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Apartments and retail next to perch at old Red Robin site?

The Daily Journal of Commerce reported Thursday that developers Michael Heijer and Robert Hardy are eyeing the old Red Robin site at 3272 Furhman Ave. E. for a 63 unit apartment complex with 1,800 square feet of retail on the first floor and 15 underground parking spaces.

Original Red Robin restaurant at 3272 Furhman Ave. E. Photo by cdmilton

Original Red Robin restaurant at 3272 Furhman Ave. E. Photo by cdmilton

The Eastlake Community Council is holding a public meeting about this site as well as another at 2203/2209 Eastlake Ave. E. on Monday, Feb 2, at TOPS Seward School, 2500 Franklin Ave. E. from 7 to 9 p.m.

If you miss that meeting, according to DJC, another design review for the Red Robin site will be held at Seattle University in the Case Commons Building, room 500E, on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.

Red Robin flew the coop in 2010 when owners of the chain closed the original restaurant location despite its popularity and historical significance. The building remained empty with talk over the years of a new restaurant or even perhaps a market. Likely the building’s maintenance problems that the chain’s owners said were too costly to upgrade also hindered any new occupant. A 2007 sink hole in the parking lot probably didn’t help sell the site either.

Red Robin site after demolition this summer. Photo by Rick Miner

Red Robin site after demolition this summer. Photo by Rick Miner

The restaurant had an illustrious history becoming one of Seattle’s early business successes in the 1970’s and 80’s. And it had a sort of Seattle grittiness before morphing into something more family friendly and becoming a household name. The original Red Robin was a tavern and its mascot a joint-smoking cartoon red robin.

Smokin' Red Robin mural. Photo by cdmilton

Smokin’ Red Robin mural. Photo by cdmilton

The Eastlake Ave Blog reported on the Red Robin closure and wondered if the outdoor sign or any other piece of the building would go to MOHAI. Still waiting to hear.

 

Lake Union Steam Plant building turns 100

The Lake Union Steam Plant that now houses ZymoGenetics turns one hundred years old this year. It’s been called the monument on Lake Union, and its story is, well, monumental. It’s one of auspicious birth – built at the start of the electric age; heroic life – providing emergency power for the city; shocking death – discovery of toxic waste; and finally resurrection – the renovation into a modern biogenetics laboratory. It begins like many great stories with a prequel – the Hydro House.

Hydro House

Squeezed between ZymoGenetics and an old renovated warehouse the gnome-like structure of the Hydro House on Eastlake Avenue is easy to miss and a delight to find. It was built in response to a young city’s growing energy needs and to a possible failure in the Cedar River dam.

Hydro House in 1912; notice 40" pipe being installed on left. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

Hydro House in 1912; notice 40″ pipe being installed on left. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

At the turn of the 19th century, electricity was changing people’s lives in ways analogous to today’s technological revolution. As with information technology, Seattle took a leading role in electrical power. The first light bulb in Seattle, also the first west of the Rockies, “flickered to life” in just 1886, according to a HistoryLink essay. Some twenty years later, in 1905, the Cedar River Falls hydroelectric facility became “the nation’s first municipally owned hydro project,” according to Seattle City Light.

The early users of electricity, industry and commerce provided steady growth for the utility. But by the end of the first decade, a new market was opening – the home. No sooner were additional generators planned for the Cedar River station than it was apparent even more would be needed.

“The support given the municipal plant by the Seattle citizens was so enthusiastic that it became necessary to plan extensions almost as soon as service began,” a 1931 City of Seattle Department of Lighting Annual Report notes in its history section.

By 1910 city engineers decided to just tap all the energy potential of the Cedar River site by means of a large concrete dam. But there was a risk involved with the dam, a potential failure of one of the dam’s reservoir walls. To provide enough power to the city while resolving that issue, Seattle needed a back-up power source and planned for a coal-fed steam plant on the south end of Lake Union.

In 1911 voters approved financing for the initial phase of the Steam Plant. Yet it too couldn’t be built fast enough. Since actual power from the Steam Plant was still a few years away, the possibility of building a small hydro facility on the site was re-introduced. The idea for a hydro project on Lake Union had first been raised in January 1902 to power city street lights. But its funding instead went toward the much larger Cedar River Falls hydro electric project.

Now the timing was right. The Hydro House was quickly built and put into service by 1912 for a cost of about $30,000.

The Hydro House was innovative. It used the latent power of the Volunteer Park Reservoir. Overflow water propelled by gravity fell through a 40-inch pipe some 3,400 feet long with a drop of 412 feet to generate 1,500 kilowatts of power. Technically it was the city’s second electrical generating facility.

In reality, “the unit was too small to be a real factor in supplying the rapidly increasing demand but it was the first auxiliary power source for the City,” again according to the 1931 report, “and paid for itself many times over during its first three years as a standby plant in emergency.”

The Hydro House as it is today viewed from Eastlake Avenue.

The Hydro House as it is today viewed from Eastlake Avenue.

The Hydro House, originally called the Power House, is now a local landmark structure. In 1987 architect, preservationist and former Eastlake Community Council board member Susan Boyle nominated both it and the adjacent Steam Plant for landmark status in a well-researched, 15-page, single-spaced, typed nomination form.

The building was designed by Daniel Riggs Huntington, the City Architect from 1911-1925, who also designed many other still-standing historic structures. The Fremont Library, also a Huntington design, bears a familial resemblance to the Hydro House. Both are Mission Revival Style structures. Although, “the Lake Union Power House was a contradictory hybrid,” notes Boyle, “a new building type [electrical] clothed in an old style.”

Boyle describes the Hydro House as “a single story, wood and concrete frame structure with a basement level below the grade of Eastlake Avenue. The primary elevation is the east one on Eastlake Avenue (original drawings show no indication of Fairview Avenue, which was built later on pilings). The building is stucco-clad, clay tile, gable-roofed structure, with its ridge running parallel to the street.”

She notes that there are two small concrete towers on the structure that originally contained cross arms for transmission lines.

“The original roof towers clearly expressed the use of the building and the simple symmetrical arrangements of elements spoke of its utility, but the building’s size and style gave it a domestic character.”

A window outlook sat squarely on the roof ridge, for visually monitoring those early transmission lines. The thick north and south concrete walls of the Hydro House rise to form low roof parapets that were likely “designed to serve as fire walls to separate the Power House from neighboring buildings.”

An inset entryway was changed shortly after construction. “A pair of panel doors with a glass transom was originally set into the front opening at the east elevation to provide a small covered entry,” writes Boyle. “This was changed in 1914 when the doors were moved forward to their present location on the face of the building.”

Other changes include “the removal of grillwork and installation of windows at the two dormers and gable ends. When the building ceased to operate as a generating plant, the cross arms and exterior wires were removed. But for these changes, the exterior of the Power House today is original.”
As for the interior, only the original concrete walls and roof trusses remain.
Comparing the design of the Hydro House with the neighboring Steam Plant “clearly suggests the revolutionary character of the later building.”

The Hydro House was quickly eclipsed when the initial phase of the Steam Plant was completed in 1914. The Hydro House’s main floor, formerly a storage area (with the generators in the basement), became a lunch and locker room for Seattle City Light steam plant employees. And its loft became a darkroom for the city’s Engineering Department staff photographers.

The Hydro House continued to serve as an emergency back-up power source for some 18 years. In 1932 it was finally shut down entirely. Its generators were said to have been sold to a Christian radio station in Ecuador calling itself “The Voice of the Andes.”

“The only remnant of power generation within the Power House,” writes Boyle, “is a braced concrete pier in the basement that once supported the turbines.” Another remnant exists outside, beneath Fairview Avenue, amidst the pilings and partially submerged in Lake Union’s shallow waters, the large outflow pipe of the generators.

Hydro House today viewed from Fairview Avenue. Sketch by Karen Berry.

Hydro House today viewed from Fairview Avenue. Sketch by Karen Berry.

Today the Hydro House has a new life, owned by ZymoGenetics, and leased out as a restaurant to The Great Northwest Soup Company. In this way it still functions as it once did as a lunchroom to employees in the larger building. The restaurant is open to the public Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. While enjoying a breakfast or lunch at the Hydro House, you can look up to see those original roof trusses and also wander outside onto a modern patio for a view of Lake Union.

Next: “Life of a Steam Plant.”

A version of this article was first published in the Eastlake News, the Eastlake Community Council’s newsletter.

Crazy Horse’s pipe centers multifaith ceremony at St. Patrick’s

Envision a priestess of the Goddess, a rabbi, a Sufi, a Methodist minister, a Lutheran pastor, a Quaker, a Hindu, a Muslim, Native American leaders and representatives of several other faiths passing around a pipe that once belonged to Crazy Horse, making prayers and sharing insights as the pipe came to them. All in a Catholic Church!

The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving

The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving

It happened in the neighborhood last Sunday. The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving took place at St. Patrick’s with the theme, a Ceremonial Call to Illumine and Restore the Sacred. It was centered on the Sacred Pipe Ceremony. Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr, an enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, noted that his tribe has had Crazy Horse’s pipe in its possession for several decades. But they are only bringing it out now.

This is a time when prophecies of Crazy Horse and other elders are being fulfilled, Lane said. After 500 years of darkness a spiritual renewal is bringing people of many faiths together to protect the Mother Earth. So Native people are beginning to share more of their ways with us. Bringing out the pipe was one manifestation of that.

Seattle spiritual leaders pass around Crazy Horses pipe

Seattle spiritual leaders pass around Crazy Horses pipe

Native spirit was at the center of the event. We were welcomed by Ken Workman, a member of the Duwamish Tribal Council and a fourth generation grandson of Chief Seattle. Sundance Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation gave an extended talk with some deeply poignant moments. His son, Cedar George, was at the Marysville-Pilchuck High School when the tragic shooting happened recently. Healing was one of the intentions of the event. Rueben broke up for a moment describing how much he hurts for his son. Cedar spoke about how his grounding in Native spiritual ways gave him the strength to endure and help his classmates.

Native leaders from right to left: Ken Workman, red scarf; Phil Lane; Rueben George; Cedar George

Native leaders from right to left: Ken Workman, red scarf; Phil Lane; Rueben George; Cedar George

Rueben George and Phil Lane are both leaders of the Nawtsamaat Alliance of Native and non-Native people. The Alliance is taking a stand against oil and coal trains, ports, terminals, and pipelines in order to protect the Salish Sea, the inland waters from Puget Sound through the Georgia Straits.  This stance was the background of the Ceremonial Call. Faith communities such as those represented in the Sunday ceremony increasingly understand the Earth is sacred. They are prominent in the movement against coal and oil expansion because they understand that fossil fuels threaten our climate and our waters. Rueben talked about the growing movement coming together to protect the waters, noting how 25 years after the Exxon Valdez spill, Prince William Sound is still polluted. That could happen to our waters if we let the fossil fuel industry’s insatiable greed have its way, he said.

I have to admit I’m a recovering Catholic who rarely passes the door of a Catholic Church. But it’s no surprise I found myself at St. Patrick’s. The church is committed to keeping alive the ecumenical and progressive vision of the early 1960s Vatican II conference. This must have been challenging through the conservatism that has prevailed since, but the tradition of openness seems to be returning with Pope Francis. Maybe I’ll find my way back for a regular mass. It would make my mother happy.

Sunday’s Ceremonial Call was deeply moving, indeed stirring gratitude this Thanksgiving season. In a world where so much seems enveloped in darkness, this brought light.

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.

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