In 1981 I approached Seattle designer Larry Rouch and the nonprofit Blueprint: For Architecture to see if they would be interested in sponsoring a journal for Seattle’s design community. At the time they were preoccupied with competitions and other events, so I turned to my colleagues Susan Boyle, Trina Deines, and Ann Hirschi to see if they might be interested in working on such a project. We were recent graduates of the College of Architecture at the University of Washington and all working in town; Susan at Olson/Walker (now Olson Kundig), Trina at Bumgardner, Ann at Environmental Works, and I worked at ARC. Those were heady days, with development dollars pouring into downtown as the Seattle economy was ramping up. Olson/Walker was becoming renowned for its residential work and also for its urban sensibility that celebrated art as much as architecture. Bumgardner was just beginning work on the Alexis Hotel and would design many seminal projects in Pioneer Square and along First Avenue. Environmental Works was gaining credibility as a nonprofit firm serving communities that otherwise would not have had access to professional design help—in particular, Ann’s championing of artists and projects in Belltown was ahead of its time. And ARC was focused on community work through their designs for activity centers and health care.
I was thrilled that my three colleagues were excited to launch this journal and newsletter that we decided to name ARCADE after much deliberation, choosing the name for its meaning as a framework through which one sees a diverse group of images and for its architectural associations. We researched the costs of production with Consolidated Press, who we used through the six years I worked with ARCADE (and who prints ARCADE to this day). It seemed that with $400 — $100 from each of us—we could print at least one issue, and if we secured subscriptions right away, we could keep the journal going. What better way to attract subscribers than to hold a party? It was like a Kickstarter project with the extra juice of face-to-face contact and refreshments. For our launch, Peter Miller, whose bookstore was on the west side of First Avenue, offered us the use of the vacant space that he had access to at the south end of the block. We had letterpress invitations printed by an artist friend, and with the support of the firms we worked for and our own not inconsiderable connections in the city, we hosted quite a nice crowd and secured over 100 subscriptions that night.
In the beginning, it was just us four women working on ARCADE. We allocated tasks based on our interests. I wrote the introduction to the first issue because I had initiated the project, and then I took over the production and graphics since that was my strong suit. Susan and Ann were our links to the architecture and art world, and Trina to the UW; Trina also took care of our subscription base, and Susan kept a constant lookout for calendar items. Over the years, we all took turns editing issues, which gave us the wonderful opportunity to explore themes of special interest to us.
At first I did most of the layout by myself, but very soon I had a host of volunteers to help me. The layouts were put together mechanically on drafting boards. Nowadays, we take the “cut and paste” commands of our computers for granted, but back then we were the computers, and we had to be very careful with the expensive sheets of text proofs provided by the printer, which were waxed on the back to enable us to move them around on the page. Typos were corrected through the surgical operation of slicing out individual letters or words with our X-ACTO knives. It was more economical to correct typos by carefully cutting out individual letters or words and replacing them as needed. The graphics that we could afford were limited to what we could draw. Effects like halftone overlays were simply too expensive for us to consider most of the time. Our bosses allowed us the use of their offices over the weekends and may even have taken our presence as a point of pride. I especially enjoyed working in Bumgardner’s office, which was in the Terminal Sales Building at that time. On the ground floor was Raison d’Etre, an exotically decorated café and an early source of fabulous French breakfast food in Seattle. We held our board meetings there in the morning so we could enjoy the bread pudding made with brioche dough and topped with whiskey sauce.
It wasn’t long before Bill Gaylord, who also worked at Bumgardner, joined our board. He was our “token” male! Bill and I often worked together on graphics, having a blast. Once, for the December issue, we made a last minute decision at the printer to add red to the banner on the cover. I’ll never forget how excited we were. It was such a little thing, but for us every cent was a big deal, and Bill and I had agreed we would pay for it personally if we had to.
Other volunteers became roving reporters. David Schraer scouted out unusual buildings designed by individuals and projects off the beaten path. When Rebecca Barnes joined our board a few years in, she brought her interest in urban affairs to bear on reporting. Jestena Boughton provided a landscape architecture perspective for ARCADE during the time she was involved. These are only a few examples of the wealth of experience brought to us by our many volunteers, whose interests enriched the themes of our issues.
To summarize those early years, I believe that in that time, when I was deeply involved with ARCADE and took on many roles (as we all did), our goals for the journal were achieved. We were proud to be explorers, mapping out exciting new design work in Seattle that would not have received press otherwise. We were proud that we had offered a forum in print and also events for people of diverse disciplines. And we worked hard to maintain the consistent framework, the “arcade,” if you will, within which we presented our journalism. And having claimed all these serious achievements, I also want to emphasize the importance of humor to our endeavor. I don’t think we would have attracted the number of volunteers we did, or enjoyed the support of so many others, if we had taken ourselves too seriously. Perhaps it was the necessity of being frugal and knowing that for all of us, our volunteer time was precious and we wanted to enjoy it. I have very fond memories of our work together.
Since then, ARCADE has become a sophisticated publication with a beautiful and user-friendly website. My wish for ARCADE, now in its fourth decade, goes something like this: ARCADE will continue to seek out design work “off the beaten path”; it will continue to present a diverse range of topics central to the health of urban design, architecture, and art in the Seattle area; it will continue to foster an awareness of the context—historical and otherwise—of these domains; it will allow the idiosyncratic personalities of feature editors and writers to shine; it will proceed with a good sense of humor; and it will sponsor events to display art and design in venues outside the norm and provide opportunities for face-to-face discussions of timely topics.
Thank you, ARCADE, for this opportunity to offer a few words of reflection. I am amazed and grateful that the organization is still thriving and send my sincere appreciation to those who have kept it running all these years. In the end, simply, “congratulations!” to you and to those who continue to believe in the importance of such an endeavor and work so hard to keep it alive.