Last week the Museum of History and Industry, the venerable repository of local and state relics, artifacts, ephemera and more, turned a page in its own history book when it welcomed the public to its new South Lake Union location. Construction of the new 520 bridge pushed the museum from its longtime home at the intersection of Montlake Boulevard and 520 into the much larger and appropriately historic Naval Reserve Armory building. This inspired relocation, marrying one local treasure with another, is a beautiful example of smart planning and clever execution and since yesterday’s weather was yet another local treasure to behold I decided to check it out in combo play date/field trip style.
MOHAI is super easy to find and a just a quick hop from the eastside…at least in theory. I consider myself a pretty decent navigator but the seemingly constant rearrangement of the puzzle aptly named the “Mercer Mess” means that I did have to use one work around U-turn, two back roads and a few whispered expletives to put my car in the right position to enter a parking lot sited just south of the museum. I later found out that inexpensive parking is available to north off Westlake Avenue. Do that. But then, if I had parked anywhere else I would not have been treated to a torturous teenage litany of S.L.U.T. jokes and puns. Venom Pen and Sweetie Boy had all sorts of fun trying to think of more suitable acronyms for the South Lake Union Trolley. They ultimately offered S.L.U.B., South Lake Union Boxcar and of course I had to bite my tongue to keep from sharing the S.L.U.T. / S.L.U.B. pairings running through my head.
The pedestrian path to MOHAI is littered with goose poop and aggressive bicyclists, but oh what a pretty building and location. Cuddled by Lake Union, The Center for Wooden Boats and a flotilla of gorgeous vintage boats on two sides and sculpted hillocks of grass and artful bridges of South Lake Union Park on the others, the pinstriped former naval armory building is a gorgeous and highly visible anchor for South Lake Union. Inside, the main desk backs to the soaring open area of the main floor punctuated with towering vertical displays and to the left, an airy staircase and open glass and steel elevator apparatus sure to fascinate machinery fans. As every parent learns, the key to a successful outing, especially the cultural or educational kind, is to know when to hit the stop button. Because children ages 14 and under are admitted free, the Museum of History and Industry is ideal for guilt-free museum glimpsing.
At entry, the girls were happy to take the scavenger hunt cards and eager to scout the clues even though there was no prize. Before I paid admission for one adult ($14) and one student ($12) I decided to ask about membership. After reviewing the choices I purchased an individual membership that came with two guest passes for $50. If I had been with a larger group or other adults, dual membership or family membership would have made better sense…or rather cents. In any case, free admission for little kids means there is practically no excuse to not stop in for quick hit even if all you do is ride the elevator up and down twenty times after zipping through four floors of galleries and spaces to push every available button, pull all levers, bang son a few things and cop a dizzy thrill spinning around the periscope stand.
We arrived after the lunch rush at 2pm. However, I was coming from another meeting and had not eaten yet so we started in the café next to the gift shop which is NOT the way it is supposed to go. You EXIT through the gift shop see? But, guess what? If you ENTER through the gift shop and then forget to return, it’s much cheaper. The Compass Café is open to all visitors and does not require a paid admission ticket. It is open and bright and offers a decent selection of prepared foods; sandwiches, baguettes, bagels, interesting salads, soup and pastries. We shared two sandwiches and a giant brownie between five of us. Next time we’ll try the cookies instead because the impressively huge brownie, while tempting to look at, was roundly panned as “dusty.” All told though, the lovely view, pleasant atmosphere and mostly fair pricing make the Compass Café a worthy rest stop.
Back inside the museum we navigated light crowds that increased somewhat by the time we left a little more than two hours later. Open sightlines and intimate but intuitive exhibits make the museum an extra comfortable place to be with elementary aged kids. Parents and children can each roam at their own pace without panicking at momentary separations. Lots of interactive and hands- on exhibits at regular intervals create a natural pull through the spaces. The main floor features an incredible wood sculpture to hide in and upstairs, kids can hammer railroad ties, gamble, and enjoy a 360 degree city view through a periscope piercing the roof. The current exhibit in the Walker Gallery: Celluloid Seattle, A City at the Movies, features a green screen and camera area where visitors can ham it up. Around the corner is a re-creation of the set from the TV show Frasier, complete with a duct taped recliner perfect for weary chaperones.
A couple of experiences left me with questions and a certain amount of discomfort; on the awkward side, I walked into the film about the Great Seattle Fire just after it had started. The video features fairly hilarious jingle-style song narration and campy graphics. However it was unclear as to whether it was actually intended to elicit laughter. Therefore I was one of several cut-ups working hard to stifle giggles. More awkward though was my very uncomfortable conversation with a museum volunteer. I stopped her to inquire about the posted warning about content regarding race and abuse outside a temporary poetry exhibit. I watched several families pass it by after reading the warning. I took a cruise through looking for intense commentary and after finding none was told by a security guard that the videos featuring high school students that require a handheld phone might have some serious content. I wondered why the whole exhibit was marked instead of just that portion especially after I didn’t notice anything as or more race-based than the very straightforward descriptions of the Japanese Internment during World War II on the second floor. I brought it up to a female volunteer outside the exhibit in front of a case with a photograph from the Black Heritage Collection. What followed was a conversation that left Sweetie-Boy and I dazed and confused. Upon reflection and confirmation that she did indeed say the “Indians are rolling in the dough,” I left the conversation and decided I better find a feedback form…yikes.
Even though we forgot to exit through the gift store, Seattle had a better present waiting for us outside; Sun, glorious winter sunbeams shining a deserved spotlight on a very smart and cheerful new neighbor. Go in and stay for a while why don’t you?
Daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Thursdays 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day
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