It wasn’t supposed to be Gas Works Park. It was supposed to be Myrtle Edwards Park, named for a former city councilwoman, who served from 1955 to 1969 and who was a big supporter of turning industrial wastelands into parks. But Edwards’ heirs were appalled when Richard Haag, the city’s chosen designer for the park proposed in the early 1970s preserving the old Gas Works structure that was on the site. It was unheard of at the time. The expectation was that the old coal plant would be torn down.
Haag passed away May 9 at the age of 94 of natural causes. His family said he didn’t want an obituary, so the news is just now getting out.
He had an illustrious career, moving to Seattle in the late 1950s to work at the architecture department at the UW and then founding the school’s landscape architecture program. He was instrumental in transforming the Seattle Center from fairgrounds to park grounds. He designed Steinbrueck Park with its namesake, Victor Steinbrueck. He also designed the wonderland of Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. His firm, Richard Haag Associates, Inc., completed over 500 projects over the course of nearly 60 years.
Even before he got the north Lake Union park assignment, Haag had been enchanted with the Gas Works structure. In a phone interview, after a presentation to the Eastlake Community Council, he said, he’d come across the shuttered plant when he first moved to Seattle. That place is magic, he thought, I want to work with that site.
In another interview in 2014, about a year after the park was included on the National Register of Historic Places, Haag, said, “I had no rock outcroppings and no sacred trees. Not much there except these wonderful iron totemic structures. The more I was around there, the more I bonded with those things. And I thought, ‘Yup, I’ve got to save them.”
And save them he did. He had an artist paint a rendering of what the park could look like and displayed it at a public meeting of over 700 people. Public opinion moved in his favor. The Edwards family withdrew their name for the park.
But it all worked out in the end. After all the controversy, Myrtle Edwards eventually got her park, a lovely one on Elliot Bay. And Gas Works Park couldn’t be named anything else.
“It’s is my magnus opus,” Haag said. “It’s the centerpiece of my life.”