Leif the Lucky

By Kristine Leander
©2008

To a Viking, good luck is everything. On the other hand, modern people say that good luck is just equal parts preparation and persistence.

But whether it was good luck or hard work, Seattle’s statue of Viking Leif "the Lucky" Erikson got a new home in 2007. What’s more, as the first recorded European to land on American shores, he’s probably right at home now, standing among rune stones and the names of Nordic immigrants following a difficult journey and a move to a new location.

The Leif Erikson League gave the 17-foot statue to the Port of Seattle in 1962. It was unveiled during the Seattle World’s Fair, and stood for the next 45 years on a 13-foot pedestal overlooking Shilshole Bay Marina. (For the story of the statue’s creation, see "The Saga of Seattle’s Leif Erikson Statue." Starting in the mid-1990s, the six-member board of the Leif Erikson International Foundation (LEIF) raised funds and created two replicas of the statue—the first for Trondheim, Norway, in 1997, and the second for Leif Erikson’s home in Greenland in 2000. LEIF then set its sights on refurbishing Seattle’s aging statue and updating its setting.

At the least, the board wanted to recondition the statue and create a new base that would bring Leif down closer to visitors. LEIF had learned that the statue wasn’t designed to be so high above the eye, and believed it’d be more appreciated if it were more approachable. Meanwhile, the Port had begun public meetings about redeveloping Shilshole Bay Marina. LEIF announced its statue project at one such meeting, a presentation by aspiring architectural firms in April 2001. It was a relief to learn that no matter what else changed at Shilshole, everyone wanted Leif Erikson to stay.

The Port selected the architectural firm of Mithun to develop a master plan for landside redevelopment of the Marina and a new Port office to coincide with a project to replace the docks. LEIF began deliberating with local sculptors and monument companies. Ideas were tossed around and tossed out. In October 2002, LEIF met with local artist Jay Haavik, who has deep roots in Seattle’s Norwegian-American community. Together they hit upon the idea of creating a plaza with runic-like stones to hold plaques bearing the names of Scandinavian immigrants.

But post-9/11 economics put the Port’s Marina remodel plans in flux. Booming local, national and international construction activity caused costs to skyrocket, and in 2004 the Port scaled back its rebuild project. In May 2005, LEIF was informed that due to increased construction costs for the redevelopment and its effect on the financial performance of the overall project, the move and refurbishment of the statue would not go forward.

LEIF, however, clung to its vision. It seemed like such a good idea: a Nordic monument in Ballard that involved the local community and resulted in a new look for an aging, publicly loved sculpture on property that was being remodeled. Jay Haavik continued to plan and prepare for managing the project and designing the stones. He visited Seattle’s Marenakos Stone Center, where he met one of the salespeople, Jan Nielsen, who happened to be a friend of the statue’s sculptor, August Werner. Jan had drawings from the 1962 project in his home and was enthusiastic over the new plan. The coincidental meeting gave the vision new momentum, and LEIF brought its project back to the Port for reconsideration. Uffda! Getting the Port back on board was as simple as presenting the idea to the right people. By July, the project was back on track.

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