Edward Elliott, Man Who Insisted Art Belonged Beneath The Streets

Edward Elliott did not invent Seattle's downtown bus tunnel, nor did he create its art. His name is not engraved beneath the stylized origami at the International District Station nor amid the exquisite terra-cotta at Westlake Mall.

Mr. Elliott merely made it all happen. And the stunning creation is a quiet memorial to the tall, gentle architect, public art advocate and gay activist who died Monday (April 22) of complications from AIDS.

During more than six years of design and construction for Metro's transit project, the project director stubbornly insisted to his colleagues at Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. that the tunnel they were designing would be more than just a transit project.

"The tunnel," Mr. Elliott told them, "is an art gallery, through which we run buses."

Mr. Elliott, who was 61, lived just seven of his years in Seattle. But family and friends say they were perhaps the most fulfilling - climaxed by the opening of the public art gallery that many consider his crowning achievement.

"There was no question what we were doing - we were building a bus tunnel," said Jack Mackie, the lead artist for the Westlake station and for much of the rest of the project.

"But we would not see this melding of art and architecture if it had not been for Ed. He wanted quality of design and art in what other directors would have seen as an engineering challenge."

His colleagues insist the tunnel was not designed around the

art. But Mackie and other artists actually set up shop at the design office, working day to day with the engineers, planners and contractors.

Mr. Elliott felt that, if the project was to work, people would have to feel good about going there, Mackie said. And if people were using transit, it was worth spending the extra money to make it an aesthetically pleasing experience.

His friends say Mr. Elliott was equally passionate about his work with Dignity Seattle, the local organization of gay and lesbian Catholics that was forced to stop sponsoring local masses in 1988. Under Mr. Elliott's leadership, 300 Dignity members and supporters marched quietly out of St. Joseph's church. After lengthy negotiations, gays were allowed to resume their weekly masses.

"He was proud of what he accomplished there," said his daughter, Lisa Elliott. "Dignity was an important part of his life, along with his work and his children."

The son of a railroad conductor, Mr. Elliott was born and grew up in Lafayette, Ind. He earned his architecture degree from the University of Illinois, joined the Army during the Korean War, married, and fathered nine children in 12 years.

Meanwhile, he developed an expertise in public-transit projects, beginning with Atlanta and later in Pittsburgh.

In 1984, he moved to Seattle to work on the Metro project.

"Ed loved public spaces," said Mike Rodner, a fellow architect on the project. "He believed the tunnel should be a melding of art and architecture and engineering, all in a form accessible to everyone. He had an incredible ability to get people to work together - people who march to different drummers."

Last year, just a month before the tunnel opened to the public, Mr. Elliott announced to his colleagues that he was dying of AIDS. The office still is recovering from the shock, Rodner said, "but he turned it around, helping us deal with the shock."

In the last weeks, daughter Lisa moved in next door to Mr. Elliott's Capitol Hill apartment, which was modestly but tastefully decorated with his favorite works of art - including a large, white table that had traveled with him most of his career.

His other sons and daughters, aged 23 to 36, were arriving in town this week. A burial Mass will be held tomorrow at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 18th Avenue East and East Aloha.

Survivors include his partner, John Rochford, of Seattle; his mother, Helen Elliott, and sister, Patricia Kruszewski, both of Indiana, and nine children, Nancy, Duffy, Sam, Philip, Charles, Sean and Kate Elliott Plowden, all of Atlanta; Ned, of Orlando, Fla.; and Lisa.

Eventually, the transit tunnel will house a gentle memorial to the project director. Friends and colleagues have designed a quilt, similar to those used to memorialize other AIDS victims. The quilt will be converted into a work of art to be incorporated into the terra cotta at the Westlake Station.

"That's better than a plaque," said daughter Lisa. "The design encompasses all the facets of his life, all interwoven . . .

"And they'll put that quote on it, the one about the art gallery with the buses running through it."