- Marie McKinsey
The Story of the West Seattle Triangle Park - and a (W)hole Lot More
They say that no good deed goes unpunished. My "good deed,"apparently, was volunteering to participate in the Friends of the Junction's planning effort which was part of Seattle's first Comprehensive Plan.
In late summer of 1998, a couple of years after the plan was completed, the FOJ wanted to create a park at the intersection of Alaska, Fauntleroy and 39the Ave SW. It was part of their dream of creating a beautiful "gateway to the Junction."
The space for the park was a small triangle adjacent to the parking lot for Hancock Fabrics and Schuck's Auto Parts. It had been paved over for years, until the city opened it up to do some utility work. The FOJ folks wanted to install a park there as soon as the work was finished so it wouldn't be paved over again.
First, they needed someone to design the park. They knew me from my work on the Neighborhood Plan, knew that I was a landscape designer, and asked me to do it. My fledgling business was beginning to take flight at that point, and I was really busy. But it was a small space, the design wouldn't take long, so I agreed. With one caveat - all I was going to do was the design. I couldn't commit to taking on the installation or anything else.
The Friends were grateful, assured me that all I had to do was the design, and so I did. A few weeks later, though, I heard from them again. They'd shown the design to Hancock Fabrics. Hancock didn't own the triangle, the city did, but as a courtesy, they were told about the park and they wanted to see the plans.
And so it began.
Hancock was worried that the park would hide their sign. The Friends didn't feel qualified to answer plant questions, so they asked me to respond. I sent Hancock (based in Alabama) a detailed list of plants and their sizes at maturity. After a few months and more letters, they finally approved of the project.
By then the city crews were long gone, and the site was full of weeds. The FOJ wondered if I could find volunteers who would clean it up. I did.
Then the FOJ asked about irrigation. The plant material in the new park wasn't going to survive without summer water. I asked landscape contractor, Steve Hilderbrand, if he could help. He said that if the city would buy the parts, he would donate the labor to do the installation. BUT someone would have to dig the trenches for the system.
The FOJ had no idea where to find volunteers to dig the trenches. So they asked me. My friends looked at me like I had three heads when I asked if they were interested.
I was ready to give up on the project. I'd already done more than I'd agreed to.
Then someone told me about the SafeFutures High Point 40 Assets Team. It was a program for at risk youth, all of whom had been in trouble for gang activity in the past, to help them get work experience in the community and turn their lives around. I spoke with one of their councilors who agreed to bring a group of teens to do the work. I explained that it was an ugly job, but he assured me that they could do it.
The morning arrived when I was going to meet the 40 Assets Team at the job site. I'll admit I had some doubts about whether this was going to work. Would they be willing to work that hard? What exactly was the "gang activity" that got them into trouble? Would I be safe once I armed them with pick-axes and sharp tools?
But one of the highlights of this project, it turns out, was working with the 40 Assets Team. They did the job. No complaints. No lollygagging. No issues. There was an atmosphere of respect and discipline on that job site that impressed me very much.
As they boarded their bus to leave, one serious young man said to me, "This is our park now." After he boarded the bus, I asked a councilor what that meant. He told me that although the team members weren't part of gangs anymore, they knew a lot of people who were. He said the word was going to go out that if anyone vandalized or harmed the park, there would be consequences.
Once the trenches were dug, there was still plenty of work to do. I had by then resigned myself to seeing the project through to the end. Here's one of my amateurish slide show videos that tells the story.
But wait! That's not the (w)hole story. If you are familiar with that intersection, you know that the park is long gone. LA Fitness now occupies that space.
What happened? Hancock Fabrics decided to redevelop its property a few years after the park was built. The plan was to include a new building for Hancock, a Whole Foods Store, and 185 apartments. Demolition of the old buildings, and excavation for underground parking took place in summer of 2008.
However, because of financial and legal issues, the project stalled shortly thereafter, leaving a giant hole in the ground. Since this was supposed to become the home of the much ballyhooed Whole Foods, locals soon started calling it the future site of Hole Foods. As rainwater collected in the Hole, people suggested making it into a swimming pool. Other ideas included: a movie theater, day care center, bungee jumping park, a curling arena, Nicklesville (bonus points if you know what that refers to), and a strip club.
Finally, in 2013, thanks to a new developer, the Hole started to fill in. Westside Seattle has some great photos of the equipment arriving on scene. And their article from 2012, gives a detailed history of the (w)hole thing.
Today, LA Fitness and Spruce Apartments occupy that space. Whole Foods ended up across the street, part of the Whittaker project.
It's sad that the park is gone. But more than anything, I think about the kids who worked on it. Did the 40 Assets Team build good lives for themselves? Did the children, who helped their parents plant the garden, grow up to be volunteers in the community? I hope they all have good memories of their role in building the Junction's Triangle Park.