Jimi Hendrix Park Opens at Last, With a Purple Flourish
SEATTLE — Jimi Hendrix’s looping signature greets visitors at the park bearing his name, here in his hometown. The eye-catching purple script is among many personal touches that pay homage to the musician in Jimi Hendrix Park, which was formally christened in 2006 but didn’t open until Saturday, after a decade of permit delays and financial woes.
The 2½-acre park honors the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarist within walking distance of his childhood home in the Central District, one of this city’s historically black neighborhoods that is now rapidly gentrifying. Its opening came on the 50th anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival, a breakout event for Hendrix, who set his guitar ablaze there.
More than 200 people, from children eager to play with sidewalk chalk to gray-haired fans sporting vintage tie-dye T-shirts, joined local officials, park advocates and the musician’s sister for the ribbon-cutting. Musicians from a youth rock camp belted out a cover of “Purple Haze,” the first tune in a daylong Hendrix soundtrack, from underneath a red sculpture evocative of a butterfly wing.
The sculpture, which doubles as a shade structure over a performance stage, sits at the center of a spiraling sidewalk that resembles a guitar when viewed aerially. At 12 points on the sidewalk, along what would be frets on a guitar neck, plaques embedded in the concrete narrate Hendrix’s life. The lyrics from his songs “Little Wing” and “Angel” are etched along the walkway’s edge, forming a purple ribbon. Cedar saplings, a nod to Hendrix’s Cherokee heritage, mingle with paulownias, which will eventually bloom purple flowers.
The guitarist, who died in 1970 at 27, dropped out of nearby Garfield High School and never returned to live in his hometown after joining the Army in 1961. Nevertheless, King County Councilman Larry Gossett called him “an absolute black historical icon for Seattle” to loud cheering and applause from the crowd.
Now a grassy expanse dotted with flowering plants and tree saplings, Jimi Hendrix Park was a parking lot fronting a derelict elementary school until 2003, when a city-funded program tore up the asphalt. Activists occupied the shuttered building in 1985, eventually staying for eight years and demanding that it become a black history museum. Fund-raising and infighting dragged out the creation of the Northwest African American Museum, which finally opened in 2008. The museum’s founding executive director, Carver Gayton, first proposed that a Jimi Hendrix Park be added.
But the museum’s slow journey foreshadowed the park’s fate. “He’s one of the most unbelievable music icons in the history of this country,” Mr. Gayton said, “and we finally got something here in Seattle.”
In 2009, Hendrix’s sister, Janie Hendrix, 56, who inherited the musician’s estate in 2002, formed the Jimi Hendrix Park Foundation and brought on an experienced project manager, Maisha Barnett, to guide the park plan through the city bureaucracy. But delays at the city’s design board and ballooning costs kept construction from starting until late 2015.
Ms. Hendrix saw parallels between what she called the park’s “struggle” and her brother’s music career. “It happened to Jimi and his music,” she said. “They made him pick a genre of music so he could be played on a certain radio station.”
Passionate fans at the opening demonstrated how potent Hendrix’s legacy remains. “See how many children are hearing the messages, being here with their parents who obviously have a love for this man and his music?” said Jerome Whitaker, 67, a resident of nearby Edmonds, Wash., wearing a weathered “Voodoo Child” T-shirt. “It’s an intergenerational opportunity to make sure that his music never dies. He’s not dead; all you have to do is drop the needle.”