Magnolia history project: Creating a 'sense of place'

Author Wendell Berry has this belief: "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are..." It is all about getting "a sense of place."

Of this notion, author Wallace Stegner writes: "He (Barry) is not talking about the kind of location that can be determined by looking at a map or street sign. He is talking about the kind of knowing that involves the senses..." (the thimble-sized blackberries that grow wild in secret spots on Magnolia, more in the yesterday than today, but generations passing the information down for the taste of that hot August, Magnolia blackberry jam).

Berry, according to Stegner, is talking about "memories" (the memoirs of our residents Bob Kildall writing about the history of Discovery Park; Hal Will and his Magnolia childhood of the '30s; Barbara Wade Gates recalling her days at the Village Drug Store soda fountain in the '40s; or Gary Frizzell setting pins at the long-gone Magnolia Bowling Alley).

Stegner says Berry means "the history of a family or tribe": say, the Muckleshoots, Tulalips, Duwamish and Suquamish, who dried clams and carved gaming pieces 4,000 years ago on the beach of what is now know as Magnolia's West Point.

Stegner points out: Berry is talking about the knowledge of place that comes of "suffering from catastrophes"-the broken bridges of Magnolia, the landslides of Perkins Lane, an invasive new vandalism-to loving "this places' mornings or evenings or hot noons"-loving salty sea breezes off the Bluff of Puget Sound, and occasionally even those Metro sewer smells sometimes wafting by, or the sounds of the drumming and chanting of  pow wows at Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Discovery Park-"of valuing [your place]"-my husband and I at 40th Ave. West, my parents at West Elmore Street, my grandparents at 34th Avenue West, and my daughter, who is an active and proud member of Magnolia's Historical Society... that's four generations of Magnolians... "value your place for the profound investment of labor and feeling you have put into it." And that's what historical societies are about-this business of "sense of place." As poet Gary Snyder writes: "Find a place, dig in and take responsibility for it." We believe; we are armed with our spades.

From the genesis of the first volume of Magnolia history, Magnolia: Memories & Milestone, written in 2000, an award-winning book currently in its third printing (it was a planned first in a series of history), about 16 founders formed a society specializing in the art of exploring Magnolia's own "sense of place," of writing about it, meeting over it, organizing more storytelling about it.

The new book-underwritten with a $2,000 grant from the historical society, as well as a $70,000 city grant-has 19 writers, six editors and a total of 25 contracted volunteers who are carrying out the mission of the Magnolia Historical Society-this is a great example of digging in.

From a mere and literal handful of images of early Magnolia we have gathered and donated more than a thousand pictures to the permanent archives of the University of Washington's Allen Libraries Special Collections; and the same with our document collection. The public soon will be able to access a photo on the Internet (UW photo archives), such as that of the car falling through the wooden trestle circa 1931, and the Garfield Street Bridge dedication.

In Magnolia: Memories & Milestones we can look up page 212, look at a constant reminder that in 1997 huge metal braces were knocked out from under Magnolia Bridge because of a mud slide on the steep slope that the structure snakes up.

We possess the entire box containing the full history of the community creation of the "Pop" Mounger Pool; we have letters written by Magnolians in the late '30s and early '40s begging that black soldiers from Fort Lawton not be allowed to march in public on Magnolia residential streets, examples of fear and prejudice.

We have established a safe place to keep our historical records with the University of Washington.

We serve on the Lighthouse Committee for Seattle Parks & Recreation, and on a private citizen's group working on saving the Historic Fort Lawton Housing of 1898-1908.

Help us promote and sell memberships of the current book and archival cards. Visit us at the coming Magnolia SummerFest. We are not "History Link"; we're Magnolia homegrown, the little critters that are digging in the dirt of our own little sandlots, finding treasures that are invaluable to Magnolia and Seattle's "sense of place."

Our society carries this sense of place: "The past is only prologue." And Charles Leikwag: those that do not know "their history are doomed to repeat it." As Seattle (and, in its own way, Magnolia) continues to be a boom town, preserving history is more important than ever-that we must "accept the challenge to explore the history of our nearby world," according to Marty Kyvig. I urge and challenge all Magnolia groups to take advantage of our archival work, our resources, sources and abilities. You are an integral part of Magnolia's sense of place.

Please join us in building a rich future from a well-defined past.

Monica Wooton is a longtime Magnolia resident and founding member of the Magnolia Historical Society.[[In-content Ad]]