New Jacob Ambaum Park/Playground Opening Soon

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Many folks have driven by the new “Jacob Ambaum Park” under construction at 12685 Ambaum (just north of SW 128th on the west side), with their children salivating over the cool new playground equipment:

While it may look completed to us amateur park enthusiasts (and children), please be aware that this park and playground is not yet 100% completed.

Just got off the phone with Burien Parks Director Michael LaFraniere, who says that the basketball court still needs hoops (backboards are up) and that the light poles are still en route from Texas.

The goal is to have everything complete within the next two weeks, and we will post updates as they come in, but in the meantime, for more information, everyone is encouraged to call Burien Parks directly at (206) 988-3700.

The official opening of Jacob Ambaum Park will be Friday, June 13th.

Some fascinating history about this park from the City of Burien’s website:

The history of Jacob Ambaum Park includes not only details of Jacob Ambaum’s life and times, but also the story of the roads and streetcar line he helped build–both of which played a vital role in opening up Burien to settlement and development…

In 1870 the Soloman family purchased 319 acres in North Burien from the U.S. Government. The Solomans settled near S.W. 128th and Ambaum, an area known as Mayfair and Hermes Depression. Soloman hoped that draining this swamp would yield rich bottomland for farming. After failing to do so, however, he sold off the land. Some of the early buyers included the Jacob Ambaum family.

A skilled “Jack-of-all-trades,” Jacob Ambaum, a German immigrant via Ohio, was a road-builder, realtor, investor and chicken rancher. In 1902 he brought his wife, Mary, to homestead in Hazel Valley. Ambaum’s thickly timbered property extended from 126th to 128th S.W., and from Ambaum Boulevard to 8th Avenue S.W., including the present site of St. Bernadette’s School. An existing house, dating to the 1880s, sat on the property. A new house was built in 1916. The Ambaums’ homestead was bordered in the front by a large gate flanked by imported Norway spruce.

Like Soloman before him, Ambaum tried to drain the Mayfair Depression. He met with some success, but the problem of flooding persisted. Ambaum’s daughter, Mary Ambaum de Leuw, recalls rafting across the flooded pastureland which is now the Mayfair Shopping Center. Only in spring and summer did the lake ever fully recede.

As soon as he could gather equipment and a couple of teams of horses, Ambaum began building roads. He worked on the McKinnon Road (Delridge Way) from Youngstown to White Center. The only road to town (South Park) was a branch road from the old wagon trail up Myers Way to Hicks Lake, and west to S.W. 112th and on to Seola Beach. Ambaum also cleared the roadbed from White Center (Roxbury) to Sam Metzler’s place (S.W. 112th). A piece was later added as far as 116th S.W. and over to 12th S.W.

Not being very accessible by steamship, however, the area was still difficult to reach, with many settlers forced to brave abandoned logging roads. In 1909 County commissioners proposed building a road from Riverside along the west bank of the Duwamish River, following the route of the Burien Railroad. Jacob Ambaum was commissioned to blaze a right-of-way for the new north-south road from White Center to Burien. Although “Ambaum Boulevard” would open up Burien to many–ushering in a new era of growth–the road was, in its early days, “an unending river of mud through a very solid corridor of fir trees.”

Originally the new road was to end at the city limits at White Center, but Burien residents lobbied to have it extended. The petition for the remainder of the road–which went on to Burien and eventually to Des Moines Way South on 165th–was filed by Jacob Ambaum himself. The road opened from White Center to Burien about the time the streetcar line was finished in 1912. Ambaum Boulevard developed more or less along the trolley line. It was believed that “Burien Way,” when completed, would “open up a vast, practically undeveloped territory.”

Besides building roads, Jacob Ambaum joined several realtors and property owners, such as George White and Sam Metzler, in developing the Highland Park/Lake Burien Street Car Line–also known as the “Toonerville Trolley” or “Galloping Goose.” Burien-area landowners pooled their money and purchased an electric streetcar from Seattle, in the hopes of opening the South End to potential home buyers. Ambaum was a shareholder in the venture. He owned two shares, each valued at $100. The speculation ultimately paid off: the line was a major factor in the development of the land along its nine-mile-long track.

Many people living along the line worked together to clear the right of way. As pole and tie contractor, Jacob Ambaum provided 600 cross ties at $.25 apiece, and 600 cedar poles at $1.00 apiece. Taking in two previous franchises, the new line was incorporated on October 10th, 1911.

The line’s tracks were laid haphazardly, without too much groundwork. Heading south from White Center to S.W. 118th St., the line detoured around Salmon Creek, continuing along Ambaum to 128th S.W., where it stopped at the Jacob Ambaum home. It then continued south along Ambaum through a forest of “sylvan solitude.” The line swung westward between 151st and 152nd and continued on to Seahurst, the southern terminus. Stops along the line had names that are still familiar, such as Michigan Siding, Oak Park, Green, Meetum, Carrvilla, Salmon Creek, Hazel Valley and Summit.

Due to landslides, power failures, erratic service and other problems, the operation’s finances became so bad that its investors asked Ambaum to take over the line. “As I understand the line only has about $80 to its name, even I don’t think that I could run a railroad on $80,” he said. The City of Seattle subsequently took over the line after a major slide put it out of operation.

On October 16, 1913 the original builders of the rail system gifted it to Seattle, provided that the City clear the slide that had wiped out a mile of track, and restore service. Other than the two dilapidated Hammond cars leased from the Seattle Electric Company, there was no rolling stock, barns, shops or other structures, aside from a few waiting stations. The cars were returned and the tracks deeded to Seattle.

The closing of the line was a bitter blow to many. Property all along the route had already been platted, and many people had started building homes. From Seahurst to White Center, residents (and potential residents) were left waiting for transportation. Consequently, the money needed for Seattle to take over and operate the line–around $30,000–was raised fairly quickly.

With the track cleared, service resumed and the line rapidly built up a lucrative business under its new management. The passenger trade was brisk. Many spans and passing tracks were built. Freight hauling became almost as profitable as passenger traffic, with carloads of bricks, building supplies and produce sharing the tracks with passenger cars.

Many shipyard workers moved to Burien, since the railroad traveled to Riverside, site of one of the shipyards. The streetcar and better roads spurred rapid growth of the South End after 1911. They also transformed the character of the community from agricultural to suburban, as more white-collar workers commuted because of improved transportation. Many of them settled in the Seahurst and Three Tree Point areas.

As the trolley line and Ambaum Boulevard brought more people to the area, businesses sprouted along Ambaum and S.W. 152nd. Even in the 1930s, however, the Highline area remained “a community of chicken farms, greenhouses and truck gardeners hauling produce to the Seattle Public Market.” Rail service was discontinued to Seahurst in May, 1929. White Center was served until December 17, 1933 when a slide covered the Michigan Street siding. The “Toonerville Trolley” was the only line of its kind in Seattle—entirely single-tracked over private right-of-way. And it is not entirely gone: to this day, some of the old tracks lie buried beneath the pavement on Ambaum Boulevard. . . .

Jacob Ambaum was also “public spirited,” serving on the Mt. View School Board for many years. Fiscally conservative, he believed in “Basic Education” and the one-room school. Ambaum had close ties to the neighboring O’Day family. “Mike O’Day prevented my father from losing his property during one very hard period. He was a friend in need,” recalled Ambaum’s daughter, Mary Ambaum de Leuw.

“When my father retired from road building he went into the poultry business,” recalled de Leuw. “The streetcar would stop at our gate and pick up eggs. Various little grocery stores were our customers. Good German sauerkraut delivered in large crocks was one of our specialties. . . .

“We were always self-sufficient in those days. We raised our own meat, made good German sausage and grew our own vegetables and fruit. When there was illness there was just the right herb cure in the garden. During the Depression years we had dinner almost every Sunday for various friends from town, and they were afterwards loaded up with food for the coming week before they left.

“Walking was one of our favorite forms of recreation. We would walk everywhere . . . through the woods which is now Shorewood to the beach and then south to Three Tree Point. Someone would always give us a glass of lemonade and friendly conversation. Many times we would also drink from the clear cold streams along the way.”

Jacob Ambaum and his family lived on his homestead in Hazel Valley until his death in 1945.

Ambaum Boulevard remained unsurfaced until 1921, when it was paved as far as S.W. 112th. Until the 1930s, when First Avenue South was considered for paving, Ambaum was one of the main routes to Seattle. Ambaum was widened to four lanes in the 1950s due to increased traffic. A multi-million-dollar paving and utilities improvement project was completed in 1977, resurfacing and widening Ambaum from White Center to Burien.

In 2002 Burien determined that its Northwest sector lacked open and recreational space, with no active park within walking distance at the north end of the Ambaum corridor. The Burien Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan identified a priority for developing a neighborhood park to serve residents west of Ambaum and north of S.W. 132nd. Burien identified several properties that might qualify as a park, with a requirement that the site must also provide visibility and safety.

In 2001 the City had identified two parcels on the Ambaum corridor just north of 128th S.W. that, if purchased together, would provide space for a “playtoy” for children as well as a sports court. City staff and real estate consultants tried to reach voluntary purchase agreements with both property owners. The owner of the south parcel was not interested in selling to the City, making condemnation likely. The owner of the north parcel was willing to sell to the City.

The Suyama Family Limited Partnership granted its lot to the City for $190,000 on March 25, 2003. Plans for the new Jacob Ambaum Park included the playground and basketball courts, restroom, picnic areas and plaza. Phase I Construction of the park was completed in February 2007, and the park opened for public use. The complete project design was expected to be completed in March, 2007 and construction to begin in May, 2007.

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2 Responses to “New Jacob Ambaum Park/Playground Opening Soon”
  1. burienmom says:

    Well, it looks like a really fun park for my boys of 4 and 9 months. Unfortunately I won’t be going there until it’s completely fenced in. Ambaum is too busy for an ornamental fence with two exits facing the busy street. Turn your back for a 1/2 second and the kids are in the street. I’m not the only one who feels this way. The Moms group I belong to has alos boycotted this park until it’s safer.

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  2. jenamarie says:

    we also will not be visiting this park until it is completely fenced in. No gates + small children + busy street = really bad! Too bad, we live so close.

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