Visiting Viretta Park
✍️ • 🕑 • Series: Steve in Seattle • Tags: beaches • eat the rich • lakes • grunge • Kurt Cobain • Places: Denny Blaine Park • Viretta Park
Last year, I went on a walk to Denny-Blaine, and marvelled at how many mansions had fences just low enough that I could see over them. (See: "Descent into the Valley of the Gnomes".)
At that point in time, I didn't realize how close I was to the house where Kurt Cobain passed away, nor a dingy city park that serves as a makeshift memorial. I had long planned to return to the area.
And so, I finally did...
Daydreaming Under A Bench
Viretta Park is not a landmark park. Charles Denny parceled out the park as part of planning properties in the area in 1901, naming it after his wife Viretta.
The park is tiny, surrounded by mansions, and basically consists of a few trees, a few benches, and a staircase that leads to a vacant field.
Oh, but the benches are worth a trip.
Kurt Cobain's tragic death occurred near the park, and though residents have vehemently opposed any kind of permanent memorial, those two park benches are the de facto memorial to Kurt Cobain and his legacy.
I was struck by how moving I actually found the display. Park benches, yes, but park benches filled with love.
Nirvana's music has touched many souls, and it is amazing to see their outpouring of support for their lost hero. Even though the park is an unsanctioned memorial, and even though it was not home to many visitors when Chelsea and I stopped by, what they left behind is a lasting impression.
A Stairway to Heaven Howard Schultz's Old Driveway
The park is also home to a staircase, which leads to absolutely nowhere in particular, except Howard Schultz's old driveway.
The media may have lovingly given union buster Schultz a ludicrous level of free coverage to each time he has mulled running for the U.S. Presidency, but Seattle's old money had no similar affection for him.
In the early '90s, the Schultzes bought a house in the neighborhood. The home had been using part of the park as a driveway with city support since around 1914.
The Schultzes took things a step further, using the park as a staging area for renovations on their house, adding larger fences, widening the driveway and adding crushed yellow limestone, adding lighting and shrubbery, increasing fencing, and erecting an iron gate.
These moves provoked neighborly ire. A group called Friends of Viretta Park was formed, and sued the city and Howard Schultz in 1994. They wanted the driveway spur returned to its original 1901 condition.
To give you a sense of their rhetoric, I'll quote from the opening of a contemporaneous 1994 newspaper article:
Quite a few of Howard Schultz's neighbors say the Parks Department never should have let him build a 100-foot driveway through the park next to his new home overlooking Lake Washington, near Denny Blaine Park.
The advocacy lost the group, but the Schultzes did decide to move elsewhere. Though the driveway still exists, and it is still very, very odd, it is not nearly as imposing as Schultz's previous handiwork.
Howard Schultz has gone on to purchase Seattle's NBA team, and sell it to some Oklahoma City investors who *shock* moved the team there, and to recently oversee an organized campaign to close unionized Starbucks stores under the guise of "safety".
So, overall, not a particularly likeable billionaire. (Though, what billionaires are?)
By the Lakeshore
We stopped by nearby Denny-Blaine Park, a small bit of public lake access, surrounded by gargantuan mansions with huge masonry walls and "private property" signs. It's not a particularly inviting place.
The sun was fleeting, the light gone, and Lake Washington increasingly dark and dim.
I took some pictures and Chelsea smoked a cigarette.
We admired the modest lakefront.
And then we moved on.
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