Preserve the green section? Image from MJC.
Preserve the green section? Image from MJC.

The continually outside-of-the-box hugeasscity blog posits an interesting thought: After all the hard work to ensure the remove of the heinous waterfront Alaskan Way Viaduct, perhaps a piece of it should linger. For history. For a park. For a big, beautiful sculpture. For a multi-story illustration of the welcome change to our waterfront:

[…] Buster Simpson, a public artist, and Jack Mackie, an architect, have proposed saving some columns and partial beams as an “urban ruin”. I would take this further and suggest preserving a section large enough to function as an elevated open space and viewing platform (think the NYC High Line, see below). Certainly tearing down the Viaduct has the potential to create an amazing waterfront public space, but the opportunities for increasing open views of the Sound and the mountains beyond are limited by the numerous privately held properties lining the waterfront. Having more elevated viewing opportunities may help address this fact. Victor Steinbrueck Park, and a couple spots in the Market, are among the few elevated public areas where people can take in views of the Sound.

It goes to a core question: Should a city reinvent its existence as the arc of time progresses? I say no, hold on to the history we have. When the World’s Fair ended, we kept our Space Needle and our Monorail. As our city expanded, we kept our Discovery Park and our Arboretum. Many fought to keep the essence of Pike-Pine alive. A nod to the past is perhaps the most pleasurable part of living in a real city, and one that the new generation urban enthusiasts hasn’t began to fully appreciate. We may learn that newness becomes devoid of impact without the old.

Is some part of this decrepit highway worth preserving and fashioning into our urban framework? Absolutely.

32 Replies to “Saving a Piece of Ugly Something for Something Beautiful”

  1. Reminds me of the Lovejoy Columns in the Pearl District at 10th and Flanders, graffiti’d bits of the old viaduct that connected NW Industrial to the Broadway bridge.

    1. Wow, that’s a great document! There are a lot of ideas in there that, if carried out, would make Pioneer Square a fantastic, dynamic neighborhood.

    1. The park levy has money. Think about it this way. They are spending over 3 billion dollars, I’m sure they can find a few million to do a project like this.

  2. Again, it’s going to be up to me to say the king isn’t wearing any clothes: This is a dumb idea. It’s an ugly, utilitarian structure. If people in the future want to see what it used to look like, they Google Image it.

    1. I would have to agree with Sam. The viaduct is an ugly eyesore. There are more effective ways of appreciating historical moments. Some things are best left behind in the trash bins of history!

      1. I absolutely love this idea and have had it at the back of my mind since its closure was announced. I really hope it continues to gain traction.

        For all of those who say its ugly, I would say that has a lot to do with its current connotations of hauling noisy, smelly cars all day along our waterfront. If a section of it were left, with broken pieces on either side, ivy covering many of the pillars, and a big open platform in the sky to walk out and view the sound and the city from above it would be perhaps the most ambitious and creative urban open space in the country. It would be like Cascadia’s Roman Viaduct.

        Isn’t there some kind of 1% art fee for projects like this? That would be like $20 – 30 million right there. Throw in some of the parks money and I’m sure you could keep a portion of this thing standing.

      2. It’s definitely ugly, no doubt about it. But it’s our history, and our history can be ugly, but we still should preserve a little bit of it.

  3. I’m with Sam on this one. It’s a freeway. It has no architectural significance. Tear it down and don’t look back for a second.

    1. Not all freeways are architecturally insignificant. If they can find a way to do it right, then go for it!

  4. When, in 2060, highways and suburban sprawl are cool again, and Seattle Highway Blog spends its time whining about how those idiots in 2010 tore down all those beautiful highways from the 1950s, a viaduct remnant will be a useful rallying point, just as a decaying train station is for us today.


  5. I think it would be better to design something more beautiful that would refer to the best parts about the viaduct (the elevated view), but not an actual chunk of it. It’s not just the noisy, smelly cars… it’s really quite a brutal thing with little design to it. But an elevated viewing platform might have some merit, if carefully designed and located.

  6. Sounds like a tremendous idea!

    1) Counts as public art
    2) Saves the project the 1% or 2% they would have to spend on public art otherwise
    3) Saves on dump/concrete recycling fees as well as exhaust fumes from the dump trucks that would haul it away
    4) Is green

  7. The viaduct is absolutely hideous, the worst blight on the beautiful city of Seattle. There is nothing about it that is worth saving, not even a small piece of it. The sooner it is gone, the better.

    1. I agree that it is the worst eyesore and blight on the city. So why would it be any different as “art”? Would anyone seriously consider saving the [also hideous] sinking garage because it’s now getting to be historic age? How I’d love to have that one torn down and replaced by a replica (of sorts) of the old Hotel Seattle. When I think of the beautiful buildings razed over the years, before we knew better, I hate to think of leaving even a trace of that monstrosity of a viaduct. Thanks for letting me rant…

  8. I like the idea, it will remind me and countless others of all the beautiful views we enjoyed driving on it. It is an important part of seattle history. I suggest saving the part by the ferry terminal since there is already the ferry/ped. walkaway right under the viaduct that could be connected to the driving decks and maybe to the Seneca off ramp as well.

  9. Here’s a pretty excellent example of how to remake an abandoned viaduct into something excellent. Ours would have better views, too.

    1. surprised it took so long for someone to mention the highline…

      which, btw, is an ex-elevated rail that no longer looks like an elevated rail (for the most part)

    2. this could be a lot like the highline project, except better in a variety of ways.

      i think the key to this working would be the ability to walk up onto the elevated section.

  10. I’m sure I’m not the only person who reads this blog who has seen e2 Transport’s segment on the Cheonggyecheon Freeway in Seoul. They left part of the highway supports as a lesson to future generations. It may not be beautiful, but it seems like a good idea for people to remember past mistakes. There’s a picture of that site about halfway down this page:

  11. Eff keeping it up… Its ugly and blocks an otherwise awesome view… hence the motivation for tearing it down in the first place. You dont pick up your dog’s pile of crap, but leave 1 little turd to remind yourself of what he left you…

    But I do agree we should remember the history of the viaduct, so we should do what San Fran did in ferry plaza: Put markers on the ground that show the old foundation of the viaduct, and displays with old pictures of the old waterfront at a waterfront park.

    1. I’m with Matt on this one. There are plenty of places to get a view of the waterfront; the Space Needle comes to mind. This entire structure is a danger in an earthquake. Either retrofit it and keep it as a highway or tear it down. Some things are better remembered in pictures.

      1. the space needle isn’t exactly the most publicly accessible place. it is 16 bucks just to go up.

      2. There was a promo over the winter where you could buy an individual plus guest pass for for under $30. Myself, a friend, my girlfriend and one of her co-workers all bought passes. Makes it easy to decide on something to do for out-of-town guests!

        Actually, they’re $49.99 right now. If I remember correctly, the normal price was over $100:

  12. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the reason it’s coming down is so that it doesn’t fall down, as it otherwise inevitably will. Building an elevated platform on that substrata would be no small task.

    Take a good look at the Alaska Building. Then walk over and look at the viaduct. Do you see any point of resemblance between these two structures? If you do, please e-mail me immediately, as I am seriously looking for some good LSD.

    And excuse me for pointing this out, but Seattle has no shortage of good viewing places that are elevated, and in themselves historical, attractive, often both. Try Highland Park, the Watertank at Volunteer Park, or Manning’s third floor at the Market. If the view from the sidewalk at the waterfront isn’t good enough for you, take a ferry ride- Winslow and return only takes a little over an hour and costs a few bucks. Breath salt air.

    As for a historical memory of a bygone age, the Aurora Bridge, with all its grandeur and maintenance expenses, ought to be enough for anyone.

    This idea is an example of clever ‘radical art’ theory that sinks like a stone. I’ve actually tried keeping art pieces in the yard that are clever, ironic, or really beautiful when viewed in random number theory, and, strange to say, nobody is impressed. I guess they don’t have enough education to appreciate a slab of concrete as an ironic comment on life and love the simplicity of expression.

    What would be ironic and artistic would be to simply let it fall down, and become another in the Washington State DOT list of bridges that failed or sank. It sure would be historic then!

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