Mayor Ed Murray’s office issued a press release late last week about a new agreement between the City of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools (SPS) to replace Memorial Stadium and build a new high school at Seattle Center.
But the announcement is raising more questions than it answers, especially about the fate of the actual memorial at Memorial Stadium: a broad and high limestone wall facing Fifth Avenue that’s dedicated to (and that lists the names of) the nearly 800 Seattle School District alums who died in World War II.
According to last Friday’s release, over the next two months, “a team of architects and planners” will look “at options that will best serve the needs of SPS and Seattle Center,” in terms of designing and siting the replacement stadium and new high school.
Mayor Murray and Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland are both quoted, praising the “partnership” and “welcoming the opportunity” to work together on the project. The stadium was built by the school district in the late 1940s on land donated by the city for that specific purpose; it’s one of the few parcels of land at Seattle Center that’s not owned by the city.
Also included in the press release are details about the Seattle Center master plan, transit improvements, possible redevelopment of KeyArena, and changes in the Uptown neighborhood on Lower Queen Anne Hill.
But conspicuously absent is any mention of the future of the memorial wall. A Seattle Times story based on the release that was published over the weekend also makes no mention of it.
In May, a Seattle Public Schools official told KIRO Radio that the memorial wall would be preserved going forward; that is, relocated and refurbished as part of a new stadium.
However, in recent years, the memorial wall has been badly neglected, with its fountains filled with trash and its overgrown landscaping becoming a maze of rodent burrows. And what once was a pedestrian plaza in front of the memorial was turned into a parking lot many years ago, with the bumpers of SUVs and trucks pressed almost directly against the base of the wall.
Taken together – the absence from the press release, the decades of neglect, as well as Seattle Center’s recent missteps with partner organization Seattle Opera around the demolition of the Civic Arena – it’s hard to feel secure about the fate of the memorial wall, especially as World War II and the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country grow more and more distant.
Shawn Murphy of Olympia lost an uncle in World War II. That uncle’s name is carved into the limestone wall that sits in the shadow of the Space Needle and that may now face an uncertain future.
“His name was Patrick Michael Murphy, Junior,” Shawn Murphy said of the 1942 Roosevelt High School graduate. “He’s listed on the memorial as ‘Pat Murphy,’ which is what most people called him, and he’s the second son of my grandparents, my father being the oldest of 10 [children].”
Knowing that his father’s brother is listed on the wall means a lot to Murphy and to his family.
“It means that the City of Seattle and the school district recognize just one more person who gave their life, for the freedoms that we have today, in World War II,” Murphy said.
Contacted Tuesday about the Memorial Stadium press release, Shawn Murphy was dismayed.
“If it’s an oversight, fine,” Murphy said. “If it’s left off because, frankly, they’re not even putting it under consideration [to preserve it], then to me, it’s just a slap in the face to the very memorial itself.”
Was it merely an oversight to not mention the wall? Or was it “tone-deafness” about the meaning of the wall to the families whose relatives’ names are listed there?
Several city officials contacted by KIRO Radio – the mayor’s communications staff, Seattle Center communications staff, Councilmember Debora Juarez (chair of the committee that oversees Seattle Center) – did not respond to multiple requests for clarification about why the memorial wall was left out of the Aug. 4 release.
In addition, neither Seattle Public Schools nor the City of Seattle could provide any details about the members (including names and qualifications) of the “team of architects and planners” who will be helping map the future of Memorial Stadium, nor could either organization say what, if any, public involvement will be included in the team’s two-month planning process.
Whoever does serve on that team, perhaps they’ll read those 800 names, and then, perhaps, they’ll read what it says just above them:
LEST THEIR SACRIFICE BE FORGOTTEN