Lifestyle

Island Crest law office, courtyard is artistic cache

The interior of the Island Crest Lodge building is filled with Native American art pieces. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
The interior of the Island Crest Lodge building is filled with Native American art pieces.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Few may notice the six-foot-long fish swimming up the opening channel of Island Crest Way. Cars fly past the Native American sculpture every day. Fewer still may notice the nearby totem archway, its beams quilted with thick vines of ivy, or the checkered brick path that winds its way beneath. Beyond this path lies a hidden Island Crest oasis; a garden of artwork, a sylvan of shade.

The Island Crest Lodge, formerly the Halverson Office Building, was built in 1990 based on concepts developed by its original owners, Diane and Lowell Halverson. Influenced by his Tlingit ancestry, Lowell Halverson worked closely with architects to design the second floor of the building to resemble a Native American longhouse with large beam trusses and plenty of natural light. The office also served as the perfect place to hang his lifelong collection of tribal masks, carvings, tapestries and photographs.

“I’ve collected this art for over 40 years. Many of the artists I knew personally, and much of the work was gifted to me for helping these individuals [in legal cases],” said Lowell Halverson, who has practiced divorce and criminal law.

When the Halversons designed their building in 1990, city requirements stipulated that — as part of the Town Center — the property must include an open public space with an accessible path, sitting area and decorative art. An artist himself, Lowell Halverson seized the opportunity to showcase his own Native American-inspired sculptures. And thus, the Halverson Office Building and its courtyard bloomed into a unique museum of art.

In 1994, the building won the Mercer Island Design Commission’s Beautification Award for its “outstanding effort to create a project with a unique display.” This honor, once publicized, brought many a curious resident to the divorce lawyer’s door. And the visits were always welcome.

“We were always happy to let people walk in. That was the purpose of putting art there,” said Diane Halverson, who used to lead young students and scouting groups through her husband’s law office as if it were an art museum. “They just loved it. I’d show the children all the traditional dancing masks, and how to make the mouthpieces clack by pulling a string.”

It has been years since the former Island teacher has given a tour. In fact, the Halversons no longer own the building. The couple sold the building in 2006 to attorneys at law Cletus Weber and Elizabeth Peng, who are married, and Stuart and Amy Scarff.

“The Halversons asked if they could leave the artwork here, and of course we agreed,” Peng said, adding that the Native American artifacts draw immediate attention.

Clients who visit the Island Crest Lodge can’t help but ask about the art; the wooden carvings that sit on various bannisters, the vibrant tribal masks, sequenced felt tapestries and miniature native dolls. Indeed, the law office serves as a sort of unofficial heritage museum.

“All of our clients love the art. We receive all sorts of compliments from people who walk into the building,” Peng said. “It’s really made this office such a unique place to work.”

Weber agrees. Although he has no native blood, he grew up on a reservation in Montana, so the artwork carries special meaning for him.

“When my sister came out to visit, she went to a local Native American museum and then she came to our office and said, ‘Wow, the artwork here is much nicer,’” Weber said. “Other people will wander in and say they actually thought our office was a museum.”

Yet Weber added that the majority of Island residents — unless seeking legal counsel — are unaware that the building and its adjacent garden exist. Even he was once oblivious to this cache of culture on Island Crest.

“My wife and I have lived here for 14 years. We would drive by that fish sculpture every day and never notice,” Weber said.

Since taking over the building three years ago, the owners have put care and consideration into the inherited art. Gardeners keep the flower beds tidy and make sure Lowell Halverson’s sculptures — from “Bear’s Gate,” which was blessed by visiting Tlingit chiefs from Alaska in a 1991 potlatch celebration, to the garden’s central wooden sculpture, titled “Broken Promises” in reference to Halverson’s practice as a divorce lawyer — are not weathered or worn.

Lowell Halverson has not forgotten his beloved artwork either. Late last year, after learning that his mythological fish sculpture on Island Crest was falling apart, the artist was back in his studio welding a new one.

Today the steel fish swims, flashier than ever, against the oblivious current of Island Crest Way.

Island Crest Lodge is located at 3035 Island Crest Way. A brief history of the building is posted at: www.islandcrestoffices.com.

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