Dying to Be a Park Namesake

Dead. That’s the first requirement to have a park named after you. Dead two years is the second one.

Paula Hoff, sitting at her desk in the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department office on Dexter Avenue, regularly explains this stipulation to callers, often to no avail.

“The nominee must be dead two years minimum,” says Hoff, who handles duties for the Parks Naming Committee. “No exceptions.”

They try, anyway. That is why someone has suggested, for example, Emmett Watson Park or, better yet, Watson Gardens, as the name of one of two new parks on the east side of Queen Anne Hill.

The late newspaper columnist unfortunately meets only the first requirement, having died in May 2001 at age 82. That leaves him about 11 months short of park enshrinement.

A namesake plot for the legendary Watson seems a nice notion, however. Lesser Seattle Viewpoint sounds like a natural, as long as there are the proper warning signs, such as “Dogs but Not Tourists Allowed.”

A man named Alberto Morales has written to Hoff hoping the names committee might accept the moniker of Park Pretty Gail for one of the Queen Anne sites, though Gail appears to be not dead at all.

Gail, Morales writes, “is real pretty and she works in the area, and I also think people forget about the beauty of the American woman.”

Sorry Alberto, but drop-dead gorgeous doesn’t make it, either.

A woman has nominated murdered federal prosecutor Tom Wales as namesake of one of the parks, which are located at Fifth North and Blaine and at Taylor North and Newton and be connected by a pathway. One site already hosts a P-Patch, and the other has an engaging, tree-shrouded view of downtown Seattle.

Wales, also a Queen Anne activist, has been dead only since last October, however. But another woman nominated two qualified candidates, suggesting that the two parks be named Princess Grace Park and Princess Diana Park. After all, she said, “this is Queen Anne.”

Though another week remains for name nominations, it appears the Taylor-side park title is virtually locked. The Friends of Northeast Queen Anne Parks has presented a petition with 124 endorsements for Mary Ann MacLean Park.

She was the matriarch of turn-of-the-century hill settlers, says Rich MacDonald of the Friends’ steering committee. Her husband built bungalows in the neighborhood, and several descendants live nearby.

For the Fifth-side park, the Friends group has only a few lukewarm preferences—Hillcrest Park, City Lights Terrace, and Trolley Hill Park. Not a dead doornail among them.

Though the Parks Department stands firm on the two-year death limit, Hoff says there may have been exceptions in the past. I found one—Terry Pettus Park on Lake Union, so named hardly a year after Pettus died in 1984 at 80.

His biography may also have slipped past park reviewers. The department thought of him mainly as a floating home activist, for his work to prevent the extinction of Seattle’s flotilla of houseboats.

But he was also jailed in the 1950s for conspiracy to overthrow the government. Indicted under the Smith Act, he readily admitted his Communist affiliations and refused to inform on other party members.

To the parks department’s credit, it didn’t flinch when it learned of Pettus’ past. They thought he fit perfectly into the system’s eclectic collection of namesakes.

For one, Dr. Jose Rizal Park on Beacon Hill is named for the Filipino patriot executed by the Spanish in 1896 for stirring up the revolution. Howell Park near Madrona is named in part for Jefferson Howell, brother-in-law of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

After all, this is the home of Peppis Playground, Bhy Kracke Park, and the Don Armeni Boat Ramp. And don’t ignore the Emma Schmitz Overlook.

The two-year death cutoff comes as no surprise to some, though. Take the 500 people who signed a petition to rename the department’s Seattle Tennis Center as the Amy Yee Tennis Center, in honor of the longtime Northwest tennis champ and instructor of legions of young players.

Yee died Aug. 14, 2000 at age 77. Her supporters have been waiting anxiously ever since. Hoff’s file on the name change dates back almost to that day.

“Amy Yee Tennis Center has been tentatively approved,” says Hoff. Six more weeks and she’ll be qualified. No exceptions.