My husband and I recently braved the Mercer Mess (larger version of Main Street Mess) and went to the new Museum of History and Industry in Seattle (MOHAI). We started in one corner of the second floor with an exhibit about early tribal life to the settlement of Seattle area to the present day. I had visions of how Kelley Farm and the Fennel Creek basin were gathering places for northwest tribes to hunt, fish, harvest berries and socialize in autumn. The tribes from east of the mountains would come over Naches Pass to meet with coastal tribes.
I found myself seeing a parallel between our parks situation in Bonney Lake in an exhibit about the infrastructure of Seattle. Parks were right there beside transportation and utilities. Not considered a luxury, but a necessity.
There was the history of the Olmsteds, the nation’s first landscape architecture firm that designed New York’s Central Park and the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. In 1903, they were hired by the Seattle Parks Board to create the sweeping 20 mile long boulevard linking the largest parks, each with their own character. The 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition grounds later became the University of Washington campus. Woodland Park and the Zoo, Green Lake, Volunteer Park, Washington Park Arboretum and Lake Washington Boulevard where the larger of the numerous parks all part of the plan. They range in size from monuments (like Ascent Gateway) to neighborhood parks (Ken Simmons) and regional parks (Allan Yorke). One display dated 1937 pointed out how the Olmsted touch “makes our city more livable-and more beautiful.”
One placard noted that Schmitz Park is “a little remnant of the forest primeval.” Some have referred to the 147-acre WSU forest as a Central Park. At MOHAI after looking at the displays, I envisioned Bonney Lake’s Lake Washington Boulevard to be the Fennel Creek Trail. I envisioned our version of Schmitz Park as the WSU Forest, Midtown Park.
During the Seattle park building phase, there was the crash of Wall Street in October 1929, and it spread worldwide. It was caused by numerous factors, including, but not limited to high consumer debt, ill-regulated markets that permitted overly optimistic loans by banks and investors, and the lack of high-growth new industries, combining to create reduced spending, falling confidence, and lowered production.
Construction, agriculture, shipping, mining, logging, and durable goods like automobiles and appliance sales suffered. The economy hit bottom in the winter of 1932–33.
The Depression started during the presidency of Herbert Hoover. Voters lost confidence, and three years into the depression, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected. He put into place unique programs, recovery and reform, and brought about a major realignment of American politics.
Does this sound familiar?
But I digress. Back at MOHAI, another exhibit with a date of 1938 states:
Everyone’s broke, so we don’t feel poor.
People may be broke, but they can earn fortunes playing Monopoly, the new board game that’s sweeping the nation.
Life goes on, even in hard times. Housewives haggle with farmers at Pike Place Market. Kids wear hand-me-down clothes. People save pennies for a night at the movies.
Everybody’s in the same boat. All we can do is live, laugh and do our best to get by.
Yet another display dated November 4, 1936 stated:
The New Deal put us back to work. When he took office four years ago, President Roosevelt promised jobs and “a new deal for the American people.” He’s delivered both.
Thanks to New Deal programs, some 6,000,000 more of us now have jobs. His Social Security Act creates a safety net for the old and unemployed. Other programs boosted farm income and reined in bankers.
He put us back to work. Now, by a landslide, we’ve put him back to work for a second term.
The election took place as the Great Depression entered its eighth year. Roosevelt was promoting his New Deal economic policy to the people, Congress and the courts. He defeated his opponent, a political moderate Kansas Gov. Alf Landon.
The Seattle depression era park system was built with a bond. Building parks created jobs and places to have fun in tough times.
After its completion, operations and maintenance did not keep up with the magnificent Seattle park system. The zoo became outdated. Lake Washington Boulevard became a main traffic thoroughfare.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when a bond is used. Once it is built, there is no funding to keep up with operations, renovations and personnel to maintain it that is adequate. A park district can create the revenue stream needed.
Back to MOHAI we move ahead to the 1960’s-1970’s exhibit. The sign says: Activists rise up to reform Seattle. The revolutionary 60’s and progressive 70’s are times of change in the nation and Seattle. Young reformers run for office. Community groups organize protest marches.
Imagine Jimi Hendrix music playing in the background. The following exhibit says: “Citizen action reinvents Seattle”.
Seattle’s quality of life sank as the 1950’s turned into the 1960’s. In 1968, a citizen’s action committee called “Forward Thrust” put $820 million worth of initiatives on the ballot.
The voters rejected mass transit but approved the single largest public improvement package in the nation – price tag: $334 million.
“Forward Thrust” would bring us the Kingdome, the Seattle Aquarium, a revitalized Woodland Park Zoo, and nearly 5,000 acres of new parks throughout King County.
We could see the beginning of a golden age for Seattle.
Of course, the cement, utilitarian Kingdome was imploded and we now have two sports facilities in that area and an arena on the way. There is more to facilities than building them. Remember the falling ceiling tiles?
We have the chance to make our city more livable. Citizen action can reinvent Bonney Lake with parks, trails and a community center. We are coming out of the Great Recession because there was deregulation of laws put in place after the Great Depression; we did not learn our lesson of the 1930’s.
We have learned that bonds alone don’t provide for operation and main.