John Valdemar (“Jack”) Christiansen was a long time resident of Bainbridge Island and died after a brief illness on August 16 at age 89. He was born on September 28, 1927, in Chicago to Christian Valdemar and Louise Linderoth Christiansen. His father worked for the Bowman Dairy Company and the family moved to Oak Park, Illinois, in 1937. He studied Architectural Engineering at the University of Illinois, graduating in 1949.
The engineering and art departments shared a building at the University of Illinois, and it was in its hallways that art major Sue Hasselquist attracted Jack’s eye. After a nine month courtship, they were married in Moline, Illinois, on March 12, 1950. They lived in Chicago for a few years where Jack attended Northwestern University for a Masters Degree in Structural Engineering and began his professional career.
Jack and Sue realized that each harbored a secret desire to go west. They crossed the country in 1952 in “the old clunker,” a black Ford, with their first born Janet Sue, to the chagrin of both sides of the family.
They rented a cottage at Green Spot on Bainbridge Island, and Jack went to work for a structural engineering firm in Seattle. They settled near Fletcher Bay where Jack remodeled a garage into a house for his growing family and then designed and built the home where he and Sue launched their children into the world and lived to the ends of their lives.
Jack and Sue shared their passion for outdoor adventure with many over the years. Jack, the “fearless leader,” planned the trips, and friends and family happily followed. These adventures included exploring the Olympic Mountains, scaling Washington volcanoes, boating Puget Sound, trekking through Europe and South America, rafting great rivers, skiing, and reaching the “ends of the earth” by ship. Jack accomplished a lifetime goal of climbing the 100 tallest peaks in the Olympics.
Jack became a partner for his firm, Skilling, Helle, Christiansen, Robertson. He engineered countless structures in the Pacific Northwest, including the Museum of Flight (1983), Yakima Valley SunDome (1990), USA Pavilion at Expo ‘74 in Spokane (1974), and numerous buildings at universities across the state and at the 1962 World’s Fair, such as the arches at the Pacific Science Center and the Exhibition Hall (now Pacific Northwest Ballet) (1962). He engineered the Bainbridge High School grandstand in 1990.
He considered his crowning achievement to be the design of the Seattle Kingdome – a concrete dome structure spanning over 660-feet in diameter. Built as a publically-funded, multipurpose arena, the Kingdome played an essential role in the growth of Seattle – bringing large-scale professional sports teams to the Pacific Northwest for the first time when it opened in 1976.
Jack commonly professed his love for structural engineering. “Being an engineer was a lot of fun because of the finished product,” he said. “A building is a great big thing, and you can see it, and touch it. It’s like you are creating sculpture on a grand scale.” In 2016, he was awarded the Eduardo Torroja Medal by the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures.
Jack was preceded in death by his beloved wife Sue in 2010. He is survived by his five children – Janet (Torre) Jorgenson, Karin (Shigeki) Kajita, Robert Christiansen, John (Vivian) Christiansen and Nelda (Clif) Swiggett, and six grandchildren – Eric, Noel, Dylan, Karen, Jack and Aaron.