MOHAI is Awesome

Photo courtesy of LMN Architects

The new Museum of History & Industry, which recently relocated to its beautiful adaptation of the Naval Reserve Armory at South Lake Union Park, sounded worthy of a good hour at most. Nice little museum in a small building, with some recreated storefronts, some trinkets and photos of old Seattle, and the odd neon “R.” Entering at the large central atrium reinforced this impression, as there’s plenty of room for further installations in addition to the transplanted landmarks and interactives.

Photo courtesy of LMN Architects

But then came the second floor, and the surprisingly large volume of stuff there…captivating stuff. If you’re curious about this city, how it got where it is, the people involved, and who and what we are today, then (shaking you by the shoulders) go now. My hour turned to two hours just to see the first 40%, then a second visit. A third will be needed to see the rest.

Perhaps it’s always been a great museum. Some of it matches distant memories of decades ago. But some is new, or refreshed.

Want to better understand our regrades, the suburbanization trend, or our one-time wealth of old theaters? Or the Great Seattle Fire complete with intentionally cheesy but catchy and informative multimedia show every 15 minutes? Boeing airplanes and worlds fairs? The surprisingly long list of movies filmed here? Local civil rights efforts?

MOHAI does a nice job of covering these and many other topics, including multiple viewpoints on many topics, and deeper dives on numerous touchscreens. In some areas it’s primarily boosterish, such as the 1962 fair, though that may be par for an event that was about boosterism. In others it’s surprisingly honest on topics such as Microsoft’s past missteps. They’ve done a good job mixing media — photos, text, spoken word, video — a key since people learn in different ways, and are drawn to different modes.

Part of going to MOHAI is South Lake Union Park. Be sure to leave time to stand at the end of the pier and look at the city. Or grab lunch as the Compass Cafe (part of MOHAI) and sit on the pier and look at the city. Prepare to be happy…Seattle looks great from here, especially now that you understand more about how it happened.