About Judy Smith

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In case you missed it, the Modern Love column in the New York Times a couple of weeks back features Seattle as one of its settings and Gas Works Park as the turning point for finding love or almost finding it:

A few nights later, we met again. On top of a small knoll at an abandoned gas factory converted into a park, we had a conversation I’d had a few times before.

“I like you,” I said, “but I’m not ready for a relationship.” This was my standard pain-prevention opening line.

“Me either,” Jason said. “Let’s just have fun.”

“O.K.,” I said. “Good.”

We stared out at the black water of Lake Union, our fingers casually interlace

Each Sunday the Modern Love column features a different author, a different story, about how love appears in our modern times. Rachel Newmann’s Seattle-setting story, also features rides on The No. 9 Metro bus, and The Stranger newspaper plays a pivotal role. Find out what happens. Is love lost or found? Here’s the essay: Waiting Patiently for the Wall to Crumble


Gas Works gets a nice write up on Ziptopia, a blog sponsored by Zip Car of all things. In particular it highlights how close Gas Works came to never being realized but thanks to the relentless vision of its architect:

Given that discussion of what to do with the site started in 1962 when the City of Seattle acquired it after the plant had shut down, many people strolling through the park may have no idea just how groundbreaking Gas Works Parks is. When the city ultimately decided to turn it into a public place, most people assumed that the structures would be removed.

“What was unique in this situation was a landscape architect convincing a city that an industrial site could be reused as an open space,” Brooks says.

That’s just what Haag did. He explored every nook and cranny of the site, and the idea slowly came to him to keep some of the structures of the old plant. “I had no rock outcroppings and no sacred trees. Not much there except these wonderful iron totemic structures. The more I was around there, the more I bonded with those things. And I thought, ‘Yup, I’ve got to save them,’” Haag explains in a recently recorded oral history project.

Initially, it seemed most everyone in the city opposed the idea of retaining the structures, with both daily newspapers coming out against the plan. But Haag finally won over the community.

Richard Haag also described his struggle at an Eastlake Community Council meeting last year featuring videos of Lake Union History:

The park was originally going to be named for Myrtle Edwards. The park concept was being spearheaded by her family, but the family was adamantly against saving the structures and denounced the idea at public meetings. The sentiment from the family and many members of the public was, “Save that pile of junk?  What is going on here?”

Haag had a painting commissioned to show how the park might eventually look with the gas works and revealed it at a public hearing that over 700 people attended. That helped sway public opinion enough to let the project go forward.  The Edwards family withdrew the councilwoman’s name for the park. And instead the park, the first of its kind, became most known for, as Haag referred to them, its “industrial ruins.”

Fallen cyclist was Wallingford resident

The Wallyhood blog reports that the bicyclist who was killed downtown at 2nd and University was a Wallingford resident and that a fund for her family has been set up in her honor:

We’re very sad to report that Sher Kung, who lived near the Ladybug here in Wallingford, was struck and killed by a truck while on her bicylce Friday morning. KIRO reports that she was traveling in the left side of the street bicycle lane on 2nd Ave, and that “witnesses said the bicyclist was heading south in the bicycle lane next to the truck when she was hit as the driver made the left turn.”

Sher was a lawyer at Perkins Coie law firm. She leaves behind her partner Christine Sanders and their seven month old daughter, Bryn.

Her neighbor Paul McClinton let us know that Sher was earning a living for the family at the time of her death, so a fund has been created to help the family. More information on the fund here.

A beautiful makeshift memorial featuring two white bikes and heaps of flowers has appeared at corner near where the accident happened (photo below).

memorial at 2nd ave

Catching sight of the elusive blue heron

Catching sight of a blue heron is a rare but not unheard of treat. (I know of at least one person who has been out on the lake numerous times over many years and has never seen one.)

But a blue heron occasionally makes visits to the commercial dock on the south end of Fairview Ave. and Hamlin St. where business-owner, manicurist E. Marie works. She’s been catching sight of them for years but always sans cell phone. Finally this past week she caught some pictures of the elusive bird. The grainy dream-like photos only seem to add to its mystery.

BH on dock

BH lower head


BH with sunset and houseboat

photos by E. Marie



Memorial for Visionary Architect Philip Thiel at the Center for Wooden Boats

Movie stars and rock legends don’t make me swoon, but 92-year-old architects with visions of public plazas dancing through their heads, now that’s something to write home about.

The caption under his picture says it all, “Citizen Thiel fights for a plaza above Brooklyn Station with his weapon of choice: an architectural model.”

And that’s what he had the first and only time I saw him; two years ago he came to speak in front of the Sound Transit Board (where I work – disclaimer!) pulling that architectural model out from under his arm and good naturedly made his case for a public plaza that would be like the great ones in Venice, Paris, and Rome.

It was, he told the Sound Transit board, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sign me up, Mom.

Photo by John Stamets

Photo by John Stamets

But the Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Urban Planning at the UW didn’t get to see his battle through, let alone won.  Philip Thiel died peacefully May 10, 2014 surrounded by family and friends. The fight for a public space above the Sound Transit University District Station is still undecided. The question is will it be the expected development, likely office space, over the underground light rail stop that opens in 2021, or will it be what Thiel envisioned, a public space along the lines of a European plaza.

The cause has been taken up by many others since being launched by Citizen Thiel.

One of those others helping to carry the torch is Cory Crocker who came across one of Thiel’s type written flyers promoting the plaza idea lying on a table at Café Allegro in the U District. Thiel had left the flyers around the café where he enjoyed free life-time coffee (thanks to another public space battle he led, that one, on the café’s behalf).

After seeing the flyer Crocker called Thiel. He helped take the cause high tech by setting up a website for U District Square – the heart shaped logo design was Thiel’s, and Thiel’s early passionate, type written flyers are posted on the site’s blog.

Thiel was insistent that community action could change the course of development, says Crocker, that government agencies and public institutions worked in silos without always seeing the big picture or understanding what was in the public good. Neighbors, Thiel felt, had to rise up and give direction, says Crocker. “Public streets really are owned by us.”

Crocker says Thiel put the idea of a public square out there showing that it could catch hold, become contagious.

Thiel was giving directions and providing inspiration for the square even from his deathbed.  Says Crocker, “his mind was sharp to the end.”

A memorial celebration for Phil Thiel will take place at the Center for Wooden Boats on August 17. Naval architecture was a first passion for Thiel, so it’s appropriate that the arc of his life would be celebrated there. He had a special affinity for designing pedal boats and tiny houseboats that as one commenter replied put everything wonderful together, tiny houses, boating, and bicycling.

The memorial is open to the public. Family and friends welcome those wanting to help support the cause of a public square in the U District and just ask that folks RSVP through the U District website for planning purposes at www.udistrictsquare.org/memorial.

Joining other visionary Seattle architects who have left their mark on the city, perhaps sipping a coffee at a small table, Thiel will likely be watching it all, as his family has said, from that great plaza in the sky.

Chocolate Topped MOHAI

Chocolate goes with a lot of things: coffee, raspberries, and naked performance artists, but the Museum of History and Industry seemed like a bit of a stretch. Yet that sexy aphrodisiac is on display there, and of course when you get right down to it chocolate is an industry and has a history, so the exhibit at MOHAI,  once you get your mind around it, like chocolate with oranges, makes yet another perfect combination.

The exhibit which is on tour from Chicago’s Field Museum is as rich and a varied as its subject, taking you from deep in the Amazon rain forest where the cacao tree grew undiscovered for centuries with only birds sipping its fruit’s nectar and dropping the fruit’s bitter seeds, where chocolate comes from, on the fertile rain forest soil to its discovery by ancient civilizations where it was made into a spicy drink and revered.

Then Spaniards conquering South America found it, not quite gold but close enough; it was also used as currency by native people. Its history takes an especially brutal turn when sugar and cocoa are married by Europeans. One simple display says it all: an elegant teaspoon spilling its holding of sugar – the value of a day‘s work for a slave.

When you come to the modern age, there’s a reminder that all is still not well in the world of commercial chocolate but the rise of artisan chocolates is helping to change that with fair trade and sustainable farming practices. And chocolate is another good reason to save our global rainforests, cocao’s natural home.

The exhibition, which runs through September 28, is all ages friendly with a lot interactive elements for kids, and MOHAI is offering additional toppings to go with it including a double-chocolate feature outdoor movie night August 23 of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chocolat.

“But there’s something missing,” I said to my husband as we left the exhibit. “Yes,” he said, “samples.”

So for a quick fix, visit MOHAI’s gift shop, which offers a nice selection of local chocolates. Or make a plan to head over to your favorite chocolatier and savor the food first offered only to kings and gods.



Historic Virginia-V steam ferry cruise and seaplane centennial celebration

Ride the historic Virginia-V steam ferry and enjoy a narrated history of Lake Union by local historian Jules James as part of the Center for Wooden Boats Festival July 4th-6th. The boat ride includes a special display celebrating the seaplanes’ centennial this year.


Did you know Lake Union is the location for the first flights of the Boeing Company’s first three models: the B & W, the Model C and the B-1? All three were water flyers. The B-1 flying boat accumulated more miles flown than any other aircraft in America from 1920 to 1925.

The one-hour history cruise is offered Saturday, July 5, and Sunday, July 6, at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.

Book your passage. Tickets may be purchased online or aboard the Virginia-V. Adult tickets are $10, kids under 11, $5, and a family of 4, $20.  Free for children under 5, but each must have a ticket.


Jules James

Jules James

Travel the Spur Line, the west side of Lake Union

Living in Eastlake, I had never walked through Westlake. I had biked through it a few times going around the lake, both appreciating the long stretch of parking that acts as a quasi bike lane and dreading that stretch due to having to watch for cars. There wasn’t much time to really see Westlake, but all that changes when you’re on foot.

True there are barren stretches of private parking lots and boxy buildings blocking the lake, but there are also surprising and delightful street end parks, eclectic businesses and interesting buildings, not to mention the, colorful houseboat communities and the remnants of a mysterious old railroad.

When I started to get curious about Westlake, I looked online for information, but there was very little beyond the neighborhood’s major claim to fame – the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat.  So finding anything out about Westlake would take some digging – and walking.

Of course there’s the lake itself, but a little known main attraction for walking Westlake is Spur Line, the public artwork that takes several forms and shows up all along the waterfront.

Spur Line was commissioned over ten years ago as part of the major public works project for Westlake that included water line, sewer, and roadway improvements. Bainbridge artist, Maggie Smith, saved for possible recycling everything she could get her hands on as demolition occurred and an old railroad along the waterfront was torn out.

Spur Line starts as pieces of rail embedded in the walkway.  More rails would have been used, Smith told me in an interview, but bicycle groups who are understandably leery about rail tracks in their right of way were adamantly against it. Smith, who says she is definitely a bicycle proponent, tried to explain that her design would not affect the path’s safety. But the groups remained unconvinced and in fact dictated certain design elements that Smith argued against, such as the rail’s limited use and the short parallel tracks that could only be used in the walkway, which ultimately won out.

7 Days a week

She had better success using quotes from her historical research of the area that show up as bronze words embedded in the walkway. Where she uses the native tongue, Lushootseed, the English translation is nearby. There are also “humble,” the artist calls them, benches for sitting using reclaimed rail hardware. At street end outlooks are plaques on old boom logs with snippets of quotes giving a glimpse of how life once was around the lake, mostly rather gritty, occasionally lyrical.

The snippets come from Smith’s research interviewing neighborhood luminaries like Dick Wagner, Dave LeClercq, and John Franco. Paul Dorpat and the late Peggy Stockley were helpful too, she wrote in an email, in directing her to other resources, archives and newspapers. She wanted to highlight not just the railroad but also the maritime history around the lake.

Reading the plaques forces you to take your time, look out over the water, and consider what you’ve read. With its benches and quirky listening tube (you can hear water rushing through pipes below), Spur Line is meant to slow people down, a difficult trick in this busy area.


Thanks to Spur Line and practically tripping over an old railroad trestle at the north end of the lake, I became interested in that old rail line. When did it run? When did it stop?  There was nothing online.

Nothing in a cursory library search either.

That’s when I contacted Maggie Smith, as the artist of Spur Line, she had to know. It was the Northern Pacific Railway, she told me. She had interviewed some of the men who had worked on it in the 40s and 50s and used their quotes on the plaques. The railroad ran from the Seattle Pacific University area of Salmon Bay, along the ship canal, down the west side of Lake Union, down to Terry Avenue and Denny Way in South Lake Union/Cascade neighborhood. It serviced the Ford Assembly Plant, or U-Storage building today, along with other businesses and industries around the lake. It was a switching track, she said. A spur line, a secondary track.

It was great to get this information, but I was having a hard time finding any documentation, even a map, to back it up. Maps showed the streetcar, but this was a different line, not in the road, but right near the water.

Finally, I asked a couple of railroad buffs where I work, both Seattleites and members of the Seattle Street Railway Historical Society. They quickly dug up information.

One brought me Kurt E. Armbruster’s book Orphan Road; The Railroad Comes to Seattle, 1853-1911.  That book nailed the line’s history in about three paragraphs and is the only written account my co-worker has seen about the line.  My other co-worker dug up a Kroll’s 1947 Seattle map that clearly showed the line. According to Armbruster, the line had a deeded right of way up the east side of the lake as far north as Hamlin. It was only built out to the City Light building, Zymogentics today. The map showed that as well.

It operated from 1911 to the mid 1990s.  My co-workers recalled seeing it occasionally on Terry Avenue and Denny Way around its maintenance base.

Part of the reason it was difficult to find out any information, they told me, was that toward the end of its life in the 1980s and 90s, the train ran mostly in the middle of the night.

It must have been a sight.


The old railroad is gone now although a few stretches of original track still exist on the north end outside Westlake’s improved stretch. I’m almost hesitant to mention the old trestle over the water. It’s not part of the Cheshiahud Loop Trail. It’s in an area that feels almost rural with a small patch of woods screening the roaring traffic of Westlake Avenue. Go there if you’re curious but don’t attempt to walk on the trestle as I did. Although an old rail path leads to it, the trestle is slippery and rotting, with uneven gaps, and there’s no warning – proof of just how undiscovered it is.

Besides the public art Spur Line, people have put out private art in one form or another along Westlake. Small gardens show up.

There’s a variety of businesses from maternity lingerie to welding foundries with intriguing quotes on their marquee. There’s a cigar shop and a hair salon that’s also part local art gallery. There are marinas galore with everything you could possibly do on the water or in it. When I recently walked the route, I passed through a cloud of black-clad scuba divers returning from the depths.

And there’s the Alice Through the Looking Glass view of your own neighborhood from the other side.

Once you start walking, there’s a lot to see.

slide show


Train stuck on track
Charming build westlake
Old City Light
Marina Mart
Best walkway in Seattle
Houseboat com w yellow house
Humble bench
Private garden art boat planter
Street overpass with lookout
listening tube
Steam punk clock tower
Antique window
houseboat community
woman sclupture
China Harbor
Building complex across street

Spur Line is the public art that stretches all along Westlake and includes all kinds of surprising elements, like plaques that reflect and recall life along the shore.

This cool old building was still available for lease in May.

OK this isn't the greatest photograph, but you get the picture. Westlake offers some great views including this one of the Old City Light building, now Zymogenetics, and St. Mark's Cathedral on the top of the hill. Imagine what a really good photographer could do.

Another great retro building, this one with a lighthouse on top.

One of the best walkways in Seattle is this small garden railroad path that leads to the entry of one of Westlake's houseboat communities.

Glimpses of the colorful house boat communities can be seen along Westlake.

There are many unique benches like this made from the old rail line as part of the Spur Line public art. "They're just humble places to sit," says the Spur Line artist, Maggie Smith.

This rowboat planter, with new shoots starting to bloom, is one of several private artworks and gardens set out for public enjoyment.

This sweeping nautical-like overpass also offers a lookout over the lake.

This curious pipe with a terrible background setting is actually a listening tube and part of the public artwork Spur Line. Notice the rail in the sidewalk with the bronze words "Stop Look and Listen." Put your ear up to the pipe and you will hear the sound of rushing water below.

With its exposed iron work, analog clock, and glass elevator, this building seems vaguely steam punk.

This wonderful window of wrought iron and green plants houses antique goods for auction.

Houseboats and yachts intermingle.

A wonderful piece of private art that was put out for public enjoyment, and shown here as it once was, was unfortunately recently vandalized.

The old China Harbor restaurant is like a huge ship docked on the shores of Lake Union.

This amazing conglomeration of buildings on the west side of Westlake Avenue is like collage artwork.

This photo taken from the north end of Westlake in an area that feels almost rural shows the old railroad trestle.

Pocock Rowing Center turns 20 this year

In June 1994 the George Pocock Memorial Rowing Center on Lake Union and in Eastlake opened its doors.  The Center, at 3320 Fuhrman Ave. E, was built in honor of George Pocock  and is a state-of-the-art rowing facility.  George Pocock was a world-renowned boat builder, professional rower, and coach.

The Pocock Rowing Center turns 20 this year, but any celebration will have to wait until the traditional, annual Pocock Day in mid-July.  “June is just too busy for rowers with events and competitions,” says Tara Morgan, Chief Relationship Officer for the George Pocock Foundation, whose motto is “We change lives through rowing.”  The Foundation that funded the facility also celebrates an anniversary, its thirtieth, says Ms. Morgan.

Pocock Day this year will be a big celebration for both anniversaries and as always open to the public. It includes a pancake breakfast and barbeque as well as the popular Ham and Egger rowing race. For the Ham and Egger, everyone who wants to participate puts their name in a hat, says Ms. Morgan.  “You can get Olympians and beginners rowing in the same boat together. It’s a lot of fun.”

Pocock web large

And fun is what rowing is all about as any of the center’s over 400 members will tell you.

PRC offers rowing classes for all skill levels. It has a large exercise room with work out equipment, office space, banquet room with view of the lake, and a conference room, which they generously open for ECC neighborhood meetings.

For more information on rowing and the up-coming Pocock Day, check out the Pocock Foundation website. While on line you might also want to check out videographer Vaun Raymond’ s Lake Union Virtual Museum (which was featured in the last Eastlake News). The virtual museum has a great video on the history of rowing on Lake Union that highlights the story and work of George Pocock.

This article first appeared in The Eastlake News, spring 2014.