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Paul Schell

1937 - 2014
Paul Schell Obituary
Paul Schell

Paul Schell, a leading civic innovator in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest and mayor of Seattle, 1998-2001, died July 27 at the age of 76. Mr. Schell underwent heart bypass surgery earlier in the week and died of complications from peripheral vascular disease.

Mr. Schell's life was remarkably productive, both as a private developer and public official. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who was at Mr. Schell's bedside as death neared, cited his extensive impact on the city over 40 years. "He was dedicated to the lives of the people of this city, evidenced by his countless contributions and the legacy he built here," said Mayor Murray.

Former Mayor Charles Royer, who defeated Mr. Schell in his first campaign to be mayor in 1977, noted in 2002 that "in his one term, Paul Schell got more done than any first-term mayor has a right to expect." Among those achievements during his mayoralty, in many of which Mr. Schell played a direct role: a new City Hall; a signature downtown library designed by Rem Koolhaas and many new branch libraries; new parks and community centers; a new symphony hall and remodeled opera house; the Olympic Sculpture Park; the preservation of the Cedar River watershed; and new plans and projects for the city's 37 neighborhoods.

Mr. Schell's accomplishments ranged over several careers and four decades, making him a central and inspirational figure in Seattle's shift from a small provincial city into a sophisticated metropolis with global profile. His friend and business partner, Tom Alberg, a leading venture capitalist in Seattle, described Mr. Schell as "a visionary in public and private life, when we are short of visionaries in our public leaders."

Typical of his aspirations for Seattle was his championship of the Goodwill Arts Festival in 1990, which brought leading artistic troupes from Russia as part of a citizen-diplomacy initiative. However, another moment of international prominence, the World Trade Organization meeting of November 1999, was marred by large demonstrations that likely cost him his reelection in 2001.

Arriving in Seattle in 1967, Mr. Schell, together with his wife Pamela, an arts activist who played a prominent role in the rise of Intiman Theatre, quickly got involved in a great number of civic causes. Notable among Mr. Schell's early efforts were citizen-led campaigns to save the Pike Place Public Market from urban renewal, to block unneeded freeways, to revive historic districts, to establish foundational public funding for the arts, to revitalize urban neighborhoods, and to bring good urban design to a city of modest architectural aspiration. His longtime friend and a city councilmember in those transformative 1970s, Bruce Chapman, noted "there surely has never been another local leader in Seattle as well-grounded or as visionary in city design."

After city service and his defeat in the mayoral contest of 1977, Mr. Schell founded Cornerstone Development, a subsidiary of the Weyerhaeuser Co.. Cornerstone was an early leader in the effort to shift from suburban real estate development to multi-block, in-city mixed-use projects. Deploying leading local architects, his firm erected and renovated human-scaled hotels, apartments, offices, and retail. Cornerstone's legacy is prominent in Portland along the south riverfront, in historic downtown Tacoma, and along a three-block area of Seattle's once-rundown First Avenue, now the center of Seattle's downtown arts district.

Mr. Schell became a Port of Seattle commissioner in 1989 and was reelected in 1995. At the Port he led the effort to transform some disused piers and waterfront properties into an international conference center, offices, and condominiums. He also served as Dean of the University of Washington's College of Architecture and Urban Planning, 1993-96. The Schells were long involved in building and operating small hotels, including two in Langley, Washington. At Langley, on Whidbey Island, the Schells had a summer home and served as "unofficial mayors" in nourishing that small community's development and its lively Whidbey Island Center for the Arts.

The Schells magnified their considerable impact on Seattle's transformation by cultivating an extremely wide range of friends from all walks of life. They were adept at spotting and nourishing civic talent and encouraging high-minded ideas by others. In many projects, Mr. Schell's keen sense of urban design came into play, from thinking up ways to improve the look of manhole covers to meshing the architecture of new buildings with the historic context. One of his prote;ge;s, Virginia Anderson, who worked at Mr. Schell's Cornerstone Development Co. before running Seattle Center (site of the 1962 Seattle world's fair), called him "an artist of the public realm."

Mr. Schell's business background provided him with urgency about getting ambitious projects done at budget and on time. Some of his ideas, such as high-speed rail between Seattle and Portland or illuminating Seattle's bridges, Parisian-style, drew catcalls from his detractors, though often proving to be prescient.

Few things deterred him, though he was wounded by the re-election defeat in 2001. "Paul was restless and his enthusiasm was infectious," observed his good friend Eileen Quigley, calling him "a deeply civic-minded visionary with one idea after another." After befriending the Schells, the American historian and editor Robert Merry quickly came to admire Mr. Schell's "indomitable spirit and lovely disposition."

Mr. Schell was born on October 8, 1937 as the oldest of six children of a Lutheran minister, Ervin Schlachtenhaufen, and Gertrude Reiff Schlachtenhaufen. Paul Schlachtenhaufen, who shortened his name after Columbia Law School, grew up in the small Iowa farm town of Pomeroy. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, attended Wartburg College, and graduated in 1960 from the University of Iowa, majoring in political science. He graduated in 1963 from Columbia Law School, where he met his wife, Pamela, a nurse. The Schells were inseparable in campaign appearances and social events. Married for 51 years, they have one daughter, Jamie.

After practicing law at Dewey Ballantine in New York City, the Schells moved to Seattle, where Mr. Schell worked in business and securities law at Perkins Coie and helped form a new law firm, Hillis, Schell, Phillips, Cairncross, Clark and Martin. He left legal practice for civic affairs in 1973, when Mayor Wes Uhlman appointed Mr. Schell director of the Seattle Department of Community Development, overseeing the redevelopment and preservation of Pike Place Market. As president of Allied Arts of Seattle, a key organization in the city's political metamorphosis, Mr. Schell established the One Percent for Art program, soon to be a national standard. He ran as a Democrat against Charles Royer for mayor in 1977, losing in the general election.

Mr. Schell was also a hotelier. Some such as Seattle's Alexis Hotel were founded during the Cornerstone days. His last major project was assisting the design and creation of the Four Seasons Hotel and Condominiums across from the Seattle Art Museum. In 1989 the Schells developed the highly successful Inn at Langley where, most mornings after his retirement from politics, the Schells would drop by for breakfast and chat companionably with guests from all over the world.

At his death, the Schells were preparing to move to a new home on the Langley waterfront, next to another small Schell hotel, the Boatyard Inn. Their country home on a bluff overlooking Saratoga Passage, a gathering place for a generation of civic idealists and artists, had just been sold. Mr. Schell fell one day short of moving into the new home, over whose every detail he had fussed almost until his last breath.

In addition to his wife, Pamela, and daughter, Jamie, Mr. Schell is survived by five siblings: John in Darien, Connecticut, Joel in Neenah, Wisconsin, Dan in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, Sally in Vancouver, Washington, and Roy in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The Schells were cherished as genuine friends and generous supporters of a vast network of people from everywhere they lived or stayed, including Palm Springs, Provence, Whidbey Island, and Seattle.

The family requests that donations in lieu of flowers be made to the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, www.wicaonline.com, or Amara, [email protected] A celebration of Mr. Schell's life will be held on October 8, on what would have been his 77th birthday, at 3 pm at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center in Seattle.

One of Mr. Schell's favorite sayings, often used to inspire the lively and inventive people who worked with him and loved him, was, "Do what will give you meaning in your life."

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Published in The Seattle Times on Aug. 1, 2014
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