By Becky Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“In the cherry blossoms’ shade
there’s no such thing
as a stranger.”
The flowering cherry trees leading to the Pike Place Market will fall prey to Seattle’s monster project to connect downtown and the waterfront. A band of concerned downtown residents and supporters, reacting to the proposed development of the market area, have formed a nonprofit group, savethemarketentrance.org, for historical preservation of the entrance to the Market. Saving the cherry trees is part of its mission.
In the design of a new pedestrian and bike path entrance to the Market, the city plans to replace six Kwanzan, Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’ and four Sargent’s cherry, Prunus sargentii, with hybrid elm trees. The elms were chosen for its form, foliage density, and growth rate. A last-minute effort to save the 40-year-old cherry trees may be futile. The Public Notice of removal tightly wrapped around the tree trunks are like yellow tombstones, prelude to the trees’ demise.
“We can’t even give it a proper goodbye,” lamented Jean Bateman, a downtown resident and volunteer with the preservation group. The trees at the Market are dormant, leafless, and brown now. If the city goes on schedule, the cherries won’t have a final chance to blush.
Flowering cherries usually bloom late March to mid-April, the white to pink delicate blossoms lasting only days are revered in poetry, especially in Haiku, imitating life is fleeting. Hanami, blossom-viewing or Sakura festivals, may be a Japanese obsession but it is celebrated globally. It is a reminder for all to pause and savor the moment.
Taha Ebrahimi, author of an upcoming book, Street Trees of Seattle, due out spring 2024, said that these are downtown’s first-recorded cherry street trees based on the city’s data (they are also some of the last remaining in the downtown core). When she reached out to Seattle’s Department of Transportation, she was told they were being removed due to alleged “rapid decline” in the increasingly warming and drying conditions of Seattle.
In 1976, Japan’s former Prime Minister, Takeo Miki, gifted Seattle 1,000 cherry trees to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial and the ties between Japan and the U.S., particularly Seattle.
Miki worked as a dishwasher in Maneki in the Chinatown-International District when he was a student at the University of Washington in the 1930s. Upon his return to Japan with a pro-American attitude, Miki was denounced for opposing the war with the U.S. Decades later, Miki served as prime minister from 1974 to 1976. It’s unknown whether the Market’s trees were part of Miki’s gift. But the first Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival began that year with those trees symbolizing hope, renewal, and friendship.
The symbolism of the cherry trees must have been on the city planners’ minds in the 1980s. During the revitalization of the market area, the trees, acting as a natural remembrance and nod to the city’s Japanese community, were planted near the Market to welcome visitors. Before the 1942 Executive Order resulting in the incarceration of Japanese Americans, over 75% of the Pike Place Market farmers were Japanese.
The removal notice on the marked trees indicated a 14-day public comment period, from Feb. 21 to March 7, regarding the plight of the trees. Listed were a website and a telephone number. One needs to call the number to get an email to comment.
On Feb. 27, the Seattle Department of Transportation & Office of the Waterfront & Civic Projects responded to an inquiry from Northwest Asian Weekly that construction crews will begin to remove the trees the week of March 6. There was a 30-day public comment period during the design phase of the market entrance last October. The additional 14-day public comment period is per city standard.
“My concerns are around the public’s ability to actually comment,” said Bateman, the trees’ advocate. “These trees and the historical, cultural heritage they represent deserve our respect and gratitude.”
On Feb. 27, Ebrahimi and local author and plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson visited the Market entrance to inspect and identify the trees in question.
Jacobson said afterwards, “Neither elms nor cherry are ideal for that block.” He recommended rather than killing the existing trees, the city can give them extra care so they can become healthier and more attractive.
Project information can be accessed at http://waterfrontseattle.org/waterfront-projects/pike-pine-renaissance. Phone: 206-499-8040.
Public comments to the city can be made via the email obtained by NW Asian Weekly firstname.lastname@example.org
Becky can be reached at email@example.com.