CRI: Learn about local history

By John Nadeau | Apr 20, 2012

Think about our great cities.

We have cities like New York and Chicago, characterized by their energy.

Cities like Boston and San Francisco are famous for their cosmopolitan appeal.

Plus cities like New Orleans, known for their unique attractions.

And we also have Seattle, not long ago a provincial backwater and today a vibrant urban center.

How did we get here?

Answering that question will be Mimi Sheridan, instructor for a course offered by the Creative Retirement Institute (CRI), the lifelong program at Edmonds Community College.

She is well qualified to do so, having earned a master’s in urban planning from the University of Washington and a history degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She’s been a preservation consultant for 16 years and has taught at UW.

The CRI course, Seattle and King County: Beach Camp to Metropolis, will take place on three Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon, May 4 through 18.

“We’ll explore the physical development of the city and its suburbs, focusing on the primary themes and forces that directed its growth,” Professor Sheridan says.

For example, Seattle’s location will be an important topic: the gateway to Alaska, Canada, and Asia.

Topography and natural resources have played their roles:  early on, the lumber industry, fishing, coal, and agriculture.

Transportation has always been critical: water at first, of course, then roads, but railroads came very late.

Sheridan will discuss a number of external forces that have shaped the city, for example the Klondike gold rush, which had a positive effect on Seattle’s economy even up to the First World War.

The Second World War also provided an economic stimulus in the form of military activity involving Boeing and shipyards.

The ex-servicemen who stayed in the area promoted postwar growth of the suburbs because the G.I. bill promised not only higher education but also affordable mortgages.

Along the way, you’ll also learn about a few personages responsible for Seattle’s becoming Seattle. Two come to mind:

James A. Moore was a flamboyant real estate operator, who in the late 1800s bought up large tracts of open land. He developed what became University Heights, as well as Rainier Beach, Madison Park, and the Latona section of Wallingford

He also developed a chunk of what is now Capitol Hill when it was overrun by underbrush. (He tried to get the state capital moved from Olympia.)

Moore ensured “high grade” real estate there by prohibiting any house worth less than $3,000, a substantial sum at that time. In a daring financial move, he loaned money to prospective buyers.

The Moore Theater, still at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Virginia St., remains a tangible sign of his legacy.

On the other hand, Reginald H.Thomson’s objective was not to build Seattle up but to level it.

As the city’s chief engineer, he smoothed the contours of downtown, dealing with steep hills that impeded transportation and expansion.

The largest of these projects, the Denny Regrade, began in the 1890s and took more than 30 years to complete. Ten million cubic yards of dirt were moved, most of it going into Elliott Bay.

Sheridan will concentrate on geography, demographics, economics, et cetera, but you’ll also encounter some of these colorful entrepreneurs and public servants.

Okay, a few rascals, too.

Interested? You can learn more about this and other CRI courses by phoning 425-640-1830. Ask for a free brochure.

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