Seattle Now & Then: West Montlake Park, ca 1925

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: In this mid-1920s photo, facing north and taken from the Seattle Yacht Club tower, West Montlake Park fronts Lake Union’s Portage Bay. At upper right is the University Bridge. At lower right, a single lamppost peeks through birch leaves. (Courtesy Seattle Yacht Club)
NOW 1: On a mid-February afternoon, Colleen Chartier and Rob Wilkinson stand on the lawn of West Montlake Park. The newly installed colonnade stands sentinel along the lakeside path.

Published in The Seattle Times online on March 16, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on March 19, 2023

Colonnade of continuity lights up Portage Bay in Montlake
By Jean Sherrard

In 2019, photographer Colleen Chartier and urban planner Rob Wilkinson, neighbors in an elongated oval that divides the Montlake Cut from the SR-520 corridor, learned that their street’s beloved but decrepit 100-year-old lampposts were soon to be removed and replaced with modern counterparts.

For the two, the pending loss was personal. With their spouses, both had raised children in the neighborhood, and each of the 14 columns — though dinged, rusty and layered in peeling paint — was a repository of community memory.

What’s more, the gently tapered, cast-iron lampposts, installed circa 1920, were identical to those still lighting the Olmsted Brothers-designed Volunteer Park on nearby Capitol Hill. Destined for the scrap heap, these historic artifacts just had to be saved.

Former partners in Art-on-File, a small photography business, Chartier and Wilkinson had traveled the world for decades, documenting public art and architecture and changing cityscapes. From their explorations, the two understood that the colonnades (literally, rows of columns) of ancient Greece potently symbolize strength, endurance and importance.

Brainstorming a rescue plan, they recalled the colonnades in the disparate cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Moline, Illinois. “These,” Chartier says, “are urban spaces where land and water meet, enhanced by necklaces of lampposts.”

Erecting a similar colonnade in nearby West Montlake Park, fronting Portage Bay, appealed to them both. “The idea was beautiful and simple,” Wilkinson says. “Elegantly laid out, we thought it would be irresistible.”

Wilkinson and Chartier stand on either side of a 12-foot-high lamppost. Topped with Greek design feature called an Ionic capital, most columns bear the stamp of their fabricator, Olympic Foundry Co. of Seattle.

Seattle City Light, however, was hesitant, citing legal liability. But Wilkinson persisted, eventually tracking down Dan Peters, the contractor tasked with disposing of the old fixtures. After hearing the pitch, Peters responded, “No problem, dude. Where do you want them?”

But where to temporarily cache 14 lampposts, 600 pounds each? Nearby Seattle Yacht Club offered storage for six months, which became an even more generous three years. The rest of the neighborhood was equally supportive, many enthusiastically underwriting restoration of the columns and erection of the colonnade.

Battered, peeling lampposts before restoration were stacked near a side wall of the Seattle Yacht Club for three years. (Colleen Chartier)

More hurdles followed, some bureaucratic, others pandemic-related. Progress slowed. Wilkinson and Chartier prepared an exactingly illustrated 40-page proposal that kept inspiration alive while shepherding the project from permitting through bidding and construction.

The colonnade at dusk (Rob Wilkinson)

Today, after 3-1/2 years and hundreds of hours of donated labor, the colonnade stands. Was it worth the trouble? Without a doubt, asserts the pair.

“It’s about presenting these commonplace artifacts in a way that honors their inherent beauty,” Chartier says.

“We’re battle-scarred,” Wilkinson adds with a rueful grin. “It turns out that building something so simple and lovely is really, really hard.”


Fascinating extras, this time round. First, check out our 360 on-site video of the column, read by Jean.

Then scroll down for some remarkable documentation of this amazing project. To begin with, the PDF of their 40-page proposal, beautifully crafted to ensure greatest impact.

The top of a restored lamppost, featuring a plexiglass globe, “lighthouse” base and orange marine solar beacon with a Fresnel lens.
Wilkinson, an experienced craftsman, also fabricated the painted wooden lighthouse-style bases upon which marine solar beacons are mounted.

More photos from Chartier and Wilkinson taken over 3 1/2 years.


2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: West Montlake Park, ca 1925”

  1. This is really wonderful. I’m delighted that these were saved & placed so beautifully

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