Thomas C. Wales Park
Located just north of downtown Seattle on the eastern edge of the Queen Anne neighborhood, Thomas C. Wales Park transforms and restores 1.3 acres of vacant, overgrown land into a dynamic urban oasis. The design deftly integrates public art and wildlife habitat to create a place of respite and contemplation minutes from downtown Seattle.
The park’s steep slopes and central wetland reveal its previous function as a gravel quarry in the early 20th century. The site was later used as a municipal materials depot by the City of Seattle until 1987.
After sitting vacant for two decades, the property was transferred to Seattle Parks & Recreation and named Thomas C. Wales Park in honor of the slain U.S. District Attorney, a Queen Anne resident who was an active presence in the local community.
HISTORY: the transformation of the site over time
RESTORATION: the reclamation of a highly degraded habitat
INTEGRATED ART: a collaboration between disciplines
SUSTAINABILITY: the expression of environmental and cultural values
During the 20 year vacancy, the site became overgrown by invasive plants such as blackberry, Scotch broom, and black locust. A few vigorous natives - including big leaf maple, Scouler’s willow, and horsetail - survived as a reminder of the city’s natural history.
Social trails and litter indicated problematic usage of the site that created safety concerns for the surrounding neighborhood of single-family and high-density housing, an assisted-living facility, and mixed-use development.
Reclaiming the site was especially challenging given the severity of the slopes and extensive coverage of invasive plants. Concurrent with design, a management program was developed to remove invasive species. Special equipment was deployed, which minimized the need for herbicidal treatments while preserving the stability of the hillside.
The site was replanted with a diverse range of native plants, each appropriate to specific site conditions—from the exposed slopes down to the central wetland. The restoration plant palette was developed to provide year-round food and shelter for various bird species, as well as offer seasonal interest with changing colors, texture, and structure.
What was initially a degraded, seasonal wetland has become a central feature of the new park, remaining wet throughout the year with a combination of stormwater run-off and improvements to local hydrology. Native plantings have quickly filled in the wetland, enhancing the quality and diversity of habitat on site while improving water quality.
Development of the park emerged from a collaboration between the landscape architectural team and an artist selected by the City. The extensive use of cobble-filled gabions offered cost-effective site solutions, while also evoking the historical gravel quarry. These materials inspired the artist to fabricate Quarry Rings, a series of five gabion rings that appear to hover throughout the landscape, echoing the arcs of the retaining walls and paths.
Each of the gabion rings features embedded nesting cavities for birds and bats. Developed in consultation with the local Audubon Society, the nests are specially designed to attract a diverse range of species typically found in the region.