Reclaimed Parkland

Two iconic Seattle parklands, Gas Works Park and Olympic Sculpture Park, were created as a result of the purchase and decontamination of former industrial land. The development of Gas Works Park and Olympic Sculpture Park helped to reconnect Seattle to its waterfronts. The transformation of these sites into public parkland required innovative approaches to rehabilitate the contaminated industrial landscapes.

Gas Works Park 

Gas Works Park is a unique urban landscape located on the site of the former coal gas plant which once powered Seattle. It is a pioneering example of the regeneration of a contaminated site into a public place and the preservation of industrial archaeology. 

From the 1850s, visions for the development of the 20 acre site on the north shore of Lake Union where Gas Works Park stands today, were competing. The banks of Lake Union had a strong industrial presence, with saw mills, dense forests, brick manufacturing and ship building, yet was also enjoyed for recreational pursuits. In 1900, the Seattle Gas Light Company started to purchase land at the site. From 1906 the company's coal gas plant produced gas for Seattle's street lighting, and later for domestic use for cooking and heating, propelling the development of the city. A few years earlier, the Olmsted brothers developed a comprehensive park plan for Seattle's Board of Park Commissioners, recommending the site be secured as a local park due to its striking views over the lake and its opportunities for boating. Despite this vision, a 1911 municipal plan promoted the industrial focus of the area. The gas plant closed in 1956 when natural gas became available.   

The City of Seattle purchased the contaminated site in 1962 to develop a park. Richard Haag Architects was engaged to develop the plan for the park. Haag had a unique vision for the site. Instead of demolishing the industrial gas works structures, he campaigned to preserve and re-use these within the park, and in doing so unified the past conflicting recreational and industrial interests of the area.

The site was highly polluted as a result of the former industrial processes and waste, but instead of removing contaminated soil, Haag's plan focused on treating it in-situ. He achieved this through a process of bio-phytoremediation, whereby contaminated soil was mixed to introduce oxygen, water and sunlight below the surface. Other materials, such as sewage and biomass, were also added in areas. Although this process improved the condition of much of the soil, Haag collected the most polluted soil into a mound and capped it with clay. These undulating hills provide a striking recreational landscape and views of the Seattle skyline and the Olympic Mountains.

 

The park opened to the public in 1975. In 2013 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the only surviving coal gas plant in the USA. The plant's exhauster-compressor building has been converted into a sheltered area for play and the adjacent building comprises picnic tables. A row of dense trees and some remnant tracks demarcate the line of the site's former railway. Gas Works Park comprises several walking and cycling trails, open areas to play or picnic and vantage points to view the sunset behind the city or watch sea planes take off and land on the lake. The development of the parkland, reconnected the city to Lake Union by enabling public access to and enjoyment of the north shore.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Until the 1970s, the oil and gas corporation Unocal operated a oil transfer facility at the shore of Elliot Bay in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. In 1999 the Seattle Art Museum and Trust for Public Land raised money to purchase the site on Seattle's waterfront. Since 2007, this site has been enjoyed as a beautiful public garden showcasing permanent and temporary sculptures. 

The transformation of the former industrial site into a parkland included the removal of more than 120,000 tons of contaminated soil and the capping of contaminated soil remaining at the site. The park has a unique reversed Z-shape which is designed to re-establish the historical topography of the area. From the city edge, the park descends 40 feet with the slope of the land to the waterfront, crossing over the railway to Vancouver and an arterial road. The Sculpture Park re-connects the city to Elliot Bay, providing public access to the former industrial area. The garden is intended to evoke the typical forest, shore and mountain landscapes of the north west. The park provides views of the Olympic Mountains and Seattle skyline. A pavilion hosts small exhibitions, performances and educational events. 

Map of Gas Works Park and Olympic Sculpture Park