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AIA Memories

Archive: AIA Seattle Memories, Fred Bassetti 1993
by Fred Bassetti FAIA
10/18/93, Sudbury MA

School days at UW, about 1937: George Wellington Stoddard, Bill Bain, and Lister Holmes came to recruit for student membership (they had nothing else to do with their time!). I remember reaching out to touch Lister's sleeve. He was a real flesh and blood architect. We didn't consider [Arthur] Hermann, Spike [Pries], or [Lance] Gowen as such.

Chapter meetings were held in the fine wood-paneled room, the Lounge, at the Sorrento Hotel, the one with the big paneled column in the center. We all had to crane our necks to hear what the President was saying, or when there was a hot exchange between Benny Priteca and Bill Aitken as to whether the price of dinner at the next meeting should be 50 cents or 75. I remember also that my young wife Mary had to be pretty spry to stay away from Benny, who always tried to pinch her in the bottom. Then there was the Christmas Dinner right after the war, at the Crabapple Restaurant in Bellevue, a lovely placed designed by Bliss Moore years before the giantism that is now Bellevue Square was a gleam in anyone's eye. Between the turkey and the pie Jim Chiarelli, bless his cheerful memory, talked his partner Paul Kirk into going up and down all of the 6 or 8 tables and kissing every single one of the wives and girlfriends in the place.

Probably the most memorable of all AIA meetings that I attended -- and this includes evenings with Lou Kahn, Brever, and Charley Eames -- was the one organized when Jack Wright was President. This, of course, was the one addressed by Constantinos Doxiadis. We got him to come all the way from Athens, Greece, to speak about city planning. Jack managed to get about 600 architects and guests, and everyone from the Mayor on down went away inspired to improve the city.

One result of the Doxiadis affair was to convince me that when I became Chapter President a year or two later, we should have no more meetings to discuss how to get more members or to figure out ways to charge more reasonable fees, but that we should instead do something public-spirited for the City, hoping that thereby new members and general approval leading to improved fees would come as a by-product.

In 1967, I gathered together about 50 or so eager young architects, and we started to work, first on deciding what the most important urban needs were and how to meet them. I also began a personal effort to raise money to pay for out-of-pocket expenses, and for the cost of a film to document what we were doing. What we did became known as Action: Better City.

We selected 5 or 6 projects: Downtown, Elliot Bay, Pioneer Square, Lake Union, the Regrade Park, and the need for downtown housing. We had 400 or our members and guests -- mostly people of power and influence in town -- as attendees at a fine banquet in the Olympic Hotel. Each was given a 64-page brochure detailing the summer's work, shown the movie, and invited to visit the formal exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Dr. Fuller donated most of the money -- $15,000, I think -- and I guess I dug up $10,000 more somewhere.

Results: Westlake Square -- even though Paul Schell [then head of Seattle Department of Community Development], in his wisdom, went first to Mondev in Montreal and then to RTKL and Rouse in Baltimore to design and build the project. Will the City (and the UW) ever learn about using local talent who know the territory and care deeply?

Pioneer Square also got City help, as did Lake Union and Gasworks Park and the Burke Gilman Trail -- which, I believe, was first seriously proposed in the Action: Better City program. Probably the most imaginative and far-seeing proposal was for the Regrade Park, which could have been accomplished then, before any of Selig's buildings went up on 4th Avenue. But, as a direct result of that effort, which I told John Hinterberger about, the city may soon have an equal or better park, Seattle Commons.

Lots of people made A:BC possible. I remember particularly Don Frothingham, Ibsen Nelsen, Rich Haag, Lee Copeland, Norm Johnston, George Heideman. Sorry this is written from out of town so I can't remember them all.

As you can see by my writing, my hand is getting tired so I'll stop. Sorry I can't be there and hear others' comments.

Cheers from Boston.
* Fred

PS Find a copy of the movie "What is so good about Seattle?" and show it!

 

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