Cowen Park Portal [This feature first appeared in Pacific Northwest Magazine on June 8, 2003.]

In 1909 the Eastlake Trolley up University Way reached the end of its line along the southern rim of Ravenna Park.  Where it turned towards 15th Avenue. N.E. it passed the rustic gate to the nearly new Cowen Park at Ravenna Boulevard.   The line of the original 15th Avenue pedestrian bridge across the ravine can be followed – barely - between the trolley car and the tall fir tree at the center of the scene.  (Historical photo courtesy of Clarence Brannman)
In 1909 the Eastlake Trolley up University Way reached the end of its line along the southern rim of Ravenna Park. Where it turned towards 15th Avenue. N.E. it passed the rustic gate to the nearly new Cowen Park at Ravenna Boulevard. The line of the original 15th Avenue pedestrian bridge across the ravine can be followed – barely - between the trolley car and the tall fir tree at the center of the scene. (Historical photo courtesy of Clarence Brannman)
The gate to the park and the bridge across it have both been rebuilt in stone and concrete.  This “now” repeat was recorded when a version of this story first appeared in The Sunday Times, June 8, 2003.
The gate to the park and the bridge across it have both been rebuilt in stone and concrete. This “now” repeat was recorded when a version of this story first appeared in The Sunday Times, June 8, 2003.

Rustic constructions were common features in Seattle’s first parks. The rough-hewed twists and textures of the region’s own materials gave these generally fanciful creations — pergolas, bandstands, benches, bridges, fences, portals — a feeling of having grown with the landscape. The original gateway to Cowen Park was a sizable example.

Cowen Park was given to the city by an English immigrant who stipulated that in return for the 12 acres a marker be placed commemorating his gift. Actually, Charles Cowen’s family name was Cohen not Cowen and their wealth was made largely from the diamond mines of South Africa. Coming to America on business for the family mines Charles decided to stay and soon changed his name.

The 41-year-old Cohen-Cowen arrived in Seattle in 1900 and purchased 40 acres of cleared but not yet platted land north of the University District. It was the part of these acres that bordered Ravenna Park, which he gave to the city with his namesake provision. The remaining flatter acres he platted and sold, generally prospering from them and his other Seattle investments.

Cowen also paid for the construction of the rustic gateway at the park’s southeast corner where University Way crosses Ravenna Boulevard. Within two years of his gift the city had cleared the park of its underbrush, built a shelter house and groomed the brook which ran from Green Lake through both Cowen and Ravenna parks on its often babbling way to Lake Washington’s Union Bay. When Green Lake was lowered seven feet in 1911 the creek’s primary source was cut off and its volume restricted to park springs and runoff alone. The creek’s old meandering way between Green Lake and the Cowen-Ravenna ravine was graded over and straightened as Ravenna Boulevard.

Most likely this photograph from the Asahel Curtis studio was recorded late in 1909. The number on the original negative falls near the end of the roughly 4556 studio numbers allotted that year. For Curtis it was a record year for picture taking, in part because the summer-long Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition was held in 1909 in a Seattle made photogenic for it. Although Curtis was not the fair’s official photographer, he and many other studios were able to exploit the fair thanks to both citizens and the exceptional surge of visitors who gathered their souvenirs while consuming Seattle.

Most of the greater University District was retouched for AYP including Cowen Park although obviously the hard surface paving on University Way did not make it as far north as the entrance to the park here at Ravenna Boulevard.

cowen-park-now-web
Cowen Park's stone gate now. Years later in the early 1920s when the park's rustic arch began to deteriorate and the Park Department had still done nothing to commemorate his gift, Charles Cowen took the matter into his own hands and had the wooden gate replaced with two stone columns with wing-wall seats. Carved on the columns is a memorial that begins by simply stating the facts, "In memory of Charles Cowen who in 1906 gave to the city of Seattle the twelve acres comprising this park" but concludes with this sublime truism, "Man shall not live by bread alone."

Looking here beyond the woman standing with the child and through the original rustic gate it is clear that neither shall man leave the land alone. On the north side of the gate the park drops away into what in 1909 would for only two more years be a babbling ravine. Since the early 1960s it has been a more-or-less level playfield made from one hundred thousand yards of “free fill” scooped away during the creation nearby of the 1-5 Freeway. At the time, to quote from Don Sherwood’s hand-written history of Seattle parks, “Many residents and the Mountaineers Club were appalled.”

Still the fill has had its uses. The hip community’s first Human Be-in was held at Cowen Park in the spring of 1967. Later in August 1971 the Second Annual Frisbee for Peace Intergalactic Memorial Thermogleep U.F.O. Frisbee Festival was held on the settled playfield. However, a proposal from the event’s sponsors, the University District Center to make it an official Seafair event was rejected. At the time future historylink founder, Walt Crowley, directed the Center.

3 thoughts on “Cowen Park Portal [This feature first appeared in Pacific Northwest Magazine on June 8, 2003.]”

  1. I was Googling the word “thermogleep” just to see if it would show up and I was partially amazed to find only one search result (seems like it should have been zero or many, but not one!). The one search result was here in this artcle where it mentions the Second Annual Frisbee for Peace Intergalactic Memorial Thermogleep U.F.O. Frisbee Festival which was held in 1971 in Cowen Park.

    I thought I’d tell the readers here the history of the word “thermogleep”, which is so obscure that perhaps no one but me knows the origin or the whole story behind it (there are a few that know part of the story). The term “thermogleep” was first uttered by a fellow “Ave” street person/fringie/artist/drug experimenter known as “Dingy Chris” a.k.a., “Little Chris”, a.k.a., “Filipino Chris”, a.k.a., Speed-freak Chris” in the late 1960s. A friend of mine, and mutual friend of Dingy Chris, had recently bought a plastic model ship kit. It was a model of the Cutty Sark. When I saw he was building the kit I decided, hey! I want to build one of those! So I went to the hobby store and purchased a very similar kit; a model of the ship “Thermopylae”. When Dingy Chris saw the name of the ship he immediately made up the word “thermogleep” on the spot. At about the same time, the Metro Sewer Project was under way and there was a lot of strange-looking equipment surrounded by a fence in Ravenna Park near the East end of the park (opposite end of the Ravenna/Cowen park complex from Cowen Park). It was an access to the tunnel project underground. Also, at that time, in order to promote sales of LSD, several people got together and printed flyers for the “Ravenna Park Freak-out”, an event contrived solely for said promotion. These events were held on Friday nights and advertised with fliers posted and handed out on the Ave (University Way). In the course of one of these events, Dingy Chris, myself and several other friends were there looking at the sewer project in the park and Dingy Chris dubbed the odd-looking towers and accessories in the fenced-off area the “Thermogleep”, I suppose, to give the word a more tangible meaning for its use by us. Subsequent fliers advertising the Ravenna Park Freak-outs mentioned the Thermogleep as one of the attractions. The word hence became somewhat known on the street in spite of the fact that only a very few knew where it came from or if it had any meaning whatsoever. Obviously, the word was later borrowed for use in the name of the frisbee event by Walt Crowley who was was familiar with most of the street people I hung out with, including, I believe, Dingy Chris, venerable inventor of the word “thermogleep”.

  2. as a teen in 67′ 68′ I came across a man drumming in the middle of the stream one morning under the 15th ave bridge – I think park worker John Gaffney told me ” he’s on acid leave him alone” seems to me the cops chased him away later . . good times

  3. wow, i googled thermogleep…the legend had muddled it’s meaning by the time it made it to spokane, where i lived and volunteered at the spokane natural.
    i’d thot it was an underground trip spot in the sewers in the dist. i hitched to seattle many times, 67-70.
    whenever i asked a local about the thermogleep i either received the “huh?” response or the “oh, wow, man, ya gotta go there” response.
    yeah, you’re right…good times.

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