There are many side effects of caring for a new puppy. There is sleep deprivation. That intimacy with poop and pee you'd thought you'd given up years ago. Small cuts on the hands and forearms from trying to get the dog to drop the ball he loves to chase.
But there are also positive side effects. For me, they are the rediscovery of the Seattle Park system where my wife and I take the dog for his pleasure and ours.
One recent Saturday, we started in Madrona on Lake Washington's western shore and headed south to Seward Park, where I've not been for a long time. First, however, we thought to grab some breakfast at 34th and East Union, just a block away from the first real house I ever lived in — a classic Madrona two-story on 35th. One day, in 1968, as we registered to vote at the tiny firehouse, an alarm came in and the firefighters burst through the tiny lobby to speed off in the station's lone pumper. Alone in the firehouse, we completed our voter forms, left them on a chair and walked home. We thought the whole thing was pretty cool. Today, that firehouse is a library.
When I lived there, the neighborhood was nothing like it is today. It was racially polarized and many of the houses were in disrepair. Someone had kicked a hole in the living room wall of the house we rented. Since we didn't even know what drywall was, we covered it with a book case.
Memories return of our first neighborhood. One Sunday afternoon in 1968, when my wife was leaving the grocery store, a kid poked a gun in her face and took her purse. That same year, two state legislators living in Madrona had their houses firebombed anda house on Pine Street, a half a block away from ours, caught on fire. It had been vacant — just like the one we were renting had been a few weeks before. We believed the fire was intentional.
The neighborhood back then had a laundromat and a small store — Joe's Market, run by a tough little Chinese guy with an uncanny ability to spot a bag of Skittles sliding into a school bag. An IGA market, once thriving, hit hard times and became a clinic. I don't remember much else on the street, except the going-downward vibe. That year, 1968, was a tough one for Seattle's Central District.
The first thing you notice today, as you cross the intersection of 34th and East Union, is that there is no place to park. The Hi Spot, our breakfast destination, is jammed. There are several other restaurants on the street: Bistro Turkuaz (not open until dinner), Naam Thai on the corner, Pritty Boys Family Pizzeria with a big crowd of tiny soccer players, Cafe Soleil (Ethiopian/Eritrean), Madrona Eatery & Ale House, and several others.
The parking place we find is next to Al Larkins Park, which is what happened to the land that remained after the 1968 fire. The Seattle Parks Department finally bought the property and made it into a small park, lovely and simple, and named for a Madrona resident, Alvin Larkins.
Larkins was one of the many black people who came to Seattle to work during World War II. He was a musician in the U.S. Navy band, The Jive Bombers, who were stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station and played everywhere. Larkins decided to stay in the Emerald City rather than return to Baltimore.
He was often picked up by visiting bands, and he played for Sarah Vaughn, Maurice Chevalier, and Duke Ellington. The park was named for him at his death in 1979, thirty years after one of Seattle's great musical events at the Trianon Ballroom, the night Ray Charles brought down the house.
Like many people who came to Seattle at the time, Larkins became as Seattle as Seattle could be. He was an original member of the Rainy City Jazz Band, and also played his jazzy tuba for the World's Fair Marching Band. When the Christmas ships stood off Madrona Beach and the kids on them sang their Christmas carols, he joined with his tuba, his friends, and a roaring bonfire to answer them. He and his brother, also a world-class musician, played in the first Bumbershoot in 1972. A University of Washington graduate, Larkins taught in Seattle schools and lived on 37th Street, three blocks away from what is now his park.
After breakfast, we walked the dog around the neighborhood and came upon the Glassybaby 'hot store,' just off the intersection of 34th and East Union. A place to linger, the store manufactures the hand-blown glass votive candleholders that have become such a cultural phenomenon here. My daughter and wife talked about nothing else during a dinner a few years ago, vaulting them into my field of consciousness. Soon after, they started showing up in my house in groups of two and three.
Glassybaby's origin is with Seattle housewife Lee Rhodes, who had a rare type of lung cancer and spent seven years in a brutal treatment regime. Her husband once brought home a small votive candleholder that he had made in a glassblowing class, and Rhodes put a candle in it. She felt a healing experience from that candle, which inspired her to design her own candleholders to give to friends. Her hobby soon became a business, which hired artisans from Seattle's large glassblowing scene and emphasized handmade products, unusual colors and giving away 10 percent of its profits to certain charities.
Now that shop is in my old Madrona neighborhood, making Glassybabys for the world. Someone gave a Glassybaby to Martha Stewart when she recovered from being in prison. Rhodes appeared on the first episode of Stewart's show after she got out. Then Amazon's Jeff Bezos fell in love with the product and bought 20 percent of the company. Today Glassybaby sales average almost $10 million annually with nearly $1 million a year going to various charities. The operation employs about 70 glassblowers in my old neighborhood, and is eying the possibility of a new hot shop in San Francisco.
Glassybaby's healing magic was certainly working the day we were there. After visiting, taking pictures and showing off the dog, we walked to the car, took the dog up into Al Larkins Park and put away the bad feelings from 1968.
Along the way to Seward Park we stopped at Leschi Park to photograph a small memorial there to Jacob Umlauff, long the head gardener for Seattle's Parks Department and frequently its de facto superintendent. The memorial sits below a stately Giant Redwood (Sequoia Gigantia) and reads: "This tree has been dedicated in fitting tribute to JACOB UMLAUFF, head gardener, Seattle Parks Department 1914-1941, who planted it with the skilled and loving hands that gave rare beauty to all Seattle Parks."
Umlauff came from Austria, where his uncle was a circus impresario. He resisted the call of the circus and moved to Chicago. Longing for a less noisy and confusing place, he is said to have asked the ticket agent for a destination as far from Chicago as possible. His ticket read Bellingham, Washington, but he soon ended up in Seattle, managing the private park system at Leschi, Madison Park and Madrona operated by the Seattle Electric Company. That's when he likely planted that redwood his plaque is in front of.
Leschi was Seattle's second park (following Denny Park in South Lake Union) and created in the year before statehood, 1888. Privately-owned, it was served by a trolley car that followed Yesler Way, originally a skid road that brought lumber to the sawmill in the pioneer days. Later, when real estate developers replaced the loggers, the park and its connecting trolley were established to encourage development outside of downtown. The idea was to bring people to a beautiful place so they would buy lots and build houses on them, further expanding the new town of Seattle. The park contained gardens, a casino, a small zoo, and a diving board. It became a ferry boat terminus as well.
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