Celebrating the Ballard Locks 50th anniversary - Memories of Magnolia history

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part reminiscence on the Hiram Chittenden Locks and Commodore Park. Part Two will run in the Dec. 7 edition of the Magnolia News.

The stories of the Hiram Chittenden Locks and the creation of Commodore Park have been told several times. But the events that led up to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the locks and securing of Commodore Park need to be written in more detail.

The anniversary was celebrated during the weekend of July 1 to July 4, 1967, with a program held on July 4. Preparation began in 1966, when by chance the Magnolia community discovered the locks had been dedicated nearly 50 years before on July 4, 1917.

When Ralph Follestad, the lockmaster, was asked if a celebration would be held, he replied: "Well, we may have an extra cup of coffee."

But once the idea was floated, it took on a life of its own. Many of us felt the publicity of such an occasion might help the efforts of the greenbelt of the locks group and the Magnolia Community Club (MCC) to create a park on the south side of the locks.

Roger Thompson and I had organized the Green Belt organization to make that happen. Roger was president; I was publicity manager. We were the only officers.

When Col. C.C. Holbrook, head of Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, learned of the plan, he appointed Ray Latta of his staff to organize an event.

Latta contacted me. He asked if the club would take part in a planning meeting at Shilshole Marina. Latta also asked the Ballard Chamber of Commerce to send representatives.

When I told Howard Vierling, the club president, about the request, he took an immediate interest in the project. Howard asked me to attend the meeting. That meant I would miss the club's board meeting being held the same evening. I asked Howard, "Can we co-sponsor the anniversary with the Corps if they ask us?" Howard said, "Yes, if it doesn't cost anything."

At the meeting, the Ballard Chamber of Commerce representatives were asked first if they would co-sponsor the anniversary, as the locks were located in Ballard. Their representatives said yes, if the event can be held in late July. The Ballard Chamber planned to make it part of Seafair, an annual celebration in Seattle that the chamber had supported for years.

However, the colonel definitely wanted the anniversary on July 4. Latta then asked me if the club would co-sponsor it with the corps on July 4. I said yes, if it doesn't cost anything. So that was it.

The issue was on the club's agenda at the next monthly board meeting. Howard called on me to report what had transpired. I immediately learned that at the last board meeting, members had voted not to co-sponsor the anniversary. We had already had publicity of our plans in the community papers. A board member stood up and said that once the Junior Chamber of Commerce had taken on a similar project and it nearly ruined them financially. After we told him it would not cost the club anything, he nominated me as chairman of the celebration.

That was the beginning. Howard Vierling then suggested we create gold-plated, silver and bronze medallions to sell to earn money for the event. Howard and another club board member, Bill Stover, worked at Craftsmen Press. They said they could have the medallion design created there. Craftsman Press could also print poster boards. Medallions could be placed in small plastic envelopes and affixed to the poster boards.

But how could we pay for this? Howard had an answer. We could go to a Magnolia Bank and take out loans. As the club wasn't to spend any money on the celebration, four of us could sign non-interest-bearing notes for $500 each. I was a signer, as were Howard, Bob Lucurell and Pat Cook, the club's new president.

Latta and Col. Holbrook said they were pleased with the club's decision to co-sponsor the event. As a first step, the corps printed the 1967 locks visitor pamphlet with the medallion artwork on the cover. Our medallions had Gen. Hiram Chittenden's image on the front side and an image of the locks on the reverse side. On the reverse side it read: "50th Anniversary Commemoration July 4, 1967. Sponsored by the Magnolia Community Club."

Col. Holbrook had a shelter built near the lock wall where local youth groups could sell the medallions. These groups would make a commission on their sales. Banks and other businesses were sold cards of 25 medallions at a slight discount. The list price of the medallions was: bronze for $1, gold-plated for $10 and silver for $25.

In the meantime, Pat Cook wrote to Sen. Warren G. Magnuson to see if he could attend and be our main speaker. We also asked Norm Braman, mayor of Seattle, to speak. But he had other plans. We also discussed a possible boat parade through the locks.

One early morning, Pat got a phone call at home. It was Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, and he said he would like to come to our event. Pat was really surprised and excited. Sen. Jackson said Sen. Magnuson was unable to attend, but that he, Jackson, could come.

Jackson was taking a leading part in the Everett July 4 parade, but he said he could be at the locks in time. Soon after his speech the senator would have to catch his flight back to Washington, D.C. The timing would be close.

Hearing this, the corps arranged to provide a barge at the locks, where a helicopter could take off so the senator could catch his plane.

Things heated up in a hurry.

Look for Part 2 of Robert Kildall's reminiscence of the 50th anniversary of the Locks in the Dec. 7 issue of the Magnolia News and on-line at www.MagnoliaNews.net.

Bob Kildall is a longtime Magnolia resident.[[In-content Ad]]