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The Fourth of July in Green Lake: A history

What do you think? (8 Comments) June 28, 2010 at 6:47PM

For 60 years, from 1920 until 1980, Green Lake was a prime Fourth of July destination, offering a spectacular fireworks show to crowds that descended on the neighborhood from all over Seattle.

Seattle’s Post No. 1 of the American Legion sponsored the show from the event’s inception in 1920 until 1972.  The fireworks, which began at the north shore of Green Lake and then moved to Duck Island, were traditionally preceded by naturalization ceremonies at Woodland Park or the Green Lake Aqua Theater.

Independence Day fireworks over Green Lake, Seattle, July 4, 1947

Independence Day fireworks over Green Lake, Seattle, July 4, 1947 Seattle P-I Collection, MOHAI - Used with Permission

A 1952 Seattle Times article about the show quoted Col. Ralph H. Hall of the American Legion:

More than 150,000 men, women and children annually jam the Green Lake area and assemble on the surrounding heights each year.  It is evident that they enjoy this safe, sane and spectacular manner of celebrating the Fourth.

However, not everyone was happy with the annual spectacle.  Also in 1952, in a letter to the editor of The Seattle Times, Thomas R. Gilson of 501 N 65th St wrote the following:

As a long-time resident of the Phinney – West Green Lake district, I should like to see a few expressions of opinion with respect to the continuation of the Fourth of July fireworks at Green Lake. [...]

I have no dispute with the fireworks as such, as they do provide enjoyment for many thousands of people.  However, their enjoyment should under no circumstances be at the continued expense of the Green Lake residents who, after all, might enjoy spending a July 4th holiday in some other manner than in doing police duty around their yards and homes.

In 1941 (our first July 4th as Green Lake residents) we made the mistake of being away from home while the fireworks were in progress.  Returning just before the show’s conclusion we found: Six boys on the roof (the roof leaked that winter from the damage); part of the rockery knocked down; most of the shrubs trampled; lighted cigarettes and cigar stubs on both porches (the back porch is of wood); rockery plants torn out; a car parked in the basement driveway (it runs downhill) pressing the double doors in and the place generally looking like a cyclone had hit.  [...]

With all justice, this curse should not again be fastened on the people of Green Lake and I believe I voice the consensus of thousands of homeowners in this district.

By 1963, the number of estimated spectators had grown from the 150,000 that terrorized Gilson to a whopping 250,000.

The Green Lake tradition hit hard times in the early 1970s.  By 1972, the cost of keeping the event safe and secure had mushroomed.  Sponsorship of the of the Green Lake fireworks show shifted from the American Legion to the (now defunct) Green Lake Chamber of Commerce.   1973 saw no Green Lake show, due to a prohibitive $500 fee that the City of Seattle demanded.

In 1974, Ivar’s, which also sponsored the Elliott Bay fireworks show from 1965 until 2009, saved the day and the Green Lake fireworks remained for six more years.

In 1980, the Green Lake fireworks display was moved to Lake Union.  Nearby Wallingford became a hot spot for watching the show, with thousands of people flooding into Gas Works Park. The tradition continues to this day.

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Historical Sources:

“Seattle Ready for Gay Fourth,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 3, 1940, p. 13.
“Donations For Fireworks Display Asked,” The Seattle Times, June 13, 1952, p. 30.
“Times Readers Have Their Say,” The Seattle Times, June 23, 1952.
“General Clark to Speak Here July Fourth,” The Seattle Times, May 6, 1956, p. 64.
Reddin, John J.  “Harry Blackbourn’s Hobby: Scaring Ducks,” The Seattle Times, July 3, 1963, p. A.
“4th of July: Local celebrating may do without parade, fireworks,” The Seattle Times, June 30, 1974, p. H6.
Dorpat, Paul and David Wilma, “Ivar Haglund begins Ivar’s Fourth of July fireworks on Elliott Bay on July 4, 1965,” HistoryLink.org, July 2, 2004.

8 Responses to “The Fourth of July in Green Lake: A history”

  1. seattler0cks says:

    Hey, Amy, nice piece. That photo looks like it may have come from around here:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=e

    maybe from the front of the church on the left, or the seven year old home (at the time) on the right.

    Then again, maybe I'm on the wrong side of the lake! :)

  2. mygreenlake says:

    Yes, I think that you are right! Duck Island is situated in the exact same spot of both views. Nice work!

  3. seattler0cks says:

    Hey, Amy, nice piece. That photo looks like it may have come from around here:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=e

    maybe from the front of the church on the left, or the seven year old home (at the time) on the right.

    Then again, maybe I'm on the wrong side of the lake! :)

  4. mygreenlake says:

    Yes, I think that you are right! Duck Island is situated in the exact same spot of both views. Nice work!

  5. Great memories. I spent most of my summers at Greenlake, my grandmother lived across the street and my aunt a block away, and we lived with walking distance.