Virginia Anderson: Shaping Seattle

In a career spanning public and private development, long-time Queen Anne resident Virginia Anderson has contributed broadly to the creation of distinctive places well loved by Seattle residents and visitors, including Seattle Center where she served as Director from 1988-2006.

Ms. Anderson -– known to many as “Ginny” -– first came to Seattle in 1972 to pursue graduate studies in public administration at the University of Washington.  With her husband Rick she lived first on Dexter Avenue, then in an Anhalt apartment on Queen Anne.  She has since lived in several places on the hill, along with daughter Maile.

Beginning in 1974, she took employment in the City of Seattle Budget Office, working closely with Mayor Wes Uhlman.  In 1979 she began working with Paul Schell at Cornerstone Development -– a Weyerhauser subsidiary — managing development activities throughout the Northwest.  She worked briefly in Seattle’s Community Development office, and in 1981 she joined others in the founding of Plymouth Housing Group and Bellwether Housing, developing affordable housing.

As Director of the Seattle Center 1988-2006, Anderson oversaw the revitalization of Seattle’s major public assembly complex which welcomes sports, cultural, and community activities of local, regional, and international meaning.  From planning to implementation, she had the lead role in redevelopment efforts involving major investments of public and private funds. 

A 2003 article in The Seattle Times (“Virginia Anderson, the powerhouse at the Center“) notes, “She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, a city full of great culture — none of which Anderson saw as the eldest in a single-parent family with six children.

‘My mom was a waitress, and our life was about survival.  She worked nights, so I was the baby-sitter for my younger siblings. I was the first person in my family to go to college.’

… As former Mayor Charles Royer, the man who appointed her, tells it, “Anderson has ‘completely turned around’ Seattle Center. …  A public servant who reports directly to the mayor, Anderson presides over 300 full-time employees and 500 more part-timers, and a budget of $35 million.  … She faced a Seattle Center in disarray and a demoralized, angry staff when she arrived in 1988. … Now Anderson has worked with four different mayors.”

In 1996, AIA Seattle welcomed Virginia Anderson as an Honorary Member, in recognition of her outstanding achievements:

“She has shown exemplary skill and effectiveness in coordinating and showcasing the work of planners, architects, landscape architects, and artists to recreate a lively urban place from the heritage of the Worlds Fair. Projects recognized for design quality and public appeal include the KeyArena restoration, International Fountain, Founder’s Court, Fisher Pavilion, McCaw Hall, and The Reeds.”

In November 1998, Seattle Weekly described her as “one of Seattle’s most influential women and one of city government’s most autonomous officials,” including her in its list of “Who Really Runs Seattle?”  In 2001, she accepted appointment as a public member of the National Architectural Accrediting Board, which oversees the quality of education in US schools of architecture.  In 2004, the American Society of Landscape Architects honored her with its LaGasse Medal, which recognizes “individuals who have made notable contributions to the management and conservancy of natural resources and/or public lands.”   She also served on the Board of KUOW.

In 2007, she became President of Safeco Insurance Foundation, and she also served on the Cornish Board of Trustees. 

The photographed plaque reads:


Celebrating the legacy this generation passes on to generations of the future, the City of Seattle, in its Millennium Celebration and in conjunction with American Forests, proudly dedicates these cedar trees in recognition of a Northwest legend who shared the vision of environmentalism throughout his life.

On the 100th anniversary of his birthday, October 19, 1999, we honor entrepreneur Eddie Bauer and his wife Christine, as the entire community looks ahead to a bright and tree-graced future.

The time capsule beneath this tree is to be opened October 19, 2099.

Virginia Anderson                    Paul Schell
Director, Seattle Center       Mayor, City of Seattle