With $54M worth of structural and design upgrades underway, the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation is just one of several ongoing projects in Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park. Nearly 120 years after the ridgeland was shaped by an Olmsted design, a passionate cohort of minders advocate, volunteer, and fundraise in order to preserve function and maximize recreation for the community. Sunday, some of these caretakers invite you to get your hands dirty along with them as they spruce up the park.
This Sunday is Fall Restoration Day at the park from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM when volunteers of all ages are invited to meet at the southeast entrance at Prospect and 15th Ave E to help with weeding, mulching and more. There will be free donuts and coffee.
“One of the positives of the park is that it hasn’t changed a whole lot in over 100 years,” said Parks and Recreation project manager Kelly Goold.
The old park is a busy place. A full scale makeover for the park’s amphitheater is garnering actionable support fast and the lily ponds will soon be protected by sturdy metal railings. The amphitheater design will innovate Seattle’s performance culture as the first outdoor stage specifically designed to accommodate dance. The addition of overhead protection, ADA access and a greenroom-like area were planned to promote year-round accessibility. Part of the mission statement for the amphitheater is to promote different types of community events, and invite diversity, which would in turn increase visitorship. The Volunteer Park Trust is awaiting a decision on their grant application to the Parks District for $900,000 to make it happen.
Park improvements are measured and served with equal consideration for preservation such as the modern LED light bulbs installed in the Conservatory that are encased by the original fixtures, according to Goold. “The original 20th century steel structure has been retrofitted completely but from the exterior, it looks exactly the same,” he said.
Never before built pathways designed by the Olmsted Brothers are taking shape this fall as part of the SAM’s commitment to give back to the park, according to SAM COO Richard Beckerman. Additional improvements to current pathways and and plans to make some of the hidden park entrances more inviting are in process while the Asian Art Museum is almost halfway complete.
All the commotion has led city, park advocates, and builders to work closely together in order to ensure the improvements don’t abrade park visitors or its neighbors. A mix of meetings and feedback sessions have tailored everything from the various project’s hours to where the construction crew will park their vehicles.
Brian Giddens, chair of the Volunteer Park Trust community group formed to help preserve, protect, and improve the park, says that so far there has been minimal disturbance caused by the construction. “I live here too and see a lot of construction notices keeping people informed,” he said. Giddens shared his approval of the construction company BN Builders, who he says recently personally worked with a soon to be married couple so they could enjoy their ceremony without disruption.
The refurbished SAAM building promises tree canopy views and new exhibit design in addition to a more robust collection. “We will continue collecting, acquiring and buying pieces that we think will increase interest and the value of the museum,” said Beckerman. “We are looking at some Ai Weiwei materials right now and other objects and collections from South Asia,” he said. The museum is planned to re-open in October of next year. At this point Beckerman estimates construction may be delayed by as much as two weeks but he believes the company may be able to make that the time up as the project progresses.
Originally intended as a cemetery, the city purchased the grounds for $2,000 and six years later, opened the land as Volunteer Park — thanks in large part to the insistence of a local journalist and Spanish American war veteran — in 1901. That same year, Seattle faced a major Typhoid outbreak, the U.S. sweltered under the hottest summer ever recorded, and Booker T. Washington made history when he was invited to the Roosevelt White House.
Giddens considers it a success that the city and community interests have been centered around maintaining the original vision of the park. By contrast, just 101 stair steps up the contouring stairwell of its iconic Water Tower, the 360-degree vantage beyond the park reveals a constantly changing city.
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