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The beautiful and tragic Aurora Bridge gets a new paint job

Although I have a had a view of it for the past 20 years, I have never thought much of the Aurora Bridge. Its grey lines fade into the surrounding hills. Growing up in Seattle, the only thing I knew about the bridge was that it was notorious for suicides. A friend walked onto the bridge late one night contemplating jumping. Fortunately, she did not, but many others had. For that reason, I think, subconsciously, I tried not to look at that bridge or think about it very much.

But all that changed when I woke up one morning, a few weeks back, to find the south end of the bridge wrapped, in what looked like the start of a Christo art installation.

It wasn’t. It was a Washington State Department of Transportation wrapping; WSDOT is painting the bridge for the first time in 30 years. And the wrapping is an elaborate catchment system for the toxic lead paint that is being sandblasted off before a more environmentally friendly paint can be applied.

But it got me curious about Christo (why did he wrap things?) and that got me curious about the bridge.

Christo’s most famous for wrapping the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. He wraps things paradoxically to reveal them.

For fun, I try to imagine the Aurora Bridge wrapped à la Christo, in fabric and drawn back like curtains across the lake. In my imagined view, I suddenly see it for the first time. I catch my breath. The bridge’s form – its monumental expanse – it’s startlingly beautiful.

 

Its official name is the George Washington Memorial Bridge, and when it opened on Feb. 22, 1932, to great fanfare, marking the culmination of a year-long, nationwide celebration of events for George Washington’s 200th birthday, it wasn’t just a bridge uniting Seattle – it was a bridge connecting Mexico to Canada. The George Washington Memorial Bridge was the last link in the new US Highway 99, aka the Pacific International Highway, that paralleled the West Coast from Tijuana, Mexico to Vancouver, B.C.

Historians note its opening marked the ascendancy of the automobile in American life because it was the first Seattle bridge without streetcar tracks.

A picture postcard from the time shows the bridge, with a few 1930s cars on it, branching off Queen Anne Hill with grassy knolls on either side, its roadway seemingly stretching into a gentle, enlightened horizon.

But that vision of freedom and calm was short-lived. Just three decades later, US Highway 99 and the George Washington Memorial Bridge would be eclipsed by the I-5 Freeway and the Ship Canal Bridge. In 1967 the highway was decertified, chopped up, and made into State Route 99.

Even before the bridge’s hugely celebrated opening, there was a bad omen, the first suicide, a shoe salesman. It would go on to be known as Seattle’s suicide bridge, the haunted bridge, the bridge with the second most suicides in the country after the Golden Gate in San Francisco (which would also make it third in the world).

Over the years there was a lot of talk over of doing something to prevent the suicides, but no one could agree on exactly what.

At some point, after some 230 jumps, the press stopped reporting on them. There were “wet” jumps and “dry” jumps, the latter ending in Fremont streets and parking lots. Office workers drew their blinds.

By the end of 2006 after a record number of suicides from the bridge (nine when the average had been four a year), the city installed six emergency phones and signs with a suicide hotline number on them. At about the same time FRIENDS (Fremont, Individuals and Employees Nonprofit to Decrease Suicides), a neighborhood group determined to a get a barrier installed also began their efforts. It was a controversial, uphill battle, finally successful in 2011.

With the fence now in place for several years, that sad era of the bridge’s past seems to be receding.

 

But the bridge’s woes aren’t completely over. Today what stands out about the Aurora Bridge is its white-knuckle drive. When it first opened, it was said to be four lanes, but old photos show six lanes, possibly four lanes and two shoulders. At any rate it’s now six narrow lanes. The original speed limit was 35 miles per hour; today it’s 40, and acknowledged to be regularly acceded.

People drive across it on high alert, gripping the steering wheel, as they approach its narrowing lanes and breathe a sigh of relief when they’re past them.

A 2015 fatal accident involving a Ride the Ducks vehicle and a charter bus highlighted how dangerous the bridges narrow lanes are to drive.

 

I wasn’t thinking about the traffic, which from a distance looks like it’s scampering, and not going that fast. I’d never actually walked on the bridge before, and I wondered if it was possible to rediscover any of the bridge’s original glory.

So one sunny day shortly after the catchment wrapping went up, I talked my husband into making a loop hike with me, walking one side of the bridge and then the other, getting the full benefit of the view some 170 feet over Lake Union. It seemed like a good idea at the time, like the kind of walk that should be recommended in a Seattle tour guide.

We parked near the Fremont Troll, making our way past the tourists and found the encouraging but graffiti-tagged sign directing pedestrians up the access stairs to the bridge deck.

Once we reached the top, however, I knew why I’d never heard the walk recommended. The roar of the traffic and the wind as it whizzes by immediately hits you. I was ready to abandon all hope and turn back.

After realizing, OK, we’re fairly safe on the protected sidewalk, where a barrier separated us from the road, the next thing I noticed was the 8-foot 9-inch suicide fence made up of thin bars that surrounds the original 1930s railing.

It was as if we had walked into a time warp and the fence was a force field around the bridge, which was kind of cool. (The juxtaposition is by design; preservationists didn’t want a faux historical look.)

We pushed on, walking single file hugging the railing instinctively.

I was surprised by how low the vintage railing was, too invitingly effortless to swing yourself over, although that is no longer possible due to the barrier. The view through the thin bars was spectacular though.

The emergency phones that were installed in 2006 along with the eye-catching, battered now, suicide hotline signs still dot the way, a reminder of a not too distant past.

There had been talk of closing sidewalk entirely before the fence went up, but due to the treacherous roadway, it is the only safe pathway for bicyclists.

By the time we came to the other pedestrian underpass on the Queen Anne side, we’d abandoned our plan of crossing over. It was just too miserable of a walk. Instead we made our way through Canlis’ parking lot where we ran across a Farmers Market meat vendor, Brent, from Olsen Farms, making a delivery to the restaurant.

After chatting with Brent, we made our way down through the Queen Anne neighborhood to the Fremont Bridge, which was a nice enough walk and much calmer, and we got a close-up view of the WSDOT wrapping, but I found myself missing the bridge’s view.

 

The view from the bridge is grand, and the view of the bridge is also grand once you can get beyond its tragic past.

The Aurora Bridge is a truss-deck bridge (meaning the support is all underneath) and in 1982 was accepted for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of its innovative engineering design.

Architecturally, the bridge is part of the Gothic Revival period, says Susan Boyle, local architect and preservationist. The style was popular at the time the bridge was built and can be seen as well in many of the historic buildings on the University of Washington campus and in the towers of the Montlake Bridge.

The St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon, just a year older than the Aurora, is much more decorative and famously resembles Gothic cathedral arches in its structural supports above and below the bridge deck.

The Aurora Bridge is less overtly decorative and seems to transcend its time, bridging past and future. Seen from a distance, the bridge expresses the verticality seen in Art Deco designs, says Boyle.

The lines and the arches are a nod back to the decade before. The Art Deco appearance stands out even more in fog or, as we had this summer, smoke, when the haze softens and somehow doubles the vertical lines. In the bright daylight, the 1930s bridge is forward-looking, functional, less nostalgic and more modern.

But it too has a Gothic sensibility in its cantilevers spanning the lake, resembling flying buttresses, and in its supports below that soar, like those of the St. John’s Bridge, over Fremont but without the theatrical detailing, more like unfinished cathedral arches.

What’s most interesting about these sorts of bridges, after you view them from afar, says Boyle, is the space they create below them. In Fremont, she adds, you see the bridge as space and that part of it is magical and has an inspirational quality to it.

The Art Deco expression of the bridge stands out in a haze.

 

Aurora suggests something celestial. A friend of mine says she’s heard it was named for the Aurora Borealis, for the way it spans the lake, but from where she doesn’t recall. A WSDOT historian says the bridge is named for Aurora Avenue, and it’s typical that bridges get renamed for the area that’s around them. (As the bridge was originally being designed it was referred to as the Lake Union Bridge.)

Aurora is also the name of the Roman goddess of dawn, and the bridge marked the dawn of the Automobile Age, so maybe it’s a fitting name all around.

There’s glamour and whimsy with the Aurora Bridge, anchored by two Seattle icons like pots of gold on either end of a rainbow — one with a view above, Canlis, and the other with a view below, the Fremont Troll.  The bridge welcomes pedestrians near it if not exactly on it.

WSDOT is painting the bridge now over the next year, and while it will be nice for aesthetics, a spokesperson noted, it’s needed to preserve the bridge. The work will involve wrapping and unwrapping it, revealing the new paint job section by section. The color will be the standard WSDOT gray, the color they use on all their bridges, but maybe it will be enough to make the bridge be seen anew.

Maybe someday the Aurora Bridge will be calmer, fewer lanes (one can dream!). We may never be able to lose the suicide barrier, to protect ourselves from ourselves, but we might gain again a beautiful city walk and view.

Richard Haag, Gas Works Park Champion and Designer, 1924-2018

It wasn’t supposed to be Gas Works Park. It was supposed to be Myrtle Edwards Park, named for a former city councilwoman, who served from 1955 to 1969 and who was a big supporter of turning industrial wastelands into parks. But Edwards’ heirs were appalled when Richard Haag, the city’s chosen designer for the park proposed in the early 1970s preserving the old Gas Works structure that was on the site. It was unheard of at the time. The expectation was that the old coal plant would be torn down.

Haag passed away May 9 at the age of 94 of natural causes. His family said he didn’t want an obituary, so the news is just now getting out.

He had an illustrious career, moving to Seattle in the late 1950s to work at the architecture department at the UW and then founding the school’s landscape architecture program. He was instrumental in transforming the Seattle Center from fairgrounds to park grounds. He designed Steinbrueck Park with its namesake, Victor Steinbrueck. He also designed the wonderland of Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. His firm, Richard Haag Associates, Inc., completed over 500 projects over the course of nearly 60 years.

Even before he got the north Lake Union park assignment, Haag had been enchanted with the Gas Works structure. In a phone interview, after a presentation to the Eastlake Community Council, he said, he’d come across the shuttered plant when he first moved to Seattle. That place is magic, he thought, I want to work with that site.

In another interview in 2014, about a year after the park was included on the National Register of Historic Places, Haag said, “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.”

And save them he did. He had an artist paint a rendering of what the park could look like and displayed it at a public meeting of over 700 people. Public opinion moved in his favor. The Edwards family withdrew their name for the park.

But it all worked out in the end. After all the controversy, Myrtle Edwards eventually got her park, a lovely one on Elliot Bay. And Gas Works Park couldn’t be named anything else.

“It’s is my magnum opus,” Haag said. “It’s the centerpiece of my life.”

 

Photo courtesy of Lake Union Virtual Museum

What the heck is a Hellmouth?

Unless you’ve been lost in another dimension these last couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about Liminal Seattle that website started by two cartographers, Jeremy Puma and Garret Kelly, mapping all the strange and wonderful places in Seattle. The story about their website made the front page of the Seattle Times this week and had been bubbling up all over the local press before then. The Associated Press also picked it up.

Liminal Seattle is tracking the hot spots around the Salish Sea where people have had paranormal or inexplicable experiences. The site encourages submissions. The map makers are looking for true stories although they’re not opposed to a little mythologizing along the way.

Puma and Garret are becoming curators for that Other Seattle the imaginative and fantastical. Future plans include publishing a Tolkienesque map of the area. It’s all for fun with maybe a little social commentary on the side.

One of the first places to get mapped out was Hellmouth curiously overlapping South Lake Union.

When asked during an interview with the Seattle Review of Books how they determined the boundaries, Kelly replied, “I get the impression that you are questioning our cartographic skills? Is there an underlying assumption that we’re somehow “making up” the boundaries of the Hellmouth? Look man, I didn’t create the Hellmouth, I just pulled out the protractor and used my skills as a map-maker to roughly define the border. ”

Ah, but what is a Hellmouth you may be wondering, unless you’re a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, then you already know.

Hellmouths are places of increased supernatural energy. According to the mythology of the “Buffyverse“, this is the area in which the barriers between dimensions are weak. The Hellmouth has a focal point, which serves as a portal between earth and Hell. For these reasons, the Hellmouth attracts demons and other supernatural creatures, becoming a “hot spot” for supernatural activity. (Wikipedia)

Long before Hellmouths were brought to light by “Buffyverse,” the underlying universal story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they were featured throughout Medieval art and theater usually as the mouths of fire-breathing dragons devouring the damned.

A UW Theater dissertation on the web describes Hellmouths “as the conventional setting for three popular cyclic episodes of the middle ages, the Fall of Lucifer, the Harrowing of Hell, and the Last Judgment.” It was “often celebrated for its spectacle—flames, pyrotechnics display, smoke, and tumult….”

Wait a second doesn’t our own Hellmouth have a great, big spectacle every year, every 4th of July to be exact?

Bee’s Knees: It’s Pollinator Week!

The Eastlake Community Council is hosting an I-5 Colonnade Open Space clean-up event this Wednesday, June 20, from 9 to noon, and it is a good way to celebrate National Pollinator Week, which is June 18-24 this year. Another good way is to plant native plants. “Research suggests native plants are four time more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers,” says the Xerces Society, and they have a handy list of NW natives that do just that – attract bees.

If you’d like to go further but are not quite ready to become an apiarist, you can create bee habitat. It requires food (those native plants), fresh water source, and nesting places. The Green Queen has the how to’s in her blog post Make your garden bee-friendly.

Begun eleven years ago by a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate, National Pollinator Week has “grown into an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles,” according to the Pollinator Partnership, the organization announcing the week.

Seattle was officially recognized as the eighth bee city in the country in 2015 by Bee City USA. There are now 70 bee cities, and they provide annual reports. “These reports are bursting with inspiring stories,” says Bee City USA, “of communities planting pesticide-free habitat rich in diversity of locally native plants, discussing their community’s pest management policies with pollinators in mind, and hosting events for young and old to create awe for and greater understanding of the plant-pollinator collaboration that makes our planet bloom and fruit.”

Seattle has a few nationally recognized events happening, too, organized by the nonprofit The Common Acre:

Pollinator Field Day, June 18 @ Beacon Hill Food Forest

Save the Pollinators Symposium, June 19 @ Rainier Arts Center

Meet the Bees, June 21 @ Centro de la Raza

Help Build Pollinator Habitat, June 24 @ Duwamish River Valley

Pollinator Poster 2018 available at pollinator.org/pollinator-week.

Have a comment, suggestion, or other news tip? We’d loved to hear from you.  Email us at editors@lakeunionwatershed.com

Featured sketch by Karen Berry

Historic Schooner Zodiac sails Lake Union and is docked at SLU Park, June 7-12

That beautiful sailboat you may catch sight of on Lake Union is the historic Schooner Zodiac visiting from its homeport in Bellingham.

The Zodiac is available for dockside tours at South Lake Union Park from 2 to 6 p.m. through June 12 and for a few daytime sails.

According to the Zodiac’s website:

Schooner Zodiac was built for the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical heirs in 1924 for use as a private yacht. Zodiac was designed by William H. Hand, Jr., to epitomize the best features of the American fishing schooner. The Johnsons sailed it up and down the East Coast and participated in the King’s Cup Race across the Atlantic to Spain in 1928.

The Zodiac changed hands several times during the great depression before being purchased by the San Francisco Bar Pilots. Renamed California, she enjoyed a storied career in San Francisco Bay before retiring in 1972 as the last American pilot schooner. She was purchased and restored by a community of shipwrights, sailors and historians who formed the Schooner Zodiac Corporation and operate her as a charter vessel from her homeport in Bellingham, WA. The Zodiac was added to the National Register of Historic Places by act of Congress in 1982.

(The Schooner Zodiac is often confused [even by notable historic ship aficionados] for the Adventuress, a 1913 luxury yacht, originally built for an Arctic expedition and now owned by the non-profit Sound Experience.)

Photos above and below show Schooner Zodiac en route to Lake Washington.

And docked at South Lake Union:

It will be bad, but not that bad; all the more reason to prepare

About that big earthquake that’s coming our way, “It will be bad, but not that bad,” said Bill Steele of the University of Washington’s Pacific NW Seismic Network at an Eastlake Community Council Emergency Preparedness public meeting earlier this year.

The “not that bad” that he was referring to was the quote from The New Yorker article, by Kathryn Schulz, “The Really Big One” that went viral, where our region’s FEMA director said, “…everything west of I-5 will be toast.”

What the FEMA director meant, said Steele, is that counting on infrastructure (water, electricity, gas, phones) and, because many roads will be destroyed, access to supplies and emergency resources – that would be toast. Imagine the Colonnade collapsed, Steele said. It, along with other parts of I-5, and local roads, will likely be impassable.

In a follow-up piece, “How to stay safe when the big one comes,” Schulz discussed the impact the FEMA’s director’s quote had had and what it really meant and suggested changing the metaphor, “So a better analogy than toast,” she wrote, “is this: the Cascadia earthquake is going to hit the Pacific Northwest like a rock hitting safety glass, shattering the region into thousands of tiny areas, each isolated from one another and all extremely difficult to reach.”

And what would Lake Union do in the big one? While there won’t be a tsunami, there likely will be a seiche, a lot of sloshing, like when you tip a bowl of liquid back and forth. Steele showed a video of a swimming pool in Mexico captured on a hotel camera during a 2010 earthquake, where the water rolled violently back and forth.

Steele is all about preparing for earthquakes at least as much as we can. One of the chief things he’s working on is an emergency alert system; it could give a one- to two-minute warning about the Cascadia earthquake. Some of the warnings would be automatic, for example shutting off natural gas. Others would enable communications for stopping surgeries and transportation systems. But any kind of warning is still in the early stages, which is to say right now there would not be any warning except a lot of dogs barking.

In Seattle we sit on three potential earthquake zones. The one that strikes the most fear in people’s hearts, the one described in Kathryn Schulz’s “The Really Big One,” is on the Cascadia subduction zone and that has the potential to be bad to worse depending on how strong it turns out to be. The Cascadia zone runs from just south of Oregon up to Vancouver B.C. and is roughly from west of I-5 to the Pacific Ocean.

In the worst-case scenario, Schulz reports, FEMA is anticipating that nearly 13,000 people will die when the big one strikes – a combination of both earthquake and tsunami; another 27,000 will be injured, and over a million people will lose their homes and need immediate shelter; another two and a half million will need food and water.

But earthquakes are as unpredictable as other natural disasters, Steele said, destroying one building or road and leaving another one intact. You just don’t know.

 

“In the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities,” Schulz’s writes.

With all that infrastructure gone it’s hard to imagine where to begin, but a few people around the city are doing just that – imagining – and planning. They’re forming hubs, centralized meeting places for catastrophes.

Cindi Barker a volunteer with Seattle Hubs spoke after Steele’s presentation. She began by asking people to raise their hands for what skills they have – Medical? Electrical? Plumbing? Ham Radio? Don’t have any of those skills? Not to worry – have you organized a wedding or a big Thanksgiving dinner? You have organizing skills! And if you can cook? Cooks will be needed in any large power outage for mass meal preparation.

Carpentry? Architecture? People knowledgeable in buildings will be needed to judge if a structure is safe. People who work with youth will be needed to organize activities for kids. The list goes on.

Eastlake has two designated Hubs where people can meet to organize and share information and resources – Roger’s Playfield and the P-Patch (all city P-Patches are designated Hubs). The difference between the two is that Roger’s has an organized group behind it. Whereas the P-patches will simply become gathering centers.

But right now interest in preparing for the event that may or may not happen in our lifetime is a little low. An April 28 city-wide drill did not have an Eastlake or any nearby drill location.  Amy O’Donnell one of the organizers for the Rogers group says she and a couple of other people participated in in the drill at the Ballard Hub. But it may be that word has just not gotten out well enough yet. If you’re interested in getting involved in the Eastlake Hub, contact O’Donnell at Eastlake.hub@gmail.com.

If you do nothing else, Baker said, begin stockpiling water – you can live three weeks without food but only three days without water, and stockpile any lifesaving prescriptions.

Baker said we have to assume that we could be on our own for days, perhaps weeks, without power, water, and emergency services. The city has priorities about what roads get fixed first, using the Green Gold map they use to clear snow. Known arterials, the city’s spine will need to open first. Most likely water and power will get turned on in hospitals and in the densest areas although any utilities that are easy to fix, the low hanging fruit, will also likely get fixed first no matter where they are.

The hubs will be set up for the disasters. What about using the Internet? Someone asked. “If there’s internet service,” noted Baker, “I won’t be outside in the cold and rain under a tarp with a clipboard.”

This article was first published in The Eastlake News.

Living By the Lake – Epicenter of a Rapidly Changing Seattle

It has been years since I could go up on my apartment building’s upper deck overlooking Lake Union and not see multiple construction cranes, sometimes as close as a few blocks away. No surprise. Change is roaring through Seattle, nowhere more than around the lake, with the epicenter at its south end.

That area once occupied by car dealerships, wholesalers, warehouses, small shops and working-class housing has, as everyone around here knows, undergone astounding change. A new downtown has grown, fulfilling the vision of city engineer R.H. Thomson in flattening Denny Hill, albeit close to a century after Thomson expected. The area has become, in the words of the Urban Land Institute, “one of the world’s most dynamic urban technology hubs,” a mix of computing and biotech. Amazon, the world’s premier e-commerce retailer and leading web services company, has grown volcanically. From 5,000 Seattle employees in 2010 to 40,000 now, mostly in South Lake Union (SLU) and the Denny Regrade, those numbers are expected to reach 55,000 by 2020. Amazon has as much office space in Seattle as the next 43 organizations combined.

Facebook is in the area, and Google is building a major complex on Fairview at the north end of SLU. There’s a personal and indicative story in the latter that tells a lot of the story of the neighborhood. Back in 1995, I was living in Portland and playing in a political punk band. We came to Seattle for our last club date before we broke up, a play-for-beer gig at the Lake Union Pub, one of Seattle’s funkiest dive bars. The pub was torn down many years ago to become a parking lot. I used to pass it daily on the way to work. Now the new Google-plex is rising above the site. We played near what will be the building’s northeast corner.

Band playing at the Lake Union Pub (not the author’s) photo by Dan10things

Former site of the Lake Union Pub

 

One wonders about an alternative scenario in which Seattle voters approved the Commons in 1995. The large park would have stretched from the southern shore of Lake Union to Denny and been surrounded by an upscale urban village. It was opposed by people who wanted to keep the funky old neighborhood. But that neighborhood is gone, and a much more intense upscaling than was envisioned has swallowed the whole area. The South Lake Union Park that does exist is a jewel, but it does seem like a bet was missed. In any event, Amazon was determined to stay downtown. So the build-up that happened in SLU would have happened somewhere, perhaps in South Seattle, perhaps more into the old downtown.

The effects of growth are spilling across Seattle – rents rising fastest in the country in 2016, and still going up in 2017 though not quite as fast due to a boom in apartment building. A lot of that is taking place in surrounding neighborhoods including mine, Eastlake. It seems virtually impossible to walk down a street in the neighborhood without passing a construction site, usually where a single-family home has given way to multifamily housing. That and city moves to upzone densities have spurred a backlash in the neighborhoods, and lawsuits.

I’m of divided mind. As someone who works professionally on the critical issue of climate disruption, I’ve long opposed autocentric sprawl and supported growing up rather than out. Every gallon of gasoline burned represents 25 pounds of climate-twisting carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere, some of which will last longer than nuclear waste buried at Hanford. Making transit a practical alternative to cars takes a certain amount of density.

We are facing increasing climate impacts, from the fires that filled our air with smoke the last two summers to record storms that ravaged Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, not to mention the Indian subcontinent and Africa. When low water levels were threatening to put houseboats on the lakebed and cut their utility lines in summer 2015, it was due to lack of mountain snowpack feeding rivers and streams, one of the major climate impacts forecast for the Northwest. As sea level rises, salt intrusion from the Ballard Locks into Salmon Bay and the lake will become an increasing problem. Climate disruption is coming home.

It is clear that the 20th century pattern of a single-family home with parking at the curb for the single-occupant vehicle must yield to 21st century realities, if we care about leaving a world to our children not completely ravaged by a disrupted climate. Replicating the current pattern with electric vehicles will still require tremendous natural resources and leave us in traffic jams. We need cities where people do not need to own a car, and that means density. It also means we must significantly build up transit and other alternatives to make it practical.

At the same time, the quality of much of the new development causes understandable backlash. Much of the architecture, and I can see it on my own block, is aptly described as “prison modern.” It presents a cold face to the street that lacks the soul and convivial feeling of the older houses it is replacing. Much is radically out of scale with surrounding buildings. Large mixed use buildings on main streets price out the funky old retail and restaurants, often replacing it with medical and other offices that don’t promote vibrant street life. In many cases dense development involves losing trees and greenspace as well as precious views. On top of all this, the bulk of new residential development is upscale apartments, while older, affordable housing is being lost. So displacement is an issue. I don’t have all the solutions for this, but we need to address these questions with better standards, and possibly have the city get into the housing development directly. We also need to accept there will be trade-offs for growth.

I have lived nearly 20 years now in Eastlake, nearly one-third of my life. When I first moved to the neighborhood in 1998, the precursors of today’s trends were already present. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute and ZymoGenetics were already on the ground toward the south end of the neighborhood. SLU high tech development was already in sight. Eastlake Avenue had begun to be lined with multi-story mixed-used buildings. The west slope of Queen Anne was already densified. The shape of what we see today was on arrival. It is today’s rapid rate and massive scale of change that is difficult and disturbing.

But change must come, and we must somehow adapt. If there is to be growth, better an Amazon downtown than on a campus on the metropolitan fringe, and better people living in dense, transit-friendly, multi-family neighborhoods than sprawling, auto-dependent suburban subdivisions. The question is not whether or not we will grow. In fact, as one of the least climate impacted areas of the U.S., we will have our own climate refugees. People will actually move to the Northwest for the weather! The question is how will we grow, whether we will preserve equity and amenable neighborhood environments. And nowhere is the question being put more vigorously than around Lake Union.

Do you have any stories or pictures of places around Lake Union come and gone? We’d love to get them and potentially share them on the blog. editors@lakeunionwatershed.com

 

 

 

The buoys are coming to Lake Union

After some controversy, the buoys are finally coming to Lake Union. Five temporary buoys (down from eight) will be installed just before Memorial Day and removed after Labor Day. As Kristen M. Clark of Crosscut reports today:

“[T]he city of Seattle will install in Lake Union a straight line of five buoys equipped with flashing warning lights that will alert boaters, kayakers and other watercraft of seaplanes’ impending takeoffs and landings, the Seattle Office of Planning & Community Development (OCPD) told Crosscut.

“It’ll be a de facto airstrip in the lake — but not in the traditional sense with a cordoned-off physical lane exclusive only to aircraft. Boaters and other lake users will still be able to access the waters around the buoys; the idea is now they’ll have forewarning not to be in the area at the wrong time. (Aviators who will make use of the warning buoys are referring to it as a “seaplane advisory area,” while a government permit application formally called it a “takeoff/landing area.”)

“Such a water runway has been several years in the making with the goal of improving safety on Lake Union for the increasingly congested mix of sailboats, powerboats, yachts, planes, kayakers and paddle-boarders, among others.

“’This warning system is intended to support public safety on the water but does not change any current regulations about right of way for boaters or airplanes,’ OCPD spokesman Jason Kelly said in a statement.”

The buoys are arriving just in time for expanded seaplane service on the lake. Last Thursday Kenmore Air and Harbour Air launched their synergistic flights between Vancouver B.C. and Seattle. GeekWire explains, “Affectionately dubbed the ‘nerd bird,’ it’s hoped the route will attract tech workers and researchers shuttling to offices and institutions in both cities.”

The new route was hailed by Governor Jay Inslee and other dignitaries in attendance Thursday. And while it’s certainly the quickest way to get across the border, not to mention the most beautiful and spectacular, it’s not the cheapest ($570 round trip) or greenest way as commenters on the GeekWire article point out.

But seaplanes have a cherished history on Lake Union “…beginning with the famous Boeing name,” notes Crosscut. “One hundred and two years ago this June, Bill Boeing took to the skies in his first flight using a seaplane that taxied into takeoff from Seattle’s Lake Union.”

Like Boeing over a hundred years ago, both the temporary buoys and the new seaplane service are testing the Lake Union waters.

 

 

 

Possible Water Taxi for SLU to Renton coming in 2020

As the region’s transportation woes worsen, some are dreaming of bringing back a version of the “Mosquito Fleet,” boats that ferried goods and people around Lake Union, Lake Washington, and Puget Sound between the 1880’s and 1930’s. (They got their name because they were so numerous.)

A step in that direction was a recent test run of a ferry between SLU and Renton sponsored by SECO Develop Inc. King 5 News covered the Wednesday promotional event as did Crosscut’s Mossback. As Mossback writes, “While Microsoft has its own private bus system for employees, SECO envisions a service that serves the broader public and gets autos off the road. ‘We want to connect our energizing hubs,’ says SECO’s Rocale Timmons, director of planning and development. ‘We need to find a way to catalyze innovative transportation solutions.’”

One passenger on the test run summed up the proposed new water taxi this way, “This is very smooth, it’s very fast, and it’s very convenient. This is the kind of innovation that’s really going to set Seattle apart in how it affects mobility.”

 

Stage Struck: Films featuring Lake Union

Not everyone gets to live on a movie set. Here, living around Lake Union we do, both literally and metaphorically.

In the literal sense, going up on the top deck of the building where I live in Eastlake, I can gaze down on the lake where Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles paddled a water cycle in 10 Things I Hate About You, the 1999 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, many years before playing the Joker in The Dark Knight killed Ledger. The movie also shot at Gasworks Park, as did Singles. Of course, there’s the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat on the other side of the lake and slightly to the south of where I stand. On the lake’s south end among the classic vessels docked at the Museum of History and Industry, you can still board the tug on which the 1933 Tugboat Annie was filmed, the Arthur Foss, the oldest tug in existence in the U.S. Tugboat Annie opens on Lake Union.

Looking over to the Aurora Bridge, I think of John Wayne living on a boat and having a shootout on the docks just west of the bridge in McQ, the 1974 piece of Seattle film noir in which Wayne played Detective Lon McHugh, the Dirty Harry of Seattle. It was his first cop role, one of his only two, and the fourth to last movie of his career. (The climaxing chase scene is idiosyncratically Northwest, on the beach out near Moclips.) Circling over to Wallingford on the slope rising above the lake, around 42nd and on Burke Avenue N., there’s the house in which John Lithgow and his family entertained a sasquatch in 1987’s Harry and the Hendersons.

Panning to the southwest, that magnificent flying saucer on stilts and surroundings have been the scene of more than one filming. Alan Pakula’s 1974 political conspiracy thriller, The Parallax View starring Warren Beatty, begins with the assassination of a politician at an event atop the Space Needle. And no one can forget Elvis dining there in the 1963 It Happened At the World’s Fair. There’s even a full Elvis album by the same name. I’m sure there’s a few other movies shot around the lake I’m missing.

Moviemakers are attracted to the lake and its surroundings precisely because of the dramatic and unique scenery – nearly a square mile of water surrounded on three sides by hills. (The fourth side, the south end, was a valley until the Denny Regrade, in which Denny Hill was sluiced down by up to 20 million gallons of water a day from the lake between 1907-11 to open up land for development.) Add to that the houseboat communities surrounding the lake, the unique setting of Gasworks Park, the Olympics off to the west, the skyscrapers of downtown to the south and southwest, and of course, the iconic Needle. Along with Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market, the lake is one of the city’s absolutely quintessential places, often aptly described as the heart of Seattle. The lake is outright the stage set for annual events that draw from the metro region including the Christmas ships and July 4 fireworks.

The world has many beautiful and scenic neighborhoods, but from my admittedly biased perspective, I think the Lake Union ranks in the global top percentiles of truly extraordinary urban vistas. At least a 95, and I would argue, a 98. Just walking down the hill, where I catch sight of the lake, is a stirring experience. Riding the 70 bus downtown, I’m always caught by the panorama of the lake that opens on Fairview in front of Zymo Genetics. On my walks by the lake on Fairview, I stop at the street end parks to take in the stunning views. The lake has many moods, whether the joyful sunniness of summer’s bright lit waters, the zen cool of a slate gray winter day, or its whitecapped boisterousness when a strong wind is blowing in. It’s a primal experience of nature in the midst of the city.

And one of constant motion and change. Some days, often in the gray months, the lake is quiet. Other days it is a cavalcade of marine craft of all sorts, from kayaks and paddle boards to motor boats, cabin cruisers, and sailboat regattas circling the lake. There are the ducks and other tour boats. Working boats from tugs pushing barges to Alaska fishing trawlers. Vintage and replica craft such as the restored Virginia V, last of the old mosquito boat fleet that served the Puget Sound before the ferries and one of the last two steamships operating on the continent, and the Lady Washington, coming in for the Center for Wooden Boats annual festival.

Maneuvering between them all, and flying above, of course, are the seaplanes. The lake has a long history with seaplanes. Bill Boeing personally flew the first Boeing aircraft, a seaplane, from the Boeing hangar dock at Roanoke and Fairview in 1916. Today the lake is one of the continent’s busiest seaplane airports, with 97 flights per day recorded in one recent year. If someone wanted to start this as a new operation, there would be all kinds of NIMBY opposition. But somehow, the sight and sound of seaplanes roaring overhead has become a comforting and familiar signature of the place. So much so that neighbors suggested seaplane images as decorations on freeway walls installed over recent years. (Suggestion not taken by WSDOT, which used more standard designs.)

Lake Union is a place that inspires and stirs, a joining of earth and water under the continually changing skies of Seattle, a vista to fire the imagination. Those of us fortunate enough to be able to live here are graced with a unique setting of great beauty, and a never-ending show. For making movies, the lake is a stage set extraordinaire, whether of the Hollywood variety, or the daily theater that is life.

Below other posters of movies mentioned in this piece. Did we miss any? Let us know – editors@lakeunionwatershed.com