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.”
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.”