Residents turn out to praise park's namesake

Call it the evening of Homer Harris.

On Aug. 20, more than 30 residents of the Central Area gathered at the Garfield Community Center to discuss - and help plan - a park named after one of the state's most beloved and respected athletes and physicians.

"We're so lucky to have a park named after Homer Harris," said Cathy Tuttle, park planner for Seattle Parks and Recreation.

The park will reside at 2401 E. Howell St., spanning 120 feet by 180 feet in size, appropriately modest, given the humble source of inspiration. Although still being planned, Tuttle expects the park to be completed in one year.

But residents and officials involved with the project could hardly contain their joy at the prospect of a new park and already plan to make creative use of the space.

"This is the first park [in the Seattle area] being built from the ground up that is dedicated to an African American," said Madison Valley resident Adrienne Bailey, director of the Community Outreach Partnership Center at Seattle Central Community College.

Had it not been for an anonymous donation of $1.3 million - estimated as the largest bid for a park in the city's history - the Homer Harris Park might never have been a reality. Tuttle said Seattle Parks and Recreation had a base of approximately $500,000 to build a park - pretty good, but not quite enough. The bid, whose donor remains anonymous, changed all of that and attracted other groups to the project.

"We are extremely excited to be involved in the project," said Kari Stiles, park project manager for Seattle Parks Foundation. She added that although $500,000 initially seems bountiful to fund building a park, "it's amazing how fast that money goes."

Park officials and residents all stressed that community members must stay actively involved in the park after it is built, keeping it safe, clean and usable for all generations. Bailey encouraged people to return to follow-up meetings and bring as many people as possible.

"We want this to be such a large group of people contributing that no one can feel left out," Bailey said. "We want people to go to this park and feel like they own it."

Although the meeting focused on planning the park, the bulk of conversation was made up of loving memories residents had of the octogenarian Harris, who now lives in Queen Anne with his wife, Dorothy. They described him as kind, humble, handsome, as well as an academic and athletic scholar; many of them were his dermatology patients.

"He was the apple of everyone in the African-American community's eye," said Carver Gayton, a historian and friend of Harris' who formerly headed the state's Employment Security Office.

Gayton added that Harris was "the most astounding scholar-athlete that graduated from the Seattle Public Schools."

"How could this man do all of these things?'" Gayton said.

In addition to honoring Harris, Bailey said the park would be "an opportunity to showcase local artists. Seattle has a wealth of African-American artists."

She also said that the park might help bridge the generation gap between elder and youth communities.

"There are a lot of young people in this community who don't know their history - and there are a lot of elder members who would like to tell it to them."

Steve Worthy, landscape architect for Worthy & Associates, stressed that he wants to design the park using ideas from the public, and he spoke at length with members of the audience about possible sites and nuances for the park. He said the project was "less about building a park and more about building a community."

So what might the park look like?

Some of the ideas discussed at the meeting included athletic sites; community events named after Harris; an elevated gazebo overlooking the neighborhood; bordering walls that ensure safety and keep kids in; a mural depicting Seattle's rich African-American history, made by local artists; and a bronze bulldog, of course, to commemorate Harris' Garfield alumnus status.

Residents in attendance also wanted the park to be attractive for many generations, given Harris' widespread connection to people of all ages.

Future meetings are scheduled for Wednesday. Oct. 1, at 7 p.m., at the Garfield Community Center, 2323 E. Cherry St.

"There isn't a more humble or worthy person to deserve a park named after him," said Phyllis Beaumonte, president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State. "He did not ask for this honor."

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Paul West can be reached via e-mail at E-mail regarding this story may be sent to


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