Down Harbor Ave.
RV homes line Harbor Ave. and Seacrest Park in the shadow of sleek, modern condos that overlook Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline. People jog or walk their dogs in the rain, which is falling sideways now in the sharp westward wind. The same RVs have been parked here since I first visited West Seattle in August. I recognize a RV with a makeshift balcony and storage area: a few plywood boards that extend from the roof hold two folding chairs and a grill, now protected from the rain with a blue tarp.
The Luna Girls
I stand in a little circle of grass and observe the Luna Girls statue. Although it’s carved out of slab steel, the statue is accommodating and unobtrusive. I can see through the three swimmers for a view of the water and a passing cargo ship. The Luna Girls are outlines, illustrations, with their hands positioned in their own unique choreographed poses.
Fire and Water
Built in 1907, Luna Park was a place for people to see and to be seen. It was a place where freaks could be freaks and get paid for it, but it was also a safe, well-lit place for women and children to gather. There were clowns, jugglers and performers who made their living off the thrill people got from coming as close as socially acceptable to the abnormal. In 1931, a fire started in Luna Park’s natatorium (a bathhouse that held heated saltwater and freshwater swimming pools) and spread throughout the entire amusement park, destroying all of its rides, shops and restaurants. By 1933, the city of Seattle did not have the money to repair all of the damage and the park was condemned. When Luna Park burned down, where did the performers go?
Some remnants remain, though. During low tide you can still see the old pilings by Seacrest Pier. Luna Park Café holds some vintage décor and items reminiscent of early twentieth century carnival life. The steel cut Luna Girls strike their synchronized swimming poses in rain or shine.
Cafes Sticking Together
Other than the Luna Girls and the pilings, Luna Park Café, just down Harbor Ave., is the only other living, public remnant of the old Luna Park. The costumed man with the devilish grin in the Café’s logo is inspired by the buskers and performers of old Luna Park, and the café’s carnivalesque interior recreates the atmosphere of the original amusement park. Luna Park is trying to keep its own history alive, but it’s also trying to keep other local cafes alive. The tall sign out front pleads visitors and onlookers to help another local café, C&P in West Seattle. The owners of C&P need a down payment of $240,000 to buy the property that they’ve been renting for 15 years so that a new condo community isn’t built in the café’s place.
In West Seattle, if a fire that started in water does not completely destroy you, the real estate market just might.