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Cal Anderson Park

Cal Anderson ParkA treasure on Capitol Hill
1635 11th Ave., Seattle

The newly renovated Cal Anderson Park (1635 11th Ave., Seattle) features an intriguing fountain, brand-new playground and wide lawns for racing, picnics or playing catch. And this seven-acre park has a secret: Its northern half is built on a giant lid that covers the Lincoln Reservoir, so visitors can play while suspended over a portion of Seattle's drinking water.

History: The Lincoln Reservoir has served Seattle since 1901. At that time, only a few houses and scattered farms stood nearby, but the area grew steadily. In 1908, the Olmsted Brothers, the New York firm that designed a series of parks, boulevards and playgrounds throughout Seattle, designed Lincoln Park, which featured what was probably the first children's playground in the city.

The park was rechristened the Broadway Playfield in 1922 to avoid confusion with Lincoln Park in West Seattle, then under development. The federally funded Works Progress Administration extensively remodeled the playground and wading pool in the late 1930s. Subsequently, the park was heavily used but seldom updated (a slide and swing set present in 1942 were still in place until 1986, when new equipment was installed). For several decades this park was a forbidding urban space, desperately in need of a makeover.

In 2003, Broadway Playfield was renamed Cal Anderson Park in honor of Seattle's first openly gay state legislator. The reservoir was reconstructed and lidded over to improve water quality and provide open space, and the entire park and play area were redesigned. The updated park opened in September, 2005.

Features: Cal Anderson is an urban park, a smaller take on New York's Central Park or the Boston Public Garden. In spite of the park's formality (straight paths, regularly spaced antique style benches and lighting fixtures), it still invites plenty of play. A wide central swath of grass includes a gentle hill for rolling down, and two giant chessboards reference the very popular giant checkerboards that were an original park feature a century ago. Low curved walls near the north end of the park and the area just past the playground indicate the original footprint of the reservoir from 1901-2001.

As befits a park built over a reservoir, Cal Anderson's most prominent feature is liquid: a spectacular three-part fountain that fills the surrounding area with a soothing burble and culminates in a large, shallow reflecting pool. It's a formal space that was not designed for wading, but it will surely see some use by park-goers who can't resist taking off their shoes and getting their feet wet.

The playground, located on the east side of the park, includes two medium-sized compound play structures, a large two-rider horse spring toy, and a bank of swings (toddler, accessible and belt). The thick spongy surface under the play equipment is porous and allows water to flow through it, avoiding puddles.

The official wading pool, operational in summer months, is tucked south of the fountain, beyond the old reservoir gatehouse. Look for the Chinese Scholar Tree near the park entrance. It's the largest -- and one of the oldest -- trees of its type in the state and a designated Seattle Landmark Heritage Tree.

Visitors to the park who remember its downtrodden days will be amazed at its transformation from shabby to spectacular.

Nearby: The Capitol Hill Dick's Drive-In (115 Broadway Ave. E., 206-323-1300) is an inexpensive meal option, or cross Nagle Place to Espresso Vivace (901 E. Denny Way). The closest branch of The Seattle Public Library is the Capitol Hill branch (425 Harvard Ave. E., 206- 684-4715). Paid parking is available in an underground lot. While on Capitol Hill, check out the new and resale kids' items, many of them produced locally, at Bootyland (1317 E. Pine, 206-328-0636).


Author: Paula Becker, staff historian for www.HistoryLink.org and a mother of three.


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