Gems is a column devoted to spotlighting the various denizens who contribute to the rich mosaic that is the South Seattle area.
Who: Lisa Cooper
Best Known Around South Seattle As: “That” lady who never met a volunteer opportunity she didn’t like
Special Trait: Inexhaustible charm she disseminates freely throughout South Seattle
Motto: “Yes!!!” (To whatever wide eyed idea you just presented her with that will improve the southend)
What do you like most about South Seattle?
The people. The ‘struggle’. You know in horticulture, the sweetest fruits are from plants that have endured some stress in order to survive. When the roots have to look harder for water and nutrients in the soil, they produce more sugar. I think that process is alive and well in the varied and vibrant communities of South Seattle. People from all walks of life seem to come together more readily here than elsewhere in the city. Conversations tend to flow easily- even when not speaking the same mother tongue. Everyone is wanting the same thing essentially which are solutions and fixes to the myriad challenges we face. We may all have different ideas about how to go about bringing the change that is needed- but it is precisely these differences in perspective that make our group dynamic so powerful. Worldly people working together to make it happen, all while embracing our differences and celebrating each other. Folks from Somalia, South America, South East Asia, Ukraine, Japan, the Philippines, the USA – making great change together. Making art and music together. Crafting policy together. Teaching children together. Building community together. It is the quintessential Great American Story. Of course, the process is not without its strife- but even that part is essential. Making our victories all the sweeter.
You live in the much maligned area of Skyway, which some call South Seattle’s red headed step child. What is the most surprising thing about it in comparison to other areas of South Seattle?
Skyway may look funny or scary or inconsequential on the outside- but true riches are tapped by scratching the surface. There are some very, very cool people and places here. Full on creative class. I am surprised and delighted that you can have roosters here. I did not realize that they are against the law in King Counties incorporated parts. There are a few in my neighborhood and it is a joy to hear them crowing on sunny mornings. The little dudes are kind of lazy actually (thankfully) so they tend to crow later in the morning rather than at the crack of dawn. Either that or they are very well trained. Unincorporated King County Roosters Rule. Another pleasant surprise is that we have among the best water standards in the entire nation in Skyway. Serious shout out to the Skyway Water and Sewer District. At what other utility around here can you call and actually have a friendly , knowledgeable person answer the phone and take your payment while chatting about the neighborhood? Its a throwback to easier times. Where I live we have well water that is so pure I now notice how bottled waters taste ‘off’. The views of Lake Washington and Mt Rainier are insane from this perspective. There is a vantage point a few blocks from me where the panorama of Lake Washington looks like Switzerland. Mt Rainier looms majestically from points all around the West Hill. We are so very lucky that this area is beautiful, relativity untouched and still quite pastoral. It is an asset to be carefully protected from the run-away train that is the overly dense urban development here in the Puget Sound region. Biggest surprise of all is that there are no current residents or any recorded history of the Duwamish Tribe up here on the West Hill. They inhabited this land long before we came along with our maps, boundaries, claims and county lines. Duwamish villages stood all along Lake Washington, the Black, Cedar and Duwamish rivers. How did they use this land up here on the hill- of which Skyway is centered? It was Duwamish hunting grounds for goodness sake. I have a hunch that if one were to follow the origins of Renton Ave South, it would trace back to a trail made and used by the Duwamish People. Somewhere there is a Duwamish burial ground up in the Earlington neighborhood. Chief Seattle’s Mother was Lake Washington Duwamish- from what I gather her people lived in a longhouse on the ground that is now the Boeing/Renton Municipal Airfield. The last Chief of the Duwamish- Henry Moses- grew up on that land. He attended Renton High School and was their star football player in the 1920s. How cool and how mind blowing is that? I feel strongly that we need to invite the Duwamish People back to the area. They would be a potent force in helping to envision and construct a new way of life here in Skyway, the West Hill and all of South Seattle.
One more surprise and then I will stop. Surprised that the Renton School District is the largest employer in Skyway. And that they are so readily engaged in helping make this a stronger community through open thinking, accountability and access. They are a huge resource. But we need family businesses here. That could change things for the better. A restaurant like the much beloved and recently closed Silver Fork on Rainier(still mad at Safeway for that land grab) , a coffee house, a bakery, a pizza place, Mom and Pop hardware store, thrift shop. Right up there by the new library that is being built. Gathering places for our ready community.
You work at Ebbets, which is a throwback jersey and vintage flannel maker, if you were going to produce throwback jerseys for some South Seattle neighborhoods what would they look like?
This is such a fun question I can hardly stand it. I am one of the founders and owners of Ebbets Field. We have been crafting products based on sports history for 26 years now. Teams most always derived their names from something specific to a town or a region. So having said that…
Columbia City Millers.
Columbia City used to have multiple saw mills. Once cut and stripped, logs would shoot down to Lake Washington- to be then transported around the region by boat or by train. Colors could be Dark Green and Blue. Logo would be a Doug Fir
Seward Park Owls.
Natch. Did you know that Owls do not poop? They regurgitate everything. And that coyotes wrongly get a bad wrap about missing cat when owls are usually the true culprit. You learn all of this on the evening owl walks in Seward Park. Colors would be brown and gold like their eyes
Nod to resident great Jamal Crawford who (I believe) coined the phrase. There is something truly special and different about the talent coming out of Rainier Beach High School. In basketball they have a drive and a talent and a vibe that is unmatched. And it keeps going on and on and on. Stress=sweeter fruit could be at play. Colors Royal Blue and Orange. Mt Rainier is the sleeve patch.
The Coast Salish- of which the Duwamish are a tribe- have stories to explain the origins of everything. These are called Transformer Stories. This name also acknowledges all of the dedicated residents that are living and working together to transform Skyway into something even better. As lastly- it ties into the giant electrical transformers cutting a swath thought the heart of the area- bringing light and heat and compromised views. That would be the logo- a giant transformer. Colors silver and black
Mt Baker Capitalists.
Sorry- I couldn’t resist. Mt Baker has the most money of all of these neighborhoods and is known for its mansions and its views. Unimaginative- I know. Colors: 3 shades of Green.
If you had the power of the goddess Athena what would you bestow upon South Seattle?
Another great question. Athena. Known as the Goddess of War. She was most adept at strategy. And was equally adept at peacemaking. It is said she created the olive tree. That is pretty powerful stuff: creator of food, shelter, fuel.. I would borrow her powers to help devise wise strategy for the future successes of South Seattle. And to help people see when it is better to extend the proverbial olive branch rather than fight over it or fight with it. A good listen reveals The Blue Scholars “The Long March” EP as Athena. I think it is the soundtrack of South Seattle. Masterful in showing the duality of our situation here. One hand open and the other closed into a fist. That’s the other thing I would do – get everyone a copy of that album, a quiet room, a great pair of headphones, an easy chair and nothing but time to listen and ponder the message and the musicality of this fine work coming out of our area. Its about 10 years old now- and just as on point today as when it first came out. Perhaps more so.
Five years from now what would you want someone to be able to say about South Seattle and Skyway that can’t currently be said now?
For South Seattle- that it is the most progressive area in Seattle with admirable success rates in housing, education and job creation programs. Envied and copied around the nation.
For Skyway- Vast open space protected from development while our central business district is forwarded as a thriving retail and service sector resulting in multi-lingual growth,education and job opportunities for our children and adult residents. And seeing the Duwamish people welcomed back to their home turf and in turn helping to forward our progress.
Featured Image Courtesy Lisa Cooper