The Fussy Eye: Nuclear Family

A mural's about to be made homeless again.

Not many murals outlast the buildings on which they were once mounted, and fewer still can survive more than one move. The old City Light building on Third (between Madison and Spring) wasn't particularly loved, though its 1957 expansion brought a significant new artwork to its renovated lobby. Jean Cory Beall (1909–78) was given an inscription from Zola—"That man may use it freely as the air he breathes, the waters of the rivers, the winds of heaven"—that suited City Light's grand sense of mission. Most of our power did indeed come from rivers, after all, but the agency was also looking ahead. Accordingly, Beall's intensely colorful and optimistic 32-foot-wide mosaic celebrates not only the mountains and the rain that filled our dams, but the sun (though solar power was hardly discussed back then). Even more forward-thinking: Nuclear power is also glorified with an atom motif. In fact, the future $2.25 billion bond-default debacle that was WPPSS (the Washington Public Power Supply System) was chartered in '57, with City Light to be one of its main customers. But no one knew that then. The atom was our friend! The future seemed so bright, and it was hard not to be cheered by the happy panorama—with, yes, a nuclear family at its center. I vaguely recall visiting the lobby during some elementary-school field trip (electricity is our friend!), but the building was demolished in 1996 and the mural cut into sections and installed in a stairwell at MOHAI. Which of course is going to be demolished for the widening of 520, meaning another move for the mural—and one hopes a more prominent display—to MOHAI's renovated armory in South Lake Union. Maybe they'll put solar panels on the roof. 

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