David Traylor, invited me on a tour of Union Street this morning. He picked me up at 9am and drove us deep into the city. David is a potter, a visual artist and an expert on Union Street in Seattle, having spent a year and a half making art there, with long time collaborator Susan Gans--drawing, photographing and lifting inspiration from this route across the city.
David is curious about the errors, the places where city planning and reality meet up and fail to meet up, the things we experience on the ground as mistakes, as strange differences, as jogs in the road, roads that suddenly narrow or widen, cross streets that fails to match up. Union Street offers many such examples, where grids meet and seams stretch. The first is on Profanity Hill, where the grid that is oriented to the waterfront meets with the grid that is oriented to north. The buildings at Summit and Union are triangular and the streets vary in width. It is a transition zone.
David is trained in landscape architecture. His drawings hint at this. I saw, in his sketch book before we began walking, a series of graphite drawings, one per page. Each with a double image, on the top half, an aerial view of a city section, with Union Street and several cross streets and adjacent buildings and trees, in the lower half, an arrangement of dominoes. Each drawing highlighted a unique location on Union Street. The dominoes offered insights into many things, the forces at work on the landscape and in the community, what is happening, what has happened and what will happen, the course of the sun and hence time and all of its effects.
We began our walk where Union Street intersects with Alaskan Way, right The Great Wheel sits on the waterfront. Above the viaduct. Tunnel construction all around. We walked east across Western and Post Alley. We climbed the steep stairs to 1st Ave. There, between The Four Seasons and Pike Place Market, we looked back beyond the Steam Plant and ferris wheel to the harbor traffic and West Seattle and the islands. This cul-de-sac, where Union Street picks up, is a restful perch.
Continuing east, an array of cultural institutions, entertainment spots, schools, churches, commercial businesses and residential homes. Among them, SAM, Benaroya Hall, Seattle Symphony, The Triple Door, the post office, ACT Theatre, Washington Convention Center, The Northwest School, Seattle First Baptist Church, The Polyclinic, Gilda's Club, Seattle Academy, T T Minor, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Central Cinema.
We went as far as 22nd Street and back. Later I looked at the second half of the walk, a walk we'll take in the future, and I see Union Street doesn't go all the way to the lake. It ends at 38th Ave. From there, a stair and several streets will take you to the water.
Many stretches of our walk were familiar to me. I've spent a lot of time getting to and from Capitol Hill on foot from Fremont and Ballard. A few of the segments were new to me. I was surprised by two of the stairs and by an office park entrance to the convention center.
David suggested we stop in the Convention Center for a hot drink. He took pity on my poor sore throat. I was glad for the warm salve. We sat in a glassy corner of the convention center above Union street drinking tea and coffee. I offered a little bag of mixed nuts and cheddar cheese. This time here, floating above Union Street, was at the heart of our share. When starting our walk I asked how much time he had spent on the street, in any one spot. Had he sat on the benches and eaten meals there? He said he and Susan had moved along slowly, changing focus, discussing their work, meeting various business and property owners.
David led me out of the convention center to Pike and down Hubble Place to a set of stairs surrounded by ivy that rose abruptly to Terry and Boren. I was delighted to find, east of Boren, a new SDOT pedestrian greenway in a street triangle. From a distance, the bluish-green on the pavement looks like a pool. Across the street we found a model spaceship in pieces.
We talked about the differences we experienced along the walk, the distinct segments and how we define them. We talked about the word gentrification and the ways in which it is both welcomed and fought against.