Environmental Works Celebrates 45 Years

Earth Day 2015 marks Environmental Works’ 45th Anniversary! We were established in 1970, the same year of the first Earth Day. To mark this momentous occasion, we handed out daffodils to our neighbors, just as our founders did when they opened Environmental Works 45 years ago!  Read on for a story about the opening from founding member and longtime board member Larry Goetz:

Five or six of us architecture students at the University of Washington had just spent our spring break  preparing our studio on the ground floor Annex at NE 40th and University Way for our Spring Quarter project. The space was perfect. It was an old corner storefront at the base of a 1920s brick apartment house. It had huge plate glass windows that looked out to the street and sidewalk traffic entering the University’s west entrance. We were trying to bring architecture and our class specifically, directly to the community. What better way to do this than to have a storefront that would attract people in off the sidewalk? Our studio would be on view for all to see!

Our objective was simple: to be a design resource for the neighborhood – a place that would provide and promote design assistance for neighborhood projects. The projects could be anything from information kiosks and bus shelters to self-help housing. We were all excited about the project and spent untold hours getting the space ready. We painted the interior and scraped all the paint off the old storefront windows. We also wanted to promote environmentally responsible design and planning. By coincidence, the first celebration of Earth Day was to happen around the same time we would be ready to open the “storefront design studio.” We decided that Earth Day would be a great time to have an open house. It was probably at this time that we came up with the name for the project, the Environmental Works. It certainly seemed to fit our objective, and identified with the new environmental movement.

All we needed to do now was come up with something that would make the space look and feel like we were having a grand opening. We needed something that would be bright, colorful and attract people to come in and look at the space. We were all college students and had no money. But after four years of school we were pretty good at scrounging things up, so we began to look around to see what might be available.  By chance Jerry Arbes (another founder of the Works) and I read in the P-I that Tacoma was holding its annual Daffodil Festival/Parade on the weekend before Earth Day. This is Tacoma’s equivalent of Pasadena or Portland’s rose parades, with daffodils instead. So we began to wonder, “What do they do with all the daffodils they don’t use and the ones on the floats after the parade is over?” Could we convince the parade officials to let us haul them away and use them to decorate the new Environmental Works space?

After making a number of phone calls to Tacoma, we found the sponsors of the parade, who told us that we would have to contact all the float makers individually. The sponsors gave us the address of warehouses where the floats were being assembled. No one we talked to knew whether or not there would be any leftover flowers until the floats were completed late Friday night or early Saturday morning. If we wanted the flowers we would have to spend the night running from warehouse to warehouse. So we hopped into my ’62 Volvo 544 (the one that looks like a Volkswagen Beetle with an engine in the front end), and headed south to Tacoma. We found the warehouses; the people working on the floats were just great. They thought our idea was wonderful; all the extra flowers would have gone into the trash anyway, so yes please take them. And take them we did. I can’t remember how many trips we made between Tacoma and the University District but it was quite a few. I do remember grabbing breakfast in Fife on our last trip just as the sun was coming up. The little Volvo held a surprising number of flowers, enough that after we’d finished shuttling daffodils the old storefront looked like a florist.

On Monday morning, Earth Day, we opened the Environmental Works. We also gave away daffodils to everyone that went by or came into The Works. By the end of the day there were people walking with flowers all over the campus. It was a nice way to celebrate Earth Day and the opening of our little design resource center.