Position Statement

Stop the Expansion of Volunteer Park’s Asian Art Museum

By Jonathan Mark and the Protect Volunteer Park team. Visit us at ProtectVolunteerPark.org

A Renovation Quietly Became an Expansion

Seattle voters and City Council have together approved $14 million, plus county and state funds, for “renovations to the Seattle Asian Art Museum including seismic and HVAC upgrades”. We support this important work.

Unfortunately, SAM now proposes two additions which increase the building’s footprint by 15%. The larger is a 3-story glass-walled box on the east side, extending 35 feet plus a 20 to 26 foot terrace. Mayor Ed Murray has proposed an additional $5 million in City of Seattle funds to expand the project. The Asian Art Museum is already heavily subsidized. SAM leases the City-owned building at no charge, and the City pays $200,000 per year for utilities and housekeeping.

Lack of Public Process

There has been no public process suited to this taking of parkland. SAM’s series of public meetings have not been well-publicized or well-attended. SAM does not present any alternatives in these meetings, only SAM’s preferred plan. And yet, $2 million in City of Seattle funds have already been spent, a building contractor selected, and the permit applied for. SAM staff take the attitude that the decision to build additions has already been made.

This is wrong. If there is to be a taking of Volunteer Park land, and major development within the park, the City needs to notify the public and accept real input before such a consequential decision is made. This means offering real alternatives, including the alternative of maintaining and working within the existing building footprint.

Impact on Volunteer Park

“In a landscape park the planning and improvement of its landscape possibilities should always be the first consideration.”
– Olmsted Brothers, quoted in the exhibit in Volunteer Park’s water tower

Volunteer Park is a centerpiece of Seattle’s Olmsted park and boulevard system. Volunteer Park and the Asian Art Museum are both designated historic landmarks. Landmark law requires the historical use to be preserved or minimally changed and that adverse impacts be avoided. It is wrong to improve one landmark (the museum) by sacrificing and degrading another (the park).

The east addition would appropriate precious parkland and block vistas that were carefully designed by the Olmsted brothers. Its bulk would dominate east Volunteer Park, yielding attractive views from within the glass-walled building, but ruining the pastoral character of the park’s entire east side. A monumental beechwood tree would become half-surrounded by the building and no longer visible from the south.

The construction process will further harm the trees, plants, animals, park users, neighbors, and local roads. SAM refuses to divulge staging locations or construction vehicle routes. This is a dense neighborhood around ecologically sensitive park land, with roads in poor condition, and not well suited to a major building project.

Volunteer Park does not need enhancement, or in the architect’s words, to be “connected” to any structure. We need public open space more than ever to provide respite from the pressures of urbanization and increasing density. The Olmsted Parks in Seattle are such an incredible gift to the citizens of Seattle. Let’s not allow the gift to be squandered.

A Better Alternative

“Seattle Art Museum chose not to expand in the park and instead built a new museum downtown.”
– Exhibit in the water tower

The Seattle Art Museum has rights to expand into 8 additional floors of its downtown building, currently leased out to a for-profit company. This location does not destroy or degrade any of Seattle’s public open space, and has good transit connections. Given this ready alternative, we believe the public must reject the museum expansion into our Olmsted park.

Visit us, sign the online petition, and take action at our web site! ProtectVolunteerPark.org

John C. Olmsted warned about the idea that landscape parks are “merely vacant land awaiting decoration by public buildings”. This “mistaken idea”, as Olmsted called it, continues to be a challenge for park land everywhere.
– Exhibit in the water tower