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Seattle Center accidentally trashes historic gargoyles

One of two gargoyles from the Civic Arena demolition in Seattle Center that were supposed to be preserved. (Photo courtesy Seattle Opera)

Just when you thought it was safe to be a piece of historic ornamental concrete, word came down from Seattle Center that 1928 Civic Arena gargoyles, rescued two years ago (with help from KIRO Radio) while the building was being demolished have inadvertently been taken to the dump.

RELATED: The story behind gargoyles found in Seattle’s Civic Arena

Seattle Center spokesperson Deborah Daoust says she first learned of the gargoyles’ disappearance when Crosscut writer Brangien Davis called her in late March.

“The grotesques were outside the Seattle Opera at the Center, you know, the former Mercer Arena,” Daoust said on Tuesday, using another common term for the architectural decorations. “And they were being held there until we determined a place for them to be on the grounds. And then one day they were taken away.”

Daoust said it was Seattle Center employees who hauled the artifacts away.

“It was part of our maintenance crew,” Daoust said. “They were responding to requests to clean up some of the debris that was left over from the Center construction [of the new Seattle Opera headquarters].”

On Tuesday, Crosscut posted a story by Brangien Davis detailing what had happened. In the piece, Davis describes how she had first noticed the gargoyles behind the new Seattle Opera building (built where the Civic Arena had previously stood), and how she came to check on them every week or so to make sure they were still there.

KIRO Radio had first reported in March 2017 that the 1928 Civic Arena, which had been renamed just the “Arena” and then the “Mercer Arena,” was about to be demolished. City and Opera staff and consultants assured KIRO Radio that no remnants of the ornate “Romanesque Revival” façade of the original 1928 building, which had been clad with a new brick exterior in 1961 in preparation for the Seattle World’s Fair, remained.

However, KIRO Radio and Q13’s Bill Wixey were on hand the next day, and witnessed the removal of the 1961 brick and the reveal of the 1928 façade intact, including four gargoyles. Wrecking crews didn’t pause for even a second, and immediately began destroying the 1928 façade.

Two of the four gargoyles were ultimately rescued, and Seattle Opera and Seattle Center promised they would be preserved and reused somewhere at Seattle Center.

Rather than going to the dump, what was supposed to have happened to the gargoyles?

“I don’t know the answer to that right now,” said Deborah Daoust. “I know that there was to be a process after the Opera project was complete, but I don’t know if there were any specifics put on paper yet.”

Daoust says the Seattle Opera project was completed as of a few months ago, but no steps had been taken to secure the gargoyles or to determine where they would ultimately end up.

Brangien Davis feels bad about what happened, and she’s angry, too. She clearly grew attached to the artifacts, and feels like she personally let them down by not being there to stop the maintenance workers when they hauled the gargoyles away.

“I was out of town, I was in Boston at a conference, the week before, when they actually apparently had been moved,” Davis said. “So, of course, I felt horrible that I’d gone to this conference in Boston, and missed the moment that I could’ve thrown my body over the gargoyles.”

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One question that many people are asking is which landfill did the gargoyles get taken to, and can we go there now with gloves and shovels and mount a search.

Reached by email late Tuesday, Seattle Center’s Deborah Daoust wrote, “We did contact the disposal company and attempted to track the grotesques. Unfortunately, we were told they had already been demolished.”

As of 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Daoust had not responded to a follow-up email from just before 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, asking the name of the disposal company and the ultimate resting place of the gargoyles.

How far is Brangien Davis willing to go to try and find the lost gargoyles?

“I am not sure at this point. I made my calls [to the disposal company and Seattle Public Utilities], I could leave more messages,” Davis said. “I have to tell you, I don’t feel optimistic about the landfill possibility.”

But it’s clear she cares about these mute chunks of Seattle’s history, and the stories they can tell us about the past, and the way they captured the hearts and minds of those local residents for whom the historic and cultural fabric of our community is something not to be casually tossed away.

“Maybe they’re out there,” Davis said. “Maybe this article will spawn swarms of citizenry going out to the landfill looking for these things. I mean it’s pretty recent that they disappeared.”

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