Space Needle pioneer, philantropist Bagley Wright dies

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on April 10, 2012 at 3:28 PM

You cant take a step in downtown Seattle without without bearing witness to the impact of a true visionary. Bagley Wright, philanthropist, developer, New York transplant, helped make Seattle what it is today. "He's somebody who moved here with a fresh set of eyes and a fresh perspective. He showed many of us how things can be done," says long time family friend Howard Wright (no relation).  The real estate developer and early investor in medical technology made his fortune and turned much of it loose to benefit the people of Seattle. Bagley Wright's can-do attitude helped inspire none other than Seattle's Space Needle. 

He was one of the first investors in the world famous landmark half a century ago. At the needle's 50th birthday party in April, Wright, approaching 90 years old, joked about the structure's immortality as opposed to his own. "Well I can believe it's here more easily than I believe I'm here," he told KING 5 News.

Far beyond the Space Needle, Wright was a great patron of the arts. He introduced Seattle to contemporary art,  amassing one of America's largest private collections, and then giving it away to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).  He pushed for the relocation of the museum from Capitol Hill to a then seedy 1st Avenue, and in doing so helped transform all of downtown. "There was a lot of concern about it, but what happened was the museum lifted up downtown," says SAM's Deputy Director for Art, Chiyo Ishikawa.

Inspired by the bold move, the Seattle Symphony built Benaroya Hall right across the street. SAM expanded exponentially, the Olympic Sculpture Park was born. The landscape of the city was forever changed. "He was a person who felt he owed something to this community and he was always paying it forward," says friend Dan McConnell.

Wright also helped found the Seattle Weekly newspaper. Seattle Repertory's Bagley Wright Theater bears his name, but only because other donors insisted on it. Says Ishikawa, "It's hard to imagine one person could have such a great impact."

Mr. Wright died Monday of a heart attack. He was 87. A memorial service is planned for July 26 at St. Mark's Cathedral at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be made to SAM, Seattle Repertory Theater or the Bloedel Reserve.

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