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Family’s objections responsible for naming Gas Works Park

The Seattle Gas Company plant on north Lake Union (now Gas Works Park), as it looked in 1935. It was almost named for a city councilmember until her family objected. (Courtesy of MOHAI)

Gas Works Park, on the north shore of Lake Union, wasn’t always known by its simple yet descriptive name.

In January 1970, the Seattle City Council voted to call the yet-to-be-created spot “Myrtle Edwards Park,” in memory of the late City Council President. Mrs. Edwards died the previous August from injuries sustained in a car accident on I-90 in Idaho, east of Spokane.

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The park was to be built at the site of an old gas plant from 1906 that closed in the 1950s, and most people envisioned total redevelopment and conversion of the industrial area to a traditional lakefront park. The city began purchasing the land on the installment plan in the early 1960s, with the sale to be completed in 1973.

Seattle landscape architect Rich Haag got the job to design the park. He had a radically different idea for the old structures. He wanted to keep them and make them integral to the new layout.

Rich Haag is 93 years old. He’s arguably the most influential living landscape architect in the Pacific Northwest, and he only recently shuttered the design firm that bore his name.

Haag says that when he was working on the design in the early 1970s, the late councilwoman’s family attended presentations he gave “on my concept for Myrtle Edwards Park, whereby I proposed saving a lot of the structures and recycling those buildings and saving the towers.”

Not everyone in the community immediately embraced Haag’s idea, though it was approved by the City in early 1971. A Seattle Times’ editorial a few months later was even headlined: “Get rid of ugly gas plant.”

Myrtle Edwards’ family, Haag says, was not enamored with the idea either. And, as it turns out, Haag and Myrtle Edwards had a bit of history between them.

“Myrtle Edwards and I got cross with each other,” Haag said, during a city council meeting back in the mid-1960s. “It was actually over Seattle Center, when she opposed me over one of the proposals that I made there [for] the conversion from the World’s Fair to Seattle Center.”

From Place 21 to Gas Works Park

Haag presented to the city council his concept for what he called “Place 21,” which would have created an area for teens and young adults in the northwest portion of Seattle Center. “Place 21” had attractions that included a skating ring, and would’ve been built where Bagley Wright Theatre now stands.

Councilmember Edwards did not approve.

“She jumped up and said, ‘This is exactly what we do not want to happen here. It’s hooliganism.’ That was her word. ‘It’ll bring all the young people together in one place in the city, and that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen,'” Haag said.

Fast-forward a few years, and when Haag’s then-radical plan to retain much of the old gas works was revealed, it was Harlan Edwards’ turn to object. He was the councilmember’s widow.

“[The family] didn’t like that idea, so [they protested and said] that Myrtle Edwards, if she were alive, she would never, never concede to have her name on that park with that concept,” Haag said. “So that was the deal.”

The city agreed to take the “Myrtle Edwards” name off the future park in 1972.

But Haag wasn’t too disappointed.

“I was happy with that because I thought, ‘What the hell, people will call it ‘Gas Works Park’ just like they call George Washington Memorial Bridge the Aurora Bridge,” Haag said.

Gas Works Park was officially named on March 8, 1974 and opened to the public soon after. Two years later, the City Council tried again — this time naming a park on Elliott Bay just north of downtown after their late colleague.

Haag says that was a “cool idea.”

“So they named a park down at the waterfront ‘Myrtle Edwards Park ,’ where they have the Hempfest, which I’m sure she would not approve of,” Haag said, chuckling heartily.

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