A 20-year-old statue in the heart of the Central District currently stands on land poised for redevelopment—but after construction is done, it’ll return to its original home.
The Midtown block, located at 23rd and Union, has been at the heart of conversations about gentrification in the historically black neighborhood—especially while the parcel of land was up for sale and development plans were in limbo. The block finally sold in May, when Lake Union Partners entered a $23 million purchase deal, with Africatown Community Land Trust and sustainability nonprofit Forterra taking 20 percent of the land.
While the block’s single-story commercial structures will give way to taller buildings with both market-rate and affordable housing, one feature of the property will stick around: “The Fountain of Triumph,” completed in the late 1990s by late local artist James Washington Jr.
Mississippi-born Washington was nationally renowned for both his painting and sculpture work. Locally, Washington’s art is featured at the Washington State Convention Center, the Sheraton Hotel, and Mt. Zion Church.
This specific sculpture, which features climbing salmon, was commissioned by the Bangasser family, who owned the property until earlier this year.
“Life is the truest cycle that ever will be,” Washington said of the sculpture at the time. “A symbol of this is the salmon’s return from the sea. As the salmon starts back on its physical trend to complete the cycle where life began, so it is with blacks of the racial trend on the American scene who have struggled like the salmon to reach his or her pinnacle of life and the free spirit again.”
Washington died in 2000, soon after “Fountain” was completed.
The statue will be removed from the site during construction and restored by Seattle’s Pratt Fine Arts Center at Washington’s former studio, located half a mile away on 26th Avenue. (The property was declared a Seattle landmark in 1997 and now belongs to the James & Janie Washington Foundation, which is devoted to preserving his work.)
When completed, along with the statue, the site will feature a couple of different projects. Lake Union Partners’ portion will have around 400 apartments. Around 125 of those will be affordable to those earning 60 to 85 percent of area median income through the multifamily tax exemption (MFTE) and mandatory housing affordability (MHA) programs.
Another portion, developed by Africatown and Capitol Hill Housing, will be home to up to 130 units of housing affordable to families making 30 to 60 percent of area median income, plus community spaces, including a rooftop deck.
This article has been corrected to reflect that Washington’s studio was declared a landmark in 1997, not 1992.