Thursday, March 6, 2008

When life gives you lemons...

Sometimes it’s necessary to go back a ways. I know, I’ve already gone back—however briefly—and you may be thinking ‘enough already!’ So enough. Because sometimes it’s even more necessary to look a few paces ahead. So here is one very timely occurrence that has many, many people doing just that: staring the future right in the face.

Christine Barrett of Laurelon Terrace wants to be taken out of her home in a body bag. She never thought she would leave her cozy condominium for good while still breathing. Her history books will suffer as well: in her new address—though still undecided—space will be at a premium. Meaning the population of her prized books will diminish. Barrett predicts that her friends will also suffer: when relocating, friends translate to free delivery service. And shoulder to cry on throughout the harrowing process of moving. Especially when that process is forced. And when the home you’re forced to move from has been your home longer than any other house. This is Barrett’s situation, along with her other 133 some neighbors living at Laurelon Terrace.

The Children’s Hospital debate has finally reached a turning point: a few weeks ago, the hospital reached a tentative deal to buy out all of Laurelon Terrace’s condo owners to make way for their large expansion. Good for some, not for others. But for Barrett, who is not shy when stating her negative take on the episode, it’s a chance to “make lemonade when thrown lemons.” Despite the uncomfortable situation, despite leaving a neighborhood that marked Barrett (and that Barrett marked herself, as she wrote “A History of Laurelhurst”), she prefers the sweeter taste that lemons can produce with a little consideration.

Apparently, Children’s needed 100 percent of Laurelon Terrace owners’ approval before acquiring the whole property. Some complexes in Seattle are able to sell with only 80 percent owner approval. A straw poll vote on February 26th showed that the majority of owners are willing to make the move from Laurelhurst. Barrett says this is inevitable. For the amount of money being offered, well, one just couldn’t turn it down, she relents.

The Children’s Hospital expansion has spawned many angry debates and drawn much scrutiny towards Laurelhurst residents. With every neighborly word of protest comes a reprimanding lash from outside the community. Many people don’t understand how residents could possible argue against an expansion of a hospital... let alone one providing groundbreaking care for children. The Children’s Action Commission is a blog dedicated to discussion and information on the hospital’s expansion. They represent the counter argument to some Laurelhurst resident’s fervent oppositions. Their mission reads: “We support an expansion of first-class care throughout Children's state-wide service area while discouraging further concentration of services at a single, congested site.”

Here is a link to what the proposed expansion would look like. Barrett remembered the only compromise the neighborhood has—in her memory—ever made with the hospital: the change from their original “Pepto-Bismol pink” to their current beige. This mock-up is easier on the eye color-wise, but for Barrett and other Laurelhurst residents, color is the least of their worries.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Old Habits Die Hard

Today, I was all ready to write about the outstanding citizens of Laurelhurst. I was ready to be amazed at neighborhood involvement and incomparable passion. Ready to be confronted with all other adjective-ridden praises that would describe the recipient of the annual Neighborhood Awards. Instead, I was greeted with a sign, hanging demurely on the doorway of the Community Center. Perhaps I was the only one it would surprise today with its sad news: Postponed. And not for one week, not until tomorrow, oh no. This sign was out for more than a slight prick... with a forceful stab the words threw themselves toward me: May. May?!

So instead of regaling with of-the-moment history makers, I will divert with history already made. And there is no shortage of history in Laurelhurst.

Each resident that I have spoken with directs me to the same source when it comes to Laurelhurst’s history: Christine Barrett. Indeed, she has written a book on the subject: A History of Laurelhurst. Barrett herself directs me to, among other sources,, an online encyclopedia of Washington state history. It turns out that history does, indeed, repeat itself.

Such hot-button issues commonly found in the community today are not new concerns. Transportation, land use issues and wildlife preservation are veritable fixtures in Laurelhurst discussions. Some, such as the following description of the Community Club’s agenda, are more relevant than ever.

“Land issues, however, remained high on the Club's agenda. Large institutions such as Battelle Memorial Institute, Pacific Theological Seminary, and Children's Orthopedic Hospital made incursions into the neighborhood.” History Link

And if Laurelhurst feels isolated now, just imagine how it must have felt at the turn of the 20th century:

“Laurelhurst in the mid-1900s was about as far away from "city life" as any outlying neighborhood. The Laurelhurst Launch and other boats remained the primary link to Madison Park and downtown. Groceries, block ice, and newspapers were usually delivered to the door by tradespeople. If one attended the opera, symphony, or a dinner party "in town" it was necessary to catch the last 11:00 p.m. Launch back to the peninsula or sleep on the beach at Madison Park.” History Link

Though Laurelhurst has come a long way since a sleepover at Madison Park was a viable option for apr├Ęs opera, the community has managed to keep their small-town atmosphere. And where other, once-natural areas of Seattle have given way to tall buildings and wall-to-wall concrete, flora and fauna continue to be a part of Laurelhurst’s community.
“Today, by some miracle, a large portion of this urban enclave remains productive and alive with native plants and animals. Harry W. Higman and Earl J. Larrison, in their "Union Bay: The Life of a City Marsh," write that Union Bay vegetation has been "self introduced" and the influence of humans relatively limited.” History Link

Though the starring roles may have changed in this one-time “Duwamish Indian seasonal playground” and “aboriginal hunting and fishing paradise,” the prevailing tone continues to lead. History Link

As I said, perhaps that sign on the Community Center’s front door was only out to get me on this gray, blustery morning. Joggers and dogs were quite undisturbed. Downy haired and prancing as if at a dog show, poodles, greyhounds and Labradors alike do wonders for a disappointed heart. My spirit lifted with each buyout trot. They are proud of this land.

Pictures from History Link

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

First Impressions

This is a space for notes, for conversation, for suggestion. This is a space wanting to function as does the Seattle neighborhood that it details: Laurelhurst.

I don’t pretend to know Laurelhurst firsthand. I realize my current role, as an outsider peering into a community and trying to better understand it. Though through my journalistic guise, I attempt to translate into words the sights, sounds and overall impressions that Laurelhurst gives me. Again, I welcome all input and ideas, maps (leads) and misgivings.

Laurelhurst didn’t disappoint my expectations when it came to beauty, though I was hoping for a bit more vibrancy culture-wise. The neighborhood has a nice park and a beautiful community center. They both sit atop a hill overlooking a body of water on one side and University Village on the other. Next to the park and center is an elementary school, and near that a community church. Many of these buildings are clustered around 24th St. and spill a short way down the hill toward University Village Mall.

In riding the bus over from downtown, the line felt somewhat obscure. I don’t think that it gets much use from the Laurelhurst residents. I almost felt as if I were back in France, coming home on the tram. Waiting downtown in a mess of people, with a destination of a quiet apartness. As the bus approached University of Washington, the clientele became more student-dominated. It was easy to imagine the daughters and sons of Laurelhurst-home-owning Seattleite parents on their almost daily trek home from school. And the neighborhood had that stillness about it that comes from Friday afternoons when school has ended yet work has not.

There was a playground. Mothers and children enjoying the crisp afternoon sun as it threatened to dip below the horizon. When it did disappear, the cold set in quickly as the wind picked up. I made my way down the wide avenue, flanked on both sides by homes, steadily decreasing in property value as I approached University Village Mall. Suddenly I was upon the Center for Urban Horticulture. I found myself settling into my surroundings: I had been here before. Reading poetry in the gardens to a bird watching group; Freezing my feet off on a cold December morning wearing rubber rain boots (which, by the way, are completely incompatible with cold weather, no matter how wet). ‘So this is Laurelhurst too?!’ I silently yelped.

As I slowly make my rounds to each corner of Seattle, I constantly find reassuring connections with areas previously discovered. Today was one such example. It seems that one constant throughout each neighborhood that I explore is the sheer intimacy of the community. Even for such a small area as Laurelhurst. The houses are packed one on top of the other, yet most feel as if they have their own space. They each have their own personality, this is certain. Yet more than the density of residences, is the presence of associations such as the Laurelhurst Community Club, the Center for Urban Horticulture and the Laurelhurst Beach Club. The presence of these fixtures shapes the community and their lives. The community, then, makes use of the organizations. It’s all in the family.

Upon a second visit, my reactions had a slightly different angle. Though still very much a community oriented neighborhood, though still emanating that distinctive silence, through still met with the same surprised response to questions such as “Where does one go for a cup of coffee?” “What defines Laurelhurst?” etc., I encounter an approachability that I wasn’t able to access before. Or perhaps it was only that before, I didn’t try.

I think that the unwillingness or lack of desire to immerse oneself into a society, community or group of people perpetuates stereotypes. Oftentimes, what one hears on the outside, what one is confronted with upon a first impression, is a world apart from the reality that lies just inside. If people are more willing to adopt – or not even go as far as to adopt... just listen, truly listen – to other viewpoints, lifestyles and opinions, I believe one will inevitably find something to bring into one’s own life, or at least something to stew in the mind for a while; inspiring some sort of effect chez nous.

Oh, a tid-bit noticed last week:

In the Friday, February 1st edition of The Seattle Times there is a review of the recently opened Enotria, an Italian restaurant on NE 45th street, just before the busyness of University Village Mall gives way to the quietude of Laurelhurst proper. I like how the reviewer, Providence Cicero, describes the two banks of restaurant-goers. Some, “the most dressed-up diners you are likely to find in Seattle,” others, “relaxed and animated,” Chianti-swirling and oily fingered “after raising a slice of pizza from plate to mouth.”

Unlike many Seattle neighborhoods, you won’t find many of these small, boutique-like restaurants in Laurelhurst. A Seattle Times search turns up a scant two. Yelp yields better results at 14, though all lie on the boarders of Laurelhurst. And exploring the area on foot proves even more discouraging. I did, however, remark upon Enotria upon that first visit, as I am seemingly unable to pass by an enticing restaurant without perusing the menu.

Needles to say, I will be watching for other like-minded restaurants to venture into this neighborhood’s territory. It would be nice to create some diversity in option when it comes to dining east of University Village Mall and west of Lake Washington.