At my first Federal Way City Council meeting in January as your mayor, I spoke about the importance of our community’s history and how it links us to the present and to our future.
I truly believe, as the historian James Burke noted, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you are.”
That’s why I am so excited about the city’s recent preservation of the historical Brooklake Community Center that was donated to the city. Federal Way began as separate communities in places like Star Lake, Stone’s Landing and Redondo. Over time, we coalesced into one community and have become the 11th-largest city in the state.
Brooklake is one of those places where Federal Way began to grow in the early part of the 20th Century. It began in the 1920s as the Wagon Wheel restaurant, which soon faltered and entered a brief criminal career as a speakeasy. The place was rehabilitated as a community center after being taken over by a more community-minded group in the 1930s.
For decades after, the community center was organized by community groups like Rotary, Kiwanis and the Federal Way Historical Society. It hosted community events, dances, churches, weddings and spawned many significant public ventures.
On the building’s second floor, I found a 1940s photo of the building and on the back of the frame was handwritten, “Where Federal Way began.” Underneath that title, the text lists the site as the origin of the community’s first water district, first sewer district, first fire district and first community club. It was also the site of the first community library.
There are few remaining sites in the city with as much historical significance as Brooklake. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to preserve the site as a park. Credit should go to former residents Vern and Vera Frease for maintaining the Brooklake site for so many decades.
Over the years, a long list of people have worked to bring Brooklake into the city, including King County Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, former Mayor Skip Priest, Jeanne and Jim Burbidge, Bob Kellogg, Bob Roegner, Chris Carrel and the Friends of the Hylebos and many others.
The final push was spurred by Wendell Kueker of the Brooklake Community Center, and Jerry Knutzen of the Historical Society, who approached me about the opportunity during the transition. Once in office, I reached out to Jerry and Wendell, and worked with city staff to quickly bring a proposal to the City Council. At its March 18, meeting, the Council authorized my proposal to accept the donation of the property and now Brooklake truly belongs to the entire community.
The five-acre property sits near the corner of South 356th and Highway 99, on the southeast corner of the West Hylebos Wetlands Park. As a new city park, we will preserve Brooklake’s historical building and make the site more accessible to the public. Brooklake can easily be connected to the city’s ever-popular 120-acre West Hylebos Wetlands, with a small extension off the existing boardwalk. There is also an opportunity for the site to host a future interpretive center and environmental science classes for local students.
The future uses of Brooklake will be developed in discussion with the Historical Society, Friends of the Hylebos, the school district and the public. The first step in this journey, though, is inventorying and managing the site’s historical assets.
During my discussions with Wendell, he told me of an important artifact hidden in the Brooklake building. It was a 1940s-era painting depicting early Federal Way, which had been hidden away for decades behind a false wall.
Immediately after obtaining ownership, I had staff locate and remove the artwork. We are working with the Historical Society to determine the history of the painting, but it depicts an 1890s logging camp of the type that used to operate in Federal Way at the time. We will have the painting restored so that it can be properly displayed in the future.
In addition to this rich history, one of Brooklake’s lessons for contemporary Federal Way is worth contemplating. Brooklake exists today as a community asset because a group of community-minded residents worked to make something special. The Federal Way of today is the accumulation of many, many similar acts of community building like this. More importantly, the choices we all make today determine the future community that we are building.
Jim Ferrell is the mayor of Federal Way.