Seattle Now & Then: Sweet Fun at Bitter Lake

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Far-left, Playland’s Acroplane, a carni’ flight-simulator, stands admired by future pilots in 1932. Behind them sprawls the amusement park’s fated Fun House. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)
THEN: Far-left, Playland’s Acroplane, a carny flight-simulator, stands admired by future pilots in 1932. Behind them sprawls the amusement park’s fated Fun House. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)
NOW: For his “repeat’ Jean Sherrard has pulled back and wide with his subjects – the Playland experts noted above holding Playland souvenirs - in order to include part of Bitter Lake.
NOW: For his “repeat’ Jean Sherrard has pulled back and wide with his subjects – the Playland experts noted above holding Playland souvenirs – in order to include part of Bitter Lake.

Through this newspaper’s many years of sponsoring and promoting events, “The Trojans Big Day” for July 5, 1932 was exceedingly spectacular.  It drew more than 15,000 “youngsters” – mostly – to the then but two year old Playland amusement park at the south end of Bitter Lake & west of Aurora Avenue.   The kids got in free and were also given 13 rides, although the next day’s paper confessed that the event was so crowded that many could not use all their freebie tickets.

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Among the attractions forming long lines were the Giant Whirl, the “Dodge ‘Em”, the “Water Scooter” a miniature railway, the mysterious “Ye Olde Mill,” and the Dipper, a sturdy roller coaster famous throughout the Northwest for its thrills.  (I first yearned to ride it as a young teen in the early 50s on a visit to Seattle from Spokane.)

Another and quieter day for the Giant Whirl.
Another and quieter day for the Giant Whirl.
All a-whirl
All a-whirl

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[To read the full-age clip above DOUBLE-CLICK it.]

I.E. Dill for Playland who rodes the rides - free to him - perhaps to excess.
Texan I.E. Dill, Director of Publicity and Booking for Playland, who rode the rides – free for him – perhaps to excess.
The Miniature Train. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
The Miniature Train. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

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The Bitter Lake and Playland station on the Seattle to Everett Interurban.
The Bitter Lake and Playland station on the Seattle to Everett Interurban, itself a ride

Pictured here (far above on top) is Playland’s huge Fun House with its comedic architecture.  This is one of several press photos included in a next-day “Pictorial Story” the Times ran covering its picnic.  The both silly and sensational attractions to ride inside, including revolving barrels, spinning disks and “Shoot the Chutes,” were more free passages for limber young Trojans. On other Depression-era days it cost 15 cents to enter the Fun House, but not for long.  Near midnight, August 29, 1933, it burned to the ground.

Scene from the Playland fire of August 1933.
Scenes (above and below) from the Playland fire of August 29, 1933.

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Playland, however, kept having fun thru the summer of 1960.  Its charms and thrills are, no doubt, still savored by many Pacific readers, including the trio in Jean’s “repeat” posing with examples of well-preserved chalk ware, they called it.  These were prizes won at Playland concessions. Kay and Hal Schlegel with, far-left, Vicki Stiles, director of the Shoreline Historical Museum, are Playland experts.

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ST 9-2-60 Last Day - sept 5th 1960 playland

The coverage of the amusement park in the Shoreline Museum is proof of Kay, Hal and Vicki’s expertise.  A visit to the museum is also recommended for its repeated showing of Greg Brotherton’s hour-long documentary “Finding Playland.”  The museum, which may be first sampled on its webpage www.shorelinehistoricalmuseum.org is located at 18501 Linden Ave. N.. That’s somewhat near Bitter Lake. On director Stiles authority, one folksy explanation for how Bitter Lake got its unsweetened name was that it lost a long and sour argument with its nearby neighbor Haller Lake.

A May 16, 1961 clip describing the state - abandoned - and foretelling the fate - cleared away - of Playland.
A May 16, 1961 Seattle Times clip describing the state – abandoned – and foretelling the fate – cleared away – of Playland.

WEB EXTRAS

I’ll add a few close-up shots of the “chalk ware” prizes you mention above. These examples were in pristine condition and, according to Hal Schlegel, quite rare. What’s more, to my mind, each had an uncanny resemblance to its bearer.

Hal Schlegel with noble canine chalkware.
Hal Schlegel with noble canine chalkware.
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Kay Shlegel with her chalkware pirate girl
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Vicki Stiles cradles a Playland usherette

Anything to add, Paul?  We inserted most of our extras into the body of the text, but may still conclude with a few more, including at the bottom another aerial study, these times over Bitter Lake in 1929, before Playland, in 1936, well after the Playland fire of 1933, and for comparison another thankful borrow from Google’s sky.

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Parts of the several hundred "panels" that make up the city's vertical aerial survey from 1921.  As I write Ron Edge is working on merging the parts - hundreds of them - into one large aerial, which we will link to when he has it at last up on his web page of aerials and other regional attractions.  This, can be compared, of course, with what follows: side-by-side aerials of Bitter Lake in 1936 (after the fire) and recently used courtesy of the Google sky.
Parts of the several hundred “panels” that make up the city’s vertical aerial survey from 1929, and so before Playland was built up at the lake’s southeast corner. As I write Ron Edge, while waiting for the new paint to dry on this Lake City home is working on merging the parts – hundreds of them – into one large aerial, to which this blog will link once Ron has put it all up on his website of aerials and other regional attractions. This, can be compared, of course, with what follows: side-by-side aerials of Bitter Lake in 1936 (after the fire) and also recently, which we use courtesy of the Google sky.  WHAT’S MORE: Vicki Stiles, director of the Shoreline Museum, has identified that oddity at the bottom right (southeast) corner of the 1929 aerial as a thrill that preceded Playland, the WHOOPSY RIDE.  (We will check the spelling later.)  For this one paid to drive ones auto onto the long loop of a roller-coaster track for a thrilling ride that resembled some of the early byways that passed thru a section of low ridges for which little grading had been done beyond grooming the road’s surface by dragging a log over it.  I remember such ups-and-downs very well, always anticipated them and drove them as fast as was approximately safe.  It was cheap thrills compliments of the highway department. [Click TWICE to enlarge]
Bitter Lake recently from space, on the left, and on the right from high above Playland in 1936.  [We suggest that to study it you click it  - twice.]
Bitter Lake recently from space, on the left, and on the right from high above Playland in 1936. [We suggest that to study it you click it - twice.]
THEN:

Ron Edge has linked the above photo of Melby’s Echo Lake Tavern to our feature about it last Spring.  Included as “extras” for it are a number of other images and stories that relate to the neighborhood.  Once more thanks to Ron.

As coda, Playland couple in their kitchen.  Years ago someone share this with me, but without interpretation.  It is at least possible the they were involved in also running the place in its later years.  But wait!  Are their clothes and kitchen appointments post 1960?  If so these are fond memories.
As encore, a Playland couple in their kitchen. Years ago someone shared this with me, but without interpretation. It is at least possible the they were involved in also running Playland in its last years. But wait! Are their clothes and kitchen appointments post 1960? If so these are fond memories.

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Sweet Fun at Bitter Lake”

  1. I can remember as a little boy living on N. 143rd and seeing smoke from that vicinity (Playland) we ran through the woods (yes, there were woods in Seattle then) down to playland in time to watch it burn again. Interesting I’ve seen articles recently in the MOHAI web site, and another WA. State history website About Playland but they never mention the fire in the 50’s. (Am I dreaming this?) I also remember several trips there in the late 1950’s that were free for the School Patrol youngsters (I was one) that some agency sponsored where we got bussed down there and all got in for free, with appropriate hot dog picnic, ice cream and rides. Of course I guess the School Patrol youngsters with our badges, White “Sam Browne” type belts and red stop flags guarding the school crossings could be a whole other subject for the then and now.

  2. I can’t believe I stumbled upon your site. PLAYLAND! REALLY! I grew up in Seattle, as a Baby Boomer, 1949, and lived on the first street, on the hill above Playland and Aurora Race Track. My sister and I would fall asleep at night, as little girls in the ealy 50’s, to the sounds of the race track and the bright lights from the parkway. I also remember when it caught fire in the early-mid 50’s. By then we had moved further up Aurora Avenue towards Lynnwood. You just brought back a flood of great memories. Dad and his buddies raced at the track and for a 3 yr old, having the view of Playland Park! What more could a kid have back in the early 50’s. Thank you, “Old Man Campbell’s” daughter – Janet, of Daytona Beach, FL (beat that one)

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