Celebrating Discovery Park’s 50th year and looking into the future

Guest Editorial:  Queen Anne News July 27, 2022
(second of two parts)

by Monica Wooton

In, 1988, City Ordinances were added to keep uses out of the historic buildings at Discovery Park. The fight over the use of the historic buildings went on for decades from the 1960’s through the 80’s. There were groups that wanted to preserve the exterior of the buildings as a testament to Colonial Revival architecture and the fort’s place in history. Still, others saw the buildings as a resource for more park opportunities and re-use. Bob Kildall, stated: “It would be very difficult to carry out the master plan if parts of the property are cut up as islands earmarked for other uses…and, if various buildings are used in such a way as to attract larger amounts of traffic into the Park.” Many disagreed.

 On June 14, 1988, the City Council finally voted; and, in the words of a Times article of June 14, 1988: “six historic military buildings surrounding the Fort Lawton parade grounds will stand as empty-silent memorials to the old Army base.” The Chapel has been added since.

The Park has become an escape for city dwellers from the streets, buildings, cars, noise, pollution, crowds and the stress of urban living. The chance to be in contact with the wildlife, view the serenity of the mountains and Puget Sound, and the opportunity for peace and solitude is an invaluable gift that Discovery Park affords local residents and visitors from all over the world. They appreciate and are amazed that within just a few minutes from the center of a city that it is still possible to find a place of wildness, quiet and tranquility…” continued Kildall in his history.

Could these words have been more prescient?

So vigilance and history making must continue today to uphold Discovery Park and its Master Plan and the City Ordinances. The words are powerful, more today than ever, as Seattle grows denser and significant preserved land within the city providing natural habitat for native flora and fauna become so scarce and so precious. Land that provides city dwellers the opportunity to interact with nature, in nature, on its terms without the hand of humans interfering or marring the landscape.

Proposals for a golf course, use as a Seattle World’s Fair site, an aquarium, a wet moorage for yachts, and for various arts related uses in the historic buildings have all been defeated by vigilant citizens and thoughtful politicians who believe and understand the Master Plan principles, and wrote the City Ordinances; and, know: the unique purpose and design of Discovery Park are worth fighting for.

We can never, ever be complacent. We can never forget the history and human dedication that got us Discovery Park and why it is not Stanley, Central or Golden Gate Park. And, that was on purpose!  In fact, it has always been planned as something quite opposite, quite different and quiet special.

I end this with a quote that so moves me to preserve Discovery Park in its uniqueness:

 “Suppose that you had been commissioned to build a really grand opera house; that after the construction work had nearly been completed and your scheme of decoration fully designed you should be instructed that the building was to be used on Sundays as a Baptist Tabernacle, and that suitable place must be made for a huge organ, a pulpit, and a dipping pool. Then at intervals afterward, you should be advised that it must be so refitted and furnished that parts of it could be used for a court room, a jail, hotel, skating rink, for surgical cliniques, for a circus, dog show, drill room, ball room, railway station and shot tower?…But, that more or less is what is nearly always going on with public parks. Pardon me if I overwhelm you: it is a matter of chronic anger with me.”*

Discovery Park is the grand opera house nature created and built. The Master Plan was devised to keep it as is.

*Frederick Law Olmsted – Olmsted Papers, Vol. IX, The Last Great Projects 1890-1895, David Schuyler and Gregory Kaliss, Editors, Jeffrey Schlossberg, Assistant Editor; p. 296-297.

–Wooton acknowledges that Discovery Park resides on the land that belongs to the Ancestral Duwamish who were forcibly removed to create the City of Seattle.   discopark50.org/indigenous-people