Reinventing Edith Macefield

April 22, 2014 at 5:21 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Recently somebody randomly contacted me through Flickr about my 2008 photos of Edith Macefield’s house.  [I happened to be visiting Seattle the week after Macefield’s death and I went by there and had a look at some notes people had placed outside her house.]  They were looking for info about Macefield for an article in the Architecture section of a Czech web site.

This is what I wrote to them [hastily, including every grammar and sentence construction mistake in the book]:

I didn’t know who Edith Macefield was but I noticed her house for the first time in 1988 while working at an architectural firm a couple blocks away. The Seattle neighborhood was really a mixed bag — charming but gritty mix of industrial waste, marine infrastructure and support businesses, auto shops, vacant lots overgrown with blackberry vines and cars rumbling over the 1912 vintage Ballard bridge. Her tiny, square house with pyramid-shaped roof and little dormers was modest and well kept. There was a blue Chevy compact parked on the street in front of the house. A small yard, a tree and a clothes line; and rose bushes behind a low wire fence.

In 2008 I learned a lot more about Macefield when her story was publicized in the news media. She put up with a lot of changes in the decades in the house — a warehouse next door became a refuse transfer facility, then an abandoned, graffiti covered eyesore. Homeless people roamed the streets and camped out in old RVs under the bridge. Still, I can totally see why she stayed. The house was well sited on a low traffic side street, just far enough from the bridge so the noise wasn’t too annoying. Great south facing sunny lot.

She became a local and then national folk hero by refusing to sell out to the mall developer. As much as $750,000 was offered, as I recall, but Macefield said the place was priceless to her.

One of the aspects of Seattle I really appreciate, and part of what makes it a great place on Earth [despite all the changes] is that by and large they have allowed the old and new parts of the city to mingle and co-exist. At least this has been the case lately and for a while now. Perhaps this partly resulted from a rather overzealous approach to redevelopment that prevailed from the late 19th century at a furious pace through the 1930s, and to a lesser extent until the mid-1960s. The tidelands between downtown and West Seattle were filled in, the forests of Ballard and the North End knocked down, creeks undergrounded/ducted, the Duwamish River was channeled, and a series of street regrade projects ensued including the destruction of Denny Hill [chronicled in the novel ‘Madison House’]. Later the demo of lots of downtown buildings along the route of Interstate 5 fomented another round of growth shock — the Pike Place Market [the most famous and loved Seattle landmark] narrowly escaped the wrecker’s ball in this period. 

I don’t really know but assume all this contributed to people being in less of a hurry to mow down everything that’s old and in the way. 

And that was why, in a few days following her death, scores of people who didn’t know Macefield stopped by her house to leave anonymous notes on her fence expressing admiration for her steadfastness and lack of greed and crass calculation; and for having the good sense to know when she had a good place and sticking with it through good times and bad.

And recently I received a follow-on message with a link to the resulting article.  It loses something in translation but is still compelling and, um, sort of hilarious!

Admiration from a stranger. [Click on image for larger version.]

Reflecting on it more, I am starting to think we are all getting Macefield wrong.  It’s been difficult to find out anything about her via casual reading around on the web.  She was 83 when she became a story.  And by most accounts, she didn’t care for the attention.  Perhaps she felt like she was living in a ‘Twilight Zone-ish, end up in hell’ scenario where she was surrounded by people who had lost their minds?  She was doing fine with her books and her opera records and probably just wished everyone would leave her alone.  Certainly wouldn’t care about hipster tattoo tributes to her tenacity and principles.

So I am considering trying to dig a little deeper, and write a story about her house and property with less emphasis on what happened after 2006, and more about the 106 years the house was there before 2006.



August 14, 2012 at 4:06 am | Posted in photo du jour | Leave a comment
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August 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Posted in photo du jour | Leave a comment
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August 10, 2012 at 4:56 am | Posted in photo du jour | Leave a comment
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Biking the Burke-Gilman Trail

August 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Posted in biking | 1 Comment
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Completed my second full day of biking around Seattle — starting out from near Mill Creek, a long trek down 527 to Bothell, and then onto the end of the Burke-Gilman Trail [found after a search].  Seattle has a lot of nice trails, bike lanes and most of the other features a guy could want [racks; parks with well-maintained restrooms and drinking fountains].

I rambled around Ballard, Discovery Park and Green Lake.  Really impressed at how the Burke-Gilman threads the urban fabric.  Well done!

I don’t cut the figure of classical middle aged serious biker — I refuse to wear cycling clothes, and I am only going medium speed on my compromise bike.  I stop to look at views and to pick blackberries along roads and trails.

On the Burke-Gilman, which was fairly crowded but flowing along smoothly, I tried to make eye contact and smile at every person coming the other way.  In Anchorage on the Coastal Trail, probably seven out of 10 would respond in kind.  Here, maybe seven out of 100, at best.  Sorry Seattle — I still adore the city, but Anchorage is much friendlier.  Some popular reactions from Seattleites [usually a combo of two or more]:

  • no response at all
  • looking away
  • eye roll
  • looking down
  • short, bug-eyed leering
  • quizzical, or vacant stare
  • fish lips
  • wounded look, as if to say, ‘who gave you permission to look at me?’.

One man I smiled at, who was standing drinking water at a trail wayside gave me the bug-eyed leer and then hopped and gestured with both arms!

Another cyclist near UW took it upon himself to direct traffic.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m driving I follow the rules, but I don’t necessarily do what cyclists and pedestrians tell me to do.  Maybe if they wore a police uniform I would pay attention.

About half the riders on the Burke-Gilman were guys my age, give or take [not many women in this club, for some reason] who were so much alike it was like a uniform — newer road bike, skin-tight cycling jersey and shorts on their fit body, wraparound sunglasses.  “Passing on the left!”, they announced as they zoomed around me.  About half of them coming the other way had strobe lights on the handlebars, in the middle of the afternoon.

A disc golfer in a park on the north end where I stopped to rest and fill up my water bottle greeted me before I even saw him.  Kind of surprised, and just kind of mumbled, “Great, thanks.”

In Bothell on the return leg, right after the trail ends the way to 527 is over a narrow bridge and into a little downtown area.  A bus passed me right after the bridge, driving slowly around me in part of the other lane.  And then a gray-haired, spandex-clad road biker zoomed around me, and with a wild careening, swerving dive around the tail corner of the bus, raced up and confronted the bus driver.  He looked up into the bus, shaking his fist and yelling, “HEY!  You CUT ME OFF, asshole!  You gonna CALL THE POLICE?”  [No.]  “Oh, yeah?  Well, FUUUCCK YOU!!!  YOU ALMOST CUT ME OFF!!”  And then he rode off, slowly in the middle of the road.

On the more positive side…

A homeless man near Fisherman’s Terminal in Magnolia was laughing so hard, I started laughing too.

And the best part of the day was when a twenty-something woman who was playing a wiffle ball game with an older woman, on a narrow street between the trail and houses along the lake looked up and said, “Way to go, good job!  Biking is way better than a car!”.  This woman was very wise!

12-10-10 [from the archives, January 2007]

December 27, 2010 at 12:48 am | Posted in architecture and design, art, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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Rope patterns on the Magnolia Bridge, Seattle.

12-8-10 [from the archives, July 2006]

December 27, 2010 at 12:41 am | Posted in photo du jour, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Underneath the West Seattle Bridge.


December 26, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Posted in art, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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Bright retaining wall mural, north end of Seattle.

10-22-10 [from the archives, May 2006]

October 26, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Posted in architecture and design, photo du jour, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Beach house, Seaview Ave., Ballard, Seattle.

10-20-10 [from the archives, July 2006]

October 26, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Posted in art, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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Ivy covered pickup truck, Queen Anne neighborhood, Seattle.

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