(click to enlarge photos)
Published in The Seattle Times online on Nov. 24, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Nov. 27, 2022
Ninety years before Octavia Butler moved in 1999 from sunny Pasadena, California, to Lake Forest Park, 10 miles north of Seattle, then-real-estate developer and future Seattle mayor Ole Hanson (1874-1940) envisioned a neighborhood that would provide an escape from frenetic city life. In a promotional pamphlet, Hanson described an environment removed from “the sordid commercialism of today.”
In 1909, Seattle was booming. During the first decade of the 20th century, its population had nearly tripled (to 237,194 from 80,671 in 1900) in time to host its first world’s fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The Queen City had emerged as a major metropolis, with accompanying growth pains.
Hanson intended that his proposed development provide an antidote to the urban hustle and bustle: “Forget your schemes for a moment; lay aside your business; let the telephone ring; allow your callers to wait in the ante-room; Read — Ponder — and Dream.”
Butler could have heeded Hanson’s call when choosing her ideal neighborhood. Her mid-century modern home, built in 1957, nestled within easy walking distance of a notable bookstore, grocery stores and Lake Washington. It also offered a green refuge for the nature-loving writer.
Mike Daly, her across-the-street neighbor, moved into the neighborhood within months of Butler’s arrival. “We got to know Octavia little by little,” he says. “She didn’t have a car, which fit with her environmentalism. Sometimes I’d see her walking home from Albertson’s with two bags of groceries and offer her a ride. ‘I need the exercise,’ she’d say.
“We invited her over for dinner on numerous occasions, but she always politely declined. … A great neighbor, very personable but more of a private than a social-type person.”
Deborah Magness of Third Place Books concurred. While Butler attended reading and signing events, she also was a regular customer. “I very clearly recall ringing Octavia up at the cash register,” Magness says, “but between being starstruck and having the feeling she wished to go about her business quietly and anonymously, I did not interact with her at length.”
Susan McMurry, a neighbor several doors north of Butler’s former house, wasn’t aware of her presence in the neighborhood until reading her obituary in local papers. “After she passed, our local book club decided to read her wonderful novel ‘Kindred,’ in which a young Black woman travels through time to the era of slavery. I’m not very well versed in science fiction, but for me Octavia’s books transcend the genre, with their mix of history, philosophy and ethics.”
Matt Milios, who owns Butler’s former Lake Forest Park property and has been a devoted reader of science fiction since childhood, was delighted to discover that a favorite author once shared his home. While little trace remains of Butler’s tenure, several times a year ardent fans show up on his doorstep, seeking posthumous connection.
A nudge from the past arrived in Milios’s mailbox last summer. In a letter addressed to Butler, sent 16 years after her death, a local bank sought overdue payment for a safety deposit box. Milios forwarded the request to her California estate managers, who paid the time-traveling debt.