August 4, 2010
Tales of the Fun Forest
The log flume ride at Seattle’s now defunct Fun Forest, with Frank Gehry’s second worst building* in the background.
In this morning’s email came something that looked a lot like spam. It was from one Lorna Jordan — sounds like someone who might contact me about penis enlargement, right? — and it invited me to visit a vaguely suspect web address. But I didn’t delete it because it mentioned Seattle Center, the patch of land at the very north end of downtown Seattle that’s home to a motley assemblage of 1962 World’s Fair leftovers –most notably the Space Needle — and more recent additions like the Experience Music Project (and Science Fiction Museum).
I have a soft spot for Seattle Center. It was at an mid-1970s writing workshop in one of the Center’s meeting rooms — in a building that was then known as the Food Circus — that I decided I should become a writer when I grew up. Also, in the early 1980s, I lived across the street and would cut through Seattle Center almost every day on my way to work at the Rocket offices in Belltown and marvel at the Center’s fairyland-gone-to-seed quality.
So I followed up on Jordan’s email and learned a bit more about “Open Platform,” an arts oriented outdoor space that a group of Seattle activists are proposing as a replacement for Seattle Center’s now defunct**amusement park. After the city of Seattle dislodged the old Fun Forest last year, the Space Needle owners signed a deal to fill the site with a museum dedicated to the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly. On one hand, there’s a certain logic to this move: Chihuly, like Jimi Hendrix or Starbucks, is a genuine product of the greater Seattle area. He was, for a time, the King of Pilchuck, the renowned local glass blowing school. And like those other breakout acts, he’s ubiquitous now, installing major works in hotel lobbies, casinos and airports. A Chihuly museum would surely be a draw.
On the other hand, Seattle arts activists reacted pretty much as you might expect to something this tidily packaged. They’ve floated an alternative proposal. The basic idea is to turn the former Fun Forest into a sort of arts park, one that “embodies Seattle’s creative environmentalism, artistic innovation, and creative energy.”
The thing about Seattle Center is that, since the World’s Fair went away, it’s never had a terribly distinct purpose. Its performance spaces have been well used for big events like Bumbershoot or the Folklife festival, but mostly the site seems to be a repository for oddities that can’t find a home elsewhere…like the Experience Music Project. Arguably, the Chihuly Museum, architecturally flamboyant, would be a natural companion to Gehry’s second worst building* and Seattle Center would be even more solidly established as zone of tourist-friendly goofball-dom.
By contrast, the Open Platform proposal, as muzzy as it currently is, suggests that Seattle Center could finally be a place that’s worthy of its name — a true center — instead of a weird amalgam of leftovers and novelties. It seems to me that a living space for arts production rather than a shrine to a single artist could make this place more central to Seattle residents…and maybe to tourists, too. (You can find more information here and a petition in favor of Open Platform here.)
*The Stata Center is worse, no?
**Actually, the bigger rides were dismantled at the end of last summer, but the kiddie rides remain open until Labor Day of this year.
P.S. I went on a bus ride last week to the suburbs of Trenton to see the restoration Louis Kahn’s Jewish Community Center bath house. I was going to blog about it, but I think I’ll let Lamster do the heavy lifting.
P.P.S. I’m grateful that New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has cleared the way for the construction of Cordoba House in lower Manhattan. As I’ve written elsewhere, I view terrorism as an attack on the heterogeneity and openness that are the hallmarks of urban life. If you deny Muslims the right to build a community center in the vicinity of the WTC site simply because they are Muslims, the terrorists win and urbanity loses.