By Blake Surina
In 1907, when Regents Park was being planned, public spaces and city parks were still ideas in their infancy. Termed the America Beautiful Movement, its founder Frederick Law Olmsted, greatly influenced the creation and design of Fircrest’s budding community. It was thought with proper urban landscape design, a vibrant community could be created by having public spaces where the citizens would be free to interact with one another, and designating parks where beauty and nature could be made available to all residents, not just those who could afford to live in large estates in the suburbs.
Landscape architect Roy Thompson pre-planned this new community using features like wide promenading boulevards, streets that would flow and meander in harmony with the natural contours of the land, and a centrally located park surrounding a manmade “Spring Lake”. Thompson, 10 years earlier, worked with landscape architect Edward Otto Schwagerl, who designed Bird Lake at Wright’s Park.
The Town of Fircrest grew from 1200 to 2900 residents in the time span from 1946–1957. This building boon coincided with the prevailing architectural style of the day, Northwest Mid Century Modern building design. This was typified by gently sloped, tiered roofs, large extended eaves for more protection from the rain, large windows from floor to ceiling to increase natural lighting to combat the lack of sunny conditions in the winter months, and construction using sustainable building materials like unpainted wooden beams, stone and rock. Japanese, living in similar climate conditions, influenced this architectural style somewhat after the war, adding the idea of simplicity of design dictating function.
In 1959, Fircrest architect Walt Widmeyer, designed the original Fircrest Community Center building in his classic Northwest Mid Century Modern style. A handsome young architect and chemist, Walt worked in creating innovative sustainable building materials. His face was used in marketing the newly created product of “plywood” for the American Plywood Association. Throughout our city samples of Mr. Widmeyer’s designs can be seen including the old Puget Sound bank building, (now the Exercise Science Center), the medical clinic behind Verrones Deli, and even his own home on 612 Dartmouth, featured in Better Homes and Gardens in the 1950’s.
In the mid 1940’s, Spring Lake was closed because of human health concerns, but the town rallied by building a wading pool, and finally an outdoor swimming pool to replace the lake that was such an important part of Fircrest’s community culture. In the 1970’s a remodel of the Community Center adversely compromised the architectural integrity of the building, eliminating many of the features that made a classic Northwest Mid Century Modern design, getting rid of the natural lighting, large windows, gradually sloping rooflines and extended eaves.
In deciding on a design for our new Community Center some of the key concepts embedded into the towns DNA is the importance of having shared community spaces, access to parks and natural beauty. Take notice of the gently sloping roofline, large eaves, floor to ceiling windows, bare wood beams, and think of Walt Widmeyer. Think of Frank Lloyd Wright when you see the way the building design transitions to the park with an elegance and grace so indicative of his style of architecture, with plantings, terracing and decking. Think of Frederick Law Olmsted who pioneered the America Beautiful Movement, with walking paths that are rounded and flow about the park and buildings, the importance of renewable and sustainable materials like solar panels, natural lighting, and the absence of asphalt parking lots. This building is truly a Fircrest treasure.