The Jim Ellis Freeway Park is a 5 acre park that covers the Interstate 5 leading to downtown Seattle, Washington. It adjoins with the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. It opened on July 4, 1976, and was designed by Angela Danadjieva utilizing a form of brutalist architecture.
The portion of Interstate 5 that runs through Seattle was completed in 1967. It originated as part of a broader freeway plan organized by the Washington state legislature in the early 1950s. One freeway would cut through downtown Seattle by means of eminent domain. Because this was kept hidden from the public, protests from the early 1960s came too late. Instead, civil activists at the time would focus on getting a “cap” for the expressway.
Plans for a freeway cap was spearheaded by Seattle lawyer, Jim Ellis. In 1968, He utilized the “Forward Thrust”, a public funding mechanism that was successful in getting various civil and environmental initiatives completed around the city. The $118 million budget for Freeway Park was part of a citywide parks deal consisting of city, county, and state contributions. The resulting Freeway Park utilizes a unique series of structural features, including display fountains and handicap access that completely removes visitors from both the noise of the Interstate 5 traffic and the urban setting. Unfortunately, the complexity of these designs led to a difficulty in general maintenance, which led to under-usage and deterioration of some features. Along with an onset of under-funding, this eventually led to neglect throughout the park, making it a frequent crime scene.
In 2005, a citizen-based movement called the Freeway Park Neighborhood Association (FPNA) made a commitment to revitalize the park. With cooperation from Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Department, plans were set to repair and refine existing infrastructure, improve plantings, and encourage more convention center visitors to use it. This strategy helped make Freeway Park a safer, more active location, which largely reduced crime in the park.
Freeway Park was renamed in 2010 after Jim Ellis, who inspired the park by means of progressive activism that left a major legacy for the city of Seattle.
Back in 1962, construction of Interstate 5 sliced through the heart of Seattle, essentially splitting the city in half. Now, local architects Patano Studio Architecture are hoping to rectify the situation by “capping” the highway with a two-mile-long elevated park that will provide affordable housing, pedestrian paths, bike lanes, and ample green space. The plan would bring much needed community space to the area as well as reducing the noise level and pollution that the area is currently known for.
“This space is just so underutilized,” says architect Christopher Patano, director of Patano Studio Architecture. “This two-mile stretch of Interstate 5 that we’re talking about putting the park on is the most valuable piece of real estate between Vancouver and San Francisco. And right now it’s just the canyon through downtown.”
The plan calls for the implementation of a community-focused project, essentially creating a multi-layered neighborhood along the 2-mile stretch of highway. Underneath the elevated green park (but still on top of the highway), the designers call for the addition of affordable housing units, as well as a new convention center and arena to the new space.
Pantano explains the design for the park took into account current projects being considered for the city. “Almost every part of the project we describe, all that complexity, those are all projects that are going to happen,” he says. “The convention center’s happening, the arena’s happening, public housing has to happen, the freeway has to be rebuilt because it’s at the end of it’s useful life. They all have to happen. So instead of each of these as one distinct problem, we can wrap our arms around all of them together. I think what the result could be for the city is this amazing public space.”