Monday, July 23, 2012

George Bartholick and how he fixed the Pike Place Market


The recent completion of the Pike Place Market $70 million infrastructure replacement project is now done and the market looks fit and hardy, proving that the market at 105 years, is really the new 50. 

It was all done just in time for the start of the cruise ship season and the crowds of tourists that come in the summer, crowds I don’t necessarily like but support fully because they benefit the city and my many friends who work in the market and because the place is such an American treasure we simply have to share it without too much complaint.

The remodel made me much more aware of the many changes in the market that somehow slide into the place and seem old on their second day. Except the pig, the brass piggy bank at the market’s entrance under the clock, which has been under the clock since 1986.  I still feel highly Seattle when I say “meet you under the clock” and have tried to stick to that description for many years. The pig has changed the whole thing around and when I email “meet you under the clock” I get a response that says “why don’t we meet at the pig?” followed by a Smiley Face emoticon. 
I love the gum wall, something that just showed up and must drive the health department crazy.  Another is the bierstube that Uli’s Sausages created.  I went in the other day and had a spicy Italian sandwich and a brew and felt pretty good about where I was sitting and what I was doing.

The Pike Place Market After Its Completion
UW Collections
While there, I asked myself if George Bartholick would have thought the place a good idea.  George was the architect and planner we entrusted with the complete structural remaking of the market beginning in 1974 and who completed the job six years later in 1980.  It is one of the great historic preservation jobs of its time and remains a great one today.  Little was known about how the market had been constructed or how the damage from fires and earthquakes had been repaired, if they had.  Record keeping had been sloppy, plans and documentation often absent.  The original construction was done in haste and on the cheap.

Its reconstruction was not.  The project had a lot of surprises and all those surprises cost a lot of money.  Planners in the Department of Community Development took to calling the project “Our Vietnam.”  They also worried whether the investment would truly pay off.  When the renovation started, 80% of the market was not rented. 

Seattle PI
George explained to me once that he had essentially put a new backbone of steel running north and south of the main market structure.  To that, he added steel ribs running east to west.  The buildings were attached and hung on that basic structure.

It was a bohemian place that he took on and he put back largely unchanged, still bohemian, however updated, and with a backbone of steel.  He often won credit for checking his considerable ego at the door and putting the market back pretty much as it was physically.  He had no control what happened to the spaces he remade, but they seem to fit today.

Courtesy of Robin Bartholick
George is the little guy to the right of the
steering wheel
George was able to do what he did, in part, because he was a bona fide bohemian himself.  He grew up in Bellingham, the son of a shoe shop owner who liked to do things up right, like building a giant, mobile shoe that was a mainstay in the little parades that popped up around Bellingham, like the Tulalip Days Parade.

George was just the right age to join the greatest generation’s great quest, serving as a navigator on B-24 bombers making up the 446th Bomb Group.  He guided his aircraft, the I Hope So! to Dresden the night of February 13, 1945, the night it was destroyed, the night some of Europe’s finest architecture collapsed into the firestorm. 
446th Bomb Group
George is kneeling on camera right
Getting the airplane back was the biggest problem for the young navigators of the time, like George.  After crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, The 446th Bomb Group deployed in England in November of 1943 and finished in April of 1945.  In their first missions, beginning the last two weeks of December, 1943, 31 crew were killed during six bombing runs over Germany, mostly over Bremen.   In January, February and March of 1945, the war resistance on the ground was waning but the crews flew nearly every day into seas of flak.   George would have seen the new Messerschmitt jets the Germans built and deployed late in the war, their appearance is noted in the logs of the 446th.  I knew George pretty well and he never talked to me about this part of his life, though I certainly wish he had.

He came back to the University of Washington, got an architecture degree there and headed back to Europe where he worked over the next six years in Holland, Sweden and Switzerland.  He also exercised his skill in drawing.

In 1953, George showed up one day at the Paris home of Alex Trocchi, a Scottish writer and one of the founders of the literary magazine Merlin, the first magazine to publish Pablo Neruda and Samuel Beckett and frequently Henry Miller.  It was highly competitive with The Paris Review and Trocchi was among the first of the Beat Generation.

George had drawn several panels showing Crusader soldiers and Muslim soldiers fighting with a red cloth as their banner.  At the end of the panel, all the soldiers on each side were dead and only the red cloth remained.  It got into the magazine along with a piece of criticism by Beckett, then almost completely unknown to American readers. 

George was very tall, had a full head of gray hair and expansive eyebrows.  I’ve never seen bigger.  He frequently wore black and in the winter he would wear a black wool cape, attached 19th century style at the neck, over his suit. 

George kept odd hours, working most of the night and then sleeping through the morning, arriving at the market for breakfast about one o’clock.  His staff had been working since early in the morning and would prepare materials for his review.  While a supportive and kind man, George could be picky and demanding.  He wanted things done right, but mainly he worked for the joy of it and the relationships he found at work.

Sometimes his staff would play tricks on George, like designing an apartment that had a shared medicine cabinet with the unit next door, mocking a commercial for Right Guard Deoderant then receiving heavy play on televised sporting events.  George would take home such plans, discover the joke, and glow with the knowledge he had hired some fine, clever people but who had to be watched. 

He liked to say about the market project that it was like a forester restoring a mountain meadow, “If he does it right, no one will know that he was there.”

Western Washington University
We entrusted George with three of western Washington’s most important institutions.  The market, of course, is probably the most visible, but his first great project was Western Washington State College where he was the campus planner and architect from 1963-1979 and, with legendary state senator Barney Goltz, was largely responsible for one of the state’s most lovely college campuses, a sculpture park long before we got one in Seattle.  As the campus architect and planner, George always had a commission for some of the state’s best architects like Fred Bassetti and Ibsen Nelsen, as well as for the artists they liked.  A Bellingham native, George also provided the emotional and technical energy necessary to save the old falling down City Hall, now the amazing Whatcom County Museum.   

The third project was his most controversial and one he considered a failure, though, on reflection, it was just the start of a process that led to a great outcome, today’s Woodland Park Zoo.
Zoo on the left, Aurora Avenue and
Lower Woodland Park
Google Earth
A Nova Scotian named Guy Phinney built an estate around his home at the top of the hill overlooking Green Lake and surrounded it with 90 acres of trails, landscaping, a band stand, a bathing beach and a few deer and other exotics, all connected by his own, private trolley car.  There already was a zoo in Seattle, privately owned, in the Leschi neighborhood, where a trolley line, a casino, a bathing beach and a few animals behind fences lured Seattle residents to the new real estate
opportunities looking out over Lake Washington. 

The city annexed the Phinney property when it annexed Fremont, in 1891, and finally bought Phinney’s estate in 1900 for $100,000, causing a fire storm of complaints about purchasing a rich man’s private park, now known as Woodland Park and located so far from Seattle. 

When the Olmsted brothers started work on the comprehensive parks plan in 1903, they were delighted to include this property into their plan and added some playfields along the Green Lake side of the park and thought it a good idea to expand its tiny zoo with ‘hardy animals.’

After the lots had been sold in Leschi, the developers thought to gift the animals from their zoo to the city’s collection.  Other acquisitions followed, often through gifting.  One of the largest acquisitions was Tusko, the elephant thought to be the largest elephant in captivity.  Tusko died after creating a great drama in Seattle, being seized by Mayor John Dore and dispatched to the Woodland Park Zoo until the city was paid for his up-keep by the deadbeat owner who, some said, was plotting to kill Tusko and stuff him for a museum.

Tusko in 1933
Seattle PI
While a diversion from our story, Tusko requires some of our attention.  Tusko was known to have a temper and if you had been treated like Tusko, you’d have a temper too.  By 1933, the biggest elephant in captivity had been sold by a legitimate circus to a series of small time operators who would show up at local events with Tusko and his size as the attraction. 

Tusko was well-known in the Northwest because, eleven years previous, the animal had gone crazy in Sedro-Woolley where he threw his trainer, took off through town where he broke up a street dance and continued on a 30 mile, two-day rampage destroying cars, a couple of barns and many utility poles before he came upon a still outside the town in the woods where he ate all of the fermenting sour mash and calmed down.   I'm not sure about the still but the Bellingham Herald was and it remains part of the lore.  Everybody knew Tusko.

Later, while with his small time torturers were exhibiting him in Portland over Christmas of 1931, Tusko began ripping up his tent and stood triumphant among the debris with all but one of his tethers broken.  Jack O’Grady and Sleepy Gray, who had bought Tusko for his feed bill at the Oregon State Fair, where he had been abandoned, quickly called police.  The police chief, Leon Jenkins,  decided on the spot to shoot Tusko and assembled several officers to do the deed.  However, Portland Mayor George Baker wouldn’t have it and ordered the police to holster their weapons.  The Mayor had in mind keeping the elephant for the Portland Zoo, but as in so many events in Tusko’s last years, it all fell through.  Tusko, the biggest unwanted elephant in the world, soldiered on. 

While in Seattle in ’33, Tusko got the attention of another mayor, John Dore, who waded into a controversy and a comedy of errors that left the elephant stranded in downtown Seattle with the city feeding him.

Then Dore heard that his owner planned to shoot the animal, stuff and sell him.  That was enough for Dore.  He seized the animal for non-payment of feed and proposed taking him to the zoo, which authorities ultimately did, closing down streets along the way and walking Tusko up to the zoo. 

Just as they got Tusko settled and, after 80,000 visitors came to the zoo to see him, the zoo started a campaign raise the money to keep him fed and in a decent shelter.  Weeks later, Tusko laid down on his side and died of a blood clot to his lungs.

Seattle PI
Just to the south of the zoo the George Washington Bridge was being built, a high level crossing of Lake Union.  It was, until 1932, a kind of bridge to nowhere as citizens had Seattle’s very first freeway fight over what they then called a ‘speedway’ through Woodland Park.  The speedway would turn out to be Aurora Avenue North and it would, save for a a trio of small and little used bridges, divide the park into Upper Woodland and Lower Woodland after an initiative to abandon the speedway project died.

These two events motivated George Bartholick.  The horrible treatment given animals by most zoos – sterile cages, restraints, nothing to break the monotony of imprisonment – and the division of Woodland Park by Aurora Avenue moved George to weave those two unrelated events into a singular theme that George saw as the centerpiece of his zoo project.  He wanted to cross Aurora with a superlative, glass covered zoo exhibit and that would create room for expansion of the zoo into Lower Woodland Park where animals could have more room for natural living spaces.

Aurora Avenue
UW Collections
Rather than solve the divisions created by Aurora, George’s plan made them sharper.  The fact that this really cool idea doubled the budget was a problem and the recreation interests, seeing a major encroachment, organized.  And a woman named Benella Caminiti, who George could never understand because she both worked at the Washington Primate Research Center and hated zoos, became involved and became a powerful opponent.  Passionate and tireless, Caminiti ultimately got George’s plan to the Seattle ballot where it was defeated.  The zoo director, an interesting and  creative businessman whose own passion was a world class zoo, resigned. 

George was devastated, but as things happen, a young man named David Hancocks, who was part of a consulting team brought in after the election, became director of the zoo and soon created a natural space in which lowland African Gorillas could live much more normally and still be seen closely.  The exhibit was fantastic and put the zoo on the international map.  It also became the standard for further exhibits at the zoo that respected the animals.  Other exhibits followed, the African Savannah, Asian Primates and a New England Marsh followed.  Ultimately, the zoo’s exhibits won county-wide financial support and gave it the resources to set out on another series of terrific exhibits that mark it as one of the fine zoos in the world.

George got to see many of the changes to the zoo and they made him less bitter about his zoo plan.  He moved on to the Pike Place Market Project and made his great mark there and was famous everywhere for his skill at historic preservation.

He moved about – teaching in Mexico, fixing buildings in Mt. Zion Monument Park and finally back to Bellingham, where he died, in 1998.

I figured that George would have thought Uli’s place fit into the market because it was simple and fun with no pretense.  Like so many places in the market it is a hole in the wall that shows off a fine surprise when you enter.  I also figured it would be terrific to have George be able to see how the market fits into the plans for the new waterfront, with a kind of cascading connection down from the top of the hillside, where the market sits with its steel backbone, down to the waterfront.  George would have something to say about it and would know viscerally what it might do or not do for the market.

I thought about another beer at Uli's but decided against it and made my way through the market, buying peonies and early raspberries, all the time wishing that George would have made that play on Aurora Avenue and wondering who in the future will rise up to his cause and unite Woodland Park once again.

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