The last time Seattle-based artist Susan Zoccola saw the area currently referred to as the West End Plaza, it was a mud pit.
Starting when she was about 10, Zoccola would board a Greyhound bus with a little red suitcase every summer and travel to Spokane to spend time with her grandparents, alighting a few blocks from the plaza – located on Adams Street between Sprague and First avenues – when the Greyhound station was on the west end of downtown.
Zoccola now has another memory to tie to the location after one of her pieces, currently untitled, was installed at the plaza Monday.
The two arches are covered in wheels of varying size and color, some facing viewers head-on and others angled so they face the sun.
The wheels are a loving callback to the area’s history as auto row (the former Watt’s Automotive building, which will soon be Brick West Brewing, is next to the plaza), as well as a nod to the trains that rumble through the city.
The wheels are painted using a 1920s color palette that Zoccola chose specifically for this piece and location.
“Because of this neighborhood, that time period, I thought, even if it’s subconscious, people would pick up on this older palette,” she said.
Each arch is made of steel and is 18 feet wide and 3 feet deep. The tallest part of each arch is 19 feet.
Zoccola worked with Metal Arts Foundry, a Lehi, Utah company, during the fabrication and installation of the piece.
Spokane’s Halme Construction and Spokane Valley’s Cameron-Reilly Concrete also helped with the installation.
The arches are a result of a 2017 call to artists from Spokane Arts, the Downtown Spokane Partnership and the city of Spokane.
Finalists were asked to submit concept designs to the jury, which included downtown residents, nearby business owners, city representatives and a Spokane Arts commissioner.
Some of Zoccola’s ideas involved water, others pinecones (“I love the Ponderosa Pines here,” she said.) but she eventually settled on celebrating the area’s connection to the wheel.
A few in-person interviews later, and Zoccola, who said she applied because of a fondness for Spokane, got the job.
Karen Mobley, who helped administer the final phase of the project on behalf of Spokane Arts, said the piece fits the space for a number of reasons.
“It’s appropriately scaled to the site,” she said. “They fit in but they don’t lord over the space. And it’s a contemporary expression of what the neighborhood was and is becoming. It’s a reprise of the railroad without being an actual train or a car.”
Zoccola too was happy with the size of the arches, saying they were close enough so people could see the wheels but not so close that someone could tag the piece.
Mobley also feels Zoccola did a thoughtful job of choosing the colors of the wheels in regards to the surrounding buildings.
“The colors are bold but they’re not garish with the brick,” she said.
Zoccola, who studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of Washington, has work installed across the country and in London.
Last year alone, Zoccola was commissioned to create the West End Plaza piece, exterior wall art for the North University City Fire Station 50 in San Diego, streetscape public art for the Charleston/Arastradero Corridor in Palo Alto, California and an exterior sculpture for the Foss Waterway in Tacoma.
Next year, a piece of hers will be installed at the Dale Drive Station in Baltimore.
But much of her work resides in Washington.
Zoccola has an installation at Cheney Middle School, a sculpture called Tesla at Spokane Community College and several works of art in Seattle, including Grassblades at the Seattle Center, Stem in the Seattle/Tacoma International Airport and Wave Wall at the Seattle Aquarium.
Zoccola knows that one day, the newly planted trees in the plaza will overshadow – literally – the arches, but for the time being, she hopes they act as beacons, inviting passersby to check out and celebrate the plaza.
“As the trees grow in, I hope it becomes this thing: ‘I’ll meet you at the wheels,’ ” she said. “This iconic thing.”
The city of Spokane will announce a grand opening ceremony of the plaza in the near future.
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