The Fussy Eye: Tunneling Into History

See the future at Milepost 31.

During the March First Thursday art walk, plodding through Pioneer Square, I thought to myself, “Hey, what is that—some new gallery that didn’t send me a press release?” Inside the brightly lit new space were photos, historical artifacts, models, videos, and information kiosks. The staff was friendly, and there were more people inside—though none with drinks in their hands—than in some of the Tashiro Kaplan Building’s galleries that night. What was this place? And dig the crazy, giant trompe l’oeil mural in back—it’s like a portal into the Earth, like an episode of Lost! Where was I? Milepost 31 is not in fact a gallery, but it’s open late on First Thursdays to attract the gallery crowd. And when many Pioneer Square storefronts are empty these days, it’s a welcome presentation of history—as well as the future—as part of the culture scene. The soil samples and vintage photos remind you of the muck beneath downtown, how the pioneers’ building, and rebuilding, was a creative act. Sure, the leveling of Belltown and the viaduct itself were bad ideas, and there are still hurt feelings about the deep-bore tunnel and tolling (or even the monorail, for that matter). But Milepost 31, a WSDOT project mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act, suggests that history is a continuum that reaches forward, too. A time-lapse video of early viaduct removal at the south portal helps make the same point: Things look static only during a moment’s glance. Come back later, and everything’s different. Paintings fade, sculpture rusts, earthworks erode, and even those precious pixels and bytes of modern art may not last as long as Leonardo’s codices. The mural on the back wall is a rendering of what drivers will see before they plunge underground. The scale and verisimilitude are somewhat startling—like you could drive your car into it. It’s the future, staring you in the face.