As the new editor for the Madison Park Times, there’s a lot to learn about the neighborhoods I cover.
Much of the information I’ve gathered has been in the moment, based on some article I’m writing. As time permits, I’ve been looking for local sources that can fill in the numerous gaps in my knowledge of the history of these Central Area communities.
Recently, I saw a write-up by the Madison Valley Community Council about local author Isabelle Gray and her book, “Madison Valley: Places of Interest.”
First, Isabelle Gray is a pen name — a combination of two family names — the author not seeking a lot of spotlight.
Gray was kind enough to make time on a rare sunny spring day to meet up and give me a quick walking tour of some places of interest from her book.
Gray grew up in Madison Park, and has lived in her current Madison Valley home for about seven years now.
“Madison Valley: Places of Interest” came out in November 2017, Gray going the self-publishing route. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble Nook Press.
“It was kind of a gradual process, I guess,” Gray said.
The Madison Valley author would go on walks around the neighborhood with her husband, and later with her daughter, who’s almost 3 1/2 now.
She started by just taking notes of interesting places, wanting to learn more about their history, and gathering interesting tidbits from neighbors.
“I live here, and a lot of the history I didn’t know before I started researching it,” Gray said.
She began writing the book with community members in mind, but said she hopes it’s helpful for anyone wanting to explore Madison Valley or learn more about her neighborhood.
Packed with photos, maps and historical facts sourced from municipal archives, news articles and old community newsletters, “Madison Valley: Places of Interest” is easily digestible at just under 80 pages. As Gray writes it, the places she highlights in her book are not deep dives, but thorough introductions that certainly piqued my interest.
Gray said she thought about writing them in alphabetical order, but her husband encouraged her to organize the book around interests — East Madison, Flooding, Greenspaces, Notable African-American Residents, etc.
The book hits on a number of parks and greenspaces, not all of which are well known, and some that are tucked away, but still easy to find if you know where to look.
For part of our interview, we sat on a park bench in Julia Lee’s Park at the southwest corner of East Harrison Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. She pointed out the new artistic treatment of the circular brick planter, where a maple tree stands in the middle of the plaza, was installed after her book published.
Julia Lee Roderick Knudsen was a Seattle native who died in 1990. Her husband, C. Calvert Knudsen, created the park to honor her in 1993 — he could see it from his office across the street. The Knudsen family donated the park to the City of Seattle in 2016.
Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I really enjoyed learning about this public park’s history, having walked the area numerous times and never even noticing this little oasis just a short walk south of the Essential Bakery.
On our way to Drainage Park, Gray pointed out The Valley School on 30th Avenue East. The independent school isn’t in her book, she said, adding it’s nice enough to make its private playground open to the neighborhood on weekends.
Drainage Park, as its name suggests, is the first of a two-phase project to address flooding issues in the neighborhood, which came to a head for the city after the 2006 Hannukah Eve storm. Gray breaks the two phases up separately, and includes a passage about the Kate Fleming Memorial, named for the woman who tragically lost her life when the Hannukah Eve storm caused her basement studio to flood and she couldn’t escape.
Further up 30th Avenue we stopped at William Grose Park, which had originally been named 30th Avenue East Park, until community members petitioned the city to change the name.
William Grose was one of many African-Americans to settle in Seattle and play a part in helping build the black community that exists in the Central Area today. Gray has an entire section dedicated to such figures, whose names now identify neighborhood parks and historic houses where they once resided.
Like the rest of Seattle, Madison Valley is seeing growth and change, and some parts of her book could be updated already, but Gray said she has no plans to do so currently.
“The problem with that is I could constantly be doing that,” she said.
What “Madison Valley: Places of Interest” does is establish an entertaining and informative starting point for discovery in the neighborhood. It’s a foundation for people to build on through their own experiences navigating Madison Valley, and outlines a history of community and community led projects she hopes people can take pride in.
“It made me appreciate the history of the neighborhood a lot more,” she said, “and think of it as a place that has an interesting and rich history that I know about. I think it was a great neighborhood to live in before, and I still do.”