Freeway Park in downtown Seattle declared city landmark

SEATTLE — Freeway Park, located at 700 Seneca Street and built over Interstate 5 atop a freeway lid, was declared a city landmark on Wednesday.

The Landmarks Preservation Board in Seattle unanimously approved the park’s nomination as there was a four-step process for its designation.

The five-acre park, designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, was built in 1976. It spans the freeway and is supported by concrete piers and bridges, including a multistory parking garage. It provides a pathway for people to cross over the interstate.

“It bridges the freeway, it’s constructed on a lid that knits First Hill to downtown. It provides a pedestrian path between the two areas of the city, effectively kind of suturing together the canyon that was opened up by the construction of I-5. It’s this feature that makes Freeway Park really unusual,” said Chrisanne Beckner with Seattle Parks and Recreation.

Halprin, a Presidential Medal of Art recipient and designer of the F.D.R. Memorial in Washington, D.C., was one of the nation’s most important landscape architects in the postwar/Modernist era, according to Nord Wennerstrom, director of communications for The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Freeway Park was one of the projects featured in a traveling photographic exhibition organized by the foundation that debuted at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. and toured nationally.

The park has an irregular footprint and is 1,300 feet long with differing widths. It integrates lawns, plantings, pathways, large planting boxes and has dramatic water features.

The urban park is surrounded by high-rise buildings.

The park was designed so that it would shield people from the traffic sounds and smells of the city.

Plants found in the park include rhododendron, sweetgum, Lebanon cedar and viburnum, just to name a few.

The luscious foliage was chosen when the park was being designed, with an understanding that the location would subject them to unusual levels of stress: “dehydration of foliage from wind funneled by adjacent structures; general abuse by pedestrians, automobiles, and animals; glare from cement or glass; and soil and maintenance problems,” according to the city landmark nomination application.

While natural parks undergo continuous evolution and change, Freeway Park has undergone alterations. Its original plantings are impossible to maintain. Alterations have been made to its original plan with a series of ramps, stairs and water features that now climb uphill alongside the Benaroya Research Institute and connects to the intersection of 9th Avenue and University Avenue on First Hill.

As a city landmark, Freeway Park is now protected by a city ordinance.

A public meeting is scheduled for July 6 to confirm the board’s decision.