Open Letter to Mayor Durkan: Don’t Let a Lovely Tribute Park Get Trashed


Image: Mike James

Dear Mayor Durkan,

I’ve hesitated to send this note but after walking through the park this week, I feel it’s important to do so.

As you know, the Cal and Julia Knudsen family had built the small Madison Valley park some years ago in tribute to their mother, Julia Lee Knudsen, after her death in 1990. Much later, in 2016, the family, no longer resident here,  gave the elegantly landscaped park to the city of Seattle. Our group, the Seattle-Perugia Sister City Association (SPSCA), thanks to Seattle Parks and the generosity of the Knudsen family, created a Piazza Perugia in the center of this wonderful small park, decorated with special ceramic art  shipped to us from our sister city.

I write now with dismay over the occupation of the park by a number of illegal encampments resulting in a fair amount of trash and some — at least so far — minor damage to the ceramic art. More important (my two cents) is that the park itself, given its small scale and the number of tents now lining the perimeter, is now essentially off-limits to Seattle citizens and to our own SPSCA plans for gatherings there and to carry out maintenance (part of our agreement with Parks) of the piazza.

I know this is a tremendously difficult time — with a pandemic, a rise in homelessness, tight city budgets — a challenge for our city. That said, I cannot believe it is impossible to at least protect small and vulnerable public spaces. In a large park, it would be possible to set aside an area for encampments, but a small public space like Julia Lee’s Park is simply overwhelmed and becomes essentially unusable by the public. I send this open letter as an advisory, but also with the question we hear so often: Can anything be done?

All best, with thanks.

Mike James
Mike James
Mike James was a long-time anchor newscaster at KING TV.


  1. I think you might be asking the wrong person. When the New Holly residents near the John C Little, Sr Park complained their children could not access the park because of the homeless encampments, Tammy Morales got LIHI to find them all, 15 people, tiny houses right away. Some complained about the preferential treatment, but it did solve the problem. Perhaps Sawant could do that for you?

  2. Sorry, not much interest so far at the Council level, nor at Parks, and Sawant likely believes we are cruel for even complaining. The tragedy here is not only to public places, but decades on no real and lasting answer for those living in our streets, parks and doorways. As a memory – we lived in a Pioneer Square converted storefront 40+ year ago. We never had a morning when someone wasn’t sleeping in the doorway. The challenge of homelessness/addiction/mental illness isn’t new, only larger in scale. We still flounder at the fix.

  3. Thanks, Mike:
    Julia Lee’s Park is indeed a treasure of Italianate design and contemplation in the midst of turmoil. It was thoughtful of you to raise the issue of its survival. I mention the park, with a photo, in my neighborhood history, “The Last Electric Trolley,” (Tommie Press, 2000). One small correction: the Knudsen family’s presence remains alive and well in the Seattle area. For example, Knudsens frequently visit, have close friends and hold memberships in local organizations. I’m a member of that family: Julia Lee was my first cousin – her mother and my father were sister and brother. The younger Knudsens often refer to me as “Uncle Junius,” and I discussed early aspects of the project with founder Cal Knudsen and was present at the 1993 opening.

  4. Many thanks, Junius. Yes, I know the family keeps in touch here, Page in particular, but didn’t know your own history.
    Let’s hope there’s a way forward – acknowledging the needs of those camped there, but also honoring this city’s commitment to protect and preserve Julia Lee’s Park. No responses, though, at this writing…..

  5. It is getting worse, an explosion followed by a fire got into illegal tent that was trafficking stollen bike.

  6. Mike James has stepped in to protect a small green retreat in Madison Park (with others). His efforts are in part to remind Seattleites that our Olmsted-inspired park and boulevard system is a rare gift to a large city. Seattle volunteers can only do so much to hold these spaces for the enjoyment of all. At some point elected and appointed city officials must play a role. I ask that Julia Lee’s Park, and similar charming, restful areas, be granted the time and energy from “downtown” that they warrant.
    Junius Rochester


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