All Over The Map: Kennydale’s fraudulent origins and movie-star past

Aug 9, 2019, 6:28 AM | Updated: Aug 28, 2019, 9:33 am


Kennydale, a part of Renton that was once an independent community in unincorporated King County, as it appears on a vintage map from the US Geological Survey. (USGS)


By some measures, there were three momentous events in 1969: the Apollo moon landing on July 20; the start of the Woodstock music festival in upstate New York on August 15; and  the vote by residents of the community of Kennydale on November 18 to be annexed by the City of Renton.

Besides Native Americans who had been here for millennia, the origins of the community now known as Kennydale date to around the end of the 19th century. Like so many places around here with roots in the 1800s, it all began as a real estate scam.

Kennydale’s founding father

Clarence D. Hillman, namesake of the Hillman City neighborhood in Seattle, came to the Puget Sound area in 1896 and began buying and selling real estate. By early 1904, he owned several acres north of Renton on the east shore of Lake Washington that he called “Lake Washington Garden of Eden.”

Despite major efforts, such as free train rides and free boat rides for potential buyers, Hillman didn’t sell nearly as many lots as he hoped that summer of 1904, and so most of the infrastructure and amenities that Hillman had promised were never built.

To add insult to injury, the US Post Office rejected the name “Lake Washington Garden of Eden” for having too many words. But, since Hillman’s right-hand man was his wife’s brother Frank Kenny — meaning “Kenny” was also his wife’s maiden name — Kennydale made a pretty good second choice, especially since the postmaster general approved.

Without that influx of buyers that Hillman had tried to lure there, Kennydale grew slowly over the next several decades. The community was on the route of the Belt Line, the railroad bypass around Lake Washington, so there were mills and other industry. Proximity to the lake also offered direct connections by boat to other lakeside destinations and, eventually, to salt water.

Clarence Hillman moved on from Kennydale. He was convicted in 1911 of mail fraud for yet another scam and did 18 months at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in South Puget Sound. He died in Seattle in 1935 and is buried in Lake View Cemetery.

Kennydale Beach was established in Kennydale a few years after World War II when a local community member agreed to sell his waterfront lots to King County at a steep discount. Owing to a paperwork mix-up, the land was instead purchased by a Canadian investor for the discounted price. The threat of legal action brought the various parties to the table, and the Canadian man sold the Kennydale waterfront to the county for the price he’d paid a few months earlier: $50.

After decades of remaining an independent community in unincorporated King County, Kennydale officially became part of Renton in early 1970 not long after that November 1969 vote.

And speaking of Kennydale Beach, many old-timers from Kennydale and elsewhere have heard the story that Hollywood actor and director and one-time mayor of Carmel, California, Clint Eastwood, was a lifeguard for King County Parks at Kennydale Beach in 1950.

Clint Eastwood, a transplanted local boy made good

Clint turned 20 in 1950, one year after he had moved with his family to Seattle from Piedmont, California so his dad could run the Seattle office of Container Corporation of America.

When I worked for the King County Park System 20 years ago as manager of marketing and economic development, my office was in the old school building at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island. The department archives had an old black and white photo of Clint standing with a group of about 30 other lifeguards at what was believed to be Kennydale Beach.  As I remember the photo, all the teenage guys were pale and flabby and looked like they were 40 years old, while all the young women had bizarre hairdos and cat-eye glasses and also looked like they were 40. Meanwhile, Clint was standing off to one side, all tan and chiseled and already looking like a movie star – if not an entirely different species.

Clint’s family (his mother and father and younger sister, Jean) lived in Seattle from 1949 to 1955. They first lived in the Mount Baker neighborhood, but later built a house in the Highlands that they didn’t live in for very long. The family moved back to Oakland soon after it was built because of Clint’s father’s work. Clint’s mom was a pretty serious golfer for most of her adult life, and she appears regularly in the society pages of Seattle newspapers in those years and occasionally in the sports section.

From snippets that appear in newspaper archive searches, Clint appears to have taken full advantage of Lake Washington beyond merely working as a lifeguard. He and his friends were pictured in The Seattle Times in April 1950 after they rescued a man whose sailboat had capsized in Lake Washington south of the original floating bridge not far from Mount Baker.

With the Korean War underway, Clint was drafted into the Army sometime in 1950. Again, his apparent love of water or, at least his skills as a lifeguard, meant that he was not sent overseas to fight, but instead was stationed at Fort Ord, California as a swimming instructor.

The future movie star was front page news for The Seattle Times on October 1, 1951 when he survived a plane crash the day before off Point Reyes, California. He was a passenger on a World War II-era prop bomber that had departed from Sand Point Naval Air Station headed for Sacramento but which had then run out of fuel. Only the pilot and Clint were aboard; both survived the water landing and then paddled ashore in separate rafts. When Eastwood directed the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ film “Sully” starring Tom Hanks a few years ago, several media accounts mentioned the 1951 crash. There has, of course, even been a recent effort to find the lost bomber.

After his Army service, Clint split his time between Seattle and California, and took part in lifeguard training at Beaver Lake Park, in what’s now Sammamish, in 1953.

On a happier though still maritime-themed note, Clint Eastwood made a triumphant return to Seattle in July 1961 to appear in the Seafair Parade — as a sort of “transplanted local boy made good.” Two years earlier, he had had his first major success as an actor, appearing as Rowdy Yates on the TV series “Rawhide,” a role that would last until 1965.

It’s not clear if Clint the former lifeguard ever made a return, triumphant or otherwise, to Kennydale or to Sammamish.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to Liz Stewart and Kate Dugdale at the Renton History Museum — and the work of former museum director Steve Anderson – for their help with Kennydale research.

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All Over The Map: Kennydale’s fraudulent origins and movie-star past