The accidental neighborhood historian

After my baby boy was born, I filled long hours with walks around my neighborhood. Not the kind that simply take you from point A to point B, but walks where I would loose myself in the trees, flowers, and architecture of the neighborhood. The questions started during a spring stroll in March 2013. Why does that home look like an old grocery store? Why is 5th Ave NW wider than the rest of the roads in the neighborhood? A digital camera became my constant companion and the photos of buildings, roads, and other neighborhood landmarks were researched during baby boy’s nap time.

It didn’t take long to realize I knew nothing about my neighborhood.  I didn’t even know I lived in Ballard. Armed only with curiosity and a laptop, I began my research. During one walk I photographed an apartment building near NW 65th Street with the words “The West Woodland Apts.” etched in stone above the front entrance.  Why would a building about a mile from West Woodland Elementary School share the same name?  A quick online search of “West Woodland” revealed a photo of the Woodland Theater. My first discovery, and another question.  Why do these locations all have “Woodland” in their name?  The hunt continued.

DSCN3332

The West Woodland Apartments at 6512 5th Ave.NW.

I shared the discoveries with my neighbors and in return they sent more locations for me to research.  Long time locals thanked me for collecting their memories and photos. A few wondered if West Woodland would be forgotten in our rapidly changing city.

I love my hobby.  The research is exciting and I enjoy giving back to the community I call home – West Woodland, Ballard.  When you’re out on your next walk, look beyond the pealing paint, the angular addition, or that overgrown hedge. It’s worth the effort to uncover Seattle history hiding in plain sight.

Connecting with Paul Dorpat & Jean Sherrard

I’ve been reading the ‘Now & Then’ column since I was in Elementary School.  Every Sunday while my sister Sandy and brother John fought over the funny pages, I would grab Pacific Magazine out of the middle of the Times and flip to the back page.  The old photos of Seattle were mesmerizing.  I knew I was holding something special, so I carefully cut each one out and saved in a photo album my Mom kindly purchased for me.

Fast forward to 2015, the photo album has long since been discarded, but I continued to read ‘Now & Then’ online. One sunny Sunday scrolling through the archives, I realized West Woodland had never been highlighted. I mustered up the courage and sent an email to Paul Dorpat, my childhood hero.  When he called me a week later, I totally gushed on the phone. Absolutely star-struck.  I collected myself after a few minutes and got down to business. “Please write a column about West Woodland!”, I said.  He agreed and the rest is now history.

ST - 03 27 2016 - Pierce

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8 thoughts on “The accidental neighborhood historian

  1. You are getting your due, being recognized as neighborhood historian. Such an absorbing hobby and I am sure that you have found that the more you do the more there is to do. Have fun! Doing research will keep your brain cells from dying, and you are also giving your little boy a wonderful sense of place and appreciation of the neighborhood.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am beyond thrilled to find Vintage West Woodland, I grew up at 509 NW 70th 1952-1971 when I married and left home, attended West Woodland Elementary, was sent to Pic & Payit on 65th to get a pound of ground round from the butcher for Mom (ground on the spot for you), bought penny candy at Hansens corner store just down 70th, rode my bicycle all over the neighborhood, played basketball in the street using a hoop attached by Dad to a power pole……so many, many memories. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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