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Gals in the Neighborhood: The Trick Behind Green Lake

Posted by Johnine Larsen on April 22, 2014
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Greenlake PanoramaSay what you will about Green Lake’s algae and water quality—the place is a people magnet. It’s the busiest park in all of Washington, with more than a million visitors annually, and it’s attracted more than its share of celebrities.

• Sean Penn jogged the 2.8-mile track around the lake
• “The World’s Greatest Athlete” often trains for decathlons there
• Even Bill Clinton donned a sweatshirt and running gear to run the loop (He ran it in 22:40 minutes—a pace of 8:06/mile)

And back when Green Lake had an open-air stadium:

• Bob Hope performed a comedy routine there in 1962
Led Zeppelin opened for Three Dog Night in 1969
• For the stadium’s final show, The Grateful Dead played 1969

It almost never happened. The Dead, the President, the million visitors—all of it. If not for dedication and a bit of trickery, Green Lake Park would have never existed.

DSCF1181Back in the days of log cabins and homesteaders, before Ballard or the Great Seattle Fire, a surveyor discovered Green Lake. Then, years later, a homesteader paddled his canoe across the lake and claimed 132 acres. Green Lake John, people called him. And those same people followed him. They built settlements and bought up the land around the lake. They built a trolley line, logged the land, and advertised, “Green Lake will be Seattle’s choicest suburb.”

It worked. More people came, and Green Lake joined Seattle in 1891. People built homes and businesses right up to the shoreline, until the lake was surrounded by private property.

So what happened? We can run around Green Lake now. We can rent paddleboats and even swim in it (swimmer’s itch not always guaranteed). Instead of a gray ring of roads and buildings around the lake, there’s a green ring of grass and trees.

A green ring that used to be underwater.

DSCF1191In 1911, during the campaign to create parks throughout the city, Seattle knew it could not afford to buy land from all the homeowners around Green Lake, so instead, they simply drained the lake. They lowered the water level far enough to create new 100 acres of dry, public land. People loved it. Maybe not the homeowners, but everyone else did. Green Lake gained popularity almost immediately as a place for picnics and walking, swimming and boating, and that popularity has continued ever since, surviving algae booms, environmental controversies, and pollution that closed the lake for an entire summer.

Green Lake might not be pretty from an environmental standpoint, but it’s pretty to look at, and it certainly draws the crowds. If you’re looking to share fresh air with other happy Seattleites, Green Lake is the place to go. And we owe it all to a trick.
More Green Lake information from the Real Estate Gals