LET'S SWING BACK IN TIME ABOUT 100 YEARS. Historians note than even way back then, people liked having fun, and 100 years ago the party area of choice was Georgetown. Imagine what it was like: In order to get there from Seattle, we'd have to... well, let's see. There is no I-5, so the Corson/Michigan exit, which currently leads into the heart of Georgetown, is not yet even a gleam in the Transportation Department's eye. We could take the train, but a steamboat from Yesler Wharf is the preferred, and most scenic, mode of getting there. Instead of the tediously straight route the river currently takes underneath the West Seattle Bridge, the Duwamish of yore lazily loops in curvy zigzags past beautiful residential gardens and lush greenery into G-town central. We dock alongside a riverside roadhouse (now a Texaco station that sells more 40-ouncers than gas), where the noisy din of drinkers and lively music emanates from the outside beer garden. Climbing out of the boat, we enter the saloon and quaff a quick Bayview Lager (produced right down the street at the Bayview Brewery, which is owned by state Senator Andrew Hemrich), and marvel at drinking it right out of the bottle, thanks to the recent invention of metal crown caps.

The fresh beer provides a quick buzz, but we're still of sound enough mind to remember that the horse races are about to start. A quick, four-block walk past a few more saloons brings us to the Seattle Race Course (nowadays, it would be about where Stanley and 13th Avenue South meet). As it turns out, we're early. The Seattle Alki's baseball team is playing the final innings of a double-header right in the middle of the track's infield. That means we have time to run over to Jules Mae's for a quick Rainier, before sneaking into the backroom bookie joint to place our bets. The Rainier goes down fresh and smooth, and is our favorite beer--lucky for us, since it's the only beverage served here. (All the saloons in G-town are owned by breweries and leased to bartenders, who promise to serve only their product.) Someone in the back of the place yells, "Gentlemen, place yer bets!" We bet high, putting two dollars on Old Champ to win in the fifth.

The workers, just finishing their shift at the Rainier Brewery directly across the street, trample in--though some shear off to spend their weekly wages on prostitutes at a roadhouse down the street. Everyone's in a good mood, and since it's been only a week since the last saloon shooting, it'll probably be a quiet night with few fights. As we head back to the track to see how Old Champ fares, we notice the streets bustling with street vendors, organ grinders, and carts being pulled by horses. We pay our 25 cents, head inside the track, and settle down around the south turn with a bag of peanuts. As the horses prepare for the gate, we turn to the southwest to admire the construction of the Georgetown Power Plant.

The building's 80-foot-tall corrugated metal walls are truly an awe-inspiring sight. Inside will be two new steam turbine generators, both mechanical wonders, each towering over 60 feet high. They'll supply electricity and drive the entire Seattle-Tacoma Interurban railway system. The building literally dwarfs the surrounding residential area, which is filled with beautiful vegetable gardens tended by Italian immigrants (it's since been flattened to make room for Boeing Field).

The Duwamish snakes past these farms as well as the power plant, providing the water that fuels both. You think how funny it is that barely 50 years earlier this same river wound its way through a wide prairie, home to only animals and an Indian village. Things change so quickly. Georgetown is a city and a city needs industries, like the breweries and power plant, in order to prosper. But just imagine for a moment what it must have been like to live back then. To be standing on that prairie, hearing nothing but wind and water; Mount Rainier seeming close enough to touch. How big and quiet the world must have seemed....

A shot rings out as the horses leap from the gate.

A City Built on Beer

One hundred years later, Georgetown resident Tim O'Brien sits in a red vinyl booth at the still-standing Jules Mae's Saloon (now the oldest brick building in G-town, and the longest continually operating bar in Seattle). O'Brien is easily recognized by the bowler hat that always rests on his head and the packed briefcase he carries everywhere, filled with old maps, deeds, and newspaper clippings. A retired school teacher, O'Brien finds himself in the unlikely position of being Georgetown's historian, documenting a city now almost completely lost to the ever-encroaching machinations of industry. He's a curmudgeon, all right--a curmudgeon intent on making sure that the real story of Georgetown is never forgotten.

"Georgetown was built on beer," O'Brien says, rifling through his bulging case. "It was a city incorporated by the breweries for the preservation of the breweries. See, early on there were lots of little breweries that made a limited amount of beer for a limited amount of saloons. Beer didn't keep or travel well back then. Plus, Seattle's anti-saloon league was politically powerful, and started passing laws limiting the number of saloons in Seattle." In order to protect themselves from the teetotalers of the time, Seattle's biggest brewmeisters, (Hemrich and Edward Francis Sweeney), along with other business owners, bought up property, incorporated, and in 1904 built a city where their breweries could operate and prosper. The first mayor of Georgetown was a beer man himself: John Mueller, superintendent of Seattle Brewing and Malting Company, whose house still stands--now an apartment five-plex--on the corner of Carlton and Bailey. Without the stringent moral supervision of Seattle constantly hovering over their shoulders, the breweries started building saloons left and right. At the height of their industry, this new little city supported 20 drinkeries.

Despite the touchy-feely spirit of cooperation, the breweries weren't above stabbing each other in the back. "Remember, the saloons were a male-dominated society," O'Brien explains. "These places sold beer, plus there was gambling, prostitution, and lots of fights. So it wasn't uncommon that if a competing brewer wanted to own a certain saloon, he could have one of its customers shot while drinking there. Then the place would be closed down and quickly purchased by the brewer, in order to have another place to sell his beer." O'Brien pauses and with a slight smirk adds, "An interesting way of marketing your product."

Though the breweries eventually decided this type of competition was not in the best interest of their customers and formed combines (eventually becoming the Rainier Brewery), they and Georgetown would soon be taking on an enemy more powerful than any competitor--Seattle's moral minority. "As the breweries got bigger and bigger, Seattle churches formed a political party called the Anti-Saloon League, whose goal was to get their people elected," says O'Brien. "And they were very successful. Brewmeister and senator, Henry Hemrich found himself constantly under attack. The group proved so powerful, Seattle eventually got prohibition four years before the rest of the country."

As Georgetown's prosperity grew, so did interest from the Anti-Saloon League, as well as from not-so-morally minded Seattle politicians. "At the time, Seattle was one politically rotten town." According to O'Brien, "The corruption was unreal. But of course, you won't find that in the history books." He says Seattle was desperate to annex Georgetown so it could get the extra population numbers on its census. "See," he says, pointing to a Xeroxed representation of the former city, "Georgetown used to include Beacon Hill, all the way up to the east side of Jefferson Park Golf Course. Development wasn't going as well as planned, and utilities being what they were at the time, the city had trouble getting water up the hill. Seattle was demanding they get it done, and the papers began writing stories about it, and how Georgetown was running rampant with crime--which was probably blown a bit out of proportion. Sure, there were fights, shootings, and prostitution--but hey, the neighbors weren't complaining."

Even after planting seeds of discontent in the ears of the voting public, the first time Seattle politicians ran an annexation election to gather Georgetown into their municipal fold, they lost by a whopping 60 percent. As is often the case in the mindsets of Seattle politicians, if the public doesn't like something the first time (think Commons), then it's vote, vote again. And on its second time around, annexation passed by a two-to-one margin--thanks to what O'Brien assumes was political massaging of the breweries by Seattle politicos.

And so, in 1910, after being a city for only six years, Georgetown was annexed and became just another Seattle neighborhood; the newest ward of a city that, as it turned out, had a lot of plans for this uppity stepchild.

Little Airport on the Prairie

"Jesus!" I think, as a humongous military plane roars over my head. Standing at the end of Boeing Field's runway is no place to be without earplugs. But in that case, I wonder aloud, what do the residents do--those who have to live with this racket every day?

"What?" O'Brien yells, over the din.

"Never mind," I say.

"See, when the settlers picked this spot," O'Brien says, motioning to the whole of Boeing Field (a.k.a. the King County Airport), "it must have been incredibly beautiful. This was a prairie. A Duwamish Indian village was right here, and you can totally understand why anyone would choose this place to settle. On a clear day, if you want to see Mount Rainier, there's no better place to do it."

For a moment, there are no planes flying over, and we try to imagine what it must have been like. "It's a sacred place," O'Brien says. "Even with all the jets on Boeing Field, it's still sacred."

According to him, this sacred plot of land is where Seattle actually began. Two families, the Collins clan and the Maples, settled on this prairie, alongside a tribe of Duwamish Indians, in 1851. "Of course there's arguments about that too," O'Brien says. "Arthur Denny [the founder of Seattle according to most history books] was the jealous type, and wanted his party to be first in everything. However, it was [Denny's] own brother, David, who screwed him. David was on a reconnaissance mission, and wrote in his diary about running into the Collins family; how he saw them moving stuff onto their claim--and this is long before Denny landed on Alki!" O'Brien gets a kick out of history, especially when the bigwigs end up looking like jerks. The problem is it doesn't happen very often.

"We're standing on the Collins claim right now," he frowns as another carrier roars overhead. "The birthplace of Seattle. Yet Boeing doesn't even recognize it. See, up until 1951, this whole area was filled with houses, the Georgetown Boys Club, and Italian farmers growing vegetables to take to market. And as if Boeing hasn't already taken enough, now they want to extend their runway another 800 feet."

Even though Boeing Industries is merely a tenant of the King County Airport, thanks to the jobs it brings our local economy, it's pretty much been given the run of the place. However, it would be fair to state that Boeing, as well as many of the industries surrounding Georgetown, aren't exactly known for considering the feelings of the residents in their continuing efforts to expand. A quick glance around reveals an area practically decimated by industry. The curvy Duwamish, Seattle's only river, was filled in and straightened to simplify container travel. Street-ends and parks that lined the river were practically given away to companies needing space to store their train-car-sized containers. This was followed by trucking, chemical, and transportation companies moving in to completely surround what's left of the residential area--roughly four streets, each about five blocks long. Residents have been forced to defend their own homes--against noise, pollution, and a city government that quit sticking up for them 40 years ago.

"We're in the industries' way," O'Brien says as we walk across the grass toward the Georgetown Power Plant. "Things that go on down here are not in the best interest of a livable city, and they happen because the big players want them to happen."

A Higher Power Situation

The Georgetown Power Plant represents a good example of the comfort of industry taking precedence over that of the public. It's the only surviving and operational turn-of-the-century, steam-powered generator, and one of two Seattle national historic landmarks. Yet an easy bet would be that most Seattleites have never seen it nor even heard of it. That's because it sits unmarked behind the locked gates of Boeing Field. And while it is available for tours, it's practically inaccessible to the public. Though the land it sits on is owned by Seattle City Light, the area completely surrounding it is owned by the airport.

Stepping inside the mammoth corrugated metal walls of the plant, I'm greeted by a rare and amazing sight. Two 60-foot-tall vertical turbines dominate most of the building, surrounded by brass-railed staircases and catwalks. Giant pistons and flywheels are powered by steam, which is produced by two rows of ash hoppers half a football field long. The walls are lined with beautiful brass switches, meters, and dials; all part of a charming technology invented back in the day when form was at least as important as function.

O'Brien is obviously equally enamored of this place, and compares it to any landmark in Seattle. "This is clearly the most significant!" he says, with what borders on a mother's pride. "I mean, compare this to the Pioneer Building in Pioneer Square. Give me a break! But who knows about it? What does it say for a society that would treat a national landmark like it doesn't mean anything? If the county allows Boeing to extend that runway, the noise and vibration impact would be severe. Besides, the value of a national landmark is in direct relation to how accessible it is to the public. If they continue to keep it locked up so nobody can enjoy it, then the value is diminished. Then, later on, Boeing can say it's not significant."

Someone who definitely thinks the site is significant is Lilly Telefson, director of Friends of the Georgetown Power Plant, primary caretaker of the facility, and a G-town resident. An operating engineer, Telefson is a five-foot-four-inch fireball of energy, who's dedicated years to renovating the giant turbines, while keeping her eye on her ultimate goal: turning the steam plant into a working museum and teaching facility. Though generally soft-spoken, Telefson literally beams with passion while describing her work refurbishing the place. It's an unpaid position, and since the installation is owned by City Light, her job could technically be taken away from her at any time.

"I'm not worried about it, though," she says with a shrug. "What we have here at the plant is a higher power situation. It's pure luck I ended up being involved with it at all. After moving in across the street, I took a tour of the plant back in '89. And it kind of drove me crazy, 'cause I fell in love with the place, and the curator didn't even know what half of the equipment did. Of course, I didn't really know anything about it either, but in '92 when the prior caretakers gave the keys back to City Light, I knew I wanted the place. So I marched into their offices and told them I would look after the place and give tours. I just wanted to be here."

Being "here" came with its share of problems, however--mainly in the form of Boeing's plans to extend its runway. "Bringing it 800 feet closer would take the runway to our fence line," Telefson explains, "and this doesn't even include the blast pad [the area hardest hit by backwash emitted from a jet engine], which would extend 200 more feet and to the end of our building. These blasts of air could potentially blow our windows out, and if that broken glass hits you, it could kill you. Not to mention the impact of vibration on fragile equipment, and disrupting our classes. It's just gonna be too close."

"I mean... I live right across the street! I don't want to remodel my house with polyrazzmatazz windows. And if my house was built in 1918, why should I change it just to help Boeing?"

It quickly became apparent that after Telefson took over the power plant, she would need some help for the battles to come. It wasn't long before she met someone who would figure very prominently in the museum and in her personal life: Paul Carosino. "I was giving one of my first tours," she says, "when Paul told me he used to work here and would be happy to help turn it into a museum." The two worked closely together, Telefson doing much of the physical labor, while Carosino acted as the "front man," writing grants and making friends with influential people who could help them cut through the red tape. Together, they fought numerous battles with Boeing and the city over safety/liability concerns, and eventually, perhaps because of these outside turmoils, fell in love.

Sharing a common goal, Telefson and Carosino formed a coalition of Georgetown neighbors who helped clean and work on the museum, and even began making headway on forging an alliance with their next-door neighbor, Boeing Field. However, just when the idea of a working museum seemed like it could become a reality, the inconceivable happened. On October 30, 1996, Carosino died of a massive heart attack on the floor of the plant at the age of 48.

Overlooking the giant turbines, Telefson is silent--like she still can't believe it happened. "It... wasn't supposed to be like this," she says, her voice breaking slightly. "I was supposed to do this with Paul. He was so smart and charismatic, dealing with the public side of things, and he was so mechanically skilled, too. And after he died, all the guys who had been on our side said, 'That's it. The museum's gonna fold.' After that, I didn't get any support. I was so stunned. My future just flew out the window."

It was entirely possible that the project would have "folded" too, had Telefson not suddenly discovered a power she never knew she possessed. "Prior to this point, whenever I found myself in a conflict, I was totally intimidated," she says. "But after Paul died, something inside of me suddenly snapped. I found myself becoming very strong, and if anyone gave me any shit, I would just turn on them and say, 'Either get with it, or get out. If you wanna whine, take it to Whiner's Anonymous.' I had to get a newsletter going, I had to make public presentations, and do all those things that had previously been so hard for me. I learned to toughen up, and... well, even though everything that happened was so awful, it really primed me for dealing with protecting this place from the airport."

Currently, Seattle City Light (the owner of the property) is working with King County (the owner of the airport) to do a land trade that would effectively fence the museum out of the airport, and give the public easy access to it.

"So the way I like to see it, whatever happens happens. BUT!" Telefson says, pointing to the monstrous antiquities behind her, "You can be sure the museum's not going anywhere. Around here we're used to relying on a power greater than Boeing."

I Almost Stepped on a Goose

"Turn right here," O'Brien says, pointing to what appears to be a barbed-wire fence.

"Where?" I ask, straining to see what he's talking about.

"Here! Here!" he barks, pointing at a thin driveway next to a Boeing administrative office on Marginal Way.

I turn in, and remark, "This is where your river park is?"

"You're going to love this place," he says, as I pull into one of two parking spaces Boeing provides to the public.

A mostly scratched-out sign, no bigger than a sheet of notebook paper, announces that we have indeed arrived at the river park--even though it more closely resembles the entrance to a maximum-security prison.

"This way," O'Brien says as he leads me down a long catwalk that runs alongside one of Boeing's anonymous administration buildings, flanked on both sides by high, chain-link fences. On my side of the fence are weeds and broken glass. The opposite side of the fence is lined with unused port-o-potties, dumpsters, and rusted transportation containers. Not exactly what I'd call a scenic route.

"This was a street-end park," explains O'Brien. "But the government gave the land away to Boeing in exchange for them taking care of the park for the public. But what they did was take over most of the park as their own property and let the rest go to hell." And then pointing ahead, he says, "Look."

I did look, and what I saw was pretty fucking pathetic. Knee-high weeds and brambles overtaking a grassy knoll, in what used to be a nice, architecturally landscaped park. It's very easy to see what the place could've been, by simply looking over a fence and witnessing how well-manicured the "Boeing" side of the park is--the side where the public is not allowed.

In fact, the knoll is so overrun, twice I was almost slapped in the eye by thorny limbs, and once I almost stepped on a goose. As a living testament to how little this park is used, a goose had made her nest right on the steps of the hill's staircase.

At the top of the knoll, we look out over the Duwamish. It looks like what you'd expect for a river that's been filled in and forced to flow in a straight line for the benefit of container transportation: dirty, straight, and boring.

Tom's Town, Too

But according to Georgetown activist and resident Tom Knoblach, maybe I should be happy I'm even able to visit the park. "There are industries here who are actually trying to stop access to the river by the public," he says. "Their excuse is that it's unsafe because of all the trucking going on around there. But these are still city streets! And trucks still have to abide by traffic rules, whether they are close to the river or anywhere else."

Knoblach is a landscape designer coming up on his 10th year as a G-town resident, with a well-manicured home directly across the street from Boeing Field. He's also in charge of community beautification programs like tree plantings, and is a steward to another park that lies beside the Duwamish. "I talk about the Duwamish to people and they laugh," he says. "Mainly because, in their minds, it's completely polluted and so far gone they think it's beyond rescue. Seems a lot of people look at Georgetown that way... like it's beyond rescue."

According to the residents I talked to, living in Georgetown is a mixed bag. You have a neighborhood with quick access to downtown, historic and interesting architecture (most of it built around the turn of the century), and one of the last places in Seattle where a family with a medium income can afford to own a home. The downsides, according to Knoblach, are at least as many. "Georgetown lacks basic services that other neighborhoods get. Though there are city-sponsored improvement plans--like the matching fund program, which works well in places like Wallingford--there aren't many doctors and lawyers living in Georgetown. We're just not able to put up that kind of money. It also doesn't help that the City Council doesn't want to get involved. What they forget is that even though the airport is owned by King County, issues like Boeing's expansion will directly affect city residents. Night-time flights will increase, along with the amount of air pollution, and more planes will be flying directly over downtown. This affects us. We're Seattle citizens, too."

Things most of us take for granted in our own neighborhoods, like the absence of trailer trucks barreling down the streets during the middle of the night, are constant problems for those in Georgetown. "Trucks used to come right up Carleton Avenue (Georgetown's major residential street)," Knoblach says. "And after a long fight, we finally forced them to go around the neighborhood. They weren't very happy about being told they had to go two blocks out of their way. It's still a battle, and the trucking companies would love to take over our street again."

And it looks like they just might. The city of Seattle recently gave the go-ahead to the Greater Duwamish Manufacturing and Industrial Center Plan--part of Seattle's comprehensive approach to dealing with the city's growth. This plan eats away at even more of the neighborhood by rezoning homeowners' property for industrial usage. This would not only give truckers carte blanche to travel through residential areas, but also would allow companies to build directly next to people's homes.

The final tally adds up to this: With I-5 to its east, trucking companies boarding up the river to the west, Boeing's plans for expansion from the south, and now the city swinging the door wide for industries coming in from the north--it's easy to see why Georgetown has become a virtual fortress, leaving the residents little choice but to dig in and fight. One final question remains. Will they be able to hold their ground? "This could be the final nail in the coffin," Knoblach says. "We can't lose anymore space and be a viable community." However, he remains positive. "I guess I'll stick it out, though. Georgetown is a nice place to live in so many ways. It's been around for almost 100 years after all, and if I had my guess, 100 years from now people will still be down here fighting to stay."

Almost 100 years. Looking at Georgetown now, it's hard to imagine how different things were back then. It's also hard to imagine a resident of Wallingford or Magnolia speaking with the same civic pride many Georgetown residents possess--but maybe they would if they were forced to fight for their homes. The initial reaction most of us have regarding the people of Georgetown (who have heard it all many times over) is why don't they just give up? Pack it in and move? Why fight so hard for a place that's noisy, polluted, and surrounded by companies that don't want them there?

Perhaps one way to understand is by pulling up a stool at Jules Mae's saloon. Order a drink and take a long look at all the pictures on the walls. It's filled with memories from 100 years ago, when people actually made a night of it in Georgetown; taking the leisurely boat ride down the Duwamish, having a beer made just hours before, and enjoying the thrill of their horse leaving the gate first. They were experiencing a city built by industry--but designed for people.

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