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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

January 2007 Issue

 

County Seat
This new public building provides a splendid forecourt and reflects the geometry of the site and belowground structure.

By Mark Hinshaw

County Seat Site Workshop

For more than 100 years, Everett, Washington, a city located about 30 miles north of Seattle, was a rough-and-tumble waterfront mill town. Lumberjacks, stevedores, and railroad workers would mix it up in the profusion of taverns and burlesque houses that lined the downtown streets. At the top of a bluff, several blocks north, the city’s upper crust—the bankers, railroad barons, and mill managers—lived in splendid Victorian mansions overlooking their domains. But the lumber mills ruled the roost, with great smokestacks spewing long plumes of grimy soot while towering over trees, topography, and buildings.

Everett benefited from being the seat of government for Snohomish County. Commerce swirled around a mission-style courthouse perched at the top of a hill. Though largely blue collar and working class, Everett thrived with department stores, hotels, restaurants, and a robust, if sometimes seamy, nightlife. But all that changed with suburban expansion in the 1950s and 1960s.

Middle-class families moved out, department stores decamped for the malls, and the streets and buildings of downtown Everett became virtually vacant. Even in the 1990s, when the U.S. Navy installed a bustling, state-of-the-art “home port” for a massive aircraft carrier, the place still seemed forlorn.

But things change. By the end of the twentieth century Everett was well within the commute shed of Seattle—a 45-minute drive. Housing prices were a fraction of those in the big city. A huge inventory of historic homes and old commercial buildings began to attract new investors. For its part, the city worked with the regional transit agency to build a stunning new multimodal rail and bus station with educational institutions occupying the upper floors. But it was not until the city built an elegant arena squarely in the center of downtown for a professional hockey team that the city finally got a boost.

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