A Place Apart, by Tom Griffin & Jon Marmor


Rainier vista

Photo © Loyd C. Heath. Click photo to enlarge.
On a crisp winter day when the skies dry out and the sun sets early, Mount Rainier turns into a pink pyramid floating over the city of Seattle. It is dusk, what Hollywood cinematographers call the "magic hour," and it is indeed magic if you linger on the steps leading from "Red Square" to Rainier Vista. Before you hovers a 14,411-foot mass of snow and rock, and the rare clarity of the air makes it seem as if you could reach out and touch a glacier. Almost any time the mountain is "out" is a signature moment in the lives of students, faculty and staff at the UW. The view is without doubt the natural icon of the University of Washington—the image burned into our brains that we will never forget. It wasn't always going to be this way. John C. Olmsted, commissioned to draw up a campus plan in 1904, may not have seen the mountain during his first visit. His original scheme, a jumble of academic buildings, lacked any Rainier Vista. But chance favored the UW. When Olmsted returned to draw plans for a 1909 exposition held on our campus, the mountain may have been out. This time Olmsted saw the potential of a grand promenade with Mount Rainier as its focal point. His idea became the center point of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and has remained through every turn of campus development. Almost a century later, we still have the same excitement, and the same view, that he did when he created Rainier Vista.—Tom Griffin

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