) memory tells me this fountain was originally at the bottom of a long, silly ramp that led up into the fairy terminal, apparently before elevators and escalators. In fact, I’m sure it was there, which means that two of Tsutakawa’s fountains that I know about are in locations other than where they started out. This one’s been reinstalled a good scoot to the south, right next to where all the cars pour into the ferry ticket booth lines. Consequently, it’s hard to get photos of this fountain that really make it sing. I’ve posted two, one putting forward its best foot — even though its shape rather gets lost in the bushes — and another facing south to show you the proximity not only of the rush of island- and peninsula-bound traffic two feet beyond the fountain, but also of the industrial (Port of Seattle) neighborhood beginning a few doors south. And I didn’t even include the one with that damned Tyrannosaurus Viaductus in the background.

Sound quality: Soothing, almost drowns out the viaduct
Good (you can sit on the edge, benches a few yards away)
Best time to go:
Morning, I’d say, since it’s out in the open and there are no trees around. Avoid baking hot days and evening rush hour.

Alaskan Way at Union

A busy location through the spring and summer months. Here a henna net is cast for tourists.

Moving north along the waterfront we come to an installation given to the city by the daughter, and in memory, of Edward M. and Margaret J. Harrington. A plaque there notes that they “loved this city”. The fountain, which stands in the Waterfront Park next to the Aquarium, was started by sculptor James Fitzgerald and finished in 1974 by his wife Margaret Tomkins after he died. I prefer fountains that are not so square and industrial-looking, but you can sit next to this fountain and go completely deaf to the racket of the Alaskan Way Viaduct across the street. You can also get henna tattoos by KK. Paul Dorpat has written about the people behind (figuratively) this fountain here:

Sound quality: Deafeningly loud.
Okay. The low narrow curb is not comfortable, but there are benches nearby.
Best time to go:
If you like bumping elbows with tourists, go anytime in summer.

Alaskan Way at Broad Street

"Father and Son" above father and mother and daughters.

We finish at the waterfront’s northern end, below this gentleman’s…er…southern end. You saw this fountain a week or so ago when I was gushing thankfulness that the sun had come out. Here I and my nuke are enjoying an after dinner walk with friends. The trick about Louise Bourgeois’ “Father and Son”, the sculpture that stands literally in the midst of this fountain at the southern end of Olympic Sculpture Park, is that the water jets change pattern every so often, so that either the son is visible and the father is hidden by water, or vice versa, or they are both visible. (It’s about the difficulties in intrafamilial male relationships and what I would call “unavailability”). I don’t know what the interval is, but I think I once heard that it’s on the hour, and that makes sense, but guess what: for all the times I’ve walked past this fountain, and stood next to it, and stared at it while we ate at the Old Spaghetti Factory across the street, I’ve never seen it change. It always just suddenly is changed the next time I look up. It happened last week. I walked by it at lunch when the boy was visible, turned around a hundred yards later, and came back to find the man visible. I looked at my timepiece (okay, phone) and saw that a clock hour had ended during that few minutes.

Sound quality: Loud but not obnoxious.
Best time to go:
Any time you can spare 61 minutes in a row.


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt