The Fussy Eye: Municipal Salvage

Gates reclaimed from the Opera House wreckage.

Home remodelers love to dig through vintage architectural details at RE Store and Second Use, but how often does the City of Seattle go rummaging through construction sites before the wrecking ball swings? Now almost forgotten since the 2003 opening of McCaw Hall, the building demolished on that Mercer Street parcel was the Seattle Opera House, constructed for the 1962 World's Fair using the shell of the old Civic Auditorium. Among the newfangled additions to the Opera House were a series of tall bronze gates by Spokane artist Harold Balazs. Were they melted down for scrap? Stolen? No—the city put them into storage, then recently cleaned off four decades of corrosion to reveal the original warm, mottled patina. Not only a metalsmith, the prolific 82-year-old Balazs is about to receive a major retrospective at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane, and the UW Press will publish a monograph on his work this year. A postwar modernist trained at WSU (who later served as Washington State Arts Commissioner and helped draft the "one percent for art" program), Balasz favors abstract and natural shapes that recall Giacometti, Picasso, and Moore. But his Opera House gates were also functional—to close off a courtyard for security. Hand-forged and -welded, with mottled joints and twisted fronds, the three gates are both solid and suggestive of organic forms—like a tangled underwater forest of seaweed. You'd almost think you could push the leaves aside and squeeze through; only in their present indoor, wall-mounted array, there's no place to go. They looked better outside, but the unlovely lobby will have to do until a better, more accessible location is found. 

 
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