Longtime area residents have spent the past week or so explaining to me why the structure that once housed Weyerhaeuser’s corporate headquarters is so important to this city.
Their tones have varied, ranging from passionate exasperation to contented retrospection, but their underlying messages have been the same: The building is important because it’s been, since 1971, a symbol of everything revered in the Pacific Northwest. The structure is modern and distinctive, despite being 40 years old, and it’s an edifice of both commerce and ecology – it’s a confident declaration that capitalism, culture and community are not mutually exclusive concepts.
All of these points are mostly lost on me. I am not a “longtime area resident,” unless “a little over two years” somehow counts. With no historical affinity for the Weyerhaeuser campus, I can’t in good faith say that I truly know what that building represents to those who have shared time with it in five different decades.
But I can say, thanks to my limited experience living and working in this town, that the campus, uncluttered by 1 million square feet of warehousing, is an indispensable part of this city’s landscape.
Since assuming this role, I’ve often had the chance to take, commission and dig up all manners of photos. Most of the pictures we run are taken at whatever event we’re covering, but we occasionally print images for more esoteric reasons. To the latter point, I’ve often wanted a photo that succinctly, without the need for explanation, immediately and unconsciously says, “This is Federal Way.”
There aren’t many things in this city that really fit the bill, and there’s a tragedy to that. Perhaps Dash Point State Park or the BPA Trail qualify, but the park feels more self-contained than something that’s unique to the city, and the trail… well, walking paths themselves don’t really make for evocative imagery.
“How about a photo of the Weyerhaeuser building?” I asked about six months ago. “That’s unique to Federal Way, right?”
“Yeah,” was the response, “but Weyerhaeuser’s leaving town, and who knows what they’ll be replaced by.”
It was a sensible reason to hold off on using the building as a symbol of Federal Way. But I always maintained hope that, down the road, it could become the landmark it was clearly meant to be. It was mostly unoccupied, but the hollow halls still screamed to passersby to recognize its architectural innovation, its lovely blend of greenery and gravel-tones, and the natural complements of its cascading vines and man-made lake. It’s the Hanging Gardens of Federal Way, and I went out of my way to show it to out-of-state visitors.
I will not, I assure you, go too far out of my way to show my friends from elsewhere a fish processing center. An incidental view of the complex, if obscured by warehouses, will be commented on in the past tense, not the present – “It used to be really nice.”
I won’t dismiss the warehouse or the processing plant or any other industrial necessity out-of-hand. They do, indeed, bring jobs, and whether that job involves complex mechanical engineering or driving a forklift is irrelevant when there are plenty of folks for whom any ol’ job at any ol’ salary is better than what they have now. Besides, fish need processing and wares need to be housed. Those enterprises have to be somewhere, and it’s great that they want to be here in Federal Way.
But do they have to be there when they’re here in Federal Way? It seems like sacrilege. It may not rise to the level of defiling a temple, but it rises pretty close to spraying graffiti on the closest thing we have to one.
Maybe my hand-wringing is unnecessary, and one day soon my photo of the thing that perfectly identifies “Federal Way” as its subject will be available. Maybe it’ll be the incoming Performing Arts and Event Center, which the plans indicate will be gorgeous. But I’m not so sure: When you think “Kent,” do you immediately think “ShoWare Center?”
I want my city to have something unique. I want it to have something no other city can have. I want it to maintain at least one spot of art married to architecture married to commerce married to nature. I want my Hanging Gardens of Federal Way.
I want my photo.