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Cal Anderson Park

Published on: January 16, 2007

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.

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.

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.

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 and a mother of three.


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