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All Over The Map: Hidden Seattle parks to visit while social distancing

With so many people working at home and then getting out and about on foot in their neighborhoods to exercise, you might be discovering parks and other public spaces you didn’t know were there.

This is exactly what happened to me on a walk around Lake Union earlier this week. I’ve driven my car and ridden my bicycle past a spot on Eastlake Avenue for decades. But on foot, I came face to face for the first time with Fairview Park.

It’s along Eastlake south of Allison Street — not too far from the University Bridge — and it’s a cool little park with long stairs from that drop down a steep hillside to a meadow with picnic tables. The park isn’t huge, maybe about an acre, and its western edge bumps up against Fairview Avenue East along the lake shore, but it has water access, too.

Fairview Avenue East in this neighborhood is nothing like the thoroughfare that runs between Lake Union and Denny Way. This stretch hasn’t changed much since 1970, when the Seattle Times described it as “a poorly defined two-lane patchwork of bumps and potholes.”

Fairview Park, with its unique views of Lake Union, houseboats, Queen Anne Hill, Gasworks Park, and whatever marine traffic is out on the water, is a great spot for a picnic, or even an alternate outdoor work space with a laptop and a pair of headphones. Officially, Fairview Park is considered part of the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop that circles Lake Union on a roughly six-mile route.

I did some research on Fairview Park and didn’t come up with much, but there are a few interesting tidbits.

On their website, the non-profit Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, writes:

In his 1903 report, John Charles recommended a number of smaller parks and playgrounds located throughout the city, including three possible sites that “are desirable on the east and south shores of Lake Union.”

The Fairview Park location he identified as a “pleasing site,” though “not as conveniently situated nor as useful for playground purposes” as the site further south (which includes today’s Terry Pettus Park).

From the “random-history-rabbit-hole” department, it turns out that it was front page news on this very day – March 20, 1930 – when Fairview Park was listed along with other parks that the city engineering department wanted to cut new roadways through. For Fairview Park, this might have meant extending east-west running Shelby Street.

This was also the same time that it was first publicly revealed that the city wanted to punch Aurora Avenue through Woodland Park. There was much public outcry and a spirited campaign to try and stop the Woodland Park bisection, but voters approved the new stretch of road by a wide margin in November 1930. Colman Park in West Seattle, which had also been threatened with a bisecting roadway, was spared.

For many of Seattle’s larger parks, there are wonderful historic essays and maps produced in the 1960s and 1970s by a talented parks employee named Don Sherwood. As far as I know, Sherwood never mapped or wrote about Fairview Park before he passed away back in 1981, but information about all of the other parks he researched and wrote about are available online through the Seattle Municipal Archives.

The Sherwood histories of Seattle parks are absolutely priceless, and another more recent resource is my friend David Williams’ book, Seattle Walks – with maps, photos, and extensive notes about human and natural history along several suggested walking routes around the city.

With so many people working from home and spending more time in their own neighborhoods all around Western Washington these days, I’m hoping that maybe you and your family have stumbled across neighborhood parks or green spaces that you hadn’t noticed before or that you hadn’t had a chance to explore.

If you do know of an interesting spot, please share in the comments, or send an email to me with details. Please be as specific as you can about the exact location, and send a photo if you can.  We’ll share information about these places at MyNorthwest, and if I can find any interesting history about any of those places, we’ll share that, too.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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