Signs once warned, “Do not eat the dirt.”

But unpalatable amounts would have had to be consumed to be a health hazard. That was long after the coal gasification plant next to Seattle’s Lake Union ceased operation in 1956, and before millions of dollars in cleanup in 2014.

The late University of Washington landscape architect Richard Haag saw the beauty in the defunct plant he called an “iron Stonehenge.”

His design for the 20-acre Gas Works Park won national awards.

The gears of the coal, then oil, gasification plant no longer turn. The plant, which opened in 1906, is of an age long before thoughts of a “Green New Deal.” 

The park is now a magnet for kite flyers atop its highest point, a mound built with one of the best views of the city to the south.

The Anti-Running Running Club gathers there before setting off on a half-marathon.


The sundial employs the viewer’s shadow to tell time and is its own work of art in concrete, ceramic, shells and bronze.

An accountant uses an aerialist hammock for a workout. Soaring above the ground at the old gas works, Allison Stein says she loves the views and “it’s significantly more fun than accounting.”

Canada geese relish the lush grass and now prefer to stay in livable Seattle instead of migrating to the Great Lakes region or to their namesake nation.

The flocks of Vibram-soled visitors to the park are advised to watch their step. Best to stay on the serpentine paths.

Motor boats and rowers pass by.

Painted, naked bicyclists are not likely to be seen except on the summer solstice, having kicked off the parade in Fremont. With COVID-19, the June 20 event will be “virtual.”

When it’s not raining, people gather at dusk to watch the lights of the city come up. Some bring chairs or leashed pets.

About the only sound is from traffic on the steel grate of the University Bridge or an impatient boater honking for it to open.

The city feels vibrant, not virtual.