Fascinating Facts Behind Iconic Northwest Landmarks
Throughout the year, Journey‘s editors and writers explore the Northwest in search of fascinating landmarks and attractions. The five featured below reflect the people and events that helped shape our region—and continue to influence us today.
A ski jumping tradition soars in Leavenworth
Three decades before Leavenworth became the Bavarian-themed wunder-town it is today, the town had a different claim to fame. In 1928 a group of locals formed the Leavenworth Winter Sports Club, opening a hill for downhill skiing and an enormous ski jump (shown above) about two miles north of downtown. From the 1930s through the ’70s, thousands of spectators rode “ski special” trains from Seattle and Spokane to see the best jumpers in the world compete. Leavenworth hosted the National Ski Jumping Championships five times, and the North American distance record was shattered on several occasions. In an era when Leavenworth was a depressed rail and timber town, residents took great pride in their hill, grooming the course by foot before events. Days before the 1967 National Championships, a rainstorm wiped out the snow, but volunteers stood shoulder to shoulder to form the “apple box brigade” to hand-pass snow up the slope to cover the jump.
Today, the Leavenworth Ski Hill offers two smaller jumps on its D Hill, not far from the original jump, with coaches available (by appointment) to instruct beginners. Sessions typically begin with a ride down the landing hill before students work their way up to 15-meter and 27-meter jumps. In addition to ski jumping, the LeavenworthSkiHill offers alpine and Nordic skiing, fat biking, snowshoeing and a wildly popular tubing hill.
A legacy of Firsts at Seattle’s Mayflower Park Hotel
Marie Dempcy fondly recalls gazing at the Mayflower Hotel’s Carousel Room, Seattle’s first hotel cocktail lounge, from across the street in the 1950s, wondering if she’d ever be able to afford to dine in such a fancy place. At the time, she was a newlywed looking for work to support her husband, Birney, through law school. Though the era’s blue laws required the hotel to wall off the windows to its lounge, she could see a fashionable crowd lined up outside for lunch. Interestingly enough, it was Birney Dempcy who headed the partnership that purchased the hotel out of foreclosure in 1973, renaming it the Mayflower Park Hotel. By then, the Carousel Room had fallen into such disrepair that the Dempcys decided to gut it and rebuild, reopening it as Oliver’s in 1976. A more permissive regulatory environment allowed them to install floor-to-ceiling windows, making it Seattle’s first “daylight bar.” When Marie Dempcy took the reins of the Mayflower Park in 1983, she became Seattle’s first female hotel general manager. A decade later, she was the first woman elected chair of the Seattle–King County Convention and Visitors Bureau. To this day, the Dempcys remain involved in the hotel’s operations—and a cocktail or a bite in the lounge remains a beloved Seattle tradition.
Wright’s mastery shines at The Oregon Garden
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright did much more than craft structures; his approach to architecture was radical for the late 19th century, and his most-famous works—including Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania—are today shrines for architecture students and multitudes of others who appreciate his elegant designs. While Wright fashioned grand edifices, he also built Usonian-style houses—affordable dwellings for the “everyman,” using local materials. His interiors were open, to encourage community; massive fireplaces were a focal point; large windows brought the outdoors inside; and his homes blended into their surrounding landscapes.
All these elements and more can be seen in The Gordon House, the only building in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally set along the Willamette River near Wilsonville, 20 miles south of Portland, The Gordon House was slated for demolition in 2001 when new owners decided to build a larger house. With only days to spare before its demise, the home was rescued and relocated to The Oregon Garden, in Silverton. Today, set in a stately oak grove, The Gordon House is open for public tours that illuminate how an extraordinary architect’s vision continues to blossom long after his death.
The Oregon Garden, in Silverton, Oregon, is known for its abundance of diverse gardens whose blooms create a quilt of colors and textures in the springtime.
A tribute to the Pilots who put Wenatchee on the world map
Dare-devil stunt pilot Clyde “Upside Down” Pangborn, of Bridgeport, and co-pilot Hugh Herndon Jr. sought to top their barnstorming days of wing-walking and aerial acrobatics in 1931 by competing for a world’s record: the first nonstop trans-Pacific flight. With a $25,000 prize set by a Japanese newspaper at stake, the pair set off on Oct. 4 from Sabishiro Beach, near Misawa, Japan, in Miss Veedol, a Bellanca CH-400. Barely skimming over driftwood, the seriously overweight aircraft rose slowly, heading northeast over the Pacific. Designed to handle 5,600 pounds, Miss Veedol weighed more than 9,000 pounds, mostly fuel. After a grueling and freezing 41 hours of flight across 4,500 miles, on Oct. 5 the plane made a belly landing on a sagebrush-dotted shelf overlooking Wenatchee, capturing not only the prize, but brief worldwide attention. The plane’s (bent) propeller is central to an exhibit on the historic flight at the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center. A replica of Miss Veedol (above) built by local aircraft enthusiasts is on display each October at East Wenatchee’s Wings and Wheels Festival, and is available for touring year-round, with advance reservations through the museum. A basalt column topped by a sculpture of birds in flight memorializes the feat on Grand Avenue in East Wenatchee, near where the duo touched down.
Tumwater’s George Bush blazed many trails
Before he set out for the Oregon Trail from Missouri with his family, in 1844, George Bush had explored the West for fur-trading companies. His resourcefulness as a frontiersman and the nursing skills of his wife, Isabella, proved vital in helping their party, headed by Bush’s friend Michael Simmons, overcome the rigors of the journey. Nearing the Columbia River, the group, which had joined a larger wagon train, learned that Oregon’s exclusion laws would have prohibited Bush, who was biracial, from settling in the Willamette Valley. Instead, after wintering near Fort Vancouver, the Simmons-Bush party, about 32 people in all, established the first American settlement north of the Columbia, in Tumwater. Bush established a thriving farm and was known for his generosity, lending wheat and supplies to newcomers. The era’s homesteading laws denied land to African Americans, but in 1854, Washington’s first territorial legislature successfully petitioned Congress to grant Bush title to his 640-acre property. Much of this land is now part of Olympia Regional Airport. However, a portion of the remaining 5-acre Bush Prairie Farm, which grows produce for customers who subscribe, has become the site of an archaeological dig by researchers from The Evergreen State College interested in learning more about the Bush family.
George and Isabella Bush (d. 1863 and 1866, respectively) are among the notable Washington settlers interred at the historic Union and Pioneer Calvary Cemetery in Tumwater.