The February removal of the heritage Blue Atlas Cedar tree at North Beacon Hill’s Garden House continues to generate controversy. Two local arborists who examined the Blue Atlas contacted the Beacon Hill Blog to give additional testimony about the tree’s condition and the events preceding the tree’s removal. The arborists expressed concern that statements by Garden House trustee and rental agent Carolyn Nickerson in an earlier Beacon Hill Blog article (“Removal of Garden House Blue Atlas Cedar surprises community,” Andrew Hamlin, March 3) inaccurately represented the professional advice given by the arborists and the resulting decisions made to remove the tree.
In the March 3 article, Nickerson stated:
“…We hired an arborist to climb and inspect the entire tree to evaluate its health and possible remedies [for $400]. It was his opinion that the tree needed to be thinned, bolted, tied in various places to keep it from dropping other limbs. (I think that estimate was $1000, maybe less.) Before making a decision we had a second arborist inspect the tree and give his opinion and write a report [on] what he thought should be done. On a danger scale of 1-10 the tree was a 9. Part of the tree hung over the neighbors’ house, part over the sidewalk and street and part over our lawn area where children and adults gather for various occasions.”
Local arborist Oliver Bailey said in an email to the blog: “We [Bailey and Sue Nicol] are the arborists who actually evaluated the tree and recommended preservation. The most damning inaccuracy [in the original story] is the ‘9 out of 10’ scoring on the tree evaluation (false). The entire Heritage Tree Committee and others are group emailing about how we scared the Garden House into cutting the tree down and this was devastating news for us both.”
Bailey continued: “I brought [Sue Nicol] in after completing my report to objectively review my report, inspect the tree and attach a letter stating her second opinion. She is a highly decorated and respected Consulting Arborist. She’s one of Plant Amnesty’s highest referred Arborists. In a nutshell she thought I was exactly right about the tree. Because I proposed a viable preservation plan in my report she added another idea which was to fence off the area directly below the tree on Garden House grounds. However, that was not an option on the public sidewalk, street, or neighbor’s property, all of which were directly under these massive 30″ diameter limbs (yes, diameter, not circumference!)”
Bailey added: “[An inaccuracy] was that I aerial inspected the tree for $400. It was actually $160. Garden House is a non-profit with steep monetary problems. I was always particularly gentle with them.”
Sue Nicol, in her own email, said: “Oliver asked me to assess the tree to confirm/reject his aerial inspection of the Cedar in question in terms of risk. He apparently does not have the Risk Assessment Certification, which I do. I reviewed Oliver’s report and met with him on the site to look at, and discuss the tree. I then wrote my report, backing up his assessment. We both felt that the tree was actively failing, was in a location with significant targets underneath it, had a decayed leader at the top which was supporting a great deal of weight, and needed several actions taken to reduce its risk.
“I wrote in my report,” Nicol continued, “that if the client refused to take on those actions, that the tree needed to be removed. I felt, and still feel, that this tree could not be left to fend for itself. The likelihood of continuing branch failure was too great to do nothing. I did not meet with the clients, since they were Oliver’s clients. Oliver was my client and he paid my bill.” Continue reading Heritage tree removal still stirring up conflict→
According to Carolyn Nickerson, trustee and rental agent for the Garden House, the Blue Atlas Cedar had presented trouble going back to 2011, when “during some windy weather a large branch on the east side of the tree broke off and fell on the lawn. We didn’t think anything of it and had it chopped up and disposed.
“Then in 2012 without windy weather a huge (maybe 30′ long) [branch] broke off, fell to the west across the iron fence, sidewalk and to almost to the center line of traffic. Luckily it missed a parked car by a couple of feet, didn’t hurt any pedestrians or passing traffic. We called the city for help and they came, stretched out some yellow tape and told us they had no funds for trimming/cutting or removing the branch. We hired someone for approximately $600.00 to remove it.
“After the second branch fell,” Nickerson continues, “we hired an arborist to climb and inspect the entire tree to evaluate its health and possible remedies [for $400]. It was his opinion that the tree needed to be thinned, bolted, tied in various places to keep it from dropping other limbs. (I think that estimate was $1000, maybe less.) Before making a decision we had a second arborist inspect the tree and give his opinion and write a report [on] what he thought should be done. On a danger scale of 1-10 the tree was a 9. Part of the tree hung over the neighbors’ house, part over the sidewalk and street and part over our lawn area where children and adults gather for various occasions.”
“Apparently when a tree is very old,” she finishes, “it starts ‘sloughing’ its branches. This is not caused from wind or rain/snow but a natural way of a tree living its latter years. Since each of these branches weigh more than 500 lbs we had to consider the liability and danger it imposed on the community. Our neighbors to the south have asked that we trim all branches from hanging over their land. All in all we decided that we needed to consider cutting the tree down because our insurance wouldn’t cover damages that would be incurred by hurting someone or something through this process.
“After discussing our options and liabilities the board voted unanimously to pursue cutting down the tree.”
Local tree and plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson first became aware of the Blue Atlas in 1999, when it was nominated as a Heritage Tree. He wrote the description for the commemorative plaque that went with it.
“It was not sick,” according to Jacobson, who adds, “Atlas cedar limbs break, on some specimens often; but their foliage is usually dense and healthy except if the spring is sopping wet and there is too much summer irrigation. Then they can present a gaunt, unhealthy look.”
Asked whether the tree should have been cut down, Jacobson replies, “No. The decision motives were not shared with me. But I did read e-mails from experienced, careful, arborists who looked at the cedar, who judged that with careful pruning it could remain a safe and valuable asset rather than a liability. If the Federation of Garden Clubs based its removal decision on grounds of insufficient money, then that could have been addressed via fundraising. If the decision to remove was based on a report written by an inexperienced arborist, that generated fear — while cooler, wiser counsel was ignored, then that is a pity.”
Beacon Hill neighbor Robert Hinrix isn’t happy about the Garden Club’s decision. “I put quite a few hours into trying to save the tree, having written to the head of the board of the Garden House offering to put together volunteer arborists to maintain it, and to do fundraisers to help them pay for it. They did not respond positively. I spoke with other arborists who contradicted what their hired arborists had said.
“I also spoke with Arthur Lee Jacobson who wrote the book on Heritage Trees, and Cass Turnbull from Plant Amnesty. The tree was not sick at all, but Blue Atlas Cedars do lose branches when mature and need ongoing maintenance. The Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs had little interest in the maintenance of Beacon Hill’s heritage tree, and was only concerned about insurance and financial issues. The easiest, simplest thing for them was to cut it down.
“For me,” continues Hinrix, “it is an allegory for how we’ve lost all control of an important resource in our community (the Garden House itself). Don’t expect them to plant another tree to take its place. I’m glad I was out of town when it happened.”
Hinrix adds, “There are complex issues associated with insurance, the neighbors, various camps of arborists, a somewhat dysfunctional city commission that is responsible for Heritage Trees in Seattle, and the misplaced priorities of the board of the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs. I do believe it points to the need for the community to work hard to find a way to increase our control over the Garden House, to make it a better resource for our community. If we don’t, we could find it sold (or a portion of it, one of the lots) out from under us…”
School tours for incoming kindergarteners and their families are on February 5 and 13 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Call 252-7280 to reserve a spot on the tour.
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First we had a lost parakeet, and now there’s a crow who needs help. Neighbor Wendy writes:
“There is a crow that has a badly broken leg. I first saw it last October when I moved to Beacon Hill, then recently saw it and its partner near my house south of the golf course. I called PAWS Wildlife Center and they do not have the resources to catch the crow, however, they will treat it if the crow is brought to its Wildlife Center. The crow still flies. I’ve been leaving peanuts near my front yard and this crow and its mate have been eating the nuts. I saw both this past Sunday. Anyone with expertise in catching birds? It hurts to see this poor crow.”
Any advice for Wendy?
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A missive from ROCKiT Community Arts arrived with news about the Beacon Whale, who was sighted all over the Hill last summer after a storm drove him from his Garden House perch:
“News Flash! The Beacon Whale has been captured! Come join us for his
miraculous, historic restoration to his natural habitat rooftop of the Garden House on Beacon Hill on Sunday, February 3 at 11:00 a.m. We will be serving a fantastic brunch and celebrating his return. Don’t miss the fun!”
This is the third in a series of three articles on the current plans and process to demolish the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse. See Part I here, and Part II here.
by Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek
The Jefferson Park Golf Club
The first club associated with a public golf course in Seattle formed at Jefferson Park in 1917. The main purpose of forming the Jefferson Park Golf Club was to provide opportunity for participation in golf tournaments for golfers who could not afford to join private golf course clubs. Most golf courses were private and golf tournaments were only open to club members, and members of other private golf course clubs. As a result, without club membership, lower income golfers could not compete in tournaments. For the first time in Seattle, the Jefferson Park Golf Club gave working class Seattle golfers the opportunity to compete in tournaments on both public and private golf courses.
The golfing clubs that operated out of Seattle’s public courses were private, even though they carried the names of the Seattle municipal golf courses in their titles. Although the Jefferson Park Golf Club provided opportunity for golfers to enter tournaments, not all Seattle citizens were welcome to join the Club. Everyone was welcome to play golf at Jefferson Park, but the Jefferson Park Golf Club was open to white golfers only. Because the golf clubs controlled the tournaments, minority golfers could not enter contests held on Seattle’s municipal golf courses.
Racial discrimination in sports and denial of access to public facilities began to unravel in the late 1940s when a series of Supreme Court decisions overturned many local and state discriminatory policies. In response, many southern states enacted new racial discrimination laws in a desperate bid to maintain Jim Crow. As the battle raged between the Federal anti- and State pro- discrimination forces, on December 5, 1946 President Truman signed Executive Order 9808, establishing the first President’s Committee on Civil Rights.
On a local level, many Americans began to form organizations to directly confront the racial discrimination they faced in their own lives. In South Seattle, golfers were some of the first citizens to join the front lines in what would turn out to be an epic decades-long battle against institutionalized racial discrimination across the U.S. and in Seattle.
The Fir State Golf Club and the Cascade Golf Club
In 1947, a racially-diverse group of fifteen Jefferson Park golfers formed the Fir State Golf Club. Like the earlier Jefferson Park Golf Club, the Fir State Golf Club was created to to give more golfers an opportunity to compete in tournaments. Tired of waiting for the Seattle Parks Department to make the Jefferson Park Golf Club change their discriminatory policies, these determined golfers became some of the earliest heroes in the fight for equality and racial justice in Seattle.
Although the Jefferson Park Golf Course was the home of the Fir State Golf Club, members still could not compete in tournaments controlled by the Jefferson Park Golf Club. Determined to compete, members of the Fir State Golf Club often traveled to Portland and other cities to participate in tournaments on public courses, where racial discrimination policies were abandoned in the late 1940s.
“The Fir State Golf Club was born out of ignorance, bigotry and racism. In 1947, World War II had only recently ended, and the official classification for Black Americans was still Negro or Colored. Rosa Parks had not yet been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man [the action which started the civil rights movement in the United States]. This wouldn’t occur for another eight years, in 1955. The 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution [the Civil Rights Act] was seventeen years away. So, having colored people interested in and playing golf was just not heard of, or considered practical. Negroes were not allowed to join the established city golf clubs. Fir State Golf Club was born in order for Blacks to play on the public golf courses.”
In 1951, a group of Chinese-American citizens formed the Seattle Chinese Golf Club. Though most were tennis players, they formed the club because they wanted to learn how to play golf and to compete in tournaments. In 1954, members changed the name to the Cascade Golf Club and chartered with the Jefferson Park Golf Course.
In Seattle, discrimination against minority golfers continued uninterupted until two events occurred in 1959 and 1961 that would change the game of golf on a national level, and Seattle history, forever.
Bill Wright breaks the color line in American Golf
Bill Wright was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1936. In 1948, he moved to Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood with his parents; his father, Robert, was a postman and his mother, Madeline, a schoolteacher. An avid golfing family, they would often practice putting after dinner in their backyard where they set up a small green.
A gifted and multi-sport talented athlete, Bill Wright learned to play golf at Jefferson Park throughout his years at Franklin High School. By the time he graduated high school he was one of the best young golfers in the Seattle area. Despite Wright’s skills and membership in the Fir State Golf Club, he could not enter tournaments sponsored by the Jefferson Park Golf Club. Up until the age of seventeen, tournaments on Seattle’s public golf courses were open to all races. After the age of seventeen, entry in tournaments required membership in a club. Those who wished to join required a sponsor, but club rules barred members from sponsoring non-white golfers.
Despite all obstacles, Wright was determined to win. Like the members of the Fir State and Cascade Golf Clubs before him, Wright persevered, honing his skills and entering tournaments on public courses outside Seattle. He soon built up enough victories to enter the tournament that would change the game of golf nationwide.
“TO A CHAMPION: You are now a national champion with all the glory and fanfare, but with all the responsibilities. Responsibilities to yourself and to the world.”
Bill Wright’s Public Links title qualified him for entry in another USGA tournament. On September 14, 1959, he came in second place in the National Amateur Golf Championship, at the Broadmoor Country Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Although Wright did not win the second contest, he became the first African-American to win a USGA-sponsored event (the Public Links Championship), and the first to compete in the National Amateur Championship.
The Seattle Daily Times paid close attention to Bill Wright’s progress.
“Wright Wins US Public-Links Crown” (July 19, 1959)
“New Park Board Study of Public-Links Use Promised” (Sep 10, 1959)
“Tee Talk: Wright’s Advent is a Milestone in Golf” (Sep 13, 1959)
“Wright Opens Quest For Amateur Crown” (Sep 13, 1959)
“Knowles Ousts Wright in Amateur” (Sep 14, 1959)
“2nd Golf Title in a Year: Wright Adds Collegiate Crown” (Jun 11, 1960)
Wright went on to win other golf titles and graduated from Western Washington State University with a teaching degree. He moved to California with his wife, Ceta, becoming a teacher and owner of car dealerships. He is a golf pro at the Lakes at El Segundo golf course near Los Angeles, where he taught golf for over 25 years.
On October 10, 2009, the Jefferson Park Golf Course hosted “Bill Wright Day” to celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of his historic victory. Wright was the guest of honor for the day.
After Bill Wright broke the color barrier in golf, the stubborn remnants of racial discrimination on America’s public golf courses began to dissipate. Unfortunately, some cities, like Seattle, clung to their discriminatory policies with tactics far more subtle than the overt approach of the southern Jim Crow states.
Robert and Madeline Wright battle the Seattle Parks Department
As Bill Wright did battle on the golf course, his parents directly confronted the racial discrimination policies of the Seattle Parks Department in the Parks Board and through the State. Robert Wright officially challenged the racial discrimination policies of the private golf clubs by charging the Seattle Parks Board with a complaint to the State Board Against Discrimination (“State Board to Act On Complaint By Negro Golfer”, Seattle Daily Times, May 3, 1961) on May 3, 1961.
The complaint charged the Parks department with allowing the private white only golf clubs to discriminate against non-white golfers. Robert Wright’s application to the West Seattle Golf Club was denied even though he had sponsorship from a member. At issue was the use of Seattle public golf course names in the title of the golf clubs. The association with the municipal course name in the club title made the city governement appear liable. This charge resulted in the Parks Department instructing the golfing clubs to either stop discriminating or change their names.
In response, the Jefferson Park Golf Club changed to The Beacon Hill Golf Club, and the West Seattle Golf Club became the Bayview Golf Club. With the city no longer liable, the private clubs could continue to discriminate.
Governor Rosellini intervenes
Tired of Seattle’s leadership stalling and not satisfied with a mere name change, the State Anti-Discrimination Board voted 3-2 on May 4, 1961 to send a plea for Governor Rossellini to intervene. The Board charged the Seattle Parks Department with “willful violation” of the rights of Robert Wright.
On November 8, 1961, Governor Rosellini called for a full investigation (“Rosellini Asks Probe Of Race Ban In Golf Here”, Seattle Daily Times, Nov 8, 1961) of reported discrimination against non-white players in golf tournaments played on Seattle’s public courses. Governor Rosellini said:
“I am disappointed that the City of Seattle Park Board has not been able to stop this practice by carrying out its’ agreement. Discriminatory policies against minorities in the State of Washington are indefensible.”
Despite the serious nature of the charges, Mayor Gordon Clinton and the Seattle Park Board failed to respond to them.
A series of newspaper headlines from the Seattle Daily Times tells the story:
“State Board to Act On Complaint By Negro Golfer” (May 3, 1961)
“Governor Gets Plea For Negro Golfer” (May 4, 1961)
“Rosellini Asks Probe Of Race Ban In Golf Here” (Nov 8, 1961)
An excellent golfer in his own right, Robert Wright went on to qualify for and compete in the U.S. Public Links championship in 1963, four years after his son won the same USGA title.
The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial discrimination in public accomodations, overturning many municipal and state discriminatory laws. In response, across the country, many private clubs associated with public facilities changed their names to continue discriminatory policies.
It is unclear exactly when the Seattle golfing clubs stopped discriminating against minority golfers, or if the Seattle Parks Board responded to the Governor. Robert Wright told his son as late as 1968 that the clubs still practiced discrimination. Eventually, the golf clubs changed back to include the names of the associated golf course. The Bayview Golf Club once again became the West Seattle Golf Club, and the Beacon Hill Golf Club changed back to the Jefferson Park Golf Club.
The next generation: Fred Couples
In 1959, the same year Bill Wright achieved his historic win, Fred Couples was born in Seattle. A Beacon Hill resident and graduate of O’Dea High School, Couples grew up learning to play golf at Jefferson Park.
Earning the name “Boom! Boom!” for his powerful and accurate drives, he is the most successful pro golfer to emerge from the Jefferson Park Golf Course. Throughout his long professional career, Fred Couples won many prestigious golf titles and was a top-seeded golfer throughout the 1990s. He continues to compete in seniors’ tournaments.
Jefferson Park Municipal Golf Course today
Today, Jefferson Park is the most racially-integrated public golf course in Seattle. Golfers of all races share the course and clubhouse equally and without conflict. The Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse represents a time and a place where Seattle worked out serious social, cultural, racial, and political problems without a single punch thrown or shot fired—except from the end of a 9 iron.
The classic “Olmstedian,” Tom Bendelow-designed, 18-hole course and the Archibald N. Torbitt Clubhouse are a matched set that stood the test of time and served Seattle well for almost a century. The story of that century gives Jefferson Park and Beacon Hill a special place in Seattle history and culture that cannot be duplicated.
On the 100-year anniversary of the Olmsted Brothers’ 1912 Preliminary Plan for Jefferson Park, the Seattle Parks Department declared they can demolish this unique piece of South Seattle history. Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams’ cover letter to the Seattle Landmarks nomination for the clubhouse claims that there is no “important” person or event associated with the clubhouse and “no connection” to the diverse community of Beacon Hill. If the clubhouse is demolished, that cover letter and flawed nomination will become the epitaph of Jefferson Park golf history.
West Seattle and South Seattle golf history
In 2011, the Seattle Parks Department tried to convince golfers and the community to accept a new golf driving range on the West Seattle Golf Course. Although golfers asked for the driving range in the Golf Master Planning process (2008-2009), they changed their minds when they saw how the design would radically alter the historical integrity of the golf course. It made them reconsider the value of their history and they decided it was worth saving. After much public pressure, Seattle Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams cancelled the driving range project. The historic golf clubhouse will be restored to original condition, preserving West Seattle golf history for future generations.
What makes West Seattle golf history so much more important than Jefferson Park golf history? Why preserve one and not the other? On September 12, 2012, the City Council should answer these questions before they vote against or for “concept approval” of the new plan for the Jefferson Park Municipal Golf Course.
Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek are long time Beacon Hill residents, founding members of the Jefferson Park Alliance (JPA), and both served on the Jefferson Park Planning Committee (JPPC) during the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood planning process from 1998-2000. Mira is a co-author of Seattle’s Beacon Hill.
The author of the nomination is Bassetti Architects, hired by DOPAR to both prepare the landmarks nomination and to design the replacement facility. Bassetti was about 50% of the way through the new clubhouse/driving range design when DOPAR submitted the nomination to the Landmarks Preservation Board. The Historic Preservation Officer, Karen Gordon, head of the Landmarks Preservation Board staff, approved the nomination for submittal to the Board.
During their presentation, Bassetti Architects and the Parks Department diminished the historical and architectural aspects of the Clubhouse on all six standards in SMC 12.45.350, the Seattle Municipal Code which defines the standards for historic designation of buildings and sites in Seattle.
“She said that this nomination was submitted as part of the MUP process. She said that this building is not part of the Olmsted plan, many alterations have been made, and it does not meet the needs of DOPAR now. She said that DOPAR has been a good steward and has twenty five landmark properties but did not support nomination.”
Four Beacon Hill community members spoke in support of the Clubhouse. One community member noted the nomination was incomplete because it was for the “building only” and did not include the putting greens, forcing the Board to discuss the Clubhouse out of the context of rest of the Golf Course. From the minutes of the meeting:
“She said that the nomination has a hole in it and the putting greens need to be included; all information needs to be included in the review and if the clubhouse and putting greens are not looked at together it doesn’t make sense.”
The Landmarks Preservation Board chair noted that, according to the rules, they could only consider the contents of the nomination. The Board staff then recommended against approval of the nomination. The Board vote ended in a split; four in favor of approval and four against. Without a majority this meant the nomination failed: the history of the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse officially declared not “important” in the Landmarks Preservation Board archives.
A brief discussion followed the vote. Two Board members noted the absence of the putting greens from the nomination. From the meeting minutes:
“Ms. Strong said this was a difficult one for her; she learned to golf here. She supported nomination and wished the putting greens were included… Mr. Hannum noted the loss of integrity but said the building deserved more analysis; he supported nomination. He said he would be more comfortable if the putting greens were included.”
The Seattle City Council will vote either for or against “Concept Approval” for the Bassetti plan in a hearing before the Land Use Subcommittee chaired by Councilmember Richard Conlin on September 12, 2012. If the City Council approves the new design concept, the Golf Clubhouse and the century long history of the Jefferson Park Golf course will be tossed in the trash like yesterday’s newspaper.
Meanwhile, just a few miles away, over at the West Seattle Golf course, it is a different story. DOPAR will fully renovate the Clubhouse, and will not ruin the integrity of the historic golf course with a driving range: a project cancelled last year by Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams due to overwhelming public pressure.
What exactly do DOPAR, Bassetti Architects, the Historic Preservation Officer, and four members of the Landmarks Preservation Board find so uninteresting about Jefferson Park Golf History?
Coming up next: The vanishing history of Jefferson Park Golf, Part II: Dreamers and Builders.
Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek are long time Beacon Hill residents, founding members of the Jefferson Park Alliance (JPA), and both served on the Jefferson Park Planning Committee (JPPC) during the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood planning process from 1998-2000. Mira is a co-author of Seattle’s Beacon Hill.
Those interested in the history of our part of Seattle should journey to nearby Columbia City this Friday, June 1, at 5:30 pm for a free all-ages public event celebrating the Southeast Seattle Community History Project.
The Community History Project’s goal is to use traditional historic preservation methods combined with community-based research to identify and illuminate the people, places, events, and policies that shaped Southeast Seattle during the post-World War II era. See the Project’s website here.
Some of the Project’s activities have included studies by community organizations such as El Centro de la Raza, the Northwest African American Museum, the Wing Luke Asian Museum and the Washington State Jewish Historical Society; essays on geographic and social themes related to the neighborhoods within Southeast Seattle; a new local history app by HistoryLink.org; and a multilingual poster series in Chinese, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
The event is at the Royal Esquire Club, 5016 Rainier Ave. S. in the Columbia City Historic District. Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith and City Councilmember Sally Clark will be there to join the celebration. Free Southeast Seattle posters will be available.
The decision to demolish the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse to make way for a low-budget two-story driving range should consider a lot more than money. If money was the only issue of import, there would be no Pike Place Market. The Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse is made out of very attractive 80-year-old probably locally-made fired red brick, and its wood components are traditionally-built assemblies, with actual tree wood in solid profiles we used to call lumber and mill work. Such things are still made, but only the very rich can afford them. Why would we throw something so valuable away?
Just because some fool painted it and did a bunch of sloppy remodeling is no reason to throw it away. If we fix it and turn back the remodeling clock to 1936 in the process, we will have an architectural treasure: standing in the park largely made of the original materials which we could not hope to replace at any reasonable cost, looking wonderful, and reminding us that America was once a great nation populated with carpenters and masons who were skilled and principled craftsmen of a high order.
We will walk through it and remember that it was in those rooms that Americans of every race met and socialized and shared a love of golf more than they valued the segregation that separated them everywhere else. We will be reminded of the power of our American social contract to create the WPA, to restore the American economy, and lift Americans out of the ditch that greed and unregulated capitalism had thrown us into. And we will be reminded of the care that was taken to invest beauty and quality into our public investments in the commons. If you seriously think today’s Parks department is up to matching that in new construction in 2012, please send me some of whatever you are smoking.
Anything they build new and cheaper would be made out of glued-together wood flakes and cheesy cladding products made out of vinyl-skinned foamed plastic and sawdust cement slurry. The enclosure detailing would undoubtedly be the usual leaky hollow section, nail-on flange windows and pseudo-rainscreens we see being tented and repaired all over town. I see so much of that all over everywhere; do we have to go out of our way to wipe out all remaining vestiges of well-built buildings that remain? That clubhouse has stood there for barely 75 years—it is just getting warmed up! All it needs is a little respect and responsible maintenance, and it will outlast and outperform whatever they build new.
George Robertson is a Beacon Hill resident of more than twenty years, an architect, an artist, an occasional writer of often incendiary rants that annoy the neighbors, and a daily user of Jefferson Park.
Bassetti Architects has recently presented a version of the development concept for the Jefferson Park Golf Course renovation to the city’s Design Commission. You can view it here (PDF). It appears to be a PowerPoint-type presentation, so it’s a bit sparse.
The current Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse, which would be torn down and replaced with a new two-story clubhouse under this proposal, was recently nominated for landmark status. The City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board will hold a public meeting to consider the landmark nomination on next Wednesday, February 15 at 3:30 p.m. in the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave., Suite 1700. All interested may attend. If you can’t attend and still wish to comment, you can comment by email to email@example.com, or by regular mail to the address in the previous post.
Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has determined, through rigorous business case analysis, that the most cost-effective solution for the Beacon Hill Reservoir Gatehouse is to mothball the building and perform routine maintenance as required in its mothballed condition.
The mothballing approach preserves the opportunity for making future improvements to the gatehouse. It mainly consists of safe removal of dangerous lead-containing coating on the exterior walls and applying a new application of aesthetic paints around the gatehouse.
SPU will review the gatehouse mothball status as part of its routine three-year maintenance planning cycle.
Mothballing tasks will begin in early 2011, in coordination with the Parks Department Jefferson Park project team.
The gatehouse at Jefferson Park is in imminent danger of destruction. After twelve years of neighborhood planning with the gatehouse in multiple versions of the Jefferson Park plan, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and the Seattle Parks Department (DPR), suddenly announced they decided to “demolish the gatehouse,” just months before the grand opening. What happened?
This story is a textbook example of the worst result that can occur when SPU and Parks fail to work together.
Falling through the cracks of bureaucracy
In 2002, just after the first year-long Project Advisory Team (PAT) meetings ended, SPU began a demolition permit for the old reservoirs. Unknown to the PAT or the community, the gatehouse was part of that permit because SPU thought there might be a possibility it would need to be removed along with the reservoirs. At the same time, SPU submitted a draft landmark nomination for the gatehouse to the landmarks board in preparation for the possible demolition.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood and city continued planning Jefferson Park. In 2005-2006, there was another year long PAT. The 2006 plan shows the gatehouse restored as restrooms with a “gatehouse plaza” in front. The plan also called for the removal of the obscuring trees on the west side. Parks still has not removed those trees, making it nearly impossible to see the building. The community, the ProParks levy oversight committee, the board of Park commissioners, the mayor and the city council all reviewed and approved the 2006 plan. This is the plan Seattle voters gave fifteen million dollars to plan and build through two parks levies.
As construction began, Parks determined it would be impractical to convert the gatehouse into restrooms. As a result, the budget for the gatehouse went elsewhere. SPU avoided demolition. When SPU asked Parks if they wanted the gatehouse, Parks responded, “As stated at the meeting, Parks is not interested in taking over the building and utilizing it for any purpose.” (6/15/2009)
This left SPU with a dilemma. The gatehouse served Seattle’s water system from 1910 up until 2007 when it was decommissioned. SPU says that it cannot spend public money on the gatehouse because it is no longer a functioning part of Seattle’s’ water system. SPU insists Parks’ decision to abandon the gatehouse leaves SPU with no alternative but demolition. Parks, on the other hand, claims to have no money left out of the fifteen million they were given to save and maintain this tiny building with a century of Beacon Hill and Jefferson Park history in its walls.
The year is 1910. Seattle is reveling in an amazing feat of engineering known as the Cedar River Watershed and Pipeline, ending at the reservoirs in Jefferson Park. The gatehouse controlled the flow of the reservoirs to the city. The man behind the drive that got the job done was Reginald Heber Thomson, chief engineer for the city of Seattle. He overcame tremendous physical and political barriers to accomplish what many before him tried and failed: to build Seattle a safe, clean, and secure drinking water supply. Finally, Seattle would be a modern city and would no longer have to drink the “turbid waters of Lake Washington” (“Shaper of Seattle: Reginald Heber Thompson’s Pacific Northwest,” William H. Wilson 2009).
Historical research shows the name of Mr. Thomson appears on the final drawing for the gatehouse (Landscape Inventory of Jefferson Park, Historical Research Associates [HRA] 2001). The draft landmark nomination submitted by SPU (SPU/Sheridan Associates) in 2002 also notes that the name of R.H. Thomson is on the final drawings for the gatehouse. The recent landmark nomination from SPU makes no mention of Mr. Thomson’s name. They simply state it was designed by “Seattle Water Department staff”. The construction drawing in the SPU nomination does not show his name.
At the same time, a revolution in landscape design and urban planning known as the “Beautiful Cities Movement” had reached its peak with Daniel Burnham’s epic “Plan of Chicago,” released in 1909. Cities all over the world were clamoring to plan their own beautiful cities, inspired by the vision put forth in Chicago. Seattle hired the Olmsted brothers design firm to plan Seattle’s park system. The preliminary plan for Jefferson Park was done in 1912. John C. Olmsted surveyed the site in 1903 in preparation for the 1912 planning. He remarked on the extraordinary views and prepared for a design that would incorporate the reservoirs into the overall park plan. Most of the plan was never realized; only the 18-hole golf course and the gatehouse remain from this earliest period in the development of Jefferson Park. The views remain as spectacular as ever.
The elimination of the restroom conversion idea left the gatehouse without a function. Parks toyed with the idea of turning it into a maintenance shed, but that would require cutting a giant hole in the side for the installation of a roll up door. They simply had no better ideas and decided to abandon it instead.
“The Jefferson Park Gatehouse and History Plaza” is a project under review by the ProParks levy oversight committee’s “Opportunity Fund” program. This project idea proposes to use the gatehouse as a history display plaza and water resource education facility. This will be a complement to the water resource education theme of the soon to be built beacon mountain playground. the project is up against many other creative ideas competing for limited funds. there is no guarantee the history plaza idea will make it now, but that does not mean it could not be funded by other means at a later date.
SPU released three different options with cost estimates for the gatehouse.
Repair, Secure, and Maintain: $232,000. This will restore the building to a condition safe for use by the public.
Mothball: $124,300. This will make the building safe, though not suitable for active use-just basic repairs.
Deconstruction: $177,665. This is SPU and Parks’ preferred option. It will wipe out all traces of the gatehouse and the history it represents, except for a couple of the antique valves Parks says they will display on a concrete pad where the gatehouse once stood, as an “artifact” of the reservoirs.
As the estimates show, the cost to save this building in the short term by mothballing it is the cheapest route. It costs less to save the gatehouse than it does to destroy it.
How to save the gatehouse
This building does not deserve to die because of a lack of interest or concern on the part of the city employees we depend upon to implement Seattle’s neighborhood plans. The Jefferson Park gatehouse and the history it continues to represent belongs to the people of Seattle and Beacon Hill. It represents a direct connection to the past that shows Seattle once planned a great Olmsted Park for Beacon Hill. It took one hundred years to get us there, but now that vision has finally arrived, and Beacon Hill is going to get that “beautiful cities” park planned so long ago. Let’s not begin the next 100 years of history at Jefferson Park by erasing the only element left that links us to the last 100 years.
It is not necessary to landmark the gatehouse in order to save it. SPU and DPR need the landmarks board to declare the gatehouse ineligible for landmark status to begin deconstruction. It is absolutely necessary that Beacon Hill speak out now in support of the gatehouse in order to save it.
Here’s what everyone can do:
Contact SPU (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask them to stop the demolition plans and withdraw the permit, regardless of the decision made by the landmarks board.
Contact the Seattle Parks Department (email@example.com) and ask them to stick to the plan, accept responsibility for the gatehouse, and cut down the trees as planned so everyone can see the building.
Contact Mayor McGinn (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask him to save the gatehouse and tell SPU and Parks to stick to the neighborhood plan.
Contact the Landmarks Preservation Board (email@example.com) and tell them you want to see the gatehouse landmarked and preserved.
Attend and testify at the Landmarks Preservation Board meeting on Wednesday, September 1, at 3:30 pm in the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 Fifth Avenue, 40th floor, room 4060.
Contact the Levy Oversight committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask them to fund the restoration of the gatehouse via the Opportunity fund .
The vision we see emerging at Jefferson Park is the direct result of Beacon Hill residents’ unwavering support for their neighborhood plan. The gatehouse is key to that vision. For the first time in 100 years, Beacon Hill can see a future with an Olmsted Park, the way it was meant to be. If you ever wrote or called in support of Jefferson Park in the past, now is the time to do so again. If you never got involved before, now is your chance to make a difference.
There is only one Jefferson Park Gatehouse. Now is the time to save it and the history it represents – for the next 100 years.