4 contractors bid on project to remove aging art installation downtown

Four contractors have responded to a call for bids issued by the City of Tacoma for a project to remove and dispose of a downtown art installation created nearly 40 years ago by a prominent Pacific Northwest artist.

The wall-mounted Untitled (Concrete Sculpture) was commissioned by Bob Price Architecture Co. and created by Harold Balazs in 1976 as part of a courtyard fountain at the Bicentennial Pavilion located near South 13th Street and Market Street. Balazs’s work is on display throughout Washington State, including Riverfront Park in Spokane; the Federal Building in downtown Seattle; the Temple Beth El synagogue building in Tacoma; and the former Puget Sound Bank (now KeyBank) in University Place. Five years ago, University of Washington Press published a book about Balazs that coincided with exhibits of his work at museums in Spokane, Pullman, and La Conner.

A City staff report prepared earlier this year noted the downtown Tacoma artwork is unstable and poses a safety hazard. Conservation consultant Lynda Rockwood reviewed the artwork in 2008 and recommended it for deaccession. She also found the structural and surface conditions of the artwork to be unstable, and deemed it a public safety hazard.

The artwork was not commissioned by the Tacoma Arts Commission, and there is no formal contract on record. The Tacoma Arts Commission voted in April to deaccession the piece.

“People were climbing it,” City of Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride told the Tacoma Daily Index in November (see “Safety concerns force Tacoma to remove aging art installation downtown,” Tacoma Daily Index, Nov. 6, 2015; and “Tacoma Daily Index Top Stories — November 2015,” Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 1, 2015). “I love Harold’s work. Unfortunately, he was working in a material that isn’t particularly durable after thirty years. But it had a good run! Close to forty years!”

“People have told me that it has suffered quite a high degree of vandalism,” Balazs, 87, told the Tacoma Daily Index in November during a telephone interview from his home in Mead, Wash. “I just had a couple more pieces that have been vandalized and torn down. Nobody wants to repair them.” Balazs recalled the artwork originally included water and light features. “I very seldom gave any titles to the work I did. I know that was the case there. I think somebody was going to try and salvage it and just use it in their home, but I guess that hasn’t come to pass.

“It’s just what happens with age,” he added. “In the old days, they repaired stuff. But the lifetime endurance of most buildings is twenty-five years. Very little gets saved anymore. It’s thrown in the dump.”

The project to remove the artwork is estimated to cost between $2,500 and $4,500. The bid deadline expired at 11 a.m. on Mon., Nov. 23. According to information posted on the City of Tacoma’s Web site, the following contractors submitted bids: Combined Construction ($3,300); T. Miller Construction ($3,580); Woodland Industries ($3,650); and Nordic Construction ($3,939).


Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and the author of several books. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.