We’re thinking global

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Before the Space Needle became the symbol of Seattle, before the Starbucks mermaid became the world’s barista and decades before the Columbia Center cast its tall, undulating shadow over the West Coast, there was the P-I Globe.

The Globe, spunky, animated symbol of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has long served as the city’s unofficial cultural icon. But there were no iron-clad assurances that the words “It’s in the P-I” would keep spinning into the future – until now.

The Globe, all 13.5 tons of it, no longer sits astride the daily newspaper offices that gave it life in 1948.  Three years ago, the Hearst Company, the P-I’s parent, ceased publishing a paper edition, turning the city’s oldest daily into an online only news source. (Check it out at SeattlePI.com). The newsroom, much reduced in size, recently moved to offices several blocks from the waterfront building at Elliott Avenue West on which the P-I Globe sits, rusty and minimally tended.

The Globe’s orphan plight has not gone unnoticed. Three years ago, three Seattle councilmembers, all former journalists, realized that, if the Globe were to escape the scrap metal heap, it would need protection as a landmark. And, unlike process as usual, the three councilmembers vowed to themselves nominate the globe for landmark status.

Three years seems a long time and, yet, the Globe’s landmark designation is only now reaching its critical point. There has been lengthy research – oh, my, the stories the Globe could tell; but more about that later. During those three years, there have been negotiations with the Hearst Company which still owns the Globe and which, fortunately and happily, recognizes the Globe’s status as part of the city’s history.

Add to that a series of negotiations with the Museum of History and Industry (aka MOHAI), the local nonprofit that has stepped up and is willing to accept ownership and responsibility for the iconic sign.  This is a grand gesture for the museum and a wonderful addition to the museum’s storehouse of significant artifacts which, of course, includes such city symbols as Rainier Beer’s giant “R” and the neon tail-wagging dog from the city’s once famed 24-7 Dog House Restaurant.

Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day. And neither was the Globe rescued for posterity in an abbreviated period. But, after much process, many meetings and robust discussions, there is finally is progress to report. Today, the Landmark Board will have before it the question of whether – or not – to recommend landmark status to the P-I Globe. Once that is done and terms of the agreement decided, the final vote will be taken by the Seattle City Council.

At that point, the Globe will likely be moved to a temporary storage location until it can be handed over to MOHAI and Executive Director Leonard Garfield. MOHAI is making plans to refurbish the Globe and find a new permanent location for it to reside.

Where the Globe might go next hasn’t yet been definitely decided. There are funds to raise and venues to consider. Garfield has said that the community should be involved in picking a locale.

Some think the ideal location might be near the museum’s new home at South Lake Union or perhaps near Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront. One suggestion – this one by Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson – is placing the Globe adjacent to the sculpture park’s other neon artwork, “Love & Loss.”

A word now about the globe itself, which was spinning atop the old P-I Building at Sixth and Wall Street when I first went to work at the paper in 1974, feeling elated to think that the world would soon, literally, be on my shoulders. By then, the Globe was already a fixture in the city, the result of a 1940s P-I contest won by University of Washington art student Jakk Corsaw. His entry featured a cylindrical map that shot streaks of light from breaking news across the continents.

The P-I art department refashioned the map into a world globe topped with an 18-foot eagle and encompassing the spinning words “It’s in the P-I.” The redesign was a more agreeable task than the department’s other jobs which included altering news photos to make them suitable for a family paper. Among their jobs: painting out the udders of cows and tracing paths taken by Aurora Avenue Bridge suicides. Artist Ray Collins, in a slightly irreverent mood, once wondered aloud if suicides would kindly take along a roll of toilet tissue to mark their route.

The Globe represents the legacy of those brawling Front Page-like days of the Post-Intelligencer, when reporters, editors and craftsmen fought rivals for scoops and put out a morning paper seven days a week in what one editor described as “an every day miracle.”

The late night crew, an inspired bunch of copywriters, editors and rim rats – among them Dune novelist Frank Herbert and “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” novelist Tom Robbins — often took their “lunch” break on the Sixth and Wall-Street Building’s roof, next to the Globe, sometimes inhaling dried plant substances and wishing they could say, “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.” Or now, like me – missing the old print edition and its iconic symbol –  but hoping we can preserve its memories for future generations.