Dick Wagner, 1933-2017: Champion of Lake Union

Eastlake and Lake Union lost a dear friend and great champion with the April 20 death of Dick Wagner.  The Seattle Times obituary by Claudia Rowe tells how it all started:  Wagner grew up in New Jersey and was trained as an architect.  “But during the mid-1950s, en route to a summer job in San Francisco, he stopped in Seattle.  That sudden change of plans would alter the trajectory of his life and affect thousands of others.  He fell in love with the city, found a floating home to live in on the shores of Lake Union and eventually married one of his neighbors, the former Colleen Luebke.”

Dick and Colleen came to the lake when wooden boats were no longer dominant, and as the skills and commitment to build, maintain, and operate them were waning.  With genius and unstoppable verve, they threw themselves into preservation and promotion, founding the Center for Wooden Boats as a living museum where people of all levels of skill or income level could experience another era’s legacy aboard handmade wooden craft.   As Caren Crandell, first assistant director at the Center recalls in a tribute on its web site, “The goal was always to get a tool, an oar, a tiller, or a mainsheet in someone’s hand, so they could feel the wood, the water, or the wind as they discovered with amazement what they could do.”

Although Wagner was not an Eastlake resident (the family’s houseboat, the Old Boathouse, is in the shadow of the Aurora Bridge), he was important to Eastlake’s survival as a human-scaled neighborhood.  In the 1960s for the Floating Homes Association, Dick did drawings for parks at Eastlake’s shoreline street-ends—many of which became reality in the ensuing decades (a few still remain to be accomplished).   He also did drawings for traffic calming and greening of Fairview Avenue East, the earliest step toward the City’s 1998 designation of part of Fairview as a “neighborhood green street,” and the street design concept plan that the City is now reviewing.

Dick Wagner was a popular speaker at Eastlake Community Council meetings, as with a 2012 talk on “Mysteries of Lake Union,” based in part on his 2008 book, Legends of the Lake.  As ECC wrote in endorsement of grant funding for the Center for Wooden Boats, “No organization is better suited…to uncover Lake Union’s history and tell [its] story.  We regard CWB as the best organization of its kind anywhere.  The construction, restoration, and operation of a wooden boat require great care and an ability to tell its story.  In just that way, everything else that the Center for Wooden Boats does is equally well-planned, professionally produced, historically grounded, and effective at reaching a broader audience.”

ECC offers condolences to Dick Wagner’s wife, sister, two sons and grandchild. At his request, no public service was held.  But surely he would have been pleased that on May 21 a flotilla of historic wooden boats including the Virginia V, M/V Lotus, Tordenskjold, and hundreds of other smaller vessels sailed in tribute, between the Center for Wooden Boats and the Wagners’ Old Boathouse.

Donations in memory to Dick Wagner may be made to The Center for Wooden Boats (1010 Valley St, Seattle, WA, 98109), online at cwb.org, or by phone at 206-382-2628.  Please include “Dick Wagner Memorial” in the memo or notes line.  ECC has made such a donation and encourages others to do so.

 

Article written by Chris Leman, reprinted with permission from the Eastlake News

CWB copy

sketch by Karen Berry