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Down home Seattle soul lives at Voula’s Offshore Café

When I first came to the Northwest in the ‘70s, after growing up on the East Coast and going to school in California, I noticed that this corner of the U.S. stood out for its great breakfast places. I became familiar with the culinary delights of omelets stuffed with a multitude of ingredients accompanied by piles of hash browns, stacks of toast and coffee cups that never stayed empty for long.

I speculated it was all about the natural resources economy of the region. About the need for a hearty breakfast before going out to run chainsaws, heave fishing nets or herd cattle. All the logger’s and rancher’s breakfasts listed on the menus were a pretty good clue.

It was definitely the case with his place, says Sikey Vlahos, owner of Voula’s Offshore Café, located just off Lake Union at 658 NE Northlake Way.

Voula's entrance

Voula’s entrance

“This place was supported by fishermen and the people who worked on the boats. They needed hearty meals, to escape to a restaurant to get good food.”

The fishing industry is not the force on the lake that it once was and many older landmarks have shut down under pressure from higher rents. But Voula’s continues to attract a steady clientele from local residents, the university and a still active business community on the Lake. In a Seattle that is rapidly gentrifying Voula’s remains a genuine expression of traditional Seattle soul, a down home diner serving ample, tasty breakfasts and lunches in a friendly setting rich with recollections of local history.

Voula's mural

Voula’s mural

There’s the mural that covers the entire east wall of the front dining room. Depicting Portage Bay circa 1957, it was done by an artist named Gene Buck who needed a place to stay. The restaurant, just opened two years as Rose’s, had a room off to the side. So as a trade Buck spent his evenings painting the still bright image centered on University Bridge.

And there’s a piece of the original SLO-MO-SHUN IV hanging on the wall. The history-making hydroplane was built by Anchor Jensen of Jensen Motorboats, still just down the street from Voula’s on Boat Street.

Piece of the demolished SO-MO-SHUN IV

Piece of the demolished SO-MO-SHUN IV

Hydroplane historian Fred Farley tells the story: “In the early hours of June 26, 1950, an event transpired that caught the racing world by surprise. An Unlimited Class hydroplane with the unlikely name of SLO-MO-SHUN IV set a mile straightaway record of 160.323 miles per hour on Lake Washington near Sand Point, which raised the former standard by nearly 19 miles per hour . . . SLO-MO-SHUN IV was not the first Unlimited hydroplane to ‘prop-ride’ on a semi-submerged propeller. But she was the first to reap championship results in the application of the concept . . . For the next twenty years, boats had to pretty much use a SLO-MO-type of design to be competitive.”

The hydroplane broke to pieces in an accident on the Detroit River in 1956. Heartbroken owner Stan Sayres died three weeks later. But the memory of this piece of Seattle heritage lives on as part of a hydroplane display on the rear dining room wall.

One of two paintings by Chihuly

One of two paintings by Chihuly

A catacorner wall reflects another famous Seattle connection with two paintings by Dale Chihuly celebrating Voula’s. Chihuly’s Lake Union glass blowing shop is a nearby neighbor and Chihuly was another Voula’s regular when he lived there in the 1980s.

Voula’s has yet a further claim to fame. In 2007 Guy Fieri of the Food Network made the restaurant one of the original features for his show, “Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.” The crew came in for a two-day filming session. The Voula’s episode still repeats and has made the restaurant an attraction for tour operators.

“It doubled our business,” Sikey said. “We had to expand.”

Guy Fieri's book features Voula's

Guy Fieri’s book features Voula’s

Despite all the fame and attention Voula’s remains totally down to Earth. It is the good old neighborhood gathering spot with many daily regulars. A bulletin board full of friendly messages, a wall of pictures of customers’ children, even a shelf of toy cars donated by customers – originally for kids to play with, are all evidence of how much a community place this is.

Sikey and his mom, Voula, took over the place in 1984. Then the Offshore Café, they added Voula’s name, and it has stuck ever since. Voula herself is officially retired, but she is often in providing a warm, Greek-style greeting. The other day when I was in for breakfast she led the house in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for a customer.

The entire family migrated from Greece in 1971 when Sikey was 7. Dad worked as a tailor. Voula started working at the Little Cheerful Café, which is now the Portage Bay Café at University Motor Inn. In 1983 the owner sold the Little Cheerful.

“My mom was upset she wasn’t offered it,” Sikey says. “So she started looking for restaurant to buy, and she bought this one.”

Recently Voula’s expanded again. A classic diner where mounds of hashbrowns cook on open flat stoves behind the counter, the café has now added a much larger rear kitchen in a space that was formerly Tony’s Coffee warehouse.

“We have five times the kitchen that we had,” Sikey says.

The menu “all started with the classic American breakfast,” he notes. Creative weekly specials are offered and become regulars if popular enough. As you might expect, there’s a lot of Greek influence in the menu, like one of my favorites, the Freagy Greagy omelet with feta, spinach, Greek sausage and onions. Voula’s does a lot of its own meat and fish smoking. One of their signature dishes, the Pinata Benedict, features their own smoked pork, though I like to switch that out with their smoked salmon.

New buildings are popping up around Voula’s North Lake location. The university is slowly devouring the neighborhood. Will Voula’s survive or be swept up in the development wave as have so many classic Seattle institutions? Fortunately, no.

“We own this place,” Sikey says. “We’re in control of our own destiny. With the huge investment we just did that is not in the foreseeable future. This block is owned by three different families. We are all on the same page.”

What is the toughest part of running Voula’s?   “Working 12 hours a day for 6 days a week. Sometime it’s seven,” Sikey says.

And the best?

“It makes me happy to see people eat a meal and make a comment such as ‘the best thing I’ve ever had’ or ‘that was extremely delicious.’ It gives me great gratification to make people happy.”

The family has indeed made this Lake Union tradition a place of happiness. Next time you’re hankering for a classic Seattle breakfast diner experience try out Voula’s Offshore Café. You’ll be happy you did.

 

Climate as the culminating progressive movement: Naomi Klein’s antidote to despair

Crossposted from Cascadia Planet*

In her seminal This Changes Everything Naomi Klein is looking for the force that will do just that, politically and economically, before business as usual changes everything about the climate and the world’s ecosystems. She finds answers in a coalescence of the past two centuries’ great progressive movements, all of which have “the intrinsic value of life . . . at the heart . . .“ Climate can be the driver that completes the unfinished business of those movements, Klein writes.

The movement to abandon use of fossil fuels parallels the 19th century movement for abolition of slavery and the 20th century movement for independence of former European colonies. “Both of these transformative movements forced ruling elites to relinquish practices that were extraordinarily profitable, much as fossil fuel extraction is today,” Klein notes. Even the value of the slaves that were freed in the Civil War roughly equates to the value of coal, oil and natural gas that must be left in the ground to avert catastrophic climate disruption and ocean acidification – around $10 trillion.

But these progressive revolutions left unfinished business. The freed slaves never received 40 acres and a mule. The economic disempowerment of African America remains a stark fact today. Redistribution of lands and wealth did not follow colonial independence. Postcolonial governments that tried to redistribute wealth were undermined by coups, assassinations and bank-imposed austerity schemes.

Heroic social justice movements have secured legal rights and won cultural battles, Klein writes, notably civil, women’s and gay and lesbian movements. But they have been less successful on the economic front. The New Deal labor movement is an exception, as are social movements that built strong public services. But these are being pushed back. Klein looks to a turnaround and advance in a new progressive coalescence that secures economic justice by addressing climate necessities.

Klein’s fundamental point in This Changes Everything is that the time for gradual change in economies has passed. Humanity has dumped too much climate disrupting carbon in the air. Emissions reductions of 8-10 percent annually are needed in industrialized countries to stabilize an increasingly turbulent climate. This will require deep changes in economic systems. Making these changes offers a chance to complete the unfinished work of economic justice. Klein frames this as a Marshall Plan for Earth.

“The massive global investments required to respond to the climate threat – to adapt humanely and equitably to the heavy weather we have already locked in, and to avert the truly catastrophic warming we can still avoid – is a chance . . . to get it right this time.”

Thischangeseverything  thischangeseverythingback

Winning means beating the foe of all movements for the “intrinsic value of life” including climate, the extractivist worldview that sees land, waters and people only as opportunities to extract wealth. The contrast is an economy that regenerates life. She gives many examples, prominently, initiatives for clean energy and green jobs at local levels, from Native reservations to German municipalities. Bringing resources back to communities, enabling them to build their own sources of sustenance, is the key. That can come in land redistribution, restored public services and institutions, and good housing, as well as solar panels and wind turbines.

“So climate change does not need some shiny new movement that will magically succeed where others failed. Rather, as the furthest-reaching crisis created by the extractivist worldview, and one that puts humanity on a firm and unyielding deadline, climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all these still living movements.”

Indeed, Climate Movement 2.0 seems on arrival. Climate Movement 1.0 was driven primarily by environmental groups and scientists. A more diverse range is coming to Climate Movement 2.0. More ethnic, more working class, younger.

Climate Movement 1.0 culminated in the unsuccessful push for a federal carbon cap in 2009-10. The climate bill was stuffed with nuclear and “clean coal” subsidies and tied to a carbon offset market that would have allowed polluters to substantially avoid direct emissions reductions into the 2020s. Even support for offshore oil drilling came into the Senate bill. Klein correctly concludes that failure to pass that bill “should not be seen, as it often is, as the climate movement’s greatest defeat, but rather as a narrowly dodged bullet.”

Klein skewers the process that created the bill, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership of Big Green groups such as Environmental Defense Fund and big polluters. The severely compromised legislation gave a free pass to 90% of power plant carbon pollution and set carbon caps far short of what it would take to avert disastrous global warming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would have been barred from regulating power plant pollution. Ironically, EPA is now moving to do just that as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In the end, the polluters jumped ship when they saw the legislation crippled by lack of Obama Administration support.

Despite spending nearly a half billion of Green funder money to support the legislation, the climate movement also lacked much of a grassroots base, Klein writes. It was more focused on elites. She quotes Harvard University sociologist Theda Skocpol. “To counter fierce political opposition, reformers will have to build political networks across the country, and they will need to orchestrate sustained political efforts that stretch far beyond friendly Congressional offices, comfy boardrooms, and posh retreats.”

In other words, the climate movement would have to move beyond the suites and out onto the streets. Notes Klein, “a resurgent grassroots climate movement has now arrived and is doing precisely that – and it is winning a series of startling victories against the fossil fuel sector as a result.“ This more grassroots and democratic movement is where Klein sees hope.

“When I despair of the prospects for change, I think back on some of what I have witnessed in the five years of writing this book,” Klein says.

“When I started this journey, most of the resistance movements standing in the way of the fossil fuel frenzy did not exist or were a fraction of their current size. All were significantly more isolated from one another than they are today.”

Now, resistance to extreme fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, to tar sands, fracking, coal ports, oil trains, etc., draws in Native people, farmers, faith communities, local public officials and civic groups. The direct action movement Klein dubs Blockadia is sprouting across the map, “’friction’ to slow down an economic system that is careening out of control.” Universities, cities and foundations are facing and responding to determined citizen movements demanding divestment from fossil fuel stocks. In Germany hundreds of municipalities have de-privatized electric utilities, restoring public control and driving one of the world’s most rapid shifts to renewable energy.

That last trend exemplifies one of Klein’s most important points, the urgent need to push back the attack on the public sphere by the market fundamentalism that has prevailed since the 1980s – the philosophy that government can do no right and the market can do no wrong. From responding to disasters such as Katrina or Sandy to rapidly advancing clean energy, a rebuilt public sector is crucial, she says. Klein’s subtitle, “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” has spurred criticism and misunderstanding that she is calling for an end to capitalism as the precursor to solving the climate crisis. Klein’s real point is that we must begin changing the balance of power.

“There is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy; but the profit motive is not going to be the midwife for that great transformation,” she writes.

Instead, a turn back to communitarian values will be the motive force: “. . . any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews, a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil, and the civic, after so many decades of attack and neglect.”

In a season that has seen the People’s Climate Mobilization in New York and around the world, with a visibly broader spectrum coming to the climate cause, Klein’s This Changes Everything is the book of the moment. Klein has sighted the path to climate victory in integration with a larger progressive movement, and victory for the historic thrust of progressive movements in a unifying focus on climate. The struggle will be long and difficult, but working together there is a chance to build the better world of centuries’ aspiration. Klein has drawn a prospect of immense hope out of a deep crisis that can so easily induce despair. That is the genius of this book. Read it.

*Editor’s note:  Patrick Mazza is a climate activist, writer, blogger and Lake Union resident.

Lake Union resident one of five  arrested in Everett for blocking oil train Sept. 2 tells why they, and he, did it

I am a veteran climate activist.  I have written about the climate crisis for over 25 years and for most of the last 15 worked full-time to advance climate solutions.  I have spent a lot of time trying to stop global warming sitting in front of a computer.  On September 2, 2014 it was time to sit in front of a train.

Continue reading An arresting experience…

Delta Tripod shot

Cheshiahud Loop named “Best Urban Running Loop” by Seattle Weekly

Despite criticism early on for making poor connections, the Cheshiahud Loop was named “Best Urban Running Loop” by Seattle Weekly in their August 6 issue. Take that Green Lake! Noting the close-in trail is:

 …an almost exact 10K (or 6.2 miles) that takes you across the University and Fremont Bridges, with water always on your left. (Remember you must run counter clockwise, as on a track.)… Along the way are Gas Works Park, the new Lake Union Park, and numerous street-end parks – so you can stop and rest on a bench if so inclined. (p. 22)

 Weeklycover

Other notable area “Best of’s” were:

Amazon – Best Building Plans  While “evil and really shitty to book publishers,” they gets points for “moving the ugly ‘giant shiny box’ aesthetic that’s plagued Seattle’s  new development toward the way cooler ‘Ecotopia’ aesthetic the city should capitalize on.” (p.27)

 Sushi Kappo Tamura – Best Japanese “Ippins” “…small plates both hot and cold” to eat before ordering sushi. (p. 33)

Shanik – Best Happy-Hour Menu “The restaurant offers 20% off the bar menu, with miniature versions of the restaurants best dishes…” (p. 35)

Westward – Best Place for a First Date “Toast oysters and watch the sunset behind the city skyline.” (p. 36)

 Little Water Cantina – Best Outdoor Drinking “In the heat of a Seattle summer, what you really want is a well-made margarita, some chips, and something to stare at. Little Water Cantina delivers on all three counts.” (p.46)

Congrats to all the winners!

 

Putting the “sea” in Seattle

Here’s a recent post on Patrick’s Cascadia Planet site — a future where all the earth’s ice has melted (Union Narrows, anyone?):

I’ve been peering out at Queen Anne Hill from my Eastlake Seattle window for some time wondering what the hill would look like on an ice-free planet, Lake Union long having become part of Puget Sound.  I’ve played with a map tool to envision the contours of Queen Anne Island and the Seattle Island chain.  Now Spatialities has done ice-free planet maps for Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, and they are selling them at their site. Here are Cascadia’s future Seattle and Portland Islands if we are so foolish as to continue on our current trajectory. (Click on the maps for larger size.) These are beautiful depictions of a horrendous future.  May they help motivate us not to go there.  (p.s. I’m about 10 stories underwater by then.)

20140220islandsofseattle_streets_weblink

IslandsOfPortland20140511_ForWeb

A few years back I even wrote some lyrics on the topic. Here they are:

THE SEATTLE ISLANDS

Take the ferry boat
To Queen Anne Island
Puget Sound’s a moat
All around is a fried land

Aurora fell down
Dead of suicide
In the waves it drowned
When the ice caps fried

Used to be a lake
Down there somewhere
Until the ice break
In the hot summer air

The lake was my home
Beyond were the mountains
But the future was blown
Cause we were not accountin’

With our gaseous spew
We boiled the oceans
Cared for by too few
We set it in motion

City once here
Now flushed down the drain
Old hilltops appear
Island chain remains

Live on Capitol
Take the Beacon boat
We have paid the toll
We have cut our throat

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
Trestle

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.

Thinking Like a Lake Union Watershed

When those of us who live around Lake Union survey the waters we hold in common, it is from a diversity of neighborhoods.  The mix of apartments, houses and floating homes in Eastlake, the offices and restaurants on the south end, Westlake’s high-density apartment building “Riviera,” the traditional but rapidly changing Wallingford and Fremont.

As different as are our neighborhoods, we are united by the “Little Water,” as the original native inhabitants called the place.  (The name lives on in the “Tenas Chuck” floating homes community in Eastlake.)  We are joined together by living in a common watershed.

Aerial photo of Lake Union June 2012 by Jelson25/Wikimedia Commons

Aerial photo of Lake Union June 2012 by Jelson25/Wikimedia Commons

What is a watershed?  It is a body of water and surrounding land that sheds water into it.  A watershed is defined by the ridgelines and high points from which water flows downward.  Watersheds come in a range of sizes.  The Columbia River Watershed is the size of France and Germany put together. The Mississippi River Watershed covers everything from Montana to Pennsylvania.  It’s all about where the water flows.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) offers this map of Lake Union and the neighboring Ship Canal watershed.  As you will see, the watershed boundaries move well past surrounding neighborhoods and reflect older streams now in pipes underground.

As you might expect for an urban water body, Lake Union faces environmental challenges.  SPU notes a number.  Saltwater intrusion from the Ballard Locks sucks oxygen from water during warm periods.  Summer heat can drive water temperatures to salmon-killing levels.  With sewers and storm drains still connected, runoff can push fecal coliform bacteria beyond safe levels, especially during winter storms.  The urban-industrial history of the lake lives on in toxic sediments, as well as development that has left only five percent of shoreline with natural vegetation.

Becoming watershed-aware means understanding the role each one of us has to play in preserving our common waters.  It can be as simple as picking up your dog poop, using a car wash rather than cleaning your car on the street, and plugging oil leaks from your vehicles.  Our individual pollutions all flows downwards to the lake.

We can also make our yards into allies for the watershed with natural yard care.  SPU has advice on how to practice this at your place.  One key action is rainwater harvesting.  To understand its importance, consider the sheets of water you see flowing down streets and sidewalks during heavy downpours.  The water goes right into the lake without the benefit of filtering by vegetation and soils.  Catching water and using it in your yard reduces polluted runoff.

Climate change will intensify challenges to the lake over coming decades.  Rising sea levels will press on the locks, while higher summer temperatures and increased winter storms will pose water quality threats.   This is where the local connects to the global.  Any action you take that reduces burning coal, oil and natural gas anywhere helps the lake, whether it’s cutting your gasoline consumption, making your home more efficient, or telling your elected representatives they must pass policies to reduce carbon emissions.  Individual actions to reduce pollution are needed.  Acting as a citizen is a force multiplier.   Both are crucial.

The famous ecologist Aldo Leopold once said we need to “Think like a mountain.” We also need to think like a watershed.  To preserve a healthy planet for ourselves and for our children, we need to start with the places we live.  And we all live in a watershed.   We who live in the Lake Union Watershed live in diverse neighborhoods, but we share our “Little Water” in common.  By thinking like a watershed we can preserve and enhance our place, contribute to making a sustainable world, and build a new and needed sense of community among us.

Welcome to the Lake Union Watershed!

 

 

 

 

 

A Virtual Museum about Lake Union History

When Vaun Raymond was looking for a thesis project to complete his Masters in Digital Media at the University of Washington, he asked Dick Wagner, founder of The Wooden Boats Center, what, if he could do a museum about anything, would it be? Wagner responded, “Lake Union.”

Wagner’s answer literally launched Raymond’s Lake Union Virtual Museum; the first video project was shot in part from a boat on Lake Union.

The museum is a multi-media website combining text, photographs and videos to tell stories about Seattle’s unique urban lake.  Since its beginning in 2008, the website has grown to 52 pages with dozens of photos and 11 documentary videos on various aspects of the lake’s history.  The website can be found at www.lakeunionhistory.org.

 “It’s a museum you can visit from home,” said Raymond who was a guest speaker at a Sept. 17 Eastlake Community Council  public meeting on the history of Lake Union.

The discussion of the virtual turned surprisingly real as two of the featured subjects of the videos were in the audience. Richard Haag the architect for Gasworks Park was there and so was Jackie Swanson a descendant of John Cheshiahud, for whom the Lake Union Loop is named.

Hagg spoke about the controversy surrounding Gas Works development. When the city started discussing ideas for turning the site into a park in the 1970’s people just assumed that the old gas works plant would be removed. The plant which had converted coal and later oil into synthetic natural gas was shut down in 1956 with the introduction of new technologies for natural gas.

Richard Haag at Gas Works Park from video

Richard Haag at Gas Works Park from video

Haag came across the shuttered plant in 1958 when he moved to Seattle. “That place is magic,” he thought. “I want to work with that site.” Just over a decade later he would get his wish.

In 1969 Haag was hired by the city to do an analysis of the gas works property to determine how to turn it into a park. While doing the analysis he became convinced that the structures were the most sacred thing about the place, but keeping them would be another matter.

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.”

Jackie Swanson, a Native American, featured in the “First People” video was philosophical about her people’s history around the lake.  She noted her great grandmother had been born where Ivar’s Salmon House now stands, and her family’s roots in the Pacific Northwest go far back.  She described herself as Ancient Duwamish.

Jackie Swanson from video

Jackie Swanson from video

John Cheshiahud was one of the last Native Americans still living on the shores of Lake Union once white settlements had taken over. “What we got from Cheshiahud was always do our best,” she said.

John Cheshiahud was a master canoe carver. He carved a canoe for David Denny, and they became good friends learning each other’s language. Denny thought so highly of Cheshiahud that he ensured a burial spot for him at the Washelli Cemetery, even though the cemetery was segregated at the time.

“When you know the history of a place, the place becomes populated with the past,” noted Swanson.

More and more people are learning the history of Lake Union through Raymond’s project. Robert Onstad, Manager of Chandler’s restaurant, was also introduced at the meeting because he has set up a viewing room at Chandler’s that shows the videos as an option for patrons waiting for their table. It’s been much appreciated, he said.  “Guests want to know about what they’re seeing out their window.”

Besides “Gas Works” and “First People,” Raymond has also produced videos about Lake Union on “Boat Shops,” “Shipwrecks,” “Houseboats,” “World’s Fair (1909),” “Rowing,” “Seaplanes,” “Harbor Patrol,” and “Lake Union Drydock.”

What’s Raymond’s favorite? He declined to say in a phone interview, but he did mention that “Seaplanes” has turned out to be the most popular with over 86,000 YouTube views.

Being on the Internet the museum has a vast geographic distribution, he noted.  Recently a pilot association in Florida wanting to establish a seaplane business in their community asked Raymond if they could use the Seaplane video at community meetings. He said yes.

He also said yes when a design group in California wanted to use the Gas Works video for community education as they were planning to turn a similar abandoned structure into a park.

“People are looking at Lake Union as a model,” Raymond said, “and it’s neat to be able to contribute to that.”

This article first appeared in The Eastlake News, Winter 2013/14 issue.