A cultural journey: Artwork paves way for new streetcars

The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington, July 1, 2003)

It's not just the streetcar that, starting Aug. 22, will take you places.

Go back in time to an American Indian village on what became Pacific Avenue, to Babe Ruth's visit to the Pantages Theater, to the days when the neon Elephant Car Wash sign would not have been retro.

Go to a kabuki theater in Japan, to a rocky shoreline, to a dada art salon.

Designers of the five steel-and-translucent-glass streetcar stations along Sound Transit's 1.6-mile, $80.4 million light-rail route through downtown Tacoma hope the art will transport passengers, too.

They unveiled their $466,000 of work - paid for by the percent-for-art ordinance - during a media tour Monday of the Tacoma Link project.

"Five to 10 years down the road, we'll see development take place because of this," said City Councilman Kevin Phelps, who applauded the designs.

Lead artists on the project were Seattle's Fernanda D'Agostino, who has a decade of experience in public art, and Tacoma native and boatbuilder Nate Slater.

They thought of the five stations as a family. Each member is different, but they all relate. Architects from Lake Oswego, Ore.-based Otak worked closely with the artists to make the structures and art complementary, including creating stools that look like railroad spikes.

The streetcar line begins outside Freighthouse Square near the Tacoma Dome parking garage, where glass panes atop the station are set to look like a fluttering wave of water.

At the 25th Street "pop art" station next to the Elephant neon sign, Slater's six oversized aluminum fishing lures sway in the wind on poles above the station.

Adjacent to the Union Station stop is a 450-foot landscaped median garden with stone and bronze sculptures based on American Indian fishing implements. Look for spears, sinker stones, a clam rake and a cod lure. Bronze ribs evoke the hull of a boat.

The art celebrates craftsmanship, a value that native and immigrant cultures in Tacoma shared, D'Agostino said. Printed on the glass of the station are photographs of canoes and early trains, and poetry by Tacomans Amelia Haller and Philip H. Red Eagle.

"Old dreams not forgotten but forged in a new land," wrote Haller.

Red Eagle wrote, "Old Dreams; Old Songs; Old Stories; Alive in this Old World."

At the Convention Center stop at 15th and Commerce streets, D'Agostino and artist Ingrid Lahti acknowledged Tacoma's connection to glass art and its orientation toward Mount Rainier. Cairns encased in stainless steel align the ancient with the contemporary, D'Agostino said. She designed colored glass for the canopy.

At the end of the line on Commerce and Ninth streets, images of playbills from the nearby theaters are inlaid in the sidewalk in red granite as though they blew there in the wind.

A video shot by Marianna Hanniger will be projected from dusk to 10 p.m. each night on etched glass wind-guard panes. In dreamlike sequences, it features performances from Tacoma Kabuki Academy, Tacoma Chinese Opera Research and Development Association, Tacoma City Ballet and the hip-hop group Dance Broomz. Sapphire lights above will bathe the station at night.

"I think this is the first video projection on glass in the country in this kind of setting," D'Agostino said.

(Published 12:01AM, July 1st, 2003)