the Soundgarden

I'm such a Seattle newbie still in some ways....

Artwork suffers from alert status

"Soundgarden," the work of art that gave its name to one of Seattle's most famous rock bands, is being held hostage to homeland security.

The hillside art installation created by artist Doug Hollis 12 20-foot towers with wind vanes that capture offshore breezes stands on the Lake Washington shore just north of Magnuson Park. The wind-activated sound is eerie and evocative, like the cry of an orca.

But few hear that mystical music now. Soundgarden is one of several original works sited on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration campus, federal property under tight security since Sept. 11, 2001.

When the nation is on orange alert, there is no public access to the NOAA base. During a yellow alert, it is possible to walk onto the base in ones and twos. A guard will ask to see picture identification and inspect parcels. Entrance hours are weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but visitors must leave by 5 p.m.

Soundgarden is still worth the trip, though it is sad to see the disrepair. NOAA Assistant Director Robert Henderson says the agency maintenance budget has been slashed, and it's not possible to do much more than keep the towers upright.

He said, "We have been able to replace some of the bearings, which are wearing out." What doesn't get done is landscaping. Approaches are clogged with weeds, and the towers show signs of wear.

The only good news about Soundgarden is that, because it's difficult to gain access, there has been less vandalism.

Henderson says, "Before, we had to keep replacing the sign."