Where to put the P-I globe?

The landmark will be saved, but no one knows where it will end up. The public should have a major say.
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The Seattle P-I Globe: A website, seattlepi.com, continues although the Post-Intelligencer shut down in 2009.

The landmark will be saved, but no one knows where it will end up. The public should have a major say.

The iconic Seattle landmark has been saved, but an unsettled issue is where to put it. On the old P-I building? At South Lake Union? Along the "new" waterfront? Under Puget Sound? Experts weigh in, and the Museum of History and Industry asks for your ideas.

Last March, the beloved Seattle Post-Intelligencer Globe — the giant revolving sign atop the newspaper's former headquarters — was "saved" in a deal between the P-I's owner, Hearst Corp., and the Museum of History and Industry. It ensures that no matter what happens, the Globe will wind up in the care of MOHAI. Shortly thereafter in April, the Globe received city landmark status as the Landmarks Preservation Board voted unanimously to protect it.

There's no indication yet when or if the Globe will be removed. The assumption is that it will be dislodged from its perch on Elliott Avenue. No word on that yet. But even more important than the timing is this: if the Globe needs to be moved, where will it go?

MOHAI's boss Leonard Garfield says no decision has been made. The assumption is that Hearst would hoist the 13-plus-ton Globe off the building and it would then be carted somewhere for refurbishing, maybe one of those old hangars at Magnuson Park. The Globe is in good condition; engineers have inspected it but a more thorough survey could be done once it's on the ground. The cost of removing, transporting, restoring, and relocating the Globe, says Garfield, could run around $300,000, maybe more. It depends on its condition, and things like how much of a hassle it will be to move it. The good news is an anonymous donor has made a significant contribution to cover part of the cost. Some smaller donations have also been received. More will have to be raised.

But where should the landmark go after it's refreshed?

The Globe was a recognizable landmark from the day it went up on the old P-I building in Belltown in 1948. In 1985, it was removed, cracked in half, repaired, and moved to its current location on the waterfront where it has been highly visible since early '86.

A number of suggestions have been made for a new home.

An assumed option is the new MOHAI at South Lake Union. The Museum has made a home for many beloved signs like the iconic Rainier Beer "R." But Garfield says the new museum's grand hall isn't big enough for the Globe, and the old Naval armory's roof structurally can't handle it. And that's assuming the zoning would even allow it. Another option would be to find a place for it in the adjacent South Lake Union park. It might be a popular addition to the skyline as seen from the new high-rise apartments and condos planned for the neighborhood.

The Olympic Sculpture Park right near the old P-I's Elliott Avenue offices would be another possibility. The urban, waterfront park has made a point of incorporating and playing-off of old neon signs. The Old Spaghetti Factory looks right at home there.

If not the Sculpture Park, the redesign of the central waterfront might offer some possibilities. Could it be placed in the new park, or on an adjacent piers? Could it be a beacon on a new Colman Dock ferry terminal? Or, one idea thrown out by Michael Herschensohn, president of the Queen Anne Historical Society: What about placing the Globe at the north portal of the new tunnel? That would keep it near its original location by the Pink Elephant Car Wash sign, and it might even receive some state funding as public art!

And speaking of Washington State Department of Transportation projects, one wag at City Hall suggested that the Globe could be put to use as a pontoon on the new 520 bridge.

He's not the only one thinking about dunking the Globe. Historian Paul Dorpat weighs in with his own water solution. "Might we give the P-I Globe an impervious shrink-wrap and lower it to the floor of Puget Sound? I recommend somewhere below the line that Washington State Ferries take between Seattle and Bremerton on the good chance that commuter submarines will eventually take over much of that traffic traveling at business class speeds that would be too disruptive to Bainbridge Island shorelines if permitted on the surface. I expect that these subs will be equipped with windows and seabed illumination too. Because of its size, approaching and passing the P-I Globe at atomic sub speeds would be, well, awesome." Yes, and it would create an audience for underwater billboards.

Back on the surface, Historic Seattle's Eugenia Woo thinks it ought to be on top of a building "so it can be viewed better and spin as it was meant to do." It would also keep it out of reach of vandals. Certainly the scribes at Hearst's seattlepi.com would feel comforted having it overhead wherever they are working.

One building top to consider is its original home. Architect and preservation consultant Larry Johnson, who recently helped get landmark designations for Ballard's Carnegie Library and the Neptune Theater, thinks the Globe really ought to go back to the P-I's old headquarters at Sixth and Wall (currently occupied by City University). While that building has undergone some exterior changes, it retains its basic shape and some of its 1940s Moderne feel. The pedestal that once held the Globe is still empty.

According to the Globe's landmarks nomination, the building was designed without a final decision about the signage. The P-I invited the public to send in suggestions. They included a concept from a University of Washington student named Jack Corsaw who suggested a curved map of the world marked with flashing lines of light to indicate where news was happening. That apparently inspired the P-I's design staff, who turned that map into the Globe and added the P-I slogan and the giant eagle on top — a sign of Seattle's (and the P-I's) global ambitions and national purpose. The steel Globe was fabricated by Pacific Car and Foundry's Structural Steel Division, the outfit that later erected the Space Needle.

Leonard Garfield wants to get the public's input, so consider this an opening to begin thinking about where the Globe ought to go. Seattle often turns to the public to weigh in, not just on tunnels and stadiums. A public contest came up with the nickname "The Emerald City" in the early 1980s, and just this fall, the Space Needle asked the public to submit concepts for painting the Needle's top and vote on the finalists. (Disclosure: I helped pick the finalists.) As a result, the Needle top is being painted in the pattern of a green forest.

Garfield lays out a few simple considerations for prospective locations.

First, he says, issues of feasibility and affordability are, obviously, paramount.

Second, Garfield says MOHAI would want the Globe to remain in the public landscape, prominently sited in public view.

Third, it has to be some place where ongoing stewardship can be ensured, meaning it has to be accessible, not threatened by too much wear and tear or vandals. Putting it at the bottom of Elliott Bay or using it as a pontoon might be a tad problematic.

Likely, the location will require someone to partner with MOHAI, such as the city, a developer, a park, a business or some other institution (how would it look atop the Gates Foundation?). Finding the right partner will be a factor in a final location.

And this being Seattle, Garfield says, it would be nice to have some fun. Herschensohn jokes that "it might be a kitchy addition to the Space Needle, but I'd have to oppose its relocation as President of the Queen Anne Historical Society." Still, the Globe has the capacity to make people smile, and it would be nice to keep that going.

So, Seattle, the mic is open, your input is solicited, the future of the Globe is in your creative hands.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.