Richard Haag’s Gas Works Park

Several iterations of the main gasification towers from the west side

I noticed that several visitors arrived at this site after searching for Gas Works Park, Richard Haag or a combination of the two. However, I only mention Gas Works Park and Richard Haag in passing. With the sun returning to Seattle, I decided to correct this by visiting Gas Works Park.

The Seattle Gas Light Company opened a coal gasification plant in 1906 at the north end of Lake Union. The plant converted coal into gas to power indoor lights until the advent of electric bulbs. The gas generated by the plant was also used for cooking, heating homes and powering water heaters. The plant closed in 1956 when Seattle switched to natural gas.

Silhouette of storage tanks

Silhouette of storage tanks

The gas works site was purchased by the City of Seattle in 1962. Debates continued for the next decade about how to handle the gas works site. Park advocates finally won, and the Parks Committee commissioned Richard Haag and Associates to design the new park in 1970. Haag made the radical suggestion to preserve the coal gasification plant and incorporate it into the park design because the plant was the only one of its kind left in the United States.

Many of the park’s supporters were appalled by Haag’s design. The park was originally named Myrtle Edwards Park after the Seattle council member who had advocated for the park and died in a car accident before seeing it completed. In 1972, Myrtle’s family asked for her name to be removed from the park due to the retention of the gas works structures. Instead, Elliot Bay Park was renamed Myrtle Edwards Park in 1976.

The east side of the main gasification towers

The east side of the main gasification towers

Despite the outcry, Gas Works Park opened to the public in 1975. The project was the beginning of a revolution in landscape architecture and won Richard Haag the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) President’s Award of Design Excellence. Today, the preservation and celebration of industrial sites has become common practice around the world. Most recently, I was involved with a pro bono project last October to preserve the first coke ovens in Washington State. Other notable industrial parks include Landschaftspark in Germany and New York’s High Line.

Besides preserving the industrial structures on the site, Gas Works Park was a pioneering project in the reuse of brownfields. The project was also noteworthy as one of the first landscape architecture projects to propose the use of phytoremediation to address contamination on industrial sites.

Today the park is as popular as ever. With great views of downtown Seattle, open fields and access to Lake Union, Gas Works Park is an idyllic spot in Seattle’s urban core. On the day I visited, kids were running around in the play area. Couples were sitting on the benches along the lake shore. And people were flying kites and model helicopters from the top of the kite flying hill. I can only hope that Gas Works Park will be this popular one hundred years from now.

To learn more about Gas Works Park, I would suggest visiting Wikipedia. The Cultural Landscape Foundation also has a good article on Gas Works Park.

A float plane takes off from Lake Union. One of the many experiences at Gas Works Park.

A float plane takes off from Lake Union. One of the many experiences at Gas Works Park.

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Richard Haag’s Gas Works Park by Logan Bingle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.