Madison Valley (Capitol Hill)
SW corner of Harrison Street and Martin Luther King Way.
Julia Lee’s Park is a neighborhood pocket park that normally wouldn’t pop up on my radar. But I ran across an announcement of the park dedication ceremony last month and it intrigued me. I wanted to check it out, so arranged an outing to tour small parks in that general area.
What intrigued me about Julia Lee’s Park was both its history and design.
The park was built in 1993 by Calvert Knudsen in loving memory of his wife, Julia Lee Roderick Knudsen, who passed away in 1990. Julia Lee was active in the arts, a trustee of the Seattle Symphony, and a member of the Arboretum Society of Seattle. Mr. Knudsen purchased the corner building lot and created a privately owned garden that was opened as a memorial gift to the local community.
The Knudsens’ children, who inherited the park, no longer live in the Seattle area and upkeep from a distance had become a chore. To insure that the land and garden would remain a gift to the people of Madison Valley and not succumb to development, the Knudsen children donated the park to the city. As of October 2016 Julia Lee’s Park is now officially a Seattle public park.
The park is located on the southwest corner of the Harrison Street and Martin Luther King Way intersection, two blocks south of Madison Street. Shallow steps enter the park on MLK and at the corner. For wheelchairs and strollers a level entrance is on the park’s north side on Harrison Street.
A maple tree is the centerpiece of this European piazza style garden park, and wide paved paths radiate out from it, linking up to paving that follows the park’s perimeter. Bushes and small trees fill the park around the edges and in between the paths.
This is a park for adults, and I would love to see more of this type around Seattle’s neighborhoods. There’s no playset or open lawn to entertain shrieking youngsters. It’s an urban oasis with mature plantings, artfully laid paving, and plenty of inviting benches.
This is the type of park to which you take a book or sack lunch in order to enjoy being out-of-doors, or where you meet up with a friend to pass some time in good conversation in pleasant surroundings.
Unfortunately my timing was off when I visited. I had been specifically wanting to photograph fall color, but the October weather didn’t cooperate and by the time I got here in November many of the leaves were already gone. It was also the Sunday we turned our clocks back and I hadn’t adjusted accordingly. Even though it was only 2:30 in the afternoon the sun was already fairly low in the sky, first behind some tall evergreens, then soon behind nearby buildings. So between those two things I didn’t catch the park at its best.
It is a four-season park though. In spring there are flowering trees and bushes. In summer there is plenty of shade on the benches, offering a respite from city heat. In fall there are lovely autumn leaves. And in winter with leaves gone from the trees the park offers a spot to catch some rays in between rain showers. (Just get here in late morning or early afternoon in order to get a sunny seat!)
Plus, squirrels. When I was here I was quite entertained by a squirrel that was apparently working on its winter nest. Every few minutes it returned to the center of the park to gather up fallen leaves before heading back to its tree with the new haul.
The biggest drawback of the park is traffic noise. It’s not quite the peaceful garden of contemplation I was expecting. If it were a distant roar type of traffic noise it would be more easily tuned out. Instead, you hear each individual car passing close by on the busy MLK Way.
Even still, Julia Lee’s Park is a lovely little spot and certainly a very welcome addition to the Seattle Parks system. Photography enthusiasts might consider going a bit out of their way to catch the spring flowering and autumn leaves.
Things to Know
4:00 am – 11:30 pm
Cement wall around central tree.
No picnic tables.
Julia Lee’s Park is used almost exclusively by locals. I’ve only been here once, in the afternoon on a November Sunday, so have no grasp of typical usage patterns. One other person, a gentleman in a wheelchair, came into the park towards the end of my stay and was still there when I left.
My guess is that the park is probably fairly popular with people who work nearby and who live in the surrounding neighborhood, and on nice days you’re likely to find a rotating assortment of people scattered around the benches. Though, as with all parks of this type, there are also probably plenty of times you’ll have the place to yourself.
Street parking is available on Harrison and MLK in front of the park, though most users just walk to the park. I was able to park right next to the central steps, but how easy it is to find a spot probably varies by day of the week and time of day.
Weekdays may actually be more difficult during work/commuter hours due to nearby businesses and bus routes, but I can’t say for sure.
Spring flowering shrubs and trees, fall leaves, squirrels.
Best light: morning, though not early due to trees to the east.
Blog article with brief history and map inset