Park to replace old substation

The hum of electrical power at the old California Avenue Substation will soon be replaced by the buzz of public meetings and recreational activities.

Until they get a better place to play, parents as well as children living in the surrounding neighborhood gather to play in an empty church parking lot at the corner of Dakota Street and 44th Avenue Southwest, said Kevin Broveleit, a neighbor and volunteer helping to create the new park. There are no basketball hoops at the parking lot but youngsters still gather there to ride bikes and play roller hockey.

The former Seattle City Light electricity distribution facility, at California Avenue and Southwest Dakota Street, is being turned into a community gathering place to be called Dakota Place Park.

City Light cleaned up contamination from the substation before turning over ownership to Seattle Parks and Recreation and, with money from the 2000 Pro Parks levy, the building is set for a makeover this summer.

Dakota Place Park has two components: the building and the landscaping around it.

The two-room building will be renovated into a multiuse facility for community meetings, classes, recreational programs and other activities. It will be able to hold about 100 people.

Just what activities will be offered is up to the Hiawatha Community Center Advisory Council. When the list of activities is set, the interior of the building can be designed to accommodate them.

A new stairway is planned on the California Avenue side of the building.

Meanwhile the landscaping plan for Dakota Place Park includes a plaza on the west side of the building.

"The site was the source of energy for the neighborhood," said Jennifer Cargal, another project volunteer. Therefore the new plaza will have a spiral design of energy pulses emanating from a central point. It will be created by sandblasting the design into the plaza pavement.

A sculptural element that will also tie to the facility's past will be two vintage light poles from Seattle City Light. The poles are designed in what's called the Chief Sealth model, with a tall, fluted pole standing atop a waist-high, solid brass base. The light poles will be erected in the landscaped area north of the building.

The Chief Sealth street light design is still in use but with round instead of fluted poles. New poles also are made of cast aluminum because it is durable, light and easy to work with, explained Dan Williams, City Light spokesman.

Native plants will be planted to attract birds and butterflies to the garden.

Some plants for the new park have been secured but it's not time to plant them yet. So volunteers have taken some of the plants home to keep them fed and watered until its time to put them in the ground at the new park.

The southern exterior of the building has been approved for Seatlle

Fund-raising for the outdoor part of the new park has been underway for a few years. The West Seattle Garden Tour shared its proceeds with the park the past couple of years.

Another $5,000 was donated by the Hiawatha Community Center Advisory Council.

Currently ArtsWest is producing a musical called "Just So," based on a book of children's stories by Rudyard Kipling. ArtsWest is donating 10 percent of ticket sales to the park project when buyers mention Dakota Place Park at the time of purchase.

Contributions also have come from First Lutheran Church of West Seattle, Westside Children's Dentistry, Endolyne Garden Club and the Tilden School.

Volunteers hope to raise another $74,000 to reach their goal of $207,000, said Jennifer Cargal, a Dakota Place park volunteer.

A donor recognition wall is planned too.

The California Avenue substation was recognized in 2003 by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board as an official city landmark.

Built in 1930, the brick building with its Neoclassical Revival terra cotta details is more elaborate than most substations of its time, according to the Landmarks Preservation Board's report. There's an "elaborate wreath of leaves, flowers and festoons of leaves" at the entrance from Dakota Street, the report states.

The building was originally designed to blend with the surrounding residential neighborhood.

The California Avenue Substation also has historical significance because it's the last remaining brick substation of three built by the Puget Sound Power & Light Co.

Seattle City Light bought the Power and Light Co.'s facilities in Seattle in 1951.

Five decades later, City Light decided the California Avenue Substation was no longer needed. The utility sold many of its surplus properties in 2002. That's when Seattle Parks and Recreation acquired it.

The Landmarks Preservation Board approved the proposed changes to the former substation planned by Seattle Parks and Recreation.

Tours of Dakota Place Park are being offered at 9 a.m. Friday, June 2 and Saturday June 10.

Tim St. Clair can be contacted at or 932-0300.

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