By Maureen Hathaway
Federal Way resident
As Celebration Park celebrates its 10th birthday this year, perhaps it is time to reflect on the past history of this most distinctive park. If you close your eyes, you might hear small planes coming in for a landing on the 600-foot runway, you also might smell the gas and oil, but, most of all you might remember the camaraderie of flying stories in the making.
The land that Celebration Park now sits on was once a local airport. According to a 1954 Federal Way News article, the Evergreen airstrip was a commercial field, privately owned by the Evergreen Air Park, a corporation made up of 60 stockholders.
The park was formed to not only have an airport, but to provide a suitable living site nearby for plane owners. Mr. Walter Ostendorf was the resident manager, and he and his wife, Hazel, made their home in an apartment to the left of the hangar from 1946 to 1959.
In June 1990, Hazel Ostendorf reminisced that a bunch of post World War II Boeing employees wanted to fly, and so they laid out their own field. Her husband designed and built the hangar for air traffic in the 1940s.
The Ostendorfs sold their share of the field in 1957, and moved out of the hangar area soon afterward. The land has changed hands a few times since.
Howard J. Houser, who along with Archie Anderson, managed the airport and its 30 planes that were once piloted here. Many businessmen would land at the airport and commute to business appointments in the Federal Way area. About four or five pilots from major airlines kept small planes on site to fly to their homes.
In 1962, Federal Way’s Miller Oil and Heating Company utilized Evergreen as a home base for approximately 20 planes, including single, twin engine planes, bi-planes and amphibians. Roy Miller, then manager of the airport, worked for the firm and kept his own “business and pleasure” plane at the field. The company’s sheet fabricating shop was also located in one of the big hangars. Many local people were readied for their private flying license by Elmer Haase, Evergreen’s instructor.
Besides being heavily used during the Seattle World’s Fair, the airport was also the home of Wilderness Airways, a charter service providing tours to many Pacific Northwest points of interest.
In 1975, Houser reported that an additional value of the airport was for area business and safety reasons. Several groups used the field as a staging area for rescue operations. Both the sheriff and state patrol landed planes when patrolling the highways in the Federal Way area. Large airlines such as United, Hughes Aircraft and the Northwest Pilots Association felt that if they got into trouble taking off at Sea-Tac, they would need a place to come down since they couldn’t turn such large planes around that fast.
The Boeing employees began selling of the 83.5 acres in little bits during the 1950s and 1960s. This property was the last large open space left in the heart of Federal Way. In 1988, city officials learned that developers Praxis Group Ltd. of West Vancouver, B.C., and PACE Corporation of Bellevue had plans to build a 45 lot office park on the land. Over coffee at Denny’s, Jim Webster, a member of the founding/incorporating city council, proposed the 83.5-acre site as a community park. It was then that a vision without risks became a reality.
Much has been written and said chronicling the site’s often controversial and political history. Hazardous materials buried under the airstrip by Sea-Tac Auto Wrecking, taxes vs. bonds, desires to see the land used as a performing arts center, sports fields, trails, senior housing, a community center, etc. — or a combination of these things would serve as a lasting legacy to the people of Federal Way.
In 1992, after 75 residents submitted a name in a contest, a three-member citizens committee selected the name of “Celebration Park.” Committee member Shirley Charnell described the committee-generated name as upbeat, approachable and meeting the historical connotations that the city sought.
The need for parks was one of the major shortcomings identified by proponents of cityhood in Federal Way’s 1989 cityhood campaign. It was felt that this large remaining piece of open space in central Federal Way offered a chance to reshape downtown and meet the recognized shortage of park space, especially in a city as laden with strip malls and asphalt as Federal Way.
In an Oct. 13, 1991, Federal Way News article, Allen H. Nelson writes: “Communities are anchors that are found in major common areas where diverse interests in the community can meet, perform or simply enjoy a picnic and a soccer game. This is more evident now than ever before as our city begins to build a cohesion and direction by adding this property as a park that ours and future generations will enjoy!”