CLUI Goes to Washington
Exhibition and Tours at the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle

1105 CLUI bus tour at Satsop abandoned nuclear power plant in Washington State. CLUI photo
THE CLUI WAS INVITED TO create an exhibit about Washington state for the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), a nonprofit exhibition space near downtown Seattle. The exhibit, which opened in June, 1999, was called 100 Places in Washington, and was composed of 100 color photos and text captions, prepared especially for this program by the CLUI. In addition to the static display, a series of three guided tours took place during the run of the exhibit, June 12 to July 31.

The exhibit was part of a larger program, organized by CoCA, called Land Use Action (a title which is a reference to the signs posted by law at all real estate undergoing land use changes within the city of Seattle). Numerous activities took place as part of CoCA's ambitious program, including street interactions and a performance at a Nike Missile site by Boston artist Marylin Arsem.

The CLUI tour program featured visits to many of the sites represented in the exhibit of CLUI archive photos, with tours arranged geographically and thematically.

The first tour was entitled Land Reuse Reaction, and visited sites where the land has undergone several stages of uses and transformations. The tourbus traveled around the southern edge of Puget Sound, first passing through the Boeing nidus south of Seattle, then to the Johnson Gravel Pit, where local briefer Helen Lessick met the group and described the transformation of the site from abandoned quarry to land art site, by the renowned artist Robert Morris, whom Lessick worked with on the project.

Passing by the headquarters of the Weyerhaueser Corporation (an extravaganza of corporate architecture by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill resembling a wooden dam with horizontal bands of glass), the group then picked up a representative from the Port of Tacoma, for an interpretive drive-through of the huge land area of the Port, a filled-in estuary, now developed with a myriad of industrial forms, representing a good variety of the industries that drive the State, including aluminum plants, log yards, pulp mills, and Pacific Rim shipping.

After a stop at the Port's headquarters and observation tower, the tour headed south again on Interstate 5 - that instrumental transportation corridor running down the West Coast, from Canada to Mexico - past the military zones of McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis, to the historical microcosm of DuPont/Northwest Landing.

This site was the crux of the tour, a dense program within a program. The site represents a kind of land use stratigraphy of Washington State, juxtaposed in a curious and suggestive fashion. First stop at the site was at the small historical museum in the tiny town of DuPont, a preserved grid of old corporate housing for the nearby and now closed DuPont DeNemours Company plant. The director of the museum, Lorraine Overmeyer, presented a historical summary of the town and the region, which dates back to the "first white settlement on Puget Sound," the Hudson's Bay Company post called Fort Nisqually, established in 1833. Then, in 1906, the Dupont Company built a major explosives plant on the site, producing dynamite and bullets for the colonization and industrialization of the Pacific Northwest.

In 1976 the plant closed, and the property was bought by Weyerhaueser, which had hoped to open a wood exporting terminal at the 800 acre plant site, located on the Sound, south of Tacoma. Economics and environmental concerns changed that plan, and now the company is building a "new urbanist" community, called Northwest Landing, on the site, surrounding the isolated old town of DuPont.

After Ms. Overmeyer's talk at the Museum, the group boarded the bus again, and picked up representatives of the Weyerhaueser Corporation at the Northwest Landing sales office, then headed into the old plant site area, a restricted zone where environmental cleanup from the plant continues. Past piles of dirt covered by plastic sheets and old brick explosives storehouses, the group stopped to ponder the past at the 1833 Fort Nisqually site, located in a clearing. Then it was on to the future for a drive-through of the new development portion of the site, Northwest Landing, narrated by Chris Hall, from the sales office.

Designed by Berkeley architect Peter Colthorpe, Northwest Landing already has over 100 houses, closely packed and traditional in style, like a clean, nostalgic-feeling community, manufactured in a completely new place. As with other "new urbanist" projects, like Disney's Celebration, Florida, the idea is to create a neighborly, pedestrian-oriented town, where people can even walk to work. The corporate beltway surrounding the town already has a big new Intel R&D plant, and the new regional headquarters of State Farm Insurance. Although few of the residents at Northwest Landing work at either place.

Once done with this contemporary historical microcosm, it was back on the interstate, with a brief sidetrip through the back lots of the State Capitol complex at Olympia to see the power plant, and governors mansion. The final stop was a land reuse site of an exceptionally unique and gargantuan nature: the Satsop plant site, where one of the largest nuclear power plant projects in the country never made it to completion. Huge reactor buildings and abandoned security turnstiles lie in the shadow of two five hundred foot tall cooling towers, one of which is completely hollow and provides highly unusual acoustics, as demonstrated by the director of the site, Commissioner Tom Casey, who showed the group around. Mr Casey, an antinuclear activist who opposed the construction of the plant, is now charged with finding new uses for the site, where billions of dollars were spent on what are now perhaps best appreciated as abstract sculptural forms.

From there it was over two hours back to Seattle, but on the way back, as with the rest of the tour, a curated video program played on overhead monitors, showing films about the sites being visited, passed by, or otherwise related to the tour's theme, adding another dimension to the experience.

Two other tours were conducted by the CLUI as part of the Washington exhibit, including a full day bus tour of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered by some to be the "most contaminated place on earth," and a boat tour up the industrialized Duwamish River, south of Seattle, with around 100 people aboard the Seattle Rocket, the fastest tourboat on Puget Sound.