Profile of civic activist Jim Ellis completes new 1968 history exhibit

Profile of civic activist Jim Ellis completes new 1968 history exhibit

By the late 1950s parts of Lake Washington were unsafe for swimming. This photo from 1958 was part of the campaign to create the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (“Metro”) to oversee sewage treatment. Metro photo
By the late 1950s parts of Lake Washington were unsafe for swimming. This photo from 1958 was part of the campaign to create the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (“Metro”) to oversee sewage treatment. Metro photo

A profile of Jim Ellis, regarded as the most visionary civic activist in King County history, is the final chapter in Legacy Washington’s new project: “1968: The Year that Rocked Washington.” His profile — part of a new exhibit at the State Capitol — is now online at the project’s homepage.

In 1958, Ellis mobilized a volunteer task force to rescue Lake Washington from the run-off of suburban sprawl. “No Swimming” signs posted along lakefront beaches were famously featured in the cleanup campaign. Ellis’s second act was Forward Thrust, a bond issue to save Seattle from becoming a gridlocked “Pugetopolis.”

Opponents of Metro portrayed the plan as an octopus that would strangle any opposition to “Seattle rule and domination.” Seattle Municipal Archives
Opponents of Metro portrayed the plan as an octopus that would strangle any opposition to “Seattle rule and domination.” Seattle Municipal Archives

The Space Needle put Seattle on the cover of LIFE magazine, “but when the world’s fair was over we weren’t ready for 1970, let alone Century 21,” Ellis says. On Feb. 13, 1968, voters authorized $40 million for a multipurpose stadium and $118 million for parks and recreation.

The major casualty was rapid transit. Former U.S. senator Slade Gorton calls it “the stupidest ‘no’ vote the people of Seattle ever cast. But that doesn’t diminish the remarkable things Jim has done for his city in his 97 years.”

Ellis went on to launch a campaign for farmlands preservation, championed the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, and spearheaded the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

Thank you to the sponsors of Legacy Washington’s 1968 Exhibit: Capitol City PressThe McGregor CompanyUniversity of Washington, and the Association of Washington Businesses.

 

  

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