Seattle commits to preserve dilapidated Memorial Wall
Years of concern over the fate of a memorial to Seattle School District alums who died in World War II were put to rest during a news conference Monday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Both Mayor Tim Burgess and Seattle School Board Vice President Leslie Harris voiced the city’s and the school district’s commitment to preserving and restoring the limestone monument that lists the names of 800 former students who died during military service 70 years ago.
“As we rebuild the stadium, we are agreed that the renovation will honor and preserve Memorial Wall, a monument inscribed with the names of former Seattle students who died in World War II,” said Mayor Burgess, reading from prepared remarks as he stood at a podium on the one-yard line at the east end of the historic field.
Burgess made his remarks after a signing ceremony for a partnership agreement with Seattle Public Schools to address joint planning and shared facility expansion/renovation projects at Fort Lawton, Seattle Center, and Memorial Stadium.
Speaking with KIRO Radio after the news conference, Seattle School Board Vice President Leslie Harris was short on specifics but emphatic about the monument’s presence at Memorial Stadium as an integral part of the community.
“The Memorial Wall will be preserved and honored, that is a fundamental baseline understanding with the city,” Harris said. “The folks that died in World War II, our students, will not be forgotten as part of this redevelopment plan.”
“Will not happen!” Harris added for emphasis.
Why, exactly, is this old and neglected – even forgotten – memorial so important to the Seattle School Board in 2017, especially as it looks to the future?
“Because folks back in the 1940s put that wall up with trust, and we can’t breach that trust now,” Harris said. “You know, a promise is a promise. The names of the folks on that wall are sacred and we recognize that, as I believe does the city.”
Leslie Harris says that the memorial may be moved from its current location as part of the renovation plans and then relocated within the new or renovated complex, but she, also said, “it will not disappear.”
Harris is clearly unhappy with the present state of the memorial wall, with cars parked just a few feet away from its columns of names, its dilapidated fountains filled with mud, plus non-functional lighting along overgrown vegetation dotted with rodent burrows and garbage.
“With all due respect, it’s not highlighted and enhanced now, and that needs to happen,” Harris said. “It’s frankly embarrassing, so we’ll change that.”
When asked about an earlier announcement from the city and school board in August regarding the future of the stadium – an announcement that made no mention at all of the fate or future of the Memorial Wall – Harris was matter-of-fact.
“I’m not sure that your Seattle School Board directors were as involved in August as they are presently,” Harris said. “[But] I can assure you that [now] we are passionate about preserving and enhancing [the Memorial Wall].”
Among the other dignitaries in attendance was Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell, who served as mayor briefly after Ed Murray resigned in September, but who stepped down in order to keep his council presidency.
Apart from the political playmaking of late, Harrell also took part in one of the most exciting football games ever played in the Northwest. That game also happened to be played at Memorial Stadium more than 40 years ago.
“1975 Blanchet versus Garfield, four overtimes, but unfortunately, we lost the game to Blanchet and Joe Steele and company,” Councilmember Harrell said, as the rain began to intensify and the politicians and media cleared the field.
“And those memories are still with me as Garfield takes on Rainier Beach next week,” he added.