Many aspects of Wedgwood as we know it today have been shaped by the processes of community action. Dahl Playfield at 7700 25th Ave NE is a good example.
The story of Dahl Playfield began in 1947, when eighty parents of Cub Scout Pack 165 petitioned the city for recreational facilities. They were joined in their effort by the Ravenna Elementary School PTA. They realized that in an era of rapid growth, space for parks and playgrounds had to be set aside before all the land was gone. The Picardo Farm (now known as the P-Patch) was the original site of interest for a park, but due to a fortuitous engineering error, attention shifted to the land south of the farm, known as Big Pond (or) Ravenna Swamp.
In the 1940s there was a complete neighborhood of two-bedroom houses along NE 77th Street, right through what is now the middle of Dahl Playfield. The side streets of 26th and 27th Avenues NE extended all the way from NE 75th Street to 77th. There were even some small businesses located on the streets, such as Fred Rasmussen’s auto repair garage at 7550 27th Ave NE (an address at the intersection of NE 77th Street & 27th, at about where the skate park is now.)
Between 25th and 28th Avenues NE, NE 77th Street was unpaved. This was fine in Seattle’s “dry season” of July and August, but for much of the rest of the year NE 77th Street had standing water and residents had to park their cars at a distance or risk getting mired in the muck. No one seemed to realize that NE 77th Street was literally floating on the surface of a peat bog, despite the fact that the area had earlier been referred to as Big Pond (or) Ravenna Swamp. The houses were not hooked up to a sewer line because they were out of the city limits; they were on septic system. The residents looked forward to their neighborhood becoming part of the City of Seattle because they thought that the answer to the muddy conditions on NE 77th Street was for the city to bring in drainage and sewer lines.
In the late 1940’s, after World War Two, the City of Seattle began to move its city limits out to northern neighborhoods such as Wedgwood. As included in part of the City of Seattle, street paving and digging for sewer lines began along 25th Ave NE. The city engineers did not realize the entire area was a peat bog, and when water was pumped out of the sewer-line trenches, it resulted in the collapse of the soil and the sinking of houses. Some of the houses slid off of their foundations, split in half and were a complete loss.
In his investigation for the city, R.W. Finke, city engineer, wrote:
“Claims totaling $5500 have been filed against the city for damage to the houses within the area by reason of the sewer construction. The unwatering of the sewer trenches produced some subsidence (sinking) in the peat for distances a great as 100 feet from the trenches. The taking of the area for playfield purposes will eliminate the necessity for settling or contesting these claims. Considering the many economies which will result, it is our opinion that the site south of East 80th Street is preferable to the Picardo tract (for use as a playfield.) August 30, 1949.”
Action was taken quickly. Only two months later, the City condemned the land (action known as eminent domain) and designated it for use as a park and playground. It was first known as East 80th Street Playfield.
Development of the playfield proceeded slowly and painfully. The first three years included time to allow owners to move their houses if possible or reimburse them for damages. Time was spent in court with appeals and objections by property owners adjacent to the proposed park. In addition to the damaged homes, one resident sued the city for breach of contract because he had been allowed to graze his horse on the field, and felt he should also be reimbursed for loss of access.
In 1952 a smoldering fire burned for several weeks in the underlying peat and neither the Fire nor Parks Department was able to extinguish it. The surface in some burned-out sections dropped four to five feet and the park was closed for safety reasons. The city decided to remove the peat and replace it with fill dirt before development could proceed.
In 1955, the Park Board named Dahl Playfield to honor a former director, Waldo J. Dahl. Although Dahl was not directly associated with the playground, he had worked on numerous civic projects and helped to develop recreation facilities throughout the city, and the parks department wanted to honor him.
By the end of the 1950s an estimated 75,000 cubic yards of peat had been removed from about half the field and replaced with fill dirt. Use of the field for ball games had begun and a shelter house, sprinkler system and some play equipment had been installed.
In July 1989 the Wedgwood Community Council applied for a $16,000 neighborhood matching grant and additional funds were raised by soliciting individual donations. The money was used to plant trees and grassy areas, install a walking promenade, buy picnic tables and make improvements to the playground area.
In September 1992 the Wedgwood Community Council pledged “an indefinite, ongoing commitment to clean-up and maintenance of the play area; watering and mulching the newly planted trees for two years of intensive TLC.”
The year 2006 marked the completion of the largest renovation of Dahl Playfield since it was created. Led by the Friends of Dahl Playfield in a grant-funded effort, all of the play areas were reconfigured and new equipment installed. Landscape architects designed drainage areas with natural plantings.
Both the Dahl Playfield committee and the Parks Department have to juggle competing demands for the use of public space. Community surveys have shown that some people want a more park-like atmosphere, with trees, benches and picnic areas, while others would like to see development of current passive-use sections of the park to relieve the pressure on the existing baseball and soccer fields. One thing is certain: The future of Dahl Playfield will be determined by continued community involvement in promoting the best use of the land.