REVISITING THE PARK | Good times in the Park

Madison Park was quite the oasis for growing up. We preteens had some favorite activities, but when the park started to progress, our old haunts started disappearing.

The old dirt road that ran north and south through the woods in Canterbury was where we waged many a cap-gun war. 

It was common to play nine innings of baseball in the street. Manhole covers served as bases, and the pitcher’s mound was a pillow. 

Touch football was big. We played endlessly on those streets, waiting for Bill Gates to invent computers. Our playing field was soon messed up by the decision to turn 42nd Avenue, a two-way street, into a one-way street to allow for bus traffic. 

Previously, buses were slower — they were electric and always slipped off the trolley if they went too fast. Parts of Madison Park were made of bricks and had old trolley tracks, causing many a car to swerve.

New homes were built on McGilvra Boulevard; the remaining houseboats on 43rd Avenue were pulled to land or dismantled. 

We played cops and bad guys, but sometimes the real cops were called. They chased us onto flimsy planks that connected the houseboats — they were barely strong enough to hold us. 

In threatening voices, the cops yelled, “We got you kids now!” 

We fooled them as we took our secret exit: a hidden plank affixed to land. We then hid the plank under bushes and laughed from a friend’s porch as the pursuit continued without us. 

Across the street from the gas station on 42nd was an empty lot. When it froze over in the winter, it became a skating rink. It was fun to run full-throttle and slide almost the entire length. Sadly, the skating rink vanished as profits were to be made as Bert’s IGA grocery store.

Getting waterside

The closest thing to a Hawaiian beach was Edgewater, with its white sand and shallow, warm water. After a long swim, we’d roll in the sand to get warm, making plans for the short, three- month summer vacation ahead of us. 

It was a near perfect pastime except for the big lawn cops (grounds keepers). We saw them coming and crawled between the little tykes and new mothers into the water, then swam under the log barrier to the cattails just west of the beach. 

Once again, we got a chuckle as they looked for us elusive non-residents. But we were caught so many times, we said hello when we saw them on the Ave. 

We used to walk about a half a block north from the beach and swim the remaining 20 feet to a log boom so big, there was just enough passage for boats to pass on the north side. We walked the length of it, catching a swim in the cedar ponds. 

The water was so clear you could see the bottom. Seaweed looked like an underwater forest with small fish swimming about. 

This log boom stretched from Edgewater to Laurelhurst, almost to the big garbage dump next to Husky Stadium. 

The citywide attraction was the Kirkland ferry landing. The small dock there today is where we’d swim in place, yelling to passengers on the ferry, “Penny! Nickel! Dime! Get ‘em every time!” Diving for coins was the best pastime ever. 

Or for those seeking a semi-safe thrill, we’d swim under the car-loading ramp and hold tight to the big, greasy cable that hung above. As the ferry’s prop turned in reverse just feet from us, we let go just at the right time, and a wall of water pushed us most of the way to the swim raft. 

Moving on

New houses were coming in on McGilvra, so bigger pipelines were needed. On the way from J. J. McGilvra Elementary School, we watched a big steam shovel moan and groan, pushing big plumes of steam as it clawed the clay (which used to be lake bottom) to lay pipe down the length of the boulevard. 

One night, the crew had gone home, and the big boilers were still hot, hissing the last of its steam. 

With no signs denoting this machine and the many ropes hanging from the boom arm were dangerous to adults — but construed as a genuine source of entertainment for the young set — we swung over the muddy trench. 

One kid pulled the handles in the cab as if he was the operator. With legs too short to reach the pedals, nothing could go wrong. Au contraire! 

Whatever lever he touched, it caused the bucket to fall about 2 feet with a resounding thud — end of game. 

After the pipe was laid, it gave us new, smooth concrete from Edgewater to Madison Street for some good rollerskating.

RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident.

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