Everett, Take Me Away!

You think: fading industrial relic. We think: affordable, overlooked tourist destination.

YOU HEAR THE NAME all the time: Everettthe third link in the "Seattle-Tacoma-Everett" triumvirate, continually invoked in TV weather reports and Bureau of Labor statistics, the northern-most node in a Puget Sound urban corridor along which we, of course, are at the center, and Tacoma the bottom end. Everettthe city to which our fate appears inexplicably, inescapably tied. And yet: Who among us has set foot in Everett?

The closest most of us Seattleites have gotten is toting relatives to the Boeing assembly plant tour south of town. It's one of the state's top attractions (and the one most likely to disappear in the next 10 years when Boeing moves all the work to China). But it's open on weekdays only. So when I recently decided to heed the city's new tourism-promotion slogan"Everett: Be Surprised"and head up to the former "city of smokestacks" for a sunny Sunday (Mother's Day, as it happened), I had to find other points of interest. I was hoping to discover for Seattle Weekly readers an unsung weekend getaway for close-to-home summer vacations. And besides, I'm a big fan of fading industrial towns (I lived in one for seven years).

At 11 a.m., my companioni.e., Momand I pulled into an absolutely dead and desolate downtown Everett, one day after the big parade welcoming home the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Clumps of red-white-and-blue ticker tape rolled down empty streets like tumbleweeds. Nothing was open, except the bars and one lonely Starbucks. The only signs of life were church parking lots, which were all full. Church or cheap beerthose were the options.

We didn't have a lot of guidance on how to enjoy Everett. The city's new tourist brochure was not yet available. And a quick look at the Pacific Northwest edition of several standard travel guides (Fodor's, Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, etc.) found no mention of Everett whatsoever. (It's like the Area 51 of Northwest tourisma legacy of its military-port status?) There were a handful of Everett restaurants listed in my Moon Handbook to Washington and in Northwest Best Places, but, we discovered, every one of them was closed on Sunday, and some were closed on Saturday as well. Even a cute little bakery on the main strip with a special Mother's Day menu posted in the window was not, in fact, open for Mother's Day.

We ended up at the Flying Pig Brewing Company in the heart of town, previously recommended to me by a local (and now I knew why). I ordered the smoked turkey on croissant and a glass of the Pig IPA, and Mom had the smoked turkey with provolone, all of which were excellent. I asked our waiter what we out-of-towners should do today, and he looked at me in utter bewilderment. "On a Sunday?" "OK, what if it weren't a Sunday?" He recommended the Boeing tour. Anything else? He said there was a nice park if you continued north up Colby Avenue.

Fortified, we set out to explore. Since Sept. 11, the giant U.S. Navy station has been off-limits to visitors (though ships may be available for tours during the Fourth of July). The waterfront marina development, with a handful of shops, left us underwhelmed, offering just a tiny bit of shoreline for walking plus two versions of Anthony's restaurants (one a Home Port, one a Woodfire Grill); it felt like a poor cousin to South Lake Union. Whale-watching tours only ran Monday through Friday. Yet the acres of parking at this giant marina were jammed: So this is what everyone was doing in Everettsailing, or working on, their boats!

LIKE SEATTLE, Everett is contemplating a massive redevelopment of its waterfront. Once home to numerous shingle mills, it's now the site of just one Kimberly-Clark toilet paper/diaper plant with a rather spotty environmental record, plus a random assortment of maritime businesses. Long-term, the Port of Everett plans to open up more of the acreage along the bay to walking, biking, and nonindustrial commerce. But for the moment, Port Gardner Bay, on which Everett sits, is best enjoyed from above: specifically, from the ridge where the old timber barons used to live. Grand Avenue has some fine old homes (including a 1910 colonial that belonged to Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson; not open to tours) and a nice grassy park that's several blocks long, from which you can look out on the full vista of waterfront. (Careful where you stash the carthese Everett cops are on it.)

Yet Everett puts its best foot forward for those who arrive by mass transit: The gleaming new Amtrak/Greyhound station sure beats the hell out of Seattle's own armpit of a train depot, with a four-story-high ceiling, steel-and-glass clock, streams of sunlight, and cool lumberjack murals by Northwest master Kenneth Callahan salvaged from the lunchroom of an old Weyerhaeuser mill. Another much-touted architectural highlight, the once-derelict, lovingly rehabbed 1920s Monte Cristo hotel, with low-income housing on its upper floors plus a function room, cafe, and elegant display of glass art from the Pilchuck School in the lobby, left me thinking: "Wow, great for Everett!" But probably not worth going out of your way to see.

If I ever go "on holiday" to Everett again, I'll definitely bring a bike: A dedicated lane sweeps you along the north end of the waterfront and up tree-lined Colby Avenue. Even better is a sweet path along the Snohomish River that starts at grassy Langus Riverfront Park (just drive north on Highway 529 across the drawbridge, east past the giant cement and sawdust operations, and you're there). It winds southeast around the water treatment plant and out to the Spencer Island wetlands. The grass at Langus, and all the Everett parks, seems remarkably lush, and best of all: no Canada geese! A clear mark of Everett superiority.

There was no AquaSox game that night (the season opens June 18), and the Village Theatre was only showing matinees, so Mom and I followed our waiter's suggestion and headed to the northern end of town to Legion Memorial Park. There, a lovely arc of bluff overlooks the Snohomish Riverwith the Nord Door factory just below to remind us of Everett's enduring industry. The waiter was right: It was the best spot in town and a fine place to watch the sun drop.

Everett didn't have much of what I expected: little in the way of kitsch, very few hulking old manufacturing structures, minimal timber-town ambience. But it was full of charming neighborhoods and a pleasant calm. Once Sound Transit's commuter rail makes it up to that fancy rail station (offering a 55-minute commute to Seattle's King Street Station), I could even see buying a tidy house up there. Tourism, I don't know; but geez, nice place to live.

mfefer@seattleweekly.com

 
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