One of my favorite things about living in the Seattle area is the abundance of public parks! After eight months of living here, there are still many that we haven't explored. After dinner the other night, we did something fun as a family. I did a search for parks on the GPS and found dozens within a three mile radius that we had never visited. Other than the names of the parks, we knew nothing about where we were headed. We just picked them at random and drove to them. The word, "beach" seemed to sway our decisions though, since each park we visited had that word in the name. It felt like an adventure, not having any idea what we would find. We only made it to two that night, because they were both so fun that we stayed for quite some time at each. Which means, that we can do this again soon. There are still many more to explore. Below, is Houghton Beach, which we visit often. We love the sand and the lively atmposphere. Though it does seem to have a lot of milfoil, so it's not the best for swimming. Below, is our favorite eastside playground, at Grass Lawn park. The only thing it's missing is a beach, but we love it anyway.
This Saturday we visited Smith Tower in Seattle. It first opened in 1914 and was, at that point, the fourth tallest building in the world. It remained the tallest building west of the Mississippi for almost fifty years. Today, the 42 floor building is dwarfed by neighboring skyscrapers. But in my opinion, it's still one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. The decor is an elegant art deco style. The name, Smith tower, comes from Lyman Cornelius Smith, of typewriter fame, who commissioned the building for publicity. The attention to detail, from floor to ceiling, was incredible. 6 of the 7 elevators remaining in the building are still powered by their original DC motors, ran by uniformed operators.It is only seven dollars to ride up to Chineese room and observation deck on the 35th floor. A great bargain in comparison to the Space Needle's 18 dollar fee. I then used Groupon to get half off that price. We've been using Groupon and Living Social for quite a few good deals lately- and I do not get any benefit from sayng that. I'm just passing along something I've found useful. The Chineese room is beautiful. The furniture and art panels were gifts to Mr. Smith, from the Empress of China, given in 1907. The chair you see above, is said to be over 300 years old. Below, is a view of the ceiling. And the view from the observation deck..........beautiful, even on a cloudy day. And another nice view....two cute Seattle guys.
We traveled back in time yesterday, to the latter half of the 19th century, when Seattle was just small logging town. We started at Alki point, the location of Arthur Denney's first settlement of cabins, and crossed Elliot Bay by boat to Pioneer Square. Arthur Denney also crossed the bay to this location in 1851, and re-built his settlement after the original at Alki point was washed away. Arthur Denney, from Illinois, saw a great opportunity to make money through logging and shipping. Soon others followed, and Seattle became a rough town of loggers and sailors. The street in the picture below, where you see the trolley, is said to be the original "skid row". It received this nickname because the logs would be rolled down this hill to the waterfront, making a skidding sound. The original town had serious problems with mud, disease, and rats. Scant knowledge of tidal patterns led to an issue with waste being brought back every time the high tide came. Tide patterns were published in the newspaper so that people wouldn't make the mistake of flushing the commode at the wrong time of day. When a fire broke out and destroyed most of the business district in 1889, it was decided that they would re-build higher up. Huge retaining walls, 30 ft. high and 5 ft. thick in some areas, were built on each side of the street. New buildings were constructed higher up, and the work of building the city higher began with the filling in of the space between the retaining walls. More dirt was excavated in this process than what was even removed during the building of the Panama canal. They sometimes ran out of dirt so they would use whatever they could. There are even old rail cars buried in there. This took many years, so there was a time when the streets, along with newer businesses were 30 ft. higher than the sidewalk and the older businesses. One had to go up and down a ladder to cross the street. Eventually, the sidewalks were covered over, but the businesses below still operated. This is why there is now an underground Seattle. The businesses below were of the less reputable variety. Speakeasys and brothels populated the underground. The picture below is of a skylight, looking through the sidewalk above. The brothels were quite profitable. One mayor put a "sin tax" on each worker of ten dollars a year. At one point, 85% of the city's budget came from this "sin tax". A Madame named Lou Graham, became one of Seattle's wealthiest citizens. When she died, she left the single largest personal endowment to Seattle Public schools to this day, other than Bill Gates. I found it fascinating to walk through underground Seattle, although I felt a little disappointed that there was little to see, other than rubble. I had to use my imagination to "see" what it might have looked like. The tour guide was full of amusing stories though, and I enjoyed seeing photos like the one below, of places I love to visit today, pictured long ago. Below, is Smith Tower. When it was completed in 1914, it was hailed as the tallest skyscraper outside of New York City. It remained the tallest building west of the Mississippi for fifty years. It still has it's original brass and copper caged elevators that take visitors to an observation deck. This beautiful building will be my next stop on my tour of old Seattle.
About a year ago I came upon a haunting story by Allen Say, called Home of the Brave. I read this with my kids. Ashamedly, and in spite of history being my favorite topic of study in school, I had little knowledge of the reality of what happened during WWII to Japanese Americans, including those living right here in my own city of Seattle. It was a story that stayed with me, opened my eyes, and I hope, changed me.
Recently, I picked up a book for myself at the library, called The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The setting is Seattle, during WWII, and it centers on a Chinese American boy, who saw his best friend, a Japanese American, sent away to “Camp Hope”, which was located at the Puyallup fairgrounds. Families were housed in the animal stalls...one per family. I will never look at those stalls the same way again.
The hotel mentioned in the title, is the The Panama Hotel. It’s a real place, located in the International District and built in 1910. When families were notified that they had to leave their homes for the camps, they only had a couple of days notice, and they were only allowed to take two bags per person. People tried to store their items quickly. What was left behind was quickly looted. The basement of the Panama Hotel was one place where many people stored their belongings. After the war, most people never came back. Nihonmachi, or Japantown, as it was called, no longer existed. The whole area was renamed the International District, as it’s called to this day. The hotel was boarded up for many years and the hundreds of trunks in the basement were seemingly forgotten about. In 1986, the hotel was sold to a new owner and the items in the basement were discovered…a time capsule from the war years. Most of the items were never claimed and are still in the basement today.
The Panama hotel is also the location of the only remaining Japanese public bathhouse intact in the U.S. today. It is not in use today, but tours are available. I was hoping to go on a tour today, but reservations are necessary- and I didn’t have one. I will definitely be going back. We did sit in the tea room though, where I had a hojicha, or green tea, latte. In one area of the floor, clear Plexiglas allows you to be able to see down into the basement of the hotel, where the dusty trunks, full of photos, wedding gowns, and personal effects, still wait for their owners to claim them.
After tea, we wandered around a bit in the rain. It was fascinating for me to see the places mentioned in the book, with new eyes, and to understand more of the history of the area. Eventually, we found ourselves at a Cambodian restaurant called Phnom Penh Noodle and Soup House. It was so good! We will go back there for certain.
Throughout our wanderings, conversations were opened up between my kids and me, about what they were seeing, and about what happened. They already knew a little, from the book we had read together. I was glad that we could do this together. The learning happened naturally, and was something that I don't think they'll soon forget.
I love to enhance the books we’re reading with family outings.
If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live. -Lin Yutang
Now and then it's good to pause in our own pursuit of happiness and just be happy.
- Guillane Apollinaire
For more information about the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, click here