Hail and Farewell, Viaduct. Hello Sky and Waterfront Park


I loved the Viaduct, a fact that is documented by acres of elegies, eulogies and shrines made in its honor. As one of its passionate defenders, I mourned when it came down for the as-yet unproven benefits of a “park” and an “underground tunnel.”

The viaduct’s mood range was immense. Beneath its clumsy mastodon pillars one could wallow in the dank smells and charcoal smears of pure grime. Above, given a tenth of a gallon of gas and any class of car, a million-dollar view rolled out from sea to shining sea and a white-capped mountain. It was our last glimpse of The View, as contrasted with our current life with an ever-diminishing View Corridor. We now see the world beyond the city in slivers, something blue or gray and moving slowly as atmosphere does, sliced against a block-long bank of windows that only reflect the sky and will never be it.

All that said, what a difference in perspective 10 years and a pandemic! Never again will I write eulogies to graffiti in the same way. Now that random scrawls are inescapable and cover every inch of our city with relentless self-regard I just want the power of a large hose filled with bleach and the god-powers of erasure.

This shift in perspective hit me with bracing clarity as I stumbled into the Waterfront Park Construction project on a gray Sunday morning. With no hall monitors present, no generators, no growling excavators or men in hard hats shouting at me to leave or show my permit — I had freedom to walk during Sunday matins like a slow monk observing, shooting, revising, studying every angle of scaffold and ramp and the lyric possibilities of fresh concrete.

I have to tell you I felt something like joy. Particularly counting the hundreds of tender tiny plants, all waiting to go into formation.

We need this new thing. It’s been three years of long hard dark, and I am more than ready for the shock of light unimpeded. The Urbanists and others have savaged the plan, and I think they are probably right– all 8 or 9 traffic lanes of right. But to see the scope and grandeur of the idea in construction filled me with pure electricity and hope for a new city. It is not, by any stretch of imagination, going to be the same city. But perhaps if we start from the water and walk backwards we can be surprised into something even better. As Wallace Stevens put it in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,”


The river is moving.   

The blackbird must be flying. ”  

Below are a few of the many scenes that captured me over two days of shooting in various weather. These have been added to my architectural photography portfolio and the entire collection can be seen here.

I have been waging a campaign against invasive English ivy for decades. Much as I like this particular juxtaposition of The Wheel with Graffiti Undertow, perhaps ivy everywhere is the solution. Let the plants talk.  The designer of Freeway Park thought of it first: who wants to spray their name on a thousand leaves that will move in the wind and change in the seasons? It could be we become Findhorn West simply to combat this scourge.

All photographs and text © Iskra Johnson and may not be used without
permission of the artist.

Iskra Johnson
Iskra Johnson
Iskra Johnson is a Seattle artist, writer and neighborhood advocate who exhibits throughout the US. Her writing, photography and artwork can be seen on her blog at www.iskrafineart.com and on Medium at medium.com/@ijohnson


  1. Loved every word of this. “perhaps ivy everywhere is the solution…” Yes! Finally, a real use for English Ivy, besides devouring the trunks of the trees lining the trails. Maybe bindweed could also be planted? Let them do something useful.

  2. 20th century doesn’t exist anymore. Musically I never liked grunge, my tastes are less whiny and I fought opiates in my crazy home.. I wore needle necklaces bc I am punk rocker/hardcore metal.. they whine slightly different.. oh, mid 90s I fell for the hottest guy I met to date,.. … Um that’s another story for my psychiatrist who I will not let them drug me either… Simply say… “I had 3 little lambs …

    Not too many people get me. I however totally understand this article, maybe maybe not. “Eye of the beholder”. How I managed to raise good people.. half the hood rats, all by myself.. imagine that.g

    I live a code of honor that no one understands.
    There’s a novel called “Art of war”… I never read it..

    Seattle has always been my city and I know when the viaduct was first built people thought it hideous.. I was born in 1968,.. so I never did see anything hideous about it,… I walk down 5th by the space needle and I do remember when… Where’d everything go?? Where’s those carnival rides?? Nobody asked me to change the Coliseum either, Climate Pledge? Furniture Polish, that’s not okay to breath… … King Dome was a cement blob,.. a bit of paint perhaps and wait,.. there’s 2 king domes now… Splendid… Sodo is Georgetown all the way up to the ride free area ..

    And when my kids were little I had to say “Richard burgers, instead of dick’s… I recently learned it’s bc of Beavis and Butt-Head..
    Oopsy,.. my bad. And then about a month ago, a young human.. not specify anything, bc everything is offensive… pointed at the dicks drive in sign… Said that’s gross, I want it gone or sumsht… I was nice. But now perhaps we abolish all forms of the name Richard..

    And someone told me I should be ashamed of myself for loving original Lord of the Rings… So I continue to blast offensive music bc it’s better than covering my ears, where I come from that could get you hurt.
    Stay aware of my surroundings… And I negotiate with criminals…

    I’ll be earning my “good guy badge anyday now”
    Seattle is dying.. I cry just thinking about it.

    V for … Vampires?? Kidding. Sorta

  3. Victoria, thankyou. Your thoughts make me appreciate even more the place of the viaduct as a symbolic archetype in our city, a structure that catalyzed the extremes, and gave permission to a wild range of emotion. It truly did seem to represent hades and heaven, depending on where you were standing.

    Working next to the viaduct in the Maritime Building meant periodically brushing black ash off the windowsills, and my stacks of calligraphy papers were often slightly gray if I didn’t put them away. There was a constant roar, even though my windows faced east. Yet with all of that, the period of the viaduct was also a time downtown when there was a vibrant social life on the streets and in the restaurants, a life of public culture that I miss dearly. Classes mingled. The Western Cafe, on the ground floor of the Maritime, was an ongoing soap opera, with people jacked up on coffee milkshakes or recovering from a hangover, slamming down plates. It was spicy. I will never forget the day the married owners had a fight and walked out and locked the door with all the burners on. That, and the closing of Italia, marked the end of an era.

  4. Thank you so much. I will never forget that view, free to all as a part of your life every day, any day, day or night — reminding us that we belong here, this home belongs was owned by everyone and not just a sour handful of zillionaire condo purchasers.


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