Travel: Getting First in Line

  • Photograph by Richard Barnes
    The Seattle Art Museum’s downtown branch, which overlooks First Avenue, reopened in May after a $180 million expansion. Photograph by Richard Barnes
<< Back to Robb Report, October 2007

Window seats at the Seattle Art Museum’s new Taste restaurant afford views,

directly across First Avenue, of the pink-lettered marquee of the Lusty Lady.

“We’re open, not clothed,” the sign sometimes reads, a reference not only to the

peep show’s performers but to its staying power. The operation—which purportedly

has rejected multimillion-dollar buyout offers from the Four Seasons Hotel and

Residences under construction next door—is a remnant of a time not so long ago

when Seattle’s First Avenue was also known as Flesh Avenue. Now, thanks to the

recent expansion of the museum (SAM) and the addition of upscale hotels and

restaurants, the downtown stretch has become a cultural center for this

progressive Pacific Northwest metropolis.

First Avenue runs parallel to

picturesque Elliott Bay, along the core of what Seattle mayor Greg Nickels calls

the city’s front porch. The mayor, known for his aggressive campaign to reduce

urban sprawl, hopes that recent development along First Avenue will lure

increasing numbers of residents and tourists downtown. SAM helped initiate

change in the area 16 years ago, when it moved its permanent collection—now

comprising 24,000 items representing more than 140 different cultures—from

Volunteer Park. “Everyone thought the museum was crazy to move downtown,”

recalls Chiyo Ishikawa, the deputy director of art at SAM. Gradually, however,

the smut peddlers on First Avenue have given way to galleries, fine dining

venues, and, most recently, five-star hotels.

In addition to the Four

Seasons, which is scheduled for completion next spring, First Avenue is home to

the new Hotel 1000. Opened last summer, the 1000 (its name refers to its address

on First Avenue) includes one of the area’s best restaurants, the Boka Kitchen +

Bar, and a spa that specializes in sports massage treatments. A virtual golf

club on the basement level has become a popular lunchtime destination for

Seattle locals, who, rain or shine, can play any of the more than 50 courses on

two simulators. Upstairs, guest rooms decorated in deep earth tones reflect the

Pacific Northwest surroundings and showcase views of the new Safeco Field

baseball stadium, the Elliott Bay waterfront, and, displayed on the rooms’

40-inch plasma televisions, 14 abstract artworks that alternate throughout the

day.

Abstract works also are the focus of SAM’s new Olympic Sculpture Park,

which was part of a publicly and privately funded $180 million expansion that

the museum completed in May. Located on Elliott Bay, a few blocks from SAM’s

main branch, the nine-acre park features a bicycle path, a small sandy beach,

and 21 sculptures by artists including Richard Serra and Anthony Caro. Former

Microsoft president Jon Shirley and his wife, Mary, endowed $20 million for

operations at the park, where bicycle-riding docents help visitors decipher

works such as Eagle, a 40-foot-tall Alexander Calder sculpture that resembles a

dog or a chair more than it does a bird. The Shirleys gifted Eagle and other

sculptures to the park and also donated works by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock

to SAM’s First Avenue location. “The corporate wealth is not aloof here,” says

SAM’s Ishikawa. “It’s not about the museum; it’s about Seattle.”

Even the

Lusty Lady claims to have contributed to the downtown cause. When not promoting

its performers, the peep show’s sign sometimes boasts, “We made Sam

grow.”

Hotel 1000, 206.957.1000, www­.hotel1000seattle.com
Seattle Art

Museum, 206.654.3100, www­.seattleartmuseum.org

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