The history of Gilman Park takes us back to 1927, when the Gilman Park Community Club led a petition drive to acquire property for a neighborhood playground. Through years of hard work and community persistence the neighborhood celebrated the opening of a beautiful new park in 1932. Gilman Park was an oasis of fun for the neighborhood, and included a play field, tennis courts, a wading pool, children’s play area, and a shelter house.
This shelter house was designed in a simplified Tudor Revival style, and was one of eight similar buildings constructed in Seattle parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These buildings housed large rooms for organized recreation activities and public restroom facilities. Office space for recreation instructors was also provided.
Construction of these shelter houses followed a policy to build only structures that would be pleasing in design and permanent in nature. The Gilman Park Shelter House, renovated in 1973, is significant for its design and for its association with the development of Ballard and Gilman Playfield. As a result, this building has been designated as a historic building by the City of Seattle.
For additional information about the buildings historic designation, please visit: http://web6.seattle.gov/DPD/HistoricalSite/QueryResult.aspx?ID=1224922301
Warm Memories of Gilman Park
If you grew up in the NW corner of Seattle, you probably spent many lazy Saturday afternoons at Gilman Park, playing on the swings, in the wading pool, or participating in a baseball game. Two Ballard High School graduates, who practiced their swing at the park as children, found themselves in the Majors as adults. Southpaw Earl Johnson made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox in 1940 and his brother Chet Johnson played for the Tacoma Tigers before joining the Majors in 1946.
One Gilman Park adventure made the front page of the Seattle Times in January 1953. Jimmy Wright was enjoying a snow covered day at the park when he decided to climb to the top of the shelter house. Once on top, he showed his friends that he could indeed fit in the chimney opening…. and swoosh! Just like Santa Claus, Jimmy went right down the shelter house chimney. Unfortunately for Jimmy, the shelter house was locked from the outside and the only one with a key was park superintendent Ben Evans. After finally being released, he ran to his step-father, soot faced tears streaming down his cheeks, and proclaimed, “Never again!” One trip down the chimney was enough for Jimmy.
Finally, in 1973 the park department developed the first Adventure Playground in Seattle at Gilman Park. Inside the see-through fencing of the playground, children 5 – 13 could build whatever they desired using the available donated supplies of wood, hammers, nails, saws, etc. As long as they didn’t hit each other with the supplies or intentionally get in each other’s way, the supervisor stayed out of the mix. The Adventure Playground required continuous staffing and supervision while open and this may have contributed to the playgrounds demise.
New Memories in the Making
Today when you visit Gilman Park, you are likely to see a T-ball game and little legs running the same bases that the Johnson brothers once ran. Which one of those little league stars will one day be the next big name in baseball? Only time will tell. If you look up at the shelter house the chimney is still there, but the 1973 renovation ensured there will not be another Jimmy sliding down. And if you are looking for adventure, there is still plenty available at Gilman Park. With a large children’s play area, well maintained tennis courts and gigantic grassy green fields, it will continue to be a favorite lazy Saturday destination for years to come.
- Seattle Municipal Archives Photograph Collection
- Memoirs of Vern Vellat, Ballard High School – Class of 1945
- The Seattle Times Archives
- City of Seattle Parks and Recreation
- City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
- Major League Baseball
About the author:
Sue Pierce, long time East Ballard resident, is a self described history fanatic. She is a member of the Ballard Historical Society and creator of Vintage West Woodland, a micro-history research project focused on the neighborhood between 8th Ave NW & 3rd Ave NW. To learn more about the West Woodland micro-history project please visit: https://www.facebook.com/vintagewestwoodland