Brutal But Not Forgotten

Seattle’s Brutalist Freeway Park is reviewed for National Register and approved for renovation

Jim Ellis Freeway Park bridges the neighborhoods of Downtown Seattle and First Hill with innovative fountains, plazas, and sculptural elements. (Photo by Joe Mabel/Wikipedia Commons)

The gorgeously staggered concrete elements of Jim Ellis Freeway Park, one of the most significant architectural spaces in Seattle, are scattered across a thickly forested hill atop an intersection of Interstate 5 between the neighborhoods of Downtown Seattle and First Hill. Completed in 1976 by American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and Bulgarian architect Angela Danadjieva, the 5.2-acre Freeway Park is one of only a small handful of Brutalist-designed parks in the world and is a commendable example of how parkland can be used to bridge communities that were previously divided by highway infrastructure.

Given its significance to the field of landscape architecture and the urban history of Seattle, Freeway Park was recently nominated for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The nomination was submitted shortly after a $10 million capital improvement project was announced to restore Freeway Park as part of an agreement made with the expansion of the nearby Convention Center. A total of $9,250,000 of the funds will be used for much-needed repairs and restoration, while the remaining $750,000 will go towards the further activation of the park as part of its management by the Freeway Park Association, a non-profit organization founded in 1993 to advocate and host events in the park.

A portion of the funds may go towards reintroducing the water feature to the park, which was discontinued in 1992 following an issue with water loss that was present since its construction. The renovation process is expected to begin next summer and be completed by December 2021.

Old photo of people sitting on concrete blocks in park

Jim Ellis Freeway Park was an instant success when it was completed in 1976. (Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives)

The nomination was reviewed on October 25 by the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and it was subsequently placed on the Washington Heritage Register in a unanimous vote. Its placement on the NRHP is still yet to be announced.

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