Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sylvester Park Gazebo Gets a Makeover

Above: General Administration (GA) workers were reluctant to identify themselves until I assured them I wasn't with Labor & Industries (L&I). GA employees Tim Brown, left, Wes Cline, in hardhat, and TJ Snoderly, on ladder, were properly roped up and made quick work of ripping off the roof of Sylvester Park's gazebo. Thanks guys!

by Janine Gates

The gazebo at Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia is finally getting the makeover it sorely needs - a new roof. Workers began ripping off the old cedar shakes at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The roof was last replaced about 20 years ago, says Jim Erskine, communications representative for the state General Administration (GA). The cost for the project is about $8,000, which includes labor and materials. Erskine says GA is doing the work instead of hiring a private contractor. Workers will install a new cedar shake roof that is expected to last for about 50 years.

Sylvester Park, established in 1850, is an Olympia Heritage Site. It was originally Olympia's town square, dedicated by the city's founder, Edmund Sylvester.

Above: Sylvester Park gazebo - if this roof could talk....

Where is the Whale?

Above: Kujira's post, seen here on Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. Kujira was spotted missing on Tuesday morning.

Have You Seen This Whale?

Above: Kujira enjoying a sunny summer day on Percival Landing.

by Janine Gates

Kujira the whale is missing from Percival Landing!

The beloved cedar whale carved by local artist Joe Tougas, is indeed missing, however, it was not stolen. Kujira was taken down a couple weeks ago from atop its perch on Percival Landing by city parks and recreation staff, says Stephanie Johnson, city of Olympia arts and events manager.

"A fin came off in the windstorm last month - we had planned to take it down for the Percival Landing restoration, but Mother Nature beat us to it. Johnson said that Kujira gets maintained every other year but this time, water must have gotten in through the blowhole or fin, and it has become soft in the middle.

Kujira probably doesn't mind getting out the cold wind and rain. It's currently hanging out on the second floor of The Olympia Center downtown, drying out for the first time in 29 years. It's seen better days.

Above: Kujira, whose name means "whale" in Japanese, is okay with hanging out at The Olympia Center downtown for now.

The cedar carving was donated to the city in 1981, acquired as a gift from the Patrons of South Sound Cultural Activities (POSSCA).

Kujira will soon go to Tougas' shop for repair and be placed back on Percival Landing after the landing's Phase I restoration, planned to be complete a year from this summer.

Above: Kujira, damaged and looking kind of sad, can't wait to look and feel a whole lot better.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Isthmus Public Hearing: Most Support Interim Zoning Ordinance

by Janine Gates

"When city council is going well, no one comes to council meetings," said Thad Curtz looking out at the relatively sparse crowd of about 65 people gathered for tonight's public hearing at the Washington Center. The hearing addressed the city's interim ordinance to rezone building heights on downtown's "isthmus" area back to 35 feet.

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, which holds 1000 people, was booked in anticipation of a large crowd. "This is the best seat I've ever had at the Washington Center!" joked a city staffer who sat up in the second row near the stage. A public meeting held regarding the isthmus issue in September 2008 packed the Center to capacity.

Tonight, 27 individuals signed up to testify at the public hearing, most of whom thanked the council for their leadership in repealing the previous council's decision to increase building heights on the isthmus to a maximum of 90 feet. Four of the 27 spoke against the interim ordinance, including former city councilmember Joan Machlis.

Peter Stroble, a member of Oly2012 who opposes the interim ordinance, asked the council to "...surround the (nine story) Capitol Center Building with buildings of like scale and it makes more sense...." The city's Design Review board recently denied Triway Enterprises' design plan for large mixed used buildings on the site in part because it was out of scale with its surroundings.

Kris Goddard thanked the council for its decision to change the isthmus zoning back to 35 feet. "(The rezone to 90 feet and) giving up the views is akin to giving up your virginity - you can never get it back," she said to laughter from the crowd.

Several community members testified that they support the interim ordinance, but that it doesn't go far enough in acknowledging the issue of sea-level rise. Jim Lazar suggested a moratorium on development throughout the projected sea-level rise inundation zone until a solution, such as a dike, is implemented.

Rob Ahlschwede said one of the unintended consequences of the rezone issue is that it actually brought the community together. "It increased public participation around the comprehensive plan and the shoreline management plan," he said.

Indeed, there were a record 69 applicants for openings on several city advisory boards. The application process, which just closed yesterday, also attracted fifteen people who have applied for four vacancies on the Planning Commission, according to Cathie Butler, city communications manager.

Mayor Doug Mah said the council will make final comments on the interim ordinance at its meeting on March 9th.

The current council is operating with six members due to the absence of Councilmember Joe Hyer. Hyer was charged today with three felonies related to alleged drug offenses, according to The Olympian newspaper.

Later asked by this reporter what would happen if council votes were to tie three to three, Tom Morrill, city attorney, said that in this case, the interim ordinance will stay in place. "All the council has to do at this point is adopt findings to support the ordinance. If you have a stalemate (on future issues), then you just don't move forward," Morrill said.

The deadline to submit written comments for the record on the isthmus rezone interim ordinance will be accepted until Friday, February 26, at noon. Comments may be submitted to the Olympia City Council, P.O. Box 1967, Olympia, WA 98507 or email,, or hand delivered to Olympia City Hall, 900 Plum Street, SE, Olympia.

The hearing was televised on Thurston Community Television (TCTV), on Olympia's cable channel 3.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Garden at Madison School Takes Shape With Community, Local Business Support

Above: The Madison-Avanti Community Garden quickly takes shape as volunteers lay crushed gravel on February 6.

by Janine Gates

"This is going to be an amazing garden," gushes parent volunteer and garden coordinator Katie Stoll.

Stoll has taken a leadership role in coordinating the creation of a new community garden on Olympia's eastside, on the grounds of Madison Elementary School, in partnership with Avanti High School. Both schools are on Legion Way.

The project has garnered the involvement of many parent, student and community volunteers, and local businesses and organizations, including First United Methodist Church, Garden Raised Bounty, A-1 Rentals, Lew Rents and many more.

The project has been on a fast track since a November planning meeting with Madison principal Gayle Mar-Chun and Avanti High School principal Michael Velasquez, who worked together with active parents such as Stoll. With $600 from First United Methodist Church for garden start up supplies and fencing materials, a lumber donation by Gray Lumber in Tacoma and other support, the garden broke ground in late January.

A major work party last week involved about 45 adult volunteers and 25 children, who laid landscape cloth and moved an impressive 40 yards of crushed gravel. Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB) donated six raised beds and parents purchased four more beds. Volunteers intend to plant a wide variety of annual vegetables as well as fruit and herbs. Teachers will also be involved in creating curriculum around garden activities. Long-range plans include a greenhouse.

Kurtis Roberts of Puget Sound Landscaping is donating his expertise in landscape design to the garden project. "This will be the first opportunity for many children to garden. And look at the garden art! It's a manifestation of the kids already being excited about the garden. It's important for kids to know where their food comes from," says Roberts.

According to Olympia School District community relations director Peter Dex, 49% of Madison's 130 students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Roberts says that unlike Lincoln Elementary School's garden, which grows enough produce to donate food to the Thurston County Food Bank, Madison's garden will help feed its own students. Also according to Rex, 28 students at Madison are considered homeless.

Above: Michael Brown and Andy Suhrbier lend a hand with building the Madison-Avanti Community garden today.

Asked how he became involved in the project, Michael Brown says he lives across the street from Madison. His children are not yet school-aged. "It's hard to get away with not helping out when I live so close. I couldn't exactly just come over and say, 'Hey, where's the muffins,'" Brown joked.

Just then, Katie Stoll arrived with her children, bringing juice and snacks for the guys. Although it was raining, Michael Miltimore said they would probably be there for a few more hours. Miltimore has been lending his expertise in construction to the project. His connections allowed the project to get the garden's fence panels, with grant funding from Avanti, at cost.

Above: Michael Miltimore, right, is donating his construction expertise to the creation of the Madison-Avanti Community Garden and gives fencing instructions to Brian Stoll, middle, and Andy Suhrbier.

"I'm hoping this project will inspire the community to take ownership and pride in our school," said Katie Stoll.

The next garden work party will be March 13, 9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. For more information on how you can contribute your time, donation or expertise, contact Katie Stoll at 464-4507.

Janine Gates is an Eastside neighborhood resident and former Madison School parent.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Be the Change...and Tarragon Changes the Agenda

Above: The view of the Capitol Building is currently in sight of Marine Drive, along East Bay's portion of Budd Inlet. This is the location, near Jefferson and State Streets, considered by Tarragon to build a five story hotel.

by Janine Gates

"I was surprised that they were as far along in the conceptual design as they were," said Mike Reid, property development manager for the Port of Olympia.

Reid was commenting yesterday on Tarragon's pre-submission application to the City of Olympia to build a five story, 232,775 square feet hotel with underground parking for 179 vehicles on port property near State and Jefferson.

Earlier in the week on Tuesday morning, this reporter paid Reid a personal, unannounced visit at port offices to get a comment on Tarragon's pre-submission permit application to the city. Surprisingly, Reid did not know about the application, submitted to the city on January 29. Tarragon representatives had not told him.

"Thanks for the heads-up," said Reid.

So, I contacted Tarragon's development manager, Ryan Hitt, who confirmed the proposal and the meeting scheduled for February 10 at the city's community development and planning offices.

Tarragon representatives have since cancelled the meeting and have not returned phone call requests for information on Thursday or Friday. It is unclear why the meeting was cancelled or if it will be rescheduled.

Also on Tuesday, city permit inspection services manager, Tom Hill explained the application process and said that the public was welcome to come observe the meeting.

Hill said that such a meeting is the applicant's opportunity to ask staff questions about the feasibility of their application. "Then they go away. A lot of applicants don't come back after hearing about the requirements from city staff. But if they do come back, then, based on the information they submit, there's a formal intake meeting for their application. We log it in, create a file, and then the public can comment on it."

Commenting on the permit meeting agenda change, Reid said, "I don't think Tarragon realized how quickly the city could turn around its pre-application. Some jurisdictions aren't that quick...and it appeared on the city website....(But) the idea of a hotel at East Bay is not new. We've known about this since their open house. A hospitality component was clearly articulated."

Tarragon held a public open house in May 2009. "They are doing due diligence with the property. The port wouldn't want someone to tie up the land and not do anything with it. They had to start somewhere and they decided to start with a hotel," Reid said.

"It takes time for anyone to get permits, and that's a good thing," says Reid. "There's no rush other than we want to keep moving forward." The port entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with Tarragon in June 2009 to develop two parcels equaling 6.83 acres on East Bay.

"We are still working out a master development agreement with Tarragon, and that should come first. We're still on target - March is our target date to finish the agreement for the six parcels," explained Reid.

Unclear, however, is the overall vision of the port and the waterfront along East Bay. The port is also entertaining MJR Development, the developer also interested in putting a hotel and restaurant the size of a football field and 40 feet high on port property at nearby Northpoint.

A group of citizens recently petitioned the port commissioners to reverse the November 23, 2009 decision to give exclusive redevelopment rights at Northpoint to MJR Development. The group also hopes the port will agree to reopen the public process and work directly with the citizens of Thurston County to develop a comprehensive vision for the shoreline.

"There's no doubt East Bay is further along in its plans for development than Northpoint," said Reid.

Above: The port's marketing sign "Energizing East Bay and beyond..." is not looking too helpful at the moment on port property at Jefferson and State Streets in downtown Olympia. The LOTT Alliance Education Center and Alpine Experience can be seen beyond the sign. For comparison, the nearby LOTT Alliance Education Center and business offices, still under construction, is four stories, and 54 feet tall.

The next meeting of the Port of Olympia commissioners is February 8th, 5:30 p.m., LOTT Boardroom, 111 Market Street NE, 2nd floor of the Market Centre building, across from the Olympia Farmer's Market. Contact the Port at (360) 528-8000 for more information.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Club Explores Egypt...and psst...Napoleon Lives In Tumwater!

Above: David Markham shows book club members at Fireside Bookstore some items from his personal Napoleonic collection. The group was discussing its January book selection, "Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt."

By Janine Gates

One way to escape South Sound's cold, rainy weather is to travel to somewhere warm, say, Egypt. That's what I've done. But if you don't have the time or money, you could participate with one of several local book clubs. I mentally went back to Egypt this last month by reading Fireside Bookstore's January book club selection, "Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt," by Nina Burleigh.

Jane Laclergue, owner of Fireside Bookstore located in the historic Hotel Olympian downtown at 116 Legion Way, says the group picks unusual books and ones selected by the New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice. "They are almost always very interesting," says Laclergue. Newcomers are always welcome to the group.

The book captures the story of Napoleon's effort in 1798 to take more than 150 French engineers, artists, naturalists, doctors, astronomers, along with 50,000 troops, on what would be a three year effort to conquer Egypt and document Egyptian life there. This invasion would detail the first large scale interaction between Europeans and Muslims. Those who survived the expedition produced a documentation of Egypt such as buildings, rocks, people, plants, animals, flowers, birds, bugs, fish and more.

I bought the book at Fireside and went to the meeting, along with 12 others who were in various stages of either having finished the book or somewhere in-between. Although I was only 45 pages into it by the time the meeting occurred, my specific interest in the area led me to join in on the discussion.

My children and I, in our trip to Egypt during the summer of 2008, saw the actual drawings and engravings of these scientists on display in the library in Alexandria.

Perhaps more important than the actual subject matter of the book, however, was the refreshing and respectful camaraderie of the book club members, who shared personal stories, perspectives and opinions on how the book captured their attention, or not.

"I didn't find it exactly a page-turner...I felt like I was reading a text book but I learned a lot from reading it," said one bookclub member.

"I enjoyed the book - I saw this in the context of France and England - it was a race for India," said another.

At this particular meeting, members commented on how the book parallels in time to contemporary issues - things leaders do that are corrupt to occupy and plunder foreign lands.

Members highlighted and debated certain portions of the book. Abandoned by Napoleon years earlier, the French scientists were finally about to set sail for France, but were intercepted by the British. The scientists threatened to destroy everything instead of letting it all fall into the hands of the British. Through last minute negotiations, they were allowed to keep their work. All that was taken from them was the Rosetta Stone, which is now in the British Museum.

Thought-provoking questions were posed to the group by Laclergue and others to help move the discussion along. Would the scientists have really destroyed all their work that they had spent three years drawing, writing and collecting?

"Their treasures were their drawings. Yes, they would have destroyed them," said one.

"I don't think they would have," said another.

"It's ego over truth. I'd like to think truth would win," said another.

"Aren't there many truths?" said another.

"Aren't there as many truths as there are people?" asked yet another.

The group also debated the means by which things are discovered, such as the Rosetta Stone. Was it worth it? There were no right or wrong answers, of course.

By 9:00 p.m., book club members continued their discussions as they slowly filtered out into the night, and looked forward to their next meeting.

The next book club meeting at Fireside will be February 4, 7:00 p.m., to discuss “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” by Jamie Ford, which is set in Seattle's International District. If that’s too soon for you, the March book club meeting will be March 4, 7:00 p.m., to discuss “Ayatollah Begs To Differ,” by Hooman Majd. You need not have completely read the books to participate.

I have since finished Burleigh’s book and certainly have a better appreciation for the drawings I saw in Alexandria. As for the book club, it’s a good feeling to support a local business and unlike the Timberland Regional Library System, Fireside Bookstore is open on Sundays and late on weekdays.

Above: Tristan Gates' nose is in much better shape than the Sphinx's. And to address the often-repeated myth, no, Napoleon's troops are not responsible for blowing off the Sphinx's nose. That was accomplished by an Arab who chipped it off in the 14th century. Napoleon's troops, however, did happen upon the Sphinx, who was then buried up to his chin in sand.

And psst...Napoleon Lives In Tumwater!

Two book club members who attended Fireside Bookstore’s January meeting to discuss “Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt,” by Nina Burleigh were David and Barbara Markham of Tumwater.

David Markham wore a sweatshirt that said, on the front, “Napoleon’s World Tour.” On the back was a listing of countries and a big CANCELLED notice emblazoned across the names.

It turns out, the Markham’s had more than a passing interest in this particular book club selection. David Markham is none other than a world-renowned Napoleonic historian and scholar, president of the International Napoleonic Society, and author of at least eight books on Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Markham’s took exception to Burleigh’s treatment of Napoleon, which they felt was one-sided. For the Markham’s, Napoleon was not just a military leader. In his relatively short 15 year term of power, he was a leader who instituted a wide range of legal, economic, education, social and religious reforms, many of which are still in place today in France and Europe. “Napoleon was only 29 years old at the height of his power…think of him as an Eisenhower, Pattin, Patraeus, Roosevelt, or even an Obama of his time,” said Markham.

The Markham’s brought with them several items for show and tell, including period engravings, books, and intricate snuff boxes made of wood, bone, ivory and gold. The interest in the items, and David Markham’s obvious passion to share his knowledge led him to invite the book club group members to his home for a private tour of his Napoleonic collection. The date was set. I felt fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

The Markham Collection

Above: David Markham of Tumwater shows off his Napoleonic collection.

The Markham’s Tumwater home features an outstanding, varied collection of Napoleonic items, pretty impressive for a “middle class” collector, as David describes himself.

“Forgive me if I seem not too humble, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a collection of this nature anywhere else….” Markham feels that each of his collection pieces compliments the other.

“You put it all together and what I like about it is that each piece gives you a style of the period without being overwhelmed.” His collection includes porcelains, bronze statues, engravings, snuff boxes, and books. Markham estimates that he has about 1,100 books on Napoleon.

Above: Napoleonic porcelain statues. I asked Markham how his collection fared during the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. He said he was lucky and everything did remarkably well. These statues, however, all shifted to one side of the display case, "as if they were all huddled together for body warmth," Markham laughed. Now, these guys are fixed firmly in place with museum wax, ready to do battle with the Big One.

“You know, Napoleon was the ultimate spin-meister. Images of his great victories were produced very soon, within weeks, of a campaign, and people would be selling the engravings. Medallions would be produced almost immediately. They were trendy, popular and affordable. In the 18th century, it was not uncommon to go into someone’s home and see Napoleon’s image everywhere. After 1815, it was illegal to have anything Napoleonic in your house. I would have been shot on sight,” Markham laughed.

A former high school teacher, Markham, 64, clearly loved playing host, animatedly telling us stories of how he came to start his collection and find various pieces. His wife, Barbara Markham, an assistant attorney general, has served as editor for all of his books. Clearly, she is a full partner in the passion.

At first, Barbara told David that the kitchen was off-limits to any Napoleonic reference, but as David loved to point out, as he continued his tour of their two story house, no room or wall is left untouched. The kitchen contained an enormous poster of Napoleon featuring a tiny Starbucks logo and other not so discreet intrusions.

Markham, the author of several award-winning, heavily academic books on Napoleon, and a featured expert on the History Channel, National Geographic, and the Learning and Discovery Channel, is also, surprisingly, the author of “Napoleon For Dummies.” Yes, it’s one of those yellow and black covered books published by the same company that has a series of “…for Dummies” books.

“I was asked to write a sample chapter by the Wiley publishing company so I wrote one on Waterloo and they accepted it. They have a template for their books and you just plug in the information,” Markham explained. His sense of humor and flair for dramatic storytelling shows in the book. It is academically accessible for all ages, and his style makes it fun to learn more about this leader.

“I admit Napoleon is seen with mixed emotions, yes, even by me….In France, some idolize him but they also recognize that he failed and the borders were reduced in 1815,” Markham says. “Napoleon was known to say, ‘I won 100 battles and they were all made meaningless by Waterloo.’ But he was brilliant. He was the father of modern Europe.”

Above: A bronze bust of Napoleon.

So, how is Napoleon relevant today? I asked Markham.

“Well, the obvious cliché is that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it,” says Markham. “Look at George Bush. If he had won ‘hearts and minds’ and showed more cultural sensitivity, he would have gotten a lot farther. Over 400 generals quit over Iraq under GW. Napoleon is relevant today because he envisioned a European Union, one language, one currency, instituted reforms and promoted religious balance - he was the main force against anti-Semitism, making Jewish people full citizens of France. He even wrote a proclamation that established the idea of a Jewish homeland. He removed the Catholic Church as a form of government, separated church and state, and made it clear that it was a different ballgame. He wasn’t afraid to raise taxes, invest in infrastructure and keep people safe. He promoted free trade with Europe. He would have very much been a supporter of universal health care.”

Markham is currently working on several projects, including more book and article writing and organizing the next International Napoleonic Congress, to be held in Malta in July.

In what seems to be an understatement, says Barbara Markham, “I’ve enjoyed the hobby also and proud of what David has done with it - we’ve met counts and princes…we’ve had a much more interesting life because of Napoleon.”

Above: Napoleon probably never could have imagined today's encroaching development upon the Giza Plateau, above, just a little over 200 years after his arrival in Egypt. During Napoleon's time, the only way from Cairo to Giza was by boat!