Seattle Now & Then: Professor Conn

Courtesy, Lawton Gowey
Courtesy, Lawton Gowey
By Paul Dorpat
By Paul Dorpat

[The feature that follows first appeared in Pacific Northwest Mag. for Nov. 1, 2009.]

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The hand-written caption “Prof Conn family” can be imperfectly read at the base of this week’s historical subject.  I know Conn not for his professing but for his photographs.  His views around Green Lake and Ravenna are probably the best record of those neighborhoods in the 1890s.  Through the years of this feature I have used three or four of them.

Conn has here joined his wife Margaret and son Neil to pose on the front law of their home, I assumed.   So I was surprised that none of the few addresses listed for George E. Conn could be stretched to approximate this view, which includes a patch of Green Lake in it.  My solution was a turn to Rob Ketcherside and his zest for then-and-now hide-and-seek, supported by his spatial relations intelligence and gift for modern on-line research.  Rob soon determined that my assumption about the “family home” was wrong. The Conns are here posing on the front lawn of East Green Lake’s biggest realtor then, W. D. Wood, who was also briefly – about the time this photograph was recorded – Seattle’s Mayor for parts of 1896-7. Wood took, as it turned out, a permanent leave of absence from politics to follow the gold rush.

While “Professor” Conn, shown here posing with his familynear the east shore of Green Lake, is listed in city directories as a school teacher at both nearby Latona and Green Lake schools his name does not appear in the Seattle School District’s archives. Eventually, the Conns moved to Thurston County where the “professor’s” teaching at a “common school” is traceable in the 1920 census.

In the “now” view Ketcherside, on the left, joins author and Green Lake historian Louis Fiset on the north side of Northeast 72nd Street and near where the Conn’s pose in Wood’s lawn overgrown with flowers.  Years ago Fiset introduced me to the Woods, who in 1887 purchased these east Green Lake acres, which included the cabins still standing here on the right. He bought it all from Green Lake pioneer Erhard Seifried, AKA “Green Lake John.” Both Rob and Louis (and Ron Edge too) have helped me with the details of this story.  Readers can find many of Ketcherside’s own “now-and-thens” on Flickr or search Flickr for his name under “people.”

East Green Lake Bay, 1912

More than twenty years of work went into shaping Green Lake’s new shoreline and with it the enlarging of Green Lake Park.   (Courtesy of Paul G. Pearson)
More than twenty years of work went into shaping Green Lake’s new shoreline and with it the enlarging of Green Lake Park. (Courtesy of Paul G. Pearson)
The East Green Lake Playfield, shown in part here, was the largest addition of park land made from fill piled on top of the old lakebed.   The view looks north along the curving western border of that fill.
The East Green Lake Playfield, shown in part here, was the largest addition of park land made from fill piled on top of the old lakebed. The view looks north along the curving western border of that fill.

[What follows first appeared in Pacifric Northwest Mag. 8/28/05.]  Thanks to Paul G. Pearson who sent along this week’s revelation of how a new shoreline was constructed for Green Lake, and with it the gift of a new city park. This view of a pile driver constructing its own throughway across the East Green Lake Bay was photographed in 1912. One year earlier the lake was lowered seven feet with mixed results. It robbed the lake of its natural circulation by drying up the stream that ran between the Lake and Union Bay on Lake Washington. (Decades of “Green Lake Itch” would follow.) But it also exposed a shoreline that was the first ground for the new park that was extended with fill.

The pile driver is following the curves of the Olmsted Bros. 1908 design for Green Lake Park. Following the driver a narrow gauge railroad track was laid atop the trestle and by this efficient means dirt was dumped to all sides eventually covering the trestle itself. (Unless contradicted, it is likely that the trestle seen here in the “then” survives beneath the park visitors walking the Green Lake recreational path in the “now.”)

In all about two miles of trestle was built off shore from which more than 250,000 cubic yards of earth was dumped to form the dike. After another 900,000-plus cubic yards of lake bottom was dredged and distributed between the dike and the shoreline it was discovered that when dry the dredgings were too “fluffy” to support the park’s new landscape. More substantial fill from the usual sources – like street regarding, construction sites and garbage then still rich with coal ashes, AKA “clinkers”– was added.

The historical photograph was recorded by the Maple Leaf Studio whose offices were one block from the new Green Lake Library seen here on the far right of their photograph. The exposed shoreline is also revealed there. Next week we will take a close-up look at this same section of E. Green Lake Way North in 1910 when the library was new and Green Lake seven feet higher.

East Green Lake Way North, 1910

The double block on E. Green Lake Way North between Latona and Sunnyside Streets was developed in the early 1900s with the typical late-Victorian Seattle homes shown here.  Most of these homes survive.
The double block on E. Green Lake Way North between Latona and Sunnyside Streets was developed in the early 1900s with the typical late-Victorian Seattle homes shown here. Most of these homes survive.

When Green Lake was lowered in 1911 the exposed lake bed was developed as verdant park land.
When Green Lake was lowered in 1911 the exposed lake bed was developed as verdant park land.

[What follows appeared first in Pacific Northwest Magazine, Sept. 4,2005]  Now we return to Green Lake as promised last week.  For its obvious changes this comparison hardly needs a caption – but we will still offer one. In the 1910 photograph the lake still rests against it northern shore.  That was the year that the Green Lake Library opened and while we can see it on the far right we cannot, of course, tell if all the tables and books are yet in place.  As noted last week, after the lake was lowered 7 feet in 1911 this shore, like all others, was exposed.   The Seattle Park Department did not simply drop a few grass seeds and plant a few exotics on the exposed beach but rather prepared and extended the new park land with considerable fill.   The results – 94 years later – are spectacularly revealed in the “now.”

Most of the homes showing in the historical view were built in the first years of the 20th Century — Green Lake’s boom years.  It is a double block extending between Latona and Sunnyside Streets.  With three exceptions these homes survive, although most have had lots of changes.  For instance, the big house on the left at 7438 E. Green Lake Way North is here nearly new.  Built in 1908 it has by now lost its tower, but gained much else.  (But you’ll have to visit the sidewalk beyond the park trees to inspect these additions for yourself.)  The missing homes have been replaced with a row of three non-descript multi-unit boxes.  At least from this perspective, for these the park landscape is an effective screen.

One of Green Lake’s principal early developers, W.D. Wood, proposed to the city in the early 1890s that they acquire the lake’s waterfront for a surrounding park.  Had the city followed Wood’s advice there would have been no need to lower the lake and so dry up the stream that ran from its east side to Lake Washington.  Nor of course would the homes we see here have been built on park land.  Wood, a man of ideas and initiative, was later elected Mayor of Seattle in time to resign and join the Yukon gold rush n 1897.

Sundsten's Barks

Perhaps among our many enthused readers is a bark expert who will share the names with John and the rest of us, starting top-left, moving right and numbered one through 12.
Perhaps among our many enthused readers is a bark expert who will share the names with John and the rest of us, starting top-left, moving right and numbered one through 12.

We have pulled some more morphology from John Sundsten, the anatomist collector. John confesses that he does not know the names – neither scientific nor popular – for many of the trees whose barks he has recorded here. We admire his candor. “I am a good anatomist and a lousy naturalist. Some of them have names indicated with a brass plaque, but most do not. I just like bark. I like bark texture and bark color. You may write that barks are my friends. I shot them with my little camera last month while strolling around the lake counterclockwise in the early morning.” The U.W. scientist wonders, “There seem to be a lot of ladies with dogs and old couples at that time of day. Are there then two kinds of people? Clockwise and anticlockwise people, and what does their choice of walking around Green Lake say about right and left brain function, or no brain function, which is probably true for me. The barks go into folders, and I have a lot of other folders, ones with trees and animals and masks (mine) and oysters and such. It is like getting in the stuff for the long winter to come. And I presume some day it will.” John adds, “It occurs to me that I have a folder with about twenty Green Lake Park benches.” We may be seeing some Sunsten seats here soon.

John concludes, “I’ve included a long shot. It came out well, I think.”  And we agree.

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A Green Lake Sampler – John Sundsten's Morning Walk

We welcome John Sundsten and his eye for fine lines.  The emeritus associate professor in the U.W. Department of Biological Structure took the “snaps” below while on a walk around Green Lake on Monday last – Oct. 26, 2009 – after dropping his daughter off at Garfield High School.   John is a neuroanatomist who’s interests extend well beyond grey matter. He is also a carver, an oyster harvester (on Hood Canal shoreline  that has long been in the Sundsten family) and a contrabass flute player.  He lives in Wallingford and we sometimes walk the ‘hood together.  It occurs to me now that John’s Green Lake recordings may also serve as a challenge to Jean Sherrard, of this blog, to again go down to the lake with his Nikon, and for you readers an encouragement to walk the lake this fall.

[Click to Enlarge]

Some of the "autumnal structure" along the shores of Green Lake, 10/26/9.
Some of the "autumnal structure" along the shores of Green Lake, 10/26/9.

Vinburd & Will's Convivium

May the tender prejudices of friendship be temporarily put aside for an unbiased look into the qualities of a close friend?  I doubt it, unless one stumbles into it.

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Vinburd first visited my e-mail box snuggled between two opportunities: one that I help spend the good fortune of a doctor in Nigeria and the other a cheap deal on guaranteed Viagra from Sepulveda. While I wondered what qualifies as a Viagra guarantee, I did not read the gentle blogger named Vinburd until his or her fourth sending, and then I noted to myself, “Bill should read this!”  As I prepared to forward Vinburd to Bill I discovered to my surprise and delight that Vinburd was Bill.

With this blog’s introduction to Vinburd (as a buttoned link) and in line with full disclosure, it was Bill Burden who introduced me to Berangere Lomont – of this blog – in 1977.  They met, with full Mediterranean exposure, on a boat from Athens to Venice, as Bill was on his way to picking grapes in the south of France during the late summer of 1976, which some of you will remember, perhaps with no particular relevance, as America’s bi-centennial.

And it was I who introduced Jean Sherrard first to Bill Burden in 2001 and then to Berangere in 2005 when Jean and I visited her and her family in Paris. Bill joined us from Saudi Arabia where he was momentarily consulting on something and his daughter Caroline drove down from Germany with her two children.

The accompanying picture is proof of place for at least Jean, Bill and I, but not of our age now.  We were directed by Berangere to smile for her where millions of tourists before us have posed with their backs to the Sacre Coeur and on the steps to the top of Paris’ highest hill.  Grandfather Vinburd is at the middle.  (Although snapped only four years ago, to me we look uncannily young. But then I am currently negotiating my first mid-life crises with my first old man crisis at the same time – this week at the age of 71.  Bill is a few years behind me and Jean is still in his prime.)

L-R: Paul, Bill & Jean (photo by Berangere Lomont)
L-R: Paul, Bill & Jean (photo by Berangere Lomont)

I met John William Burden in the Helix (a newspaper) office during the summer of 1969.  The U.W. Grad student in Old English (think Beowulf) was doing public relations (long hair and all) for the “Mayor’s Youth Division.”  (Now I wonder, did he think that an “underground tabloid” like ours would have been a pipeline to Seattle’s youth?) We soon became friends and although he moved back to Southern California in the late 1980s we have never been out of touch.  He still flies north often, although by now it is as likely for funerals as weddings that we and many friends are reunited.

We lived together for two years in the late 1970s in an old asbestos faux-war-brick workers home next door to the Cascade Neighborhood playfield.  There every Sunday in summer we set out the bases for “artist league softball,” a warm tradition that survived for perhaps five years.  Bill was then working as an independent carpenter and late 70s hot tub hysteria was splashing his way. (Several friends had them and we were still young enough to comfortably strip with them and even strangers.)

When I met him Bill was married with two children.  I watched them grow up.  In those sometimes intuited “groovy times” Bill was already a generous and encyclopedic wit willing to use his vocabulary and allusions and so never boring.  Jean is the same.  One of my fond Parisian memories from 2005 is seeing the two of them side-by-side in animated conversation as they walked across the pedestrian Pont des Arts while we were all returning to Berangere’s Left Bank home from a visit to the Louvre.  That, dear reader, is spanning high culture.

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Paul, furthest right, bottom row. Bill, with bat next to Paul.

I’m confident that many of you will enjoy following Bill’s reflections on a variety of subjects, both the eternally recurring ones and those that are more contemporary.  And here’s some more fan-mag-like twitter stuff on Vinburd. He has traveled almost everywhere.  He loves skiing and more than once chose his home site in order to be near the slopes.  He is an expert fly fisherman and for a time was a columnist on the subject.  This fly-fishing fits his Vinburd persona very well.  Of course, so does his wine making.  I love his Chateau Fou.  Now you may, if you like, imagine taking a walk with Vinburd, and with his blog, Will’s Convivium, you can, if you are so moved, have an invigorating conversation with the oldest brother of Lawburd, Newsburd, and Bigburd.

SOFTBALL PLAYERS IDENTIFIED (see above photo)

With help from a few of those pictured we will identify most of those players in the Artist’s Softball League who managed to pose together on a Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1978 in the Cascade Playfield with Pontius Avenue behind them between Thomas and Harrison Streets.  Many are missing including Philip Wohlstetter who helped with the identifications and who this weekend may have been in Paris, and Doug Barnett, who had the mightiest swing among us having slugged a softball from home plate over the fence bordering Harrison Street.

Bottom Row, Left to Right:  Who is the bearded man with the white shirt and in profile?  We do not know as yet. (Continuing)  David Mahler, Irene Mahler (supporting the bat), Bill Burden AKA Vinburd (supporting the other bat), Paul Dorpat.

Second Row, Left to Right: Bob Clark stands with glove and Paul Kowalski next to him has a glove too.  Annie Carlberg holds her glove aloft.  Judith Connor, with the striped shirt, soon after moved to Japan.  Barbara Teeple, with long hair, stands next to someone for now identified only as “Ann Rich’s boyfriend.” Billy King holds his hat. Man behind Billy looks a lot like the “Ann Rich’s boyfriend.”  Hmmm.  Norman Caldwell, who lived three feet from the playfield, separating it from Bill and my home.

Top Row, Left to Right: Norm Langill, who helped with the captions and played with style; Andy Keating, who hit with power and later moved to New York and Merilee Tompkins with her hands on Andy and David Rosen.  (This year David generously let me share his studio overlooking Lake Union.)  Next, Norm Engelsberg with the big hair and Lisa Shue in white.  Lisa played the cello and lived next door with Norm Caldwell.  Neither the dog nor man in striped shirt standing aside to the right are as yet identified.  This is more than 18 players – this Sunday enough for two teams and base coaches.  We used no umpires.

NOTICE: Another Blogaddendum

Here at DorpatSherrardLomont there’s always room for improvement, even long after the fact.  On occasion, we will make discoveries related to previous columns – buried treasures usually overlooked in the rush to find supporting materials for Seattle Now & Then.

Last August, Paul related how he had misplaced slides of the Palomar Theatre’s demise.  He has now found them and, as promised, they are posted below.  To view the original column – now amended – click HERE.

Lawton Gowey has dated this 11th-hour photo of the Palomar Theatre, April 21, 1965, and describes the "On Stage Boeing Musical, April 23,  Annie Get Your Gun," performed by Boeing Employees, as the Palomar's "last public show."
Lawton Gowey has dated this 11th-hour photo of the Palomar Theatre, April 21, 1965, and describes the "On Stage Boeing Musical, April 23, Annie Get Your Gun," performed by Boeing Employees, as the Palomar's "last public show."
The razing of the Palomar was well along when Lawton Gowey recorded this slide of the destruction on June 22, 1965.
The razing of the Palomar was well along when Lawton Gowey recorded this slide of the destruction on June 22, 1965.
His water department office nearby, Gowey took this photo on April 7, 1978 of the parking garage that replaced the garage.
His water department office nearby, Gowey took this photo on April 7, 1978 of the parking garage that replaced the garage.