Musings on Home and Heritage

Coming home to the Northwest after a trip to Texas leading heritage tourism workshops, I was delighted to take a float plane from Lake Union to the San Juan Islands. Having grown up on the coast, it's always a thrill to come home and see the mountains and water that feel somehow part of not just the landscape, but what I call home and who I am. As we lifted off from the water and away from the city, this perspective of Gas Works Park came into view. Gas Works is the first park where I was finally able to get a kite to take flight. The park is named for the only coal gasification plant left in the U.S. It operated in the first half of the twentieth century, and was opened to the public as a park in 1975. Seattle landscape architect Richard Haag was awarded the American Society of Landscape Architects Presidents Award of Design Excellence for his design. I didn't know any of this the first time I went to the park. It was an oddity, the old plant that some still consider an eyesore, but fascinating to see, especially with the backdrop of downtown Seattle and the Space Needle. The park became special to me, though, because it became part of my personal history. A history that's insignificant to anyone else, but similar perhaps to memories thousands others have formed at that site.

In 2013, Gas Works was added to the National Register of Historic Places. For whatever reason, the designation was not granted for more than ten years after the park had been nominated. Does it make Gas Works any more special? Does it give the park some degree of significance or street cred in the eyes of historians and cultural heritage gurus? Maybe so. Or maybe it brings attention to a past technology, and therefore the past that technology belonged in and was linked to. Certainly, flying over the park triggered memories of a past I rarely think about but still hold dear.

Judith Kitchen wrote that she was interested in (and interested in writing about) her own life more than anything else. Whatever we decide is significant to us, connects ultimately to our own experience. That is, our experiences inform what we decide is important. Those decisions are subjective, personal, and unique. No doubt some people would still say the gasification plant should be dismantled. Others might advocate for that land--prime real estate in Seattle--to be used for other purposes. Maybe condos or office buildings to attract more people and businesses to the city. Personally, I think it should be used for flying kites. A place of lift-off. Where a child's hopes and efforts can soar. Where a middle-age woman can indulge in sentimental memories. Where rock once became energy (and, albeit, pollution). Where we can remind ourselves how far we've come, and to cherish the ineffable  Home.


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