(Page 2 of 3)
a) It is the location of a historic event with a significant effect upon the community: World’s Fair, SuperSonics, Storm, Bumbershoot, Seattle Center
b) It is associated with the life of a person important in the history of the city, state, or nation: Paul Thiry, Ewen Dingwall, Joe Gandy, Bagley Wright, Governor Al Rosellini, Elvis Presley, Barack Obama, Pete Seeger and many others;
c) It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community: sports, culture, Seattle Center;
d) It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction: modernism, building engineering of second half of the 20th c.;
e) It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder: Paul Thiry’s most impressive work; and
f) It is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the city. While it doesn’t scream Seattle, Seattle Center and the City of Tomorrow quite as loud as the Science Center or the Space Needle, the Coliseum is definitely one of the cornerstones of the World’s Fair site and is easily recognized from many vantage points.
In addition to meeting at least one of the six standards, a building must also possess integrity or the ability to convey its significance.
The alterations to the building have been significant, but the dramatic structure and its four-acre footprint were designed to make changes easy and frequent. In an unusual twist of the integrity concept, making changes to the Coliseum respects the integrity of its design.
A 1993 photograph of Mayor Norm Rice announcing the Coliseum’s new name shows a building awaiting the reinstallation of the roof, a deeper bowl, new seats and a modified ramp and loading dock on the building’s south side. The massive interlocking steel trusses, the tripedal concrete buttresses from which the roof cabling and the roof are suspended and the window walls, its most significant features, are intact today. Enclosing a huge amount of unobstructed space, the building was designed to be flexible and alterable. Even today, its gigantic open span makes it work for basketball, hockey, concerts and even the occasional Bumbershoot film.
Paul Thiry incorporated the idea of changing interior shapes in his design. From the very beginning, Thiry anticipated the conversion of the Coliseum to an 18,500-seat sports and convention facility at the conclusion of the fair. Consequently, when assessing the building’s qualifications as a City of Seattle landmark, its design flexibility is paramount. The Coliseum was engineered for change. Just as the fair envisioned the future, so the building, an amazing example of adaptable space, embodies it.
The peril of losing the Coliseum is increasing in the rush to embrace a new stadium for still-unidentified basketball and hockey teams. Local politicians — including Queen Anne-based state legislator Reuven Carlyle (D) and its newly-minted mayoral candidate, City Councilmember Tim Burgess — have written the building off as a white elephant.
Seattle architecture critic Lawrence Cheek underscored the danger to the Coliseum in a November 30, 2012 Seattle Times article.
"It's appalling that Seattle continues abandoning major civic buildings after just 20, 30 or 40 years. I don't think anybody misses the Kingdome or the old Central Library, but Key Arena is a superb building, and it did not deserve to be orphaned."
Seattle Center just concluded its celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and focused the celebration on the next 50 years. The Coliseum merits the same protections as its siblings, the Space Needle and the Pacific Science Center. They were built for Seattle’s future. Just as a 1962 film heralding the fair said, “See …the gigantic, wall-less, pillorless Coliseum and have fun with the happy-go-lucky crowd!”
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!