Stopping and staring at the curvy and colorful Museum of Pop Culture is a familiar pastime for plenty of visitors to Seattle Center. On Tuesday, the cultural institution took on special interest for those reacting to the death of its creator, Paul Allen.
Special coverage: Paul G. Allen, 1953-2018
Allen’s impact on a wide range of entities in his hometown and across the globe caused many to reflect on his vast impact on technology, music, sports, the arts, science, medicine, the environment, wildlife conservation, real estate development and much more.
In a trip from one end of Seattle to the other, we stopped at about 10 locations looking for signs of remembrance a day after the Microsoft co-founder died at the age of 65. But much like the rather reclusive billionaire, Seattle kept mostly to itself when it came to any outward expressions of grief.
A screen outside MoPOP featured a picture of Allen playing guitar, perhaps to a song from his hero Jimi Hendrix, along with a quote from Allen: “You look at things you enjoy in your life, but much more important is what you can do to make the world a better place.”
Greg Shishman, who goes by “Gregr” as a longtime DJ with Seattle alternative rock station 107.7 The End, was at the museum taking pictures of a new tribute statue for the late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell.
Originally from Albuquerque, N.M., Shishman talked about Allen and Bill Gates starting Microsoft in his home city.
“My dad is a nuclear engineer, and he’s always very proud of that identity,” Shishman said. “So then to move here and see [Allen’s] real stomping ground was pretty fascinating.”
Shishman said like it or not, Allen is responsible for much of why Seattle is a booming tech town, especially since Allen’s company Vulcan Inc. is largely responsible for redeveloping South Lake Union into Amazon’s urban campus. But Allen’s thumbprint on many areas is unmistakable.
“I felt like he was always there to save the day, from a variety of different things, whether it was building a facility to help us keep a grip on music and pop culture, like MoPOP, or it was for diehard sports fans. Then he puts his money into redoing Cinerama, and what nerd doesn’t love going to Cinerama? While he was a mogul, I feel like he was hyper-aware how it affected the people. He understood how to knit a community together in different ways.”
Who will fill that void in Seattle remains to be seen.
“I don’t know who that person is. Hopefully that person exists,” Shishman said. “We’re lucky to have other people that are philanthropic minded, but how do you find somebody that will pick up a guitar and play along, and go to a sporting event and help [develop] real estate — how do you find somebody that has their hands in all of those things and can juggle? I don’t know that there is another Paul Allen out there.”
Loretta and Ken Ernst were wandering around in the sunshine at Seattle Center as part of their vacation to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest from Amelia Island, Fla. It was their first time in the city, but they were well versed in the news of Allen’s passing and the legacy he leaves behind.
“I knew about his history with Bill Gates and how they started out in Seattle, basically just as kids and formed Microsoft and developed MS-DOS for IBM and everything took off from there,” Loretta Ernst said. “I’ve been in IT myself all my life. I remember when personal computers first came out, so I remember Microsoft when they first came out with Office and everything else. I can definitely relate to that.”
Ken Ernst called Allen a “humanitarian” and the couple agreed that it was great that he was able to share his wealth, but sad that he was not able to live longer.
“His history was fascinating. I didn’t know … until I started reading more about his contributions to Seattle, between the sports teams and MoPOP and … the combination of geek and sports fan, he had very diverse interests,” Loretta Ernst said. “I just thought it was so sad, he was 65 years old. It feels very young.”
Brad Tilbe was sorting vinyl records at the Light in the Attic Records shop that has a home inside KEXP at Seattle Center. He reflected on Allen’s collection of music memorabilia, specifically mentioning a Nirvana exhibit at MoPOP where he also does some work.
“It was a really sad day yesterday,” Tilbe said, as the cafe facing the KEXP DJ booth was bustling with people drinking coffee and working on laptops. Like other things, Allen was credited with helping the independent radio station stay alive.
“He started so many things in Seattle and everyone is kind of like, ‘what’s gonna happen?'” Tilbe said.
“He was successful enough and smart enough to know what to do,” he added, expressing optimism that Allen’s interests will be kept going by his family and companies.
Vasili Cheltuitoru moved to Seattle just six months ago, and on Tuesday was at MoPOP with his wife and baby daughter. He stopped to take a picture of Allen’s image on the screen outside the museum’s 5th Avenue entrance.
“Not only for Seattle, but I think for the entire world, he was an amazing tech leader,” Cheltuitoru said. “Without him, nowadays, people wouldn’t have any computers, any desktop computer in their houses or in their offices. I think his impact on the tech society was really huge.”
Cheltuitoru also rattled off Allen’s philanthropic pursuits and of course the Seattle Seahawks — “he saved them … without him the Seahawks wouldn’t be here.”
And even as a newcomer, Cheltuitoru knew that Allen contributed a great deal to the way Seattle looks today.
“Hopefully his family will continue all of this stuff that he did, that he supported. It would be a great pity if they wouldn’t,” Cheltuitoru said. “He definitely tried for society, for the environment, for the whole world … for the world to be a better place.”