What’s Good in Seattle: On the Waterfront

Lois Castelli-Leff
Posted on May 25, 2015, 12:00 pm
21 mins

With the fresh scent of flowers in the air and warmer summer weather approaching, it is natural for us to be drawn to the cerulean water surrounding our beautiful city of Seattle. Accordingly, our theme for May is “By the Sea.”

Seaside Outings

I am captivated by the ocean. The sight, sound and smell of water brings me serenity, stemming from childhood memories of visits to the beautiful beaches surrounding Long Island, New York. One of my favorites was Fire Island on the southern coast. My family and my cousins’ family would often take the ferry there for a daytrip and picnic—or “peek-a-neek,” as our grandmama would say. My sister and I would look at each other and smile at her pronunciation, thinking it was just part of her cute Italian accent, but she was a polyglot and was in fact pronouncing the original French pique-nique. Kids. What did we know?

Growing up in an Italian family, you learn at an early age the importance of food at all occasions. Our father, Ken, and our mother, Pina, would get up at the crack of dawn to prepare a feast to enjoy al fresco. The preparation involved was something that my sister Carole and I always took for granted, but the aroma in our home on those summer mornings became a part of who we are, heart and soul.

Scenes from Golden Gardens

Our mother and father still work side by side in the kitchen, and quality and freshness, not time, is the greatest consideration in every aspect of preparing a meal, which is for them a science and an art expressing love, down to the thoughtful packaging. Bright and early, they would stand over the stove, preparing peppers and egg sandwiches on hard rolls for “Prima Collezione” (“breakfast”) and we could hear the sizzling of sausage, peppers and onions that would fill crusty Italian bread. Small bologna sandwiches on Wonder Bread with mayonnaise were a beach favorite for the children (and Wise potato chips were a must). Our parents brought handi-wipes so we could eat with clean hands, but I can still recall the taste and feel of the crunch of sand with the first and subsequent bites of my bologna sandwich. Who hasn’t eaten sand at the beach?

I remember the exhilarating feeling as we climbed the steps up to the plank onto the ferry. The vision of water appeared and the sun’s rays reflected on the expansive ocean. As the ferry departed the cool breeze and the ocean mist engulfed us. I can still smell the salt air. Without distraction, our attention was entirely on the experience before us and each other, the sea that is the cradle of life. What more could we have wanted?

It isn’t hard to recapture this experience at our local beaches, including Golden Gardens, Discovery Park and Alki. I recommend picnics at all three, as nothing compares with a meal made at home with love, but if you want a convenient fine-dining experience, Alki has several options for dinner, including Cassis and Phoenicia, and of course plenty of places to get an ice cream and a cold drink during the hot days.

A view from Myrtle Edwards Park  

Seaside Readings

As the cradle of life, the sea is the source of both artistic inspiration and scientific discovery, and there is often an overlap. In Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols’ reveals the science that shows how being around water enhances our lives by making us happier, healthier and more competent. Nichols believes, “that oceans, lakes, rivers, pools, even fountains can irresistibly affect our minds.” He then asks of himself and others, “What happens when our most complex organ—the brain— meets the planet’s largest feature—water?

Nichols cites the results of experiments using a mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) unit, which tracks subconscious responses to stimuli and is used in advertising impact studies by the largest corporations in the world. Its inventor, bio-medical expert Dr. Stephen Sands explains, “When you combine EEG scans with eye movement tracking, you get unique, entirely nonverbal data on how someone is processing the media or the real-world environment, moment by moment.” Nichols adds that it, “can measure everything from overall engagement to cognition, attention, the level of visual or auditory stimulation, whether the subject’s motor skills are involved, and how well the recognition and memory circuits are being stimulated.”

“Among [advertisements] that Steve’s team measured were the well known ads that featured people sitting on a beach, backs to the camera as they gazed at white sand and blue water, Corona beers on the table between them, and only the lapping of the sea as a soundtrack. That campaign made the brewer famous, forever associated with tropical ocean leisure…Reflexively we know this: There’s a good reason why Corona chose a beach and not, say, a stockyard,” he adds wryly. “And there are logical explanations for our tendency to go to the water’s edge for some of the most significant moments of our lives. But why?”

I find it is worth seeking that answer oneself, and it’s all right in front of us with the sea before us in Seattle. Nichols an international ocean lovers participate in the 100 Days of Blue online event to promote the Blue Movement, which encourages better stewardship and appreciation of our oceans. The online event starts June 21 and lasts until September 28, and encourages people to visit the ocean and document it in some way. Use the hashtags

The Seattle Waterfront and Seawall Project

When I moved to Seattle 27 years ago, I immediately sought out the beaches. The west coast shoreline is different from the east coast, but also very beautiful. The Seattle Waterfront is the perfect place to take in the natural beauty of our city. The area features parks, piers, ferries, restaurants and quaint shops that span the street above the shore. This month I wanted to write about the attractions and the rich culture in this downtown Seattle neighborhood.

The seawall is significant in its engineering, certainly, but also for the art, ecology and history that is part of it. The old wall being replaced was built in the early 1900s, when the Seattle shoreline as a sloping sandy beach. Between 1911 and 1934, the city built a concrete vertical seawall at the outer edges of the intertidal beach, transforming the shoreline into a deep-water port and filling the intertidal areas. There are now over three kilometers of seawall along the Seattle central waterfront with few remaining sloping beaches. The transformation of natural beaches into vertical hard surfaces consequently affected aquatic organisms. Compared to natural shores, vertical seawalls support fewer species, because they lack habitat complexity and provide less space and refuge opportunities. Shortly after a 2001 earthquake, a section of surface street adjacent to Seattle’s shoreline settled, raising concerns about the condition of the seawall, which further investigations supported.

There is so much more to the Elliot Bay Seawall project than just replacing the old wall. The project manager, Jessica Murphy, explained that the, “purpose is two-fold: to minimize the seismic risk and to improve the near-shore habitat that was lost when the first seawall was built, including sloping beaches, crevices and vegetated hiding places for fish. The new sea wall will protect our working waterfront and will also restore the function of a natural shoreline.”

Waterfront construction has disrupted many businesses temporarily, but not all

Waterfront construction has disrupted many businesses temporarily, but not all

Restoring the salmon migration corridor and improving ecosystem productivity are important objectives of the Seawall Project. The City of Seattle is aiming to create an enhanced fish migratory corridor by adding light-penetrating surfaces in the design of the wide sidewalk to provide more light for sea life below. Habitat benches on the wall’s surface below the waterline will provide shallower areas that are better for hiding and foraging for some aquatic life. Cobbled surfaces and textures will promote the growth of vegetation and marine invertebrates. Native vegetation will be planted along the seawall to create a new intertidal beach to attract more sea life. This will also attract young salmon to swim closer to the new sea wall as they migrate north, away from deeper water where they are easier targets for predators.

The city partnered with scientists at The University of Washington to develop this comprehensive model. Many artists have also been commissioned to create practical and beautiful additions to the designs, including local artist and activist Buster Simpson. It makes me happy to know that when we stroll along the new sidewalk that allows light for the life below, I will be reminded of the innovative and caring people who have the ideas, knowledge and means to make us all better stewards of our environment.

There are countless people working hard to restore Seattle’s waterfront and make it a more hospitable habitat. To learn more about the Seawall Project, please visit their website at: www.waterfrontseattle.org/seawall. I commend the workers who have labored through the winter to finish on schedule, and encourage you to see it firsthand. Most of the time, we avoid areas that are demolished, right? But this is a part of our city’s history, and it is exciting and educational to just be in the area as things take shape.

Speaking of taking shape…

The Great Wheel

The Great Wheel is one of the few businesses that was able to remain open during construction in the area, and its colorful, patterned display has made for a cheery splash of color through long winter nights since 2012. Now, as summer arrives and the days are long and the weather is fair, it is the best time to head down and bask in the breathtaking views it offers.

There is a pedestrian pathway to cross the street through the construction toward the wheel on Miner’s Landing. I there met with Michael “Mikey” Griffith, who manages the restaurants on the pier. When I arranged to meet him, he mentioned that the parking was tricky due to the new Sea Wall, construction, and to park in the lot across the street from the Aquarium. I mention that because it is good advice for everyone visiting that part of town.

Mikey greeted me warmly and invited me up to the Fisherman’s restaurant to talk about the wheel, its origins and the rich history of Pier 57. The name, “Miner’s Landing,” dates back to the 1890s, when the pier was a waypoint for gold miners between California and Alaska during the Yukon Gold Rush. The miners would stop in Seattle for their tools before heading north. (For further reading, please visit their website: minerslanding.com.) Pier 57 is the only privately owned pier in Seattle, acquired by Hal Griffith and family in 1989. Hal still runs the pier with his two sons, Kyle and Troy.

The Carousel at Pier 57 has been delighting families for decades

The Carousel at Pier 57 has been delighting families for decades

“My grandfather, Hal Griffith had always envisioned this pier to become a grand place where families could come, eat, play and enjoy the water views,” Mikey explained, with obvious passion. “Ever since my grandfather was little, he had a dream of owning a ferris wheel and a carousel.”

The city approved the carousel from the outset, and families have been enjoying it for over 28 years. The new addition, The Great Wheel, has been a wonderful way to attract visitors to the waterfront, light our way along the viaduct and appears prominently on television during sporting events as a new symbol of the city. However, it was more of a challenge to get off the ground than the carousel.

“A great deal of red tape had to be overcome,” Mikey explained. “We went through the proper channels and rebuilt the end of our pier. The tremendous support of 150 piles, 150 feet long, were driven into bedrock and 550 tons of concrete were poured around the pilings to make a concrete bed securing them. Each leg that the wheel stands on, sits on its own concrete footing. The legs are secured by 6 foot bolts that run up through the base of the legs.”

Each gondola holds 4 to 6 people, is temperature controlled, and a VIP gondola is offered complete with glass bottomed floor and leather seats. Each has recorded narration describing the waterfront history and pointing out view highlights. The ride is approximately 15 to 20 minutes long depending on the load. The one million LED lights on the side of the wheel create intricate shows at night, designed by Gerry Hall, a master at his trade.

Andrea Smith, Hall’s wife, also works at the Great Wheel and met with Mikey and me to discuss the history of the wheel. She told me that the one million LED lights are controlled by computer and her husband, Gerry, “sips red wind and listens to Phish while programming for all of his lighting inspiration.” She adds, “I of course, peek over his shoulder and tell him what to do—like any good wife should—but he gently holds up his hand like a stop sign and says, ‘I got this!’”

A deck with expansive views was built around the Great Wheel to serve as a place where people could eat and gather outdoors to listen to live music on the pier. Andrea is currently scouting for a band to play at their opening show on July 1. It has become a very romantic spot, where over 200 marriage proposals and 20 weddings have taken place.

The Griffiths have many businesses on Pier 57, including The Fisherman’s Restaurant, the Crab Pot—where you crack and eat crab at the table—the Alaskan Sourdough Bakery, a hand crafted wooden boat shop, a homemade old-fashioned ice cream shop, the carousel and gift store.

The waterfront offers spectacular views, and a variety of places to eat, shop, and visit like the Edgewater Hotel, The Seattle Aquarium, Myrtle Edwards Park, Olympic Sculpture Park, the Washington State Ferry terminal, Argosy Cruises and the Victoria Clipper, restaurants, bike paths, fishing piers and more.

I hope that these choices will be an inspiration to try something old or new, help you plan an adventure or stay local, and to seek out some things to do by the sea that makes us feel good, maybe even taking a ferry ride and a “pique-nique” to enjoy al fresco. I invite you to comment and to please share some of your favorite things to do…by the sea…and when visiting the Seattle Waterfront, bring some art supplies, a camera, or just your walking shoes, and remember to say hi to the construction workers at hand and to Mikey and their innovative family at the Seattle Great Wheel.

Lois Castelli-Leff

Lois Castelli-Leff is a Long Island transplant, 28 years in Seattle. She has a degree in fashion merchandising from FIT and BA in textiles and merchandising from SUNY at Oneonta. Her work experience includes fashion sales and styling at Macy’s NYC and Nordstrom. She held regional sales executive position at both Perry Ellis and Anne Klein and has an extensive background in showroom sales, trade shows and fashion show production. Her community service includes serving as an art docent through the Frye Art Museum and speech coach at Our Lady of Fatima, choreographer for the Magnolia Theatre, and is a member of the Katie McKay Circle. Lois founded her business, Senti, in 2010 producing glass crosses. She has three beautiful children and a dog, Baci.

One Response to: What’s Good in Seattle: On the Waterfront

  1. Peter

    June 10th, 2015

    Excellent article..!!
    Lots of great information..

    Thanks very much ..