by Kirby Lindsay
This column originally appeared September 22, 2004, published in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook, in a slightly different version with a shorter title.
On Sunday, September 12th, 2004, Seattle Parks and Recreation invited everyone, and Fremont citizens, to dedicate their newest creation: Ernst Park.
About 100 people gathered for the brass band, chocolate cake, ceremonial ribbon cutting and to see the unfortunately aromatic, freshly planted pocket park.
Seated alongside our charming (but currently closed) library, this park stands as near to our downtown as it could get – without blocking traffic.
Maybe someday the amphitheater setting with the green concrete surface and a stairway to the alley below will draw in our population. Perhaps someday it will become center of the Center, but it isn’t there yet.
In Honor Of
At the dedication, City Councilmember David Della and representatives from Seattle Parks spoke about the importance of such an improvement for future generations.
Members of Ambrose Ernst’s family spoke about the past, and with touching sincerity, about Mr. Ernst’s contributions to Seattle’s parks. He carried the title “Father of City Playfields” at his death in 1931. He served, from 1906 to 1913, as a Park Commissioner and the first appointee from the “north end” of the rapidly expanding city.
And nearly 100 years later, Mr. Ernst touched off a bout of regional fervor in Fremont’s continual struggle for self-governance. When we installed our Rocket a joke circulated about how we’d pointed it at City Hall. As with most jests, a bit of seriousness lay beneath it.
Not A Favor
Since the Parks Department named the park, a Boston Tea Party-type uprising often appeared imminent.
“We hate it. We all hate it,” voiced an anonymous member of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce. Not just the name, but the way the name came thrust upon us.
Dic Selin, member of the Fremont Neighborhood Council, participated in the public call for name suggestions. Did Mr. Ernst’s name come through this process? When sorting out suggestions from citizens – Dic submitted Library Park or General Fremont Park – did Mr. Ernst gather a majority vote? Who decided he won?
Most people I talked to appeared baffled by the choice. “I wish the park could have a slightly more creative name,” Marco Tubic, President of the Chamber remarked. “No disrespect intended to Mr. Ernst or his contribution.”
I caught Jenny Eichwald, a former FNC board member, after she enjoyed a slice of cake. She thought it “nice to learn who he was,” but “it’s obvious it’s going to be known as something else. It’s a lovely park. Poor Mr. Ernst…”
For as much angst and downright anger the name has generated, it won’t stick. Do people ever call the George Washington Memorial Bridge by its true name? The other day, trapped in traffic, I was reminded of the “real” name of the structure my car sat upon – the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge.
My street eventually becomes Leary Way, but if I use its proper name, no one has a clue where I live.
A ‘Slippery Slope’
According to Seattle Parks, they “worked hand in glove with the Fremont Neighborhood Council.” Unfortunately, selecting a name didn’t comprise part of their work.
While mutterings around the neighborhood this summer led me to fear we’d end up with tea in the Ship Canal or arming the Rocket, cooler heads prevailed. A universal truth won out. The Seattle Parks Department can call the new park whatever it wants – and we will call it what we want.
I’ve heard Fremont Central Park. I’ve heard Library Park, but more than all, Dic and I agree that ‘Slippery Slope’ may prevail.
A group of artists once worked to build stairs, or wheelchair ramps, where the robust but lazy populace had carved a shortcut up the, ahem, slippery slope of the library’s back yard. That project, and efforts to see it built, led to an application for Pro Parks Levy funds to buy the adjoining land.
Still, Dic prefers “Carnegie Park”, a nod to the building next door. Or, the nickname may still take shape, perhaps Lunchtime Park, Pass Way Park or Leave-Us-Alone-And-Don’t-Tell-Us-What-To-Do Park.
I only hope, as the smell from the newly laid compost disperses, we all come together and choose to call it “ours.”
Author’s Note: A year or two after the dedication of ‘Ernst Park’, a truck struck the sign that named the park. The solid sign, installed by Seattle Parks, possibly saved the lives and certainly prevented serious injury to the occupants of the vehicle. However, the sign collapsed – and disappeared. Seattle Parks has not, as of the start of 2013, replaced the sign – yet the neighborhood continues to call the park ‘Ernst’, when it refers to it at all.
The City of Seattle has purchased land adjacent to ‘Ernst Park’ for further development as public park land, although, again as of early 2013, no work has been done.
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©2013 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.