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Trash Talkin’: a tour of Recology, is eye boggling and mind opening

“I love talking about trash,” says Jennifer Power. And she’s got the perfect job for that. She’s our tour guide for Seattle’s Recology, a recycling facility or MRF (Materials Recovery Facility).

We were meeting in a large conference room at Recology before the tour to talk about safety and what we would be seeing because once inside the facility it would be too loud for Jennifer to be heard.

 “Has everyone heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?” she asked passing around a jar of colorful plastic pieces floating in water. It’s the largest accumulation of plastics in the ocean (there are about five of them) and is about the size of the United States, she said. Plastic just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces, but it never breaks down completely. Sea turtles eat the plastic pieces thinking they’re jelly fish. Microplastics are now everywhere, even in the air we breathe.

“They’re accumulating in our bodies and we don’t know what is happening with that,” she added.

So, what could we do? Avoid single use plastic for one and recycle the plastic we do use for another although that’s getting harder, we learned, as more and more plastic is mixed with other materials making it nearly impossible to separate out and recycle.

And did people hear about China not taking our recycling anymore, she asked. While that’s true Recology has found other markets for its recycling in India, Thailand, and the Philippines. And Recology, an employee-owned business, vets these markets carefully to ensure they are recycling, creating materials for new products, and not just dumping our recycling in a foreign landfill.

Cascading and flowing recycling

We put on our yellow vests and hard hats and entered the warehouse. It was loud as Jennifer warned and a surreal landscape of mountains of trash recycling that were being moved around and tumbling down like waterfalls onto conveyer belts that moved all around like rivers. Along the banks, workers stood in protective clothing continuously fishing out anything that didn’t belong. They rotated through jobs at the facility, said Jennifer, never spending more than a couple of hours at one task.

Sorting technology is ever changing with machines that can register what is recyclable and whisk it away. One plastics sorting machine uses lasers to identify the plastic it wants and shoots a gust of air at it to direct it to the proper conveyer belt. Other machines use magnets to pick out the metals.

After the tour, when we got back to the meeting room, there were more questions. One woman from a Capitol Hill artists’ co-op had brought a lunch sack full of items wanting to know what could be recycled. “Careful,” she warned as Jennifer opened the sack.

“I handle trash all day,” scoffed Jennifer, making everyone laugh.

The sack included the plastic pump from a bottle, non-recyclable, and a variety of wrappers made of different sorts of composite material, like mylar, that’s nearly impossible to recycle. The same was true of cosmetic tubes and cases — non-recyclable. A plastic prescription bottle could maybe be recycled at a pharmacy, but no one knew of any that did that. Disappointingly nothing the woman brought was recyclable. “Except,” said Jennifer, “this!” holding up the brown paper bag carrying the trash.

Someone asked how she stayed so upbeat in the face of a topic that seemed as overwhelming and intractable as, well, a landfill.

“If enough people care we can get to a better place to make decisions,” she said. And she sees a lot of hope with the younger generation. Studies have shown that when kids learn something, they can change their parent’s behavior, she noted, better than any campaign. Kids have a shaming effect on their parents – why aren’t we doing this Mom and Dad?

The kids say to her, “We don’t want the turtles eating plastic…”

Our tour was organized by Eastlake resident Olga Lazareva who wrote an article about recycling for the summer edition of the Eastlake News, a community newsletter. More than 12 people signed up for the July 18 tour; the goal was ten. “It was exciting to see that we were not alone in our quest for knowledge, but part of a full room of people who care about our environment and the planet,” said Olga later in an email.

Public tours are offered quarterly at Recology, check out their website.

What you can do:

Compost – this one is huge because food waste in a landfill doesn’t get the air and light necessary to biodegrade. In fact, about the opposite happens. Trashed food adds to climate change by creating methane gas. According to the EPA, “When food goes to the landfill, it’s similar to tying food in a plastic bag. The nutrients in the food never return to the soil. The wasted food rots and produces methane gas.”

And methane gas fuels global warming.

It’s counterproductive to put food waste in the garbage, put it in the compost where it can help rebuild the earth’s soil.

Keep your recycling clean and dry – Paper needs to be clean and dry, as do bottles, cans, and plastics. Please make sure not to leave your paper boxes out in the elements, otherwise, it can’t be recycled. This will make life easier for your recyclers and have the added benefit of keeping your recycling bins clean too!

Know that plastic recycling is complicated (but not impossible!) — not all plastics can be recycled even though they suggest that. But things like vitamin, ketchup, soda, water, milk, and detergent bottles can be recycled (hard plastics) as can plastic flower/plant pots. 

That ubiquitous soft plastic used to wrap water/soda bottles, bathroom tissue, produce, etc. can now be recycled at some supermarket drop off locations. To learn more, check out Plastic Film Recycling at plasticfilmrecycling.org

Buy bath items in bulk – items such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap, bath salts, and lotion can be purchased in bulk at Central Market in Ballard or Aurora and at all PCC markets. Just bring your own container and fill up. Not only are you reducing plastic waste, these brands are also natural and eco-friendly.

Check out Ridwell, at ridwell.com, a new company that provides a recycling service similar to an old fashion milkman. They provide a box and bags for doorstep recycling. And every week pick up used batteries, lightbulbs, threads (old clothing, linen, shoes), and plastic film. They let you know of a rotating fifth category so you can plan ahead such as eyeglasses or wine bottle corks.

Review the guidelines from the city of Seattle “Where does it go?”  The city website has a lot of good information for diverting waste and saving money on your garbage bill. You can find out just about where every item needs to go to be disposed of on this site: seattle.gov/utilities/wheredoesitgo.  

Request a special item pick up Styrofoam blocks and used cooking and motor oil can be picked up for free by the same garbage truck that takes your garbage. Request a special item collection online on http://www.seattle.gov/utilities/services/garbage/garbage-at-home/special-collection, or call 206 684 3000. You’ll put those items on a curbside on the same day your garbage gets collected. 

Donate your clothes – Goodwill, Salvation Army and other places access old clothing and fabric. Let your clothes have a second chance!

Consume less

Aim for zero waste!

Photos by Olga Lazareva and Judy Smith. Sketches by Karen Berry. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Eastlake News fall 2019 edition. Olga Lazareva also contributed to this report.

The Flower Lady’s largest bouquet – the business is for sale

“What colors? What fragrance?” asked Vivian Darst when a customer walked into her shop The Flower Lady on Eastlake Ave. saying he wanted to spend $45 on a bouquet. There was a brief discussion of roses before she headed into the cooler full of flowers.

“She’s the best,” the man told me. He’d been coming for years. Did he know the shop was closing? No, he didn’t. It will be a huge loss, he added. “Where will I buy my flowers?”

Vivian came back, her hands full of pink and purple flowers; yes, the lease is up August 31 she told him. (It had been extended from April.) She was still trying to figure out what to do. A broker had brought her a potential buyer, but she didn’t know who it was or if it was going to go anywhere.

After about 10 minutes of arranging flowers and conversation, the man left with a spectacular bouquet and a hug.

This was going to be the hardest part, she said; she would miss her customers.

Vivian Darst at her shop arranging flowers.

The arrangement The Flower Lady would like best is to find a buyer who might also hire her as an occasional employee or consultant. She could help — giving the owner the luxury of vacations she never really got. She’d love to keep her hand in the business doing the floral designing and working with customers, but after 20 years of running the shop and recent rent increases, she’s ready to let someone else worry about making payroll and paying the bills.

Many people remember The Flower Lady’s first stand sprouting up in the mid-1970s at the vacant lot at the corner of Roanoke and Harvard. At that time, it was a scrappy business called Vivian’s Flowers run out of a van with buckets of flowers and a couple of sun umbrellas. (My younger sister got her first job there.)

Eventually she bought part of the property but then got caught in a high-profile zoning battle. News reporters kept referring to her as The Flower Lady.

The legal battle uprooted her to the other side of the freeway.

“Those sun umbrellas outside the store today are pretty much where they were when this place was a vacant lot,” said Vivian.

When the property owner wanted to develop the lot, the flower stand uprooted again this time just several feet over to a vacant lot next to the Larson building. By that time she had the luxury of a shed, and they moved it with a forklift.

The building went up with a space designed specifically for The Flower Lady, and she moved in. It was 700 square feet, palatial to Vivian. Along with flowers, she filled it with gifts and cards, and the store flourished for many years.

This is a good business for someone with a well-off spouse, or if someone can figure out how to sell something else along with the flowers, said Vivian. The eclectic selection of gifts has not done well in recent years. Wine maybe, maybe cannabis, Vivian suggests with a smile as if the thought just occurred to her.

Except for the stuffed animals used in bouquets, the gifts, including a couple of Tibetan rugs hanging from the ceiling, are all 25% off. She’s willing to bargain lower on some things as well.

Whatever happens she’ll keep a hand in the flower business.  It’s in her blood. She’s a third-generation flower dealer. Her grandfather was a farmer who started with a few bulbs when her dad was a boy. Her dad grew flowers his whole life, mostly irises, daffodils, and sunflowers. It kept him going, she said. He was driving and delivering wholesale flowers around the region until he was 95, a year before he died.

But he was always borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, Vivian added, and she’s had to do some of that as well to keep the shop going – subsidizing it with income from her rentals.

Still it’s been a joy working here, said Vivian, surrounded by all these beautiful flowers that change with the seasons, and meeting people.

That she doesn’t want to lose it’s clear.

If there’s no buyer for the shop, people will be able to find out what’s next on her website: www.seattleflowerlady.com.

She can see continuing deliveries and taking special orders. She may go back to her roots with what would now be known as a pop-up stand.

Whatever she does she’ll always be The Flower Lady.

Vivian in front of the shop she’s run for over 20 years.

Featured image is a detail from an original painting of The Flower Lady storefront by Jerry Becker Steffen, Jr.

In pursuit of the elusive butterfly garden

I’ve dreamt of having a butterfly garden since my daughter was in preschool. She just graduated from college, and it hasn’t happened yet. But it seems more urgent now than ever.

“Next year,” wrote the New York Times in a recent article, “How to Attract Butterflies,” “the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to include the butterfly on the endangered species list.”

The Times advice was simple — plant more native plants; avoid pesticides.

That same week, the Bellevue Botanical Garden had a lecture on butterflies and garden habitat, and the advice of the lecturer Julie O’Donald, a master gardener specializing in butterflies was the same, but she got more down in the weeds, so to speak. And some weeds as it turns out are just what butterflies need.

“The variety of native plants in a garden increases the diversity of butterflies that will be there,” O’Donald said. Natives like nettles and thistles are good butterfly habitat, she added. (However there was a caveat to that: native thistles are common in the mountains, but many other thistles are invasive.)

O’Donald ran through slides of the different types of butterflies that inhabit the Puget Sound low regions and their host plants. She also showed a slide of her own property bought many years ago as a largely barren landscape.  Now it’s quite lush.

“I cultivated nettles for butterfly caterpillars,” she said showing a slide of nettles in a fenced area near a shed. “But they kept branching out beyond the fence.” (They looked like prisoners longing to be free.) She finally moved them when she and her husband painted the shed. “They were never happy fenced up.”

“People talk about caterpillars becoming butterflies as though they just go into a cocoon, slap on wings, and are good to go,” wrote Jennifer Wright in a tweet that went viral and became a meme on Facebook. “Caterpillars have to dissolve into a disgusting pile of goo to become butterflies,” she went on. “So if you’re a mess wrapped up in blankets right now, keep going.”

We love butterflies because they represent transformation, freedom.

But before they get to that point they start off as creepy crawlers, O’Donald reminded the crowd.

Butterflies have a short but specific life cycle. They lay their eggs on the leaves or flowers of native plants; the eggs hatch into a caterpillar. A caterpillar has no other means of getting food than eating the plant that they’re on, said O’Donald. Plants, it turns out, are the adoptive parents of butterfly young. Butterfly caterpillars just keep eating – with minimal damage to the plant. They eat and grow and finally look for a good hiding place to pupate and form a chrysalis.

The butterfly is the adult part of the lifecycle and hardier than its young. It can eat and drink to a greater variety. It’s out there hitting the nectar bars and looking for a mate and shelter for its young before dying.

Some species of butterflies and flowers have evolved together, and the extinction of one can means the extinction of the other, which is what happened with the Atala butterfly, said O’Donald. It was thought extinct when its host flower the Coontie – a native to Florida – almost went extinct. When plants were found and the flower came back, so too did the Atala butterfly. The story is described in The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Douglas Tallamy.

Many plants and seeds are treated with chemicals, and O’Donald recommends buying only organic. 

“How long will the toxicity last?” someone in the audience asked.

 “Often two years and the soil near the plant may also be contaminated,” said O’Donald.

Finding a good variety of native plants at nurseries is difficult, she admits, but “keep asking for them and someday they’ll get better about carrying them.” They can be found at native plant sales hosted a couple of times a year by the Washington Native Plant Society.

One plant to pass over at nurseries is the butterfly bush. Despite its name, it’s not good for butterflies. (It’s been described as junk food for butterflies.) O’Donald explained why, “The butterfly bush only supplies nectar. It doesn’t provide shelter or food for butterfly caterpillars. And it spreads into natural areas where it competes with native plants.”

Habitat for butterflies doesn’t have to be large. Even a few plants on a balcony will create havens and resting places for butterflies to land, said O’Donald.

Butterflies are iconic. We see them in advertising, in art, in design, on book covers, in display windows, and in memes. You almost can’t go a day without seeing one. They’re everywhere, those butterflies, and nowhere.  An actual butterfly is a rare find.

O’Donald’s advice — just start planting.

“Start small,” she says, “While you’re busy doing other things these plants will take off.”

And so will actual butterflies.

Julie O’Donald’s butterfly garden with asters and autumn helenium in the foreground and apple trees and grapevines beyond.
Free and happy nettles.

Resources for creating a butterfly garden and learning more about butterflies:

Common butterflies of the Puget Sound Region and their food plants

Make your yard bee [and butterfly] friendlier

National Wildlife Federation

Washington Butterfly Association

Xerces Society

Shaking things up: Eastlake Hub’s first all-city drill

Last Saturday’s Eastlake Hub drill simulated a “Seattle Fault” 6.7 magnitude earthquake and a four-foot seiche on Lake Union, which is not a tsunami but is a lot of violent sloshing back and forth in the lake’s basin.

“We’re assuming the worst,”’ said Jess Levine, Eastlake Hub’s Public Information Officer for the day. “People won’t be able to get over I-5 or the University Bridge. Eastlake would be cut off, and we don’t have a lot of resources,” he added, noting that the nearest fire station would be in Belltown because Station #22 across I-5 on Roanoke wouldn’t be able to reach Eastlake until all bridges are certified safe by SDOT.

I-5 could conceivably be an impassable canyon dividing the city.

“Some people could be coming here injured and hysterical,” Jess said referring to Rogers Playfield where the hub drill was being held and is Eastlake’s information clearing house should disaster strike.  The hub won’t have supplies though. Individuals and families need to prepare for themselves.  But it will be the communications center.  “The city is telling people to be prepared for at least two weeks of being off the grid,” said Levine.  That means no electricity, no gas, no water, no phone, and no internet.

Seattle hubs are all volunteer run, and Eastlake was one of 14 neighborhood hubs participating in the city-wide “Seattle Fault” earthquake drill June 1. Eastlake Hub currently has nine active members, and after Saturday’s drill will likely be adding new members. The public was invited to stop by, participate, and sign up for email notices. “We plan to have more local drills and share preparedness information,” said Margaret Sanders, Eastlake Hub Captain, to get Eastlake prepared.

Hub volunteer Anne Bonn and Eastlake Hub Captain Margaret Sanders discuss a message that has come in. In the foreground is the jar with the day’s possible scenarios.

The biggest need right now, she added, is for more radio operators, either GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) for communicating with family and friends when cell service is limited or out, as well as with other hubs, or ham for communicating with the city and for that matter anywhere in the world.

KC McNeil is Eastlake’s only ham radio operator affiliated with the hub. He became one after joining the hub last year when he realized there was no one to fill the role.

KC and Margaret both expressed the hope that other ham radio operators who live or work in Eastlake will sign on to help in emergencies.

When a scrap of paper with the day’s possible scenarios was pulled from a jar, this one – a sewer break on Fairview Avenue, with raw sewage pouring onto the street, KC radioed that information to the city on the ham radio.

“This is a drill,” he began, reading off the message prepared in careful legible block caps as recommended by the planners. It wasn’t clear if Columbia Tower, Seattle’s headquarters got the message. They never responded.

There are issues, KC said.  He had tested the ham radio at the top of the hill on Boylston Ave. earlier, where it seemed to work fine, but down the hill on Rogers Playfield where he was set up, it was apparently not working so well. They may need to find the money to purchase an antenna for the playfield or a stronger radio, he added.

At any rate that’s what the drill was for – to help sort out those types of issues.

KC McNeil listens to the radio. He has both a ham and GMRS radio at the table.

Besides trying to get messages out to the city and other hubs and hearing from them, the hub had a makeshift communications network for neighbors spread out along the fence around the tennis courts. The fence served as a message board for people to put up notices of what they needed and others to respond or add what they had to share, and for one hub volunteer to write the latest news on a large board.

It also provided laminated posters of what to do if the water was out; how to make potable water, how to set up makeshift toilets; how long food will last in the fridge or freezer with no power (advice: don’t open the doors). 

“We need a lot more volunteers,” said Jess, “to fulfill the various roles and be interchangeable – nobody knows where they’ll be when the big one strikes. They may not even be in the neighborhood at all. The hub is cross-training because of that uncertainty.

Hub volunteer BJ Bergevin writes down the latest news for the community to read at the emergency drill, “Full electricity outage.”

“The hub is being formed for all types of emergencies not just earthquakes,” he added. “Besides, it’s good for community building.”

If you’d like more information about programs, training or volunteer opportunities for the hub, check out the http://seattleemergencyhubs.org  or http://www.seattle.gov/emergency-management/prepare. Eastlake Hub also has information for condo associations.

If you’re interested in becoming a radio operator, there are two options: GMRS will allow you to communicate locally, and there are no classes or tests to take, just a fee for a five-year license. Getting a ham license is more involved, on a par with getting a driver’s license, although some would say not even that hard. Classes are offered periodically in the area, and you no longer need Morse code to qualify. You just need to know the protocols, and you’ll be able to communicate with anyone, anywhere. Ham radio waves can go to the moon and back.

Featured photo at top — left to right hub volunteers: KC McNeil, Kathi Woods, and Anne Bonn

My Garden with Andie

I met Andrea (Andie) Ptak, five years ago in a class for bloggers where I learned, unrelated to the class, (but maybe the most useful thing to come out of it) that she had converted her yard into a native plant garden and certified backyard habitat.

When I drove up to Andie’s house in South Seattle last Saturday for an interview in honor of Native Plant Appreciation Week, this week, she was standing outside surveying her work.

Her front yard was abuzz with low flying bees working the Lithodora. “It’s not native but the bees like it,” says Andie who is in her mid-sixties. “I leave the dandelions alone, at least until there are more flowering plants,” she adds, noting the few dandelions that spotted the yard. (Dandelions are after all a native, and the bees first food coming out of hibernation.)

Andie is talking a mile a minute pointing out all the natives – native violets, native bleeding hearts, native irises, more than I can quickly write down.  All these plants I’ve heard and seen pictures of but never been able to find.

“It’s very hard to find natives at nurseries,” Andie says, “You have to wait for the native plant sales.”

And those only happen a couple of times a year.

I know. I’ve been trying to cultivate a backyard habitat since my daughter was in preschool. A butterfly garden sounded good; it would take food (native plants), water and shelter, but it never went anywhere.  

The sales are daunting. Full of pots with straggly bits of green in them – it’s hard to know what you’re buying or what to do with it unless you’re an expert.

And Andie is. She’s a Certified Master Urban Naturalist, a titled she earned in 2015 through an intensive 6-month program at Seward Park offered by the Audubon Society. Completion required doing a major project, and hers was a Native Plant Super Saturday that she organized at the park.

She also wrote about gardening with native plants for the blog that she started back when I knew her, The Green Queen of Moderation. It has tips on being sustainable and thrifty and not feeling you must be zealous about it; that’s the moderation part.

Next, we head to her back yard which is about six times as large as the front. Both were just pure grass she tells me, when she and her husband Aaron bought the place. Not even a tree. Now there are native and fruit-bearing trees and bushes throughout. Andie’s yard is about half native, half non-native. If the non-natives are not invasive, they’re fine. About a third of the back yard is covered in wood chips and serves as a dog run for their two Golden Retrievers, Paprika and Cayenne, “The Spice Girls.”

The dogs follow us into the back yard living up to their names. Paprika, the older dog, is mellow and sweet, and Cayenne, about seven months, is excitably jumping on me almost every chance she can get, which is flattering. Andie keeps warning her off, finally calling Aaron to take her away.

“Maybe you should have called her Cinnamon,” I offer.

The garden in back has meandering paths, with bird baths, yard art, a trellis enclosed patio, and other seating areas. It’s just starting to come into bloom. There are more natives back here from flower to fern to ground cover to tree. Hidden within this garden is a loosely fenced-in food garden with large blueberry bushes, a ground cultivated for planting vegetables, and another area with raspberry canes. 

Why native? So many reasons, Andie says, they support the pollinators. That’s a big one as she writes in her blog, “As our population grows, mankind encroaches on the natural world, pushing out species of both plants and animals—some to the state of extinction. There’s not a lot I can do personally to save the tiger or polar bear, but I can make sure that area songbirds have plenty of food and a place to nest, and that bees and butterflies have sources for nectar.”

Native plants also conserve water, she adds, because they’re acclimated to our climate of wet winters and dry summers. And they’re beautiful. “They’re not as showy as the non-natives,” she admits, “and they’re hard to cultivate in pots, and that’s likely why they’re hard to find at the nurseries.” 

They’re also not as straggly as I feared.  Her natives are thick, growing in dense clusters. Andie’s yard will be lush come summer. They spread and reseed themselves, says Andie. She also helps them along by dividing and replanting. What started as just a couple of small pots picked up at a native plant sale has spread to cover nearly every inch of her yard.

Native plants are low maintenance once established, which is what attracted me to them, but they’re also slow to grow.

I started by planting a few natives in one bare spot in my yard, throwing water on them regularly as they took root.  But I never really had time to cultivate them. Sometimes years would go by with barely a weed being pulled. Now, these many years later (my daughter is about to graduate from college), they’ve taken off. They’re crowding each other out. The Tall Oregon Grape, Low Oregon Grape, Inside-out Flower, Sword Fern, Columbine, Kinnikinnik, a Mock Orange, which everyone loves, and a Red-Flowering Current. Only the hardy Salal didn’t take. Go figure.

The Red-Flowering Current went from being a couple of feet tall to over six feet and almost as wide. Recently trudging home from work, I came upon it in bloom spilling forth pinkish red blossoms that lifted my spirits. Then if that wasn’t enough a hummingbird was zipping around them.

Seeing Andie’s garden, I’m inspired. Maybe a backyard habitat is still within reach.

Nodding toward the non-natives as I’m leaving, Andie tosses out why she keeps them with the natives, summing up what I’m looking for in a garden, “You can live here if I don’t have to do too much for you.”

Andie’s Native Early Blue Violet
Andie’s Native Iris
Andie’s Native Bleeding Heart
My Red-Flowering Current (that humming birds love)

Native Plants seen in Andrea Ptak’s yard:

Trees

Black Hawthorn

Red Twig Dogwood

Shrubs

Evergreen Huckleberry

Mock Orange

Red-Flowering Current

Low Oregon Grape

Ferns

Sword Fern

Ground Cover

Oxalis

Early Blue Violet

False Lily of the Valley

Kinnikinnik

Wild Strawberry

Inside-out Flower

Flowers

Columbine

Bleeding Heart

Iris

Camas

Lupine

Fleabane

Asters

Penstemon Azures

The Tale of the Swale on Yale

South Lake Union is home to forward-thinking environmental design. One of the most innovative design features, a form of green infrastructure, is what’s known as the Swale on Yale. It’s two swales actually (one in the 400 block of Yale St. and the other parallel to it on Pontius St.), and it’s about to swell to two more (just south of both locations in the 300 block of both streets).

The swales give South Lake Union a bit of moorland feel, but beyond the aesthetics these stretches of grassland are working to treat Capitol Hill storm water roadway runoff before it reaches Lake Union.

Technically the swales are known as the Capitol Hill Water Quality Project, a public private collaboration between the city of Seattle and Vulcan Real Estate; KPFF Consulting Engineers also played a key role.

“When the swales were planned (in the early 2000s),” wrote Jason Sharpley of Seattle Public Utilities, in an email exchange, “there were no regional scale biofiltration swales treating stormwater from ultra-urban roadways that we were able to find.”

“Typically, swales were used on a more limited, roadway scale to treat and convey stormwater runoff from the adjacent roadway.”

The project was so unique that the Seattle Design Commission created a special award, an “In the Works “ Excellence Award, that they won in 2011. The swales came online in 2015.

Working swale on the 400 block of Pontius St.

“Since completing the first pair of swales there has been a lot of interest and there may be new systems in other cities.”

Seattle’s steep slopes helped propel the innovation. “We have the right topography for this,” says Dave Schwartz of KPFF Consulting Engineers. The slopes make it easier to divert water to where you want it, which makes cleaning it easier too. And that’s what the swales do, filter and clean. They’re made up of densely planted grasses, “a mixture of sedges, which have edges, and rushes, which are round,” says Schwartz describing his mnemonic means of distinguishing them. 

They clean roadway runoff that “includes everything that you see, and don’t see, that is on the roadway,” says Sharpley.  “This includes brake dust from cars that carries copper, dissolved metals from galvanized fences, and bacteria from wildlife and pet waste. The swales and pretreatment that make up the Swale on Yale system do a good job of removing a significant portion of the pollutants.”

The Swale on Yale couldn’t have been done without developer help, says Schwartz, stressing the huge role that Vulcan Real Estate played in making the public private partnership happen. Vulcan provided technical and profession assistance along with contributing about $1.3 million toward design and construction. Most critically they provided the easement to the city. Developers are playing key roles in creating environmental projects that provide a greater good, says Schwartz, noting another public private project under the Aurora Bridge, rain gardens catching bridge water runoff. “Not all try to just make money and destroy the world,” he added.

Planted in rain garden soil which is a bonus for filter, the grasses catch toxic sediment from the water as it takes its time to mosey through the swale, at least nine minutes.

But even before the water reaches the swales it’s run through a diversion tank that uses centrifugal force to flush out “floatables,” a nice name for trash such as cups, straws, and cigarette butts.

From the diversion tank, controlled amounts of water are released into the swales evenly so as not to overflow them and to keep their integrity intact.

The swales then drain into a discharge pipe and the water is released to the lake.  “The water is not drinkable,” says Sharpley, “but significantly cleaner than when it entered the swale.” 

New swale plantings on the 300 block of Pontius St.

The two new swales will come online once the plants mature. For now they look like woven works of art running between the sidewalk and roadway. Once they are put to work, the system will be able to treat the full design flow of 7.2 cubic feet of water per second, which is more than 3,000 gallons a minute. The older swales treat half that capacity today. The full swale build-out will treat 435 acres of storm water runoff from Capitol Hill’s 630-acre basin.

The Swale on Yale captures the dirtiest water from both small storms and the early runoff from larger storms. Thanks to this pioneering green infrastructure, Lake Union is much cleaner than it otherwise would be and could become cleaner still with even more projects like the Swale on Yale.

The Swale on Yale — 400 block, with city workers maintaining it.
The Castle in Eastlake

It’s one of the most significant buildings in Eastlake, yet it is easily overlooked, lost amidst the newer, larger buildings surrounding it.

But I remember riding in the car as a kid with my parents and wondering if one of the many bridges we always seemed to be crossing over would be the one with the castle at the end of it, hoping it was. And sometimes the building would appear like something out of a fairy tale. I strained to get a good look at it as we sped by. I always wondered about the stories behind it.

Turns out there are a lot of them. The building at the south end of the University Bridge, at the corner of Eastlake Ave. and Furhman St., has stories to tell of bankruptcy, illegal activity, a mysterious death, rock ‘n roll legends and those are just the things that made it into the local newspapers.

It’s been known by the businesses that occupy the ground floor: Rapunzel’s Tavern, Scoundrel’s Lair, Romio’s, Borsalino’s and now Sebi’s. It’s never had a common name. The condos above it are known as the Martello.

But the real story behind this building is the man who built it or rather remodeled what was, in 1928, a single-family house. Frederick Anhalt was a self-educated developer and architect. He died in 1996 at the age of 101, but the legacy of his buildings known as Seattle castles endures.

Anhalt had several careers over the course of his life from butcher to landscape nursery owner. His development career grew out of a stint in commercial real estate and started with a crew building bungalow court apartments on Beacon Hill and Queen Anne. A pivotal point was a two-story apartment at 17th and Denny built in the Spanish style that was popular at the time. With each building he kept learning new things, but he wanted to make his mark and design something suitable for the Pacific Northwest climate; he settled on bricks and natural cedar roof shingles for materials. The castle-like design he came upon serendipitously.

“I started looking around for ideas as to the style I would use,” Anhalt said in an interview about his life, for the book, Built by Anhalt. “While I was doing this, I met a young girl who was selling books and I asked her to find any books she could on beautiful apartments.  She came back several days later and told me that she couldn’t find anything like that, all she had was a book about English castles.  Well, I took one look at that book and I knew I’d found my style of building.  I went through that book and picked a window I liked here, a door there, and something else over there.”

His goal was to build apartment buildings that were different from what was on the market at the time. “I wanted to get away from the long halls that reminded me of tenement buildings,” he said, where everything looked the same, “and the only way you knew what apartment was yours was by the furniture.”

He thought people should have a nice view to look onto too but knew he couldn’t guarantee it. “Somebody else could always put another building between you and your view.” So, he built his apartments around a view that he created with landscaping. “I could make things look the way I wanted them to that way, which is hard to do when you’re dealing with a view of Mount Rainier or Puget Sound.”

The building in Eastlake (the only Anhalt around Lake Union) is a bit of an anomaly, not brick but stucco-clad and with no courtyard. It was the result of another building’s mishap on Capitol Hill, but it marks one of the many turning points in Anhalt’s career.

Anhalt was ready for a new phase and wanted to build even more beautiful buildings. He took a break from developing to get his thoughts in order and sent his crew out to put up the Del-Teet Furniture store on Broadway. It didn’t require any effort on his part because the plans were already drawn. (The building’s facade is still there today by the way – next to Dick’s; it’s now known as Hollywood Lofts.)

There was such a hurry to open the Del-Teet store that the store manager, a fellow by the name of Skewes, moved the furniture in as soon as the plasterers left. “And that got me another job,” Anhalt said.

“In all the humidity of that wet plaster, everything mildewed. Skewes was fired and decided to open his own store in an old house he’d found down by the University Bridge. I must have felt a little responsible for his problem, because I agreed to remodel it for him, which wasn’t something I would usually do.  It’s a lot easier to build a new building than to remodel an old one. Especially one that’s fifty years old like that one was. I must have done a good job on it though, because it’s still there today.”

 

The building is still there, fortunately for Eastlake, but the furniture store, Skewes-Rudolph Furniture Cor., Inc, went through a long bankruptcy in the early 1930’s if the liquidations ads of the time are any indication.

Anhalt went on to build his most famous apartment buildings after that. First the 750 and 730 Belmont structures that Lawrence Kreisman highlighted in a March 2000 article for the Seattle Times. “These ‘apartment-homes’ were charming and romantic, with individualized floor plans, up-to-date amenities such as parking garages and gracious, home-like touches – separate entrances off semi-private landscaped courtyards – that brought in the renters.”

730 Belmont

 

750 Belmont

Anhalt liked the 730 Belmont so well he built out one unit for himself. But his favorite building, the one that marks the pinnacle of his castles is the one built after, at 1005 Roy St.

That building and the one across the street that went right up with it, the 1014 Roy, were built with largely free and discarded brick seconds.

Anhalt likely would be considered a green developer today for creatively reusing and making do. “I always had my eyes open for things that nobody else had a use for, figuring that if something was cheap enough I’d find a use for it.”

One of the places where he bought bricks occasionally overcooked a batch and dumped it on a vacant lot. By the time Anhalt took note, the pile covered about four acres. The company offered them to him for the price of delivery, thinking Anhalt could use them in his landscaping.

“The only thing wrong with those bricks was they didn’t look like regular bricks. They were different colors and a little melted in spots, but most of them had enough flat that they could be used. I even had the bricklayers put them in a little cockeyed, to add to the effect,” said Anhalt.

“Ten-O-Five East Roy was built that way, and in my opinion it’s the finest apartment building ever built in the city of Seattle,” he added.

1005 Roy St.

1005 Roy St. seen from the west

The Anhalt on the corner of Eastlake Ave. and Furhman St. has a lively history.

According to news reports in the Seattle Times about the building, a man was arrested for having a slot machine there in 1935, “charged with having gambling paraphernalia and released on $40 bail.” In 1936 “a well-known restaurant” called The Town House made the news due to a change in lease. In the 1940’s floor lamps were offered for sale in the display room. In 1966, almost as a testament to the times, a tenant, Raymond Paul McCarthy, 26, was charged with 2nd degree burglary for robbing a pharmacy and taking “a variety of drugs.” He had the misfortune of being seen by police as he was running away.

Beginning in July 1967, it was occupied by Llahnguelhyn, a coffee and live jazz joint.

The Short Galleries opened there in October 1969 (when phone numbers were still letters as in EA3-9830, the gallery’s number) with an exhibition of seven Northwest artists. John Voorhees the art critic for The Seattle Times gave the gallery many glowing reviews over the following years.

Then in 1975 it became Rapunzel’s Tavern. A year later a fire broke out in its upper floors; the tavern was untouched, but news of the fire made the front page of The Seattle Times when an unidentified woman’s body was found in the gables.

In 1986 it became Scoundrel’s Lair and thanks to its proximity to the U.W. was one of the focal points of Seattle’s emerging “grunge” scene. Shedding some light on the time, in a series of columns called Schoolhouse Rock for the U.W. alumni magazine in 1996, Charles R. Cross former editor of The Rocket, noted how much things had changed in ten years, “With so many successful bands in the Northwest in the past decade, more aspiring rockers think of music as an actual career. A decade ago, most of the Seattle scene bands all started off thinking they were going to have day jobs instead of music careers–and education at universities played a role in that. Today, when superstardom seems ordinary, fewer bands in the area seem to have ties to the University because many young musicians expect (sometimes wrongly) that they will be able to make a living from playing music….”

“But as time marches on, the history books remind us of a time when you could see Nirvana at the HUB for a buck, when Soundgarden was playing just up the street at the Rainbow Tavern, and when KCMU was the only station worth punching in on your car radio. It was an era of innocence when the measure of success was determined by playing a show at the Scoundrel’s Lair (now a pizza place, across from the Red Robin on Eastlake, and a longtime UW hangout) to 20 of your friends and fellow students.”

Time marches on, and our old structures provide a window to the past.

Perhaps the residents living in the Martello, who are lucky enough to own a piece of this Seattle history, will consider nominating it for historic preservation, to ensure that future generations can enjoy spotting it as they go by wondering about its story.

 

 

 

If you have further information about the Anhalt in Eastlake or elsewhere, we’d love to hear from you. Write to us at editors@lakeunionwatershed.com.

 

Sketch by Karen Berry.

 

This story was revised from one that first appeared in the Eastlake News fall 2012 issue.

 

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.

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.

The new firehouse has art, sustainability features, but no fire pole

After a couple of years of construction at Tenth Avenue and Roanoke St., the new Firehouse 22 opened its doors to the public Saturday afternoon for two hours, and although it was an ordinary gray and misty day, it was like a rare snow day seeing so many neighbors out walking to and from the event.

The brutalist front of the new firehouse conceals a friendly, open, comfortable, light-filled interior. The firehouse is like a home away from home for the firefighters, and after spending two years camped out in trailers under I-5 in Eastlake, a welcome home it is.

The entire structure is integrated with many sustainability elements including two cisterns that capture non-potable water that is filtered to use for washing fire trucks, flushing toilets, and watering landscaping. Solar panels provide about 16 percent of the station’s energy needs. The interior relies on a lot of natural light which is good for well-being. And it’s quiet despite being on a busy street; even with a crowd inside it felt calm. The bunks, which were not open to the public, were on the side of the building facing Roanoke. That side with a fortress front likely provides great sound proofing for resting.

There are amenities at the station that you’d find in some of Seattle’s newer apartment buildings and condos, but of a more modest scale: an exercise room and media room with four overstuffed recliners squeezed in.

Kids enjoy the exercise room.

Kids enjoy the exercise room.

The recliners were also a hit although you can’t tell that here.

There’s a spacious kitchen with lots of individual cupboards for the rotating staff, two large stainless-steel refrigerators, and an industrial gas stove; there’s an outdoor covered deck with black iron table and four chairs and a large grill. Sometimes, walking home from work along Roanoke in the evening I can get a whiff of something good cooking on the other side.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Alfresco dining area with grill in background.

Alfresco dining area with grill in background.

Unlike home it has a disinfecting wash room, large equipment rooms, and other reminders of dangerous work firefighters face.

One of the most interesting design features is an open central stairway that forms a large X using two stairwells. Reminding me of the Fidler on the Roof song of wanting a stairway that goes up and another one that goes down. This place has them (although not one just for show).

Looking at one leg of the X forming stairway.

Looking at one leg of the X forming stairway.

The grand stairway leads to a second floor that overlooks the barn for the fire trucks, which were cleared out that Saturday to create space for displays and kids’ activities. Outside there was a fire truck and emergency response truck that kids and adults were happily exploring.

The stairway leads to views of the barn.

The stairway leads to views of the barn.

One thing the structure doesn’t have however is a fire pole. “Not really safe,” explained the fireman I talked to. Many old stations do have them, he said, and use them though. But the two staircases allow for quick access to the fire trucks. Besides there are only four firefighters on duty at a time, so if one should get hurt sliding down a pole that would not be good.

Outside, and on display all the time, is the artwork sculpture, Drop of Life. The sculpture is made from fire hoses and their parts and really comes into its own at night when you can clearly see the LED lights reflecting off it, like an aurora. The artist Oliver Hess spent time with the firefighters to come up with ideas for artwork. He was struck by the varying intensities of energy at a firehouse and how things changed with the calls that came in. As one representative explained, it was always when someone was about to take a shower or start some other project that a call would come. Most are aid calls and then the rarer fire, she added. He mapped that activity into an algorithm for the light show that changes unpredictably but matches the feel of life in the firehouse from calm to strikingly intense.

"Drop of Life" sculpture as seen at night

“Drop of Life” sculpture as seen at night

“It was very memorable to me when visiting the fire station that there was a palpable anxiety and excitement about getting a call to action,” he wrote in his artist statement. “There was a feeling of superstition about the causal relationships between the way the firefighters spent their time and how likely it was that they would be called out to face danger and save lives.”

One thing that the artwork might also make you think about is the hose tower just beyond it rising over the building, a simple sustainable feature to air out and dry the hoses, but a towering reminder of the building’s basic purpose.

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