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Seattle needs more shrines to writers

In a city that draws the "creative class," why don't we have more reverence for our writers? Why not use them to boost tourism? Why is there no Theodore Roethke Historic Park, or Frank Herbert Wax Museum?

The Hearst Castle's Neptune Pool in San Simeon, California

The Hearst Castle's Neptune Pool in San Simeon, California Peter Nijenhuis

The portal to August Wilson Way on the campus of the Seattle Center.

The portal to August Wilson Way on the campus of the Seattle Center. Peggy Sturdivant

Our area lacks writer's shrines. In Tacoma, there's a Murray Morgan Bridge, and in Seattle there's a short right of way named August Wilson Way — not a real street, but an honorary sign for the famous Seattle Center playwright. Poet Denise Levertov has a unique headstone up at Lake View Cemetery, but the real pilgrimage places are Bruce and Brandon Lee's graves and Kurt Cobain's Viretta Park bench.

There's Hugo House, but its brilliant namesake poet didn't live there. Where's the Theodore Roethke Historic Park? We readily name streets for sports figures (Edgar Martinez, Dave Niehaus, Royal Brougham), but Seattle is a far cry from San Francisco, where streets and alleys are named for the likes of Jack Kerouac and Dashiell Hammett. I'd love to see signs for streets and ways named for Emmett Watson, Octavia Butler, Mary McCarthy, Frank Herbert, Walt Crowley, Nard Jones, Betty MacDonald, Morgan, and Roethke.

On recent trips to California, I found myself in a pleasure garden of writer's shrines, and had not the time to visit them all. I had to pass on the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, and missed Robinson Jeffers' Tor House near Carmel, to name a couple. But I did get to wander the old farm landscape at Jack London's Beauty Ranch in the Valley of the Moon. I saw John Steinbeck's famous camper lovingly cared for in a museum in Salinas. I toured the gloriously kitschy John Steinbeck Wax Museum in Monterey which, I have to say, was more entertaining than the real Steinbeck Museum. Where else would you meet face to face an audio animatronic Steinbeck, who was just a little more lively than Sylvester the Mummy?

Perhaps this is stretching it a bit, but one of the most amazing shrines to the written word is the Hearst Castle in San Simeon — the real-life Xanadu of Citizen Kane, known in real life as William Randolph Hearst. Granted, Hearst was a powerful, sometimes monstrous press baron, but it's hard not to be impressed by the megalomania that was fattened by the written word, and the empire those words built. His castle sits on a mountaintop facing the sea. The main house is a replica of a church surrounded by palm trees, pools, genuine Roman ruins and Egyptian artifacts, the sale of any of which could probably solve California's budget woes. Hearst was a millionaire hoarder who accumulated stuff with an auction catalog and a bottomless check book.

When one considers that Bill Gates could arguably be the closest Seattle has to a digital-age Hearst, it's hard not to compare the two moguls. Gates' new foundation headquarters are austere, compact, and serious; his home in Medina mostly hidden and underground. Hearst's fantasy, spread on the gorgeous California coast, is a power-mad paradise and a popular tourist destination and protects miles of precious coastline. The Mediterranean sensibility combined with Mad Ludwig syndrome gives more pleasure years hence than Gates' earnest Scandinavian-style sincerity. It also belongs to the public as a California State Park, to be preserved for evermore through the pocketbooks of tourists, many of whom come in hope of spotting the offspring of one of Hearst's wandering zebras.

Timothy Egan, an author, good friend, and a man who should one day get his own named boulevard in Seattle, wrote recently about the possible shuttering of the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen due to California budget cuts. That would be tragic, not only because it's an incredible place that illuminates London's career as no other, but it's also a magnificent piece of land.

London, who during his short, extraordinary life was incredibly prolific, tried to create the perfect farm. He employed sustainable techniques that are now in vogue, but in the early 20th century were almost unheard of. He terraced the hillsides, preserved land, adopted ancient and innovative agricultural methods. As you wander the trails of Beauty Ranch, you see vineyards, London's homes, various farm structures, and the tools London and his ranch hands used to bring the farm to life. In this era of eating local and caring for the land, it's revealed to have been amazingly ahead of its time. London might have written the Call of the Wild, but he could also easily have written Call of the Organic Gardener.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

It's Robinson Jeffers, not Jeffords.

debbalee

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Berger is so right about memorializing creativity and even quirkiness through meaningful place names, starting with writers.

But we need to broaden the discussion: we live in a city that's about to put Chihuly's brand on its beloved Space Needle, until that endeavor fails and some other corporation claims the Needle's base, a la the Qwest Field signs, being painted over by a new parent corporation that has nothing to do with our history or culture.

Seattle Parks just named a slew of north-end parks; despite efforts by 1000+ grass-roots petitioners, it rejected "Alice Bryant Peace Park" (Bryant was a local peace proponent, wartime Japanese POW and environmentalist honored by the city of Hiroshima for postwar activism) for "Beaver Pond Park on Thornton Creek." Never mind that Bryant's granddaughter is steward of said park, or that Seattle lacks places named for female role models. The rest of the parks were burdened with names reminiscent of residential developments, e.g. "LaVilla Meadows Natural Area on Thornton Creek."

We need to value our shared places as much as our literature, our history and maybe ourselves. The power of our state and city may be shrinking economically, but it costs us nothing to cultivate a shared celebration of brave, smart, selfless people who enrich, embolden and enliven our perception of the future. What's in a name? Plenty.

kindcut

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 9:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Debbalee, Thanks much for pointing that out. We've fixed.

Kindcut, Could you please email at joe.copeland@crosscut.com regarding Alice Bryant?

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Rather than a generic park, how about dedicating the Volunteer Park Conservatory to Theodore Roethke? Or something else intensely plant-related.

As a child, Roethke spent huge amounts of time in the commercial greenhouses owned by his parents in Saginaw, Michigan. He soaked it up. Doubtful that anyone has captured the damp essence of a greenhouse better than Roethke in lines like these from Root Cellar:

"And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath."

As for Jack London: Don't forget Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront, just across the water from the Navy base in Alameda, and a favorite watering hole in past years ago for us USN vets. I recall a log cabin somewhere in the square that was transported from Alaska and said to have London's writing scrawled on the ceiling. The state may choose to shutter the memorial park in Glen Ellen but Jack London Square will surely live on, no matter how deep the budget cuts.

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 10:14 a.m. Inappropriate

The best literary shrine I've ever seen is the outhouse at Ferlinghetti's place in Bixby Canyon north of Big Sur. The walls are covered with graffitic scribbles from all the San Francisco greats -- Ginsburg, Snyder, Corso, et al. You can sit there and ponder the meaning of life. Locally, the Blue Moon used to be a shrine to Roethke but not so anymore. Things change.

woofer

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Here is Seattle Parks' press release on the recent namings:

http://parkways.seattle.gov/2011/06/13/superintendent-names-parks-on-thornton-creek-in-12th-avenue-village/

(or http://goo.gl/lOvqJ for short)

The names are:

Licorice Fern Natural Area on Thornton Creek
Kingfisher Natural Area on Thornton Creek
Beaver Pond Natural Area on Thornton Creek
LaVilla Meadows Natural Area on Thornton Creek

The names aren't completely random, and at least LaVilla has historical significance — http://blog.seattlepi.com/lakecity/2007/06/30/blast-from-the-past-10/ (http://goo.gl/m7LBV) — but I will be very surprised if anyone ever uses these names as they've been presented.

Parks' site says "The Park Naming Committee is comprised of one representative of the Board of Park Commissioners, one representative of the Seattle City Councilmember who chairs the committee dealing with parks issues, and one representative of the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation."

I wonder if having public representation on the committee would be a good idea...

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps the Times Square Building at the SLUT terminal could be renamed the E.B. White Building, where he once worked and was fired as a reporter for the Seattle Times. I think the building is presently signed for the defunct Washington Mutual Savings Bank. Eugene O'Neill lived (briefly) in a house just up the street from me. And don't forget Betty McDonald. While her most famous book was set in Chimacum where there is an Egg and I Road, much of her work was done in Seattle. Jonathan Raban Place? Tom Robbins Alley (behind the Blue Moon)? Bill Speidel Caverns? John Okada? Daryl Bob Houston? Or the Robert Fulghum Kindergarten?

gabowker

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate


Sound of lips smacking behind of NYT Opinionator columnist is distracting from delightful piece.

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 1:15 p.m. Inappropriate

And a companion piece to Knute's:

Writer's Park: A Toast to Scribes and Pigeons

http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2011/07/writers_park_a_toast_to_scribe.php

Blackie

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 1:22 p.m. Inappropriate

The alley behind the Blue Moon is already named for Theodore Roethke — we'll need somewhere else for Tom Robbins.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lukobe/5607484775/

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 5:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Rich Anderson's suggestion of Ed Guthman Meadow is inspired! So too the idea of a Writer's Park. See Blackie's link above.

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 5:11 p.m. Inappropriate

typo: I do mean Rick Anderson. Working at the Weekly, he's never been Rich.

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 5:23 p.m. Inappropriate


The North Cascades Conservation Council has already helped erect a statue to guidebook author Harvey Manning over on the East Side.

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 6:08 p.m. Inappropriate

@heartscribe: Where is it?

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 6:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Those fabulous Californians, in the form of Stanford University, when offered the opportunity to purchase Wallace Stegner's property, in particular his cottage study, declined, saying they would only resell it to a developer. The family then sold it to a young immigrant couple who now have plans to raze it to the ground.
http://losaltos.patch.com/articles/wallace-stegners-home-appears-headed-for-demolition

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 8:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Sorry to hear about that. As a child, Stegner lived in Redmond, then a rural logging community, for awhile. There ought to be lots of Stegner Streets throughout the West.

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 10:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, Stegner's writings of his time in this area are very interesting...I am a great fan of his.

Posted Thu, Jul 14, 10:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I was born in Salinas, and Salinas hated Steinbeck during the years he was writing because he tended to use real family names in his novels (especially East of Eden). Salinas's elites were semi-literate growers and they didn't appreciate being written about. When the Steinbeck museum was built, the purpose was not to honor him but to use him as a tourist attraction, since that's all Salinas has to lure people there. Obviously, it's worked.

sarah90

Posted Mon, Jul 18, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

It was indeed Walt.

http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file;_id=8303

One time I [Patrick McRoberts] jokingly threw out the idea that we should rename the alley next to the Blue Moon after poet Theodore Roethke. Kim and I had just been to San Francisco and toured Jack Kerouac Alley and William Saroyan Street, home of Spec’s, a famous bar. Roethke, my favorite poet, drank at the Blue Moon, so I boozily thought it would be appropriate for the alley to be so renamed.

Walt didn’t settle for it being a joke. He took it and ran. Before long, he had the City Council lined up, and Councilmember Martha Choe was teetering on a ladder to fix the Roethke Mews sign to the brick wall of the Blue Moon. The “Mews” part was Walt’s touch. I thought it was sort of cutesy but you can’t fault his initiative. It got done.

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