March 24, 2015

Time is Memory: The beginning of the end for Capitol Hill’s red wall

It’s a beautiful spring Thursday on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Tim Marsden of Sound Transit stands in the basket of a scissor lift, efficiently working an electrical screwdriver as artist Stefan Gruber looks on.  Starting on this sunny Thursday, the attached pieces of artwork and signage are being removed from the section of wall that faces Cal Anderson Park.

© 2015 Sound Transit
Tim Marsden hands a section of Stefan Gruber's artwork "Both Worlds" to an assistant. De-installation of artwork and dismantling of the red wall next to Cal Anderson Park continues over the next several weeks. Photo: J.Babuca

As the twittersphere contemplates their #tbt posts, I’m having a bit of a Throwback Thursday moment myself.  Looking at the last works of art to grace the wall, I can’t help but think back on the many projects that this site has hosted, even before the wall existed.  Lead Artist and Curator D.K. Pan created an overarching theme of examining love, loss and the nature of change that he summed up with the words “time is memory.”  My memory is certainly teaming: here stood the beloved Café Vivace, dressed in Webster Crowell’s parasols; over here was our very first art intervention, at those row of houses where Kay Rood’s home stood; and what was in that restaurant over there again? Oh, that’s right – neon signs by Ingrid Lahti!  So much has changed, and yet part of me feels like it’s always been this way.  Once the wall comes down and the station is open, I’m sure it will feel even more so, and our collective memories of this place will give way to the new normal.

Details like this window display at the former Body Jewelry Plus are a muted memory as the character of Capitol Hill continues to evolve. Photo: J.Babuca/Sound Transit

I remember when the wall first went up, and D.K. chose red for the color, to represent love.  Love because there is so much passion for the Hill and its place as the heart of Seattle, and for the great sadness over its inevitable change. Certainly this isn’t the first time Capitol Hill has undergone a radical shift in its character, but certainly this is one that will hurt hard.  Capitol Hill needs a lot of love to shepherd it through this change, and the wall hoped to provide some of that love.  But even that red color caused a lot of angst and uncertainty – internally at Sound Transit and with the contractor – the color seemed too bold, to radical. The prevailing desire was to play it safe.  Maybe go with the tried and true "Sound Transit Blue," which had worked well on Beacon Hill.  But D.K. stuck to his instinct and as a result, Charles Mudede announced that year that the wall was “one of the area’s most impressive works of architecture.”  Thus, the lovin' began for our little construction wall. 

Over the next several weeks, the temporary art will slowly come down.  Soon a bustling light rail station will take its place and the wall will become another memory that slowly fades away.  Before that happens, let’s take some time to revisit the wall, and it’s predecessor, STart on Broadway.  As the wall is demolished, I’ll be looking back at where we started, where we’ve gone, and give you a little peek into the future of Capitol Hill Station.  Stay tuned…

Sections of artwork lean against the red wall next to Cal Anderson park.  Photo: J.Babuca

-Jennifer Babuca

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