Revisiting the Park: Continuous change in the 'hood

Richard Carl Lehman

One of the first changes to our peaceful community that my age group witnessed was the Kirkland ferry making its last run. Then the Clayton-Fisher Marina and Repair Shop closed, as well as Johnson’s Marina and Buchan Boat Co.

Buchan Sr. had his boat hauled out at the Fisher Marina on Lake Washington just north of Madison Park. In 1959 the Buchan Boat Co. formed by Bill Sr. and son John became a sailboat production.

The inhabitants began to change. When rentals became not only available but affordable, a new category of society moved in. Most of us were blue collar, would we approve? It was put to a vote among the nearly 21 of us single guys. One day several of us were shooting hoops and walking down the alley between 42nd and 43rd and heard a voice, “Would you guys help me with this couch, please?” This was a new resident in our neighborhood. She was dressed in uniform and had wings. (No, the kind worn on a lapel) Her sparkling eyes and a smile larger than her face while carrying a bottle of champagne (from Continental Airlines, if I recall) convinced us we should help share that bubbly reward with her and her friends. That led to great friendships and being invited to many functions.

Not long after the birth of the Attic at their Friday night opening, wall-to-wall locals and new residents showed up to mingle, drink and sing to popular hits on the big Wurlitzer jukebox. Even though many were not quite 21, the Attic welcomed everyone. Soon all of the businesses benefitted from this new influx of humanity.

This new infiltration into our Villa by the Sea enjoyed modest incomes but Main Street in Bellevue chanted in the distance, “Come shop, come eat, etc.!” and later Bellevue Square offered restaurants, stores, a theater and even a new car dealership. The mall had more of everything. Kirkland also grew from a city center with horses and other farm animals (being country and proud of it) to a gut that could be tooled (street to drive on and be seen). As children we took the ferry to the Kirkland Fair. Ella Bartholomew of Ella’s Café in Madison Park, also had the concession on board which had great cheeseburgers, milkshakes, and home-made cakes and pies.

A mall was a great innovation having anything and everything with absolutely no parking issues. Northgate was not just a mall but the first one in the United States! It was open air and very sociable as many of our friends from Madison Park could be seen there too. A favorite place for us was a restaurant that featured a rare beef sandwich and for an additional $.50 it could be changed for a prime cut for a grand total of $6.95.

Capitol Hill boasted several popular restaurants that have gone by the wayside: Henry’s Off Broadway, Charlie’s, Boondocks Sundeckers and Green Thumbs, and the Broadway owned by “Devo.” So nice to see the Deluxe still stands. I lived on Capitol Hill in the early 1960s where some inhabitants were working class living in boarding houses with shared restrooms some offering two meals a day. Many of them lived there since before the turn of the century. Many types of people are presently blending in becoming the norm but it is a work in progress. The biggest drawback is parking.

What about a Madison Park upgrade, you ask. Our motto had been, “Why change anything?” We have great shopping within walking distance, a big park and a very large beach, tennis courts and restaurants.

We are not far from the Broadmoor Country Club and the Seattle Tennis Club. A name to our fame is that Madison is the only street that starts at salt water (Puget Sound – Ivar’s to be exact) and ends at fresh water (Lake Washington) directly and uninterrupted in a fairly straight-line SW to NE ending in at 43rd and Madison. A few excellent restaurants in our neighborhood we’ve enjoyed were Peters in the Park, Manca's, Bings, Sostanza, The Beachhouse, Sorella's. Cactus and Scoop du Jour remain. How to Cook a Wolf is inviting for many.

Many large corporations looked at our area for expansion but once the realization Madison Park was a dead end with no through traffic (let alone much parking), that idea certainly became a dead end. At one point Mayor Nickels accompanied Lola McKee from the hardware store to look around our area for whatever reason and Lola said, “Don’t even think of it!” He laughed.

Park Shore and Washington Towers slipped in before a moratorium of height was pronounced.

City People Mercantile and the community recently lost the site to a rather large conglomerate that will accommodate residents and some retail but will surely add to overburdened traffic. The bungalows and old houseboats have been making way for condominium complexes, apartment buildings and now rather large mansions. Funny how a 1920 circa home can be bought for over $1 million then torn down and replaced by a building (needing an elevator to age in place) with no yard or memories.

What does Madison Park need? My German grandmother used to say, (sounded like: “Es gud enuf!”) (but really was: “Es ist gut genug!”) or “It’s good enough, ya?”