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  • Ellen Mirro

Anybody Can Do Anything—Almost

As many of you know, our neighborhood has suffered urban blight associated with the ownership of many properties by seemingly egregious landlords and their hired managers. The Roosevelt and Ravenna neighborhoods have paid dearly because of this engineered blight and related associated criminal activities.

Despite this presence, the good people of this neighborhood have worked diligently to encourage responsible growth, welcoming the new Sound Transit station into the very heart of the district, encouraging rezoning immediately around the station, while attempting to preserve what few things in the neighborhood that remain uniquely part of Seattle. One example is Sound Transit’s intention to preserve the façade of the Art Moderne Standard Records and HiFi façade or re-purpose portion of it, within the interior of the new station.

Recently, we’ve heard that the Roosevelt Development Group (RDG), headed by Jon Briner and Ed Hewson, who has acquired long-term leases on some of the blighted properties, is considering moving a group of four townhouses that will be displaced by the transit station to a new location on the western side of 15th Avenue NE between NE 63rd and NE 65th streets. This would require the demolition of three old and blighted Craftsman bungalows sitting on land owned by our one of our notorious landlords. The community welcomes the reuse of these buildings and the retention of family oriented housing.

But wait—one of these bungalows has greater significance. The bungalow located at 6317 15th Avenue NE was featured in Northwest author Betty MacDonald’s fifth book, Anybody Can Do Anything, published in 1950. MacDonald (1908-1958), was born Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard in Boulder Colorado, in 1908. Her family moved to Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in 1918, her mother purchasing 6317 15th Avenue NE in 1922. MacDonald attended and graduated from Roosevelt High School, two blocks north of the house in 1924. Her short, but eventful, marriage to Robert Heskett, and life on an Olympic Peninsula chicken farm is documented in The Egg and I, her first and best-known book.

Betty Bard MacDonald, ca. 1942

But it was her life during the early 1930s, after leaving Heskett to his still and chicken farm, and returning to live with her mother, siblings, and two young children in the Roosevelt bungalow, that is told in Anybody Can Do Anything.

“To me that night, and always, that shabby house with its broad welcoming porch, dark woodwork, cluttered dining room plate rail, large fragrant kitchen, easy book-filled firelit (sic) living room, four elastic bedrooms — one of them always ice-cold — roomy old-fashioned bathrooms and huge cluttered basement, represents the ultimate in charm, warmth and luxury.” (Anybody Can Do Anything).

Bard house on 15th Avenue NE (Puget Sound Regional Archives)

Here we learn the hassle of finding a job during the Depression, how Betty handled male chauvinism, and late-night crossings of the Ravenna Bridge after the last streetcar stop (our previous rapid transit). The household seemed to have an endless parade of characters nourished by Betty’s mother’s endless pots of stew. Mary’s friendship with Florence and Burton James, founders of the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, led to many impromptu cast parties that continued well into the early morning.

The Bard’s moved, Betty relocating to Vashon Island where she wrote several more books, and the house eventually was purchased by a local landlord and extensively modified into an apparent flophouse. The once welcoming porch has been cheaply enclosed and who knows what has been done to the “book-filled firelit (sic) living room.”

6317 15th Avenue NE now (King County Tax Assessor)

As such the building will be probably be considered ineligible for listing as a City of Seattle Landmark because it does not possess sufficient physical integrity at this time. If the RDG truly wants help build a rich urban environment and:

“Respect and work with stakeholders to bring forth healthy communities; make a positive long-term impact on the neighborhood through quality design and development.”

As stated on their website:

They could preserve this artifact of our community’s past by moving it to a nearby location, restoring it to a condition that would allow it to be designated as a city landmark, and allowing it to be preserved under City of Seattle Landmark controls and incentives. We should see this as an opportunity to improve the vitality and significance of our neighborhood. Remember, Anybody Can Do Anything—it just takes the willingness to try.

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