Council Sez DuPen Yes, Thiry No

Which architectural legacy will skateboard park next desecrate?

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We were naturally alarmed when the city council announced a plan to build a new skateboard park on the site of DuPen Fountain. Never mind the adjacency to the teen-oriented Vera Project, the fountain was a little gem, a welcome oasis for Uptown mothers and their kids, a wading pool cul-de-sac where local families could cool off during summer months. As we wrote in last year's Best of Seattle issue, the late local artist and teacher Everett DuPen (1912-2005) designed the historic installation (sometimes called the Fountain of Creation) for the 1962 World's Fair, when most of the rest of Seattle Center was built.

So naturally we were relieved when the outcry over demolishing the fountain--renovated for over a half-million dollars in the early 1990s--caused the council, and chiefly council member David Della, to reconsider the rash decision. This Monday the council voted unanimously to spare the fountain and build a new skatepark on the other side of KeyArena, replacing a structure called Seattle Center Pavilion (at the intersection of Thomas St. and Second Ave. N.).

So skateboarders, art lovers, and council members can all be happy. A perfect solution, right? Maybe only until you consider what eminent local architect designed the seemingly doomed structure. We'll tell you and show you after the jump...

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DuPen designed his fountain under the oversight of the chief architect of the World's Fair, Paul Thiry (1904-1993), one of the giants of Northwest modernism. In addition to designing what's today known as KeyArena (a name that will likely change soon after the Sonics leave), he's responsible for the Frye Art Museum, the Museum of History and Industry, the Northeast Branch Library, and many prominent local homes falling into the now valuable category of midcentury modernism. Oh, and he also designed the Seattle Center Pavilion (pictured), which we're now planning to tear down for the skatepark.

Funny how no one has reported on that Thiry connection. The 13,000 square foot structure is now an L-shaped building, but he designed the original 1961 east wing as the pavilion of International Commerce and Industry (one of the fair's official themes). After the fair, the Seattle Art Museum leased the pavilion to display modern art, a perfect fit that lasted until 1991, when SAM opened the first portion of its downtown location. After that, the pavilion underwent considerable and apparently uncongenial expansion--to the point where the city says "Well maintained, this highly altered building has poor physical integrity."

Is the pavilion a landmark worth saving? Given the overhaul during the '90s to turn it into meeting space, probably not. Is it another link to the past, a.k.a. the Century 21 Exposition, about to be pummeled into history? Pretty much, and here one must also sadly note that Thiry's MoHaI design is also surely doomed by the future expansion of 520 through Montlake. So we saved DuPen Fountain in part because his heirs and the arts community put the screws to the city council. Will any of Thiry's supporters rally in his defense? Judging from a recent visit to the pavilion, where school kids were participating in some sort of summer program, it gets little traffic or attention except during Bumbershoot and various festivals. In other words, it's already half forgotten on a campus characterized by aging structures and neglect.

You can read the city's own description of the pavilion here. According to Seattle Center, you can rent the whole place for $1,750 a day while it lasts. And once it--and those revenues--are gone, skateboarders will presumably be riding the concrete waves and jumps for free, completely unaware of the architectural legacy beneath their wheels.

 
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