Ellen Sollod had been involved in designing the new 12th Ave Square Park from the early stages. At about 7,300 square feet and wedged between mixed-use housing, a cafe, and a restaurant, it’s on the smaller end of the park spectrum. So while everyone involved in the design wanted some central identifying feature, Sollod, an artist by trade, knew it shouldn’t be something that would “interrupt” the park, like a big sculpture might.
And so “Cloud Veil” was born, and installation of metal mesh and mirrors that hangs over the park space.
“It has a kind of a big top quality,” Sollod said, and along with the pillars which support the mesh, it helps define the space as being a room.
Thursday night, Seattle Parks will celebrate one of its newest open spaces with a ribbon-cutting and music.
The park sits on the corner of 12th Ave and E James Court, across from Seattle University’s sports complex. It had been an empty lot until the land was transformed into a plaza-like park which opened in February at a cost of about $1.06 million.
From the early stages, neighborhood residents, in particular the 12th Avenue Stewards group, had wanted to take a collaborative approach to the park’s design. The idea was for art to be integrated into the fabric of the park, rather than just tacked on at the end.
“They wanted the park to be idiosyncratic, welcoming and playful,” Sollod said.
The mesh-and-mirrors of “Cloud Veil,” she said, already seem popular. Sollod says she’s noticed people relaxing under the space, taking pictures of themselves in the mirrors, and playing on the blue mound made of the sort of rubbery stuff found in playgrounds, which rises up beneath the art installation.
Sollod said she hadn’t really considered making the art a solid overhead piece. For one, the added weight would have presented even more engineering challenges than the project already faced. Additionally, it was supposed to be a welcoming space, not shelter from the weather, and making the piece solid might also have made the space less inviting.
“It would have created a dark space in the park,” she said.
One yet-to-come element will be a set of movable tables and chairs placed on the hard surface of the park. The new furniture will be bright yellow to add a pop of color, and leashed together so that while they can be moved, they’ll be tough to steal.
Some of the park’s design elements, such as pavement in a wave pattern, extends the length of the block, transforming E James Court. The redesign of the street has turned it, very nearly, into a woonerf — a street where pedestrians and bikes take precedence over cars. Sollod said that technically, since the street has curbs, it is not a woonerf, but it is woonerf-like. Additionally, the street was changed to being one-way, which the neighborhood hopes will reduce cut-through traffic.
Sollod was even more excited about potential uses for the park as a community gathering spot. The city’s grand opening ceremony from 5-7:30 PM Thursday features singer/songwriter Naomi Wachira and a trio from the Garfield High School Jazz Band. While the event will have a ribbon-cutting, Sollod said it will be more about the music and festive activities than about speeches.
The event coincides with the monthly Capitol Hill Art Walk and organizers are hoping some people will migrate a bit further south than they might usually to check out the park and the festivities.
There are also plans for this year’s Honkfest to open with a few bands at the new park June 17.
The project, designed by Hewitt Architects and Sollod with input from the community, got started about six years ago but its genesis goes further back. “The park is the result of a decade of advocacy by 12th Avenue Stewards a neighborhood group, including residents, business owners and institutions, formed in the 1990s to champion the redevelopment of 12th Avenue,” Squire Park neighborhood advocate Bill Zosel wrote about the project. “Twenty years later, 12th Avenue Stewards continues to be an active neighborhood partner working with the City, local businesses and nonprofits, to advance the 12th Avenue Urban Village as a neighborhood corridor of vibrant businesses, restaurants, arts organizations, and institutions.”
Seattle Parks strikes a diplomatic tone regarding the park’s location. “Situated between the Central Area and Capitol Hill, the 7,332 square-foot park is considered part of both communities,” a department announcement about the new park reads.
While finding new space for public parks around Capitol Hill is becoming exceedingly difficult and expensive thanks to the ongoing tides of development, the 12th Ave Square Park is not the only smaller park to open around the Hill this year. Construction has been underway at the Broadway Hill Park at the corner of Federal and Republican. Toby Ressler, of Seattle Parks, said to expect a late May opening for that park. At this point, they aren’t planning any events in the space, Ressler said. Once the park opens, the city will check in with the community to see if people are interested in a more formal opening.
For more details about the 12th Ave Square Park, visit the Seattle Parks website.