Downtown Kirkland’s utility boxes get a facelift

New wraps celebrate the history of local community, businesses.

One of Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet’s goals since being appointed to lead the city in January was to launch a program that would combine history, tourism and downtown beautification.

She asked the city to approve spending $4,500 to wrap two of its utility boxes, located at Bank of America and the Lake and Central parking lot. The wraps feature old black and white photos of Kirkland’s historic downtown.

“If anything, I think that is such a reasonable price for two of what I would consider significant installations,” Sweet said.

The program is still a pilot, but could be expanded as there are 61 city-owned traffic cabinets in Kirkland, Sweet said. The city or its Cultural Arts Commission plans to do a survey to see what residents think of the first two.

“We’re going to really be interested in feedback from folks,” Sweet said. “We think they’re going to like them.”

The idea originally came from Kirkland resident Sue Contreras, who along with many other citizens, attended a “For the Love of Kirkland” presentation in 2017. The workshop was led by “For the Love of Cities” author Peter Kageyama, who acknowledged the level of engagement already present in the city, specifically citing the Cow and Coyote statue in downtown Kirkland, lakefront parks and the Cross Kirkland Corridor.

Kageyama encouraged residents to recognize the things they love about the city and how they can build on them.

“All kinds of ideas came out with regard to how we can make this a more special place,” Sweet said.

Contreras brainstormed utility box wraps, and worked with Loita Hawkinson, Kirkland Heritage Society board president, to come up with the designs, using photographs from the society’s collection.

“They perused old photos from the vantage point of the cabinets,” Sweet said. “So when you’re at the cabinet, you’re looking at pictures of what you would have seen, standing on that corner.”

The photos depict many of Kirkland’s old businesses, including drug stores, salons, a movie theater, a hardware store and more.

“As you look at the historic photos, you will be facing the current view,” according to the heritage society. “Some are completely different, others are familiar.”

The photos, from the collections of Ernie Fortescue, Martha Burr Millar, Art Knutson and Sandy Allen Anders, were printed by a Kirkland business.

Kirkland has a “deep history,” Sweet said, and “we find out more every day.” For example, the heritage society recently discovered that the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce is 100 years old this year.

The utility boxes are “kind of a celebration of businesses that were here way back when,” and a “little history lesson,” especially as the chamber celebrates its centennial, Sweet said.

She recently visited Coeur D’Alene, where all of the utility boxes are wrapped and were “absolutely charming,” which cemented her desire to do a pilot in Kirkland. Similar projects have been done in Portland, Oregon and Tacoma.

In its newsletter, the heritage society thanked the city for “finding the funds and seeing it through.”

Though history provided the inspiration for the design for the first two boxes, the city may tap into the local art community if the program continues, Sweet said.

See www.kirklandwa.gov for more information on the city.

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