Seattle Now & Then: Miller Park neighborhood, 1955

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: This May 2, 1955, view, looking west from 21st Avenue East along the East John/Thomas street arterial, shows clearing to the right (north) for the expansion of Miller Playfield. A 1949 Buick anchors the left foreground. In the distance at center are the Coryell Court Apartments, featured in the 1992 film “Singles.” (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)
NOW: Andrew Taylor, the informal Mayor of Miller Park for two decades, stands at the same intersection. (jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Sept. 17, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Sept. 20, 2020)

For an ever-changing neighborhood, we ‘single’ out Miller Park
By Clay Eals

These coronaviral days, when distant travel is discouraged, the elements defining our neighborhoods assume extra meaning. We more deeply value our collective, super-local identity even as it undergoes constant, if incremental change.

No exception is Miller Park.

The name may be unfamiliar to some. On the eastern side of Capitol Hill, the neighborhood embodies a trapezoid, bounded north-to-south by East Aloha and Madison streets and west-to-east by 19th and 23rd avenues. Its outskirts include business strips and high-profile hubs of health care (Kaiser Permanente, formerly Group Health), religion and education (St. Joseph Catholic Church and School, Holy Names Academy).

In the glen at its core lies a playground, the initial acreage for which came to the city in 1906 from namesake Mary M. Miller (see clarification below), whose descendants became major local landowners and conservation philanthropists. Next door is Edmund Meany Middle School, named for the University of Washington historian.

In our “Then,” taken May 2, 1955, looking west to the Capitol Hill crest, at right we see land recently cleared to augment the park prior to construction of a nearby community center. Sparse trees punctuate clusters of homes. In the distant center, the John/Thomas street arterial rises to pass a two-story brick building on 19th Avenue that nearly four decades later gained national fame.

Fronted by a communal courtyard, the Coryell Court Apartments, built in 1928, hosted Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda and other actors playing 20-something love-seekers in Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film “Singles.” While the film widened Seattle’s reputation for grunge music, it also is known for a breathtaking visual finale. Shot from a helicopter, it starts tight on the Coryell building and pulls up to reveal the neighborhood and city.

Nearly 30 years hence, encased by the heavy foliage of mature trees, Miller Park is a mix of single- and multi-family housing. Its residents have reckoned with drug dealing, broadcast towers, affordable housing and today’s influx of transient tents in the park.

Such topics drew Andrew Taylor into the role of nerve center. The now-retired Fred Hutch scientist has lived in the house at the left edge of our “Then” since 1983. Known as the neighborhood’s informal mayor, he launched its newsletter (later a blog) in 1990.

For family reasons, he will move five miles north this fall, but despite the challenges of his “eclectic” soon-to-be former neighborhood, he cheerfully salutes it.

“It’s a quiet, modest oasis,” he says. “It’s ethnically and economically diverse, close to everything, with much activity but still peaceful enough for quiet contemplation.”

In other words, an apt model for our time.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Clarification: Jim Rupp of Seattle points out that while Mary Miller donated the initial land for Miller Playfield, the donation was made the family in the name of her son, Pendleton.

Below are two photos, a video link and a Seattle Parks historical illustration, as well as a clipping from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) or other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

For those interested in more details about Miller Park, the neighborhood association has a current website and a former website.

Here is an uncropped version of our “Then.” (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)
Here is a reverse angle of our “Then” photo, looking east along the John/Thomas arterial. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)
CLICK PHOTO FOR VIDEO: Andrew Taylor, the informal mayor of Seattle’s Miller Park neighborhood, talks about its characteristics and issues. (14:50, Clay Eals)
The Miller Park page of Seattle Parks’ Don Sherwood illustrated historical files. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Dec. 9, 1967, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 2.

 

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Miller Park neighborhood, 1955”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.