Jean Burch Falls, Theatre Originator

Jean Falls, 2016

Jean Burch Falls worked with her husband Gregory Falls (1922-1997) in the origination of ACTA Contemporary Theatre — in 1965.  ACT produced notable performances in the historic Redding Building, also known as Queen Anne Hall & more recently Behnke Center and home to On the Boards, at 100 West Roy.  Later ACT restored Eagles Auditorium, relocating to downtown Seattle in 1996.  ACT introduced to Seattle works by such contemporary playwrights as David Mamet, Sam Shepard, and Tom Stoppard, and cultivated a community of actors and theatre workers.

Born and raised in New York City, Jean Burch graduated from Manhattan’s Brearley School in 1942 after attending boarding schools in Virginia and Lausanne, Switzerland.  Despite her family’s objections, she studied drama in college, first at Bryn Mawr and then at Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.  In 1943, she started to fly planes, hoping to join the WASPs – Women’s Auxiliary Service Patrol.  However, the war in Europe ended before she reached the age when she could serve.  After a first marriage and the birth of two sons, she began pre-med studies at the University of Vermont – while also directing and acting in community theatre.  There she met and married Greg Falls, Director of the University of Vermont Drama Department, and her dramatic activities intensified.

In 1961, the University of Washington appointed Greg Falls as Executive Director of the School of Drama, and the Falls family – now including two daughters — moved to Seattle.  Jean performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Green Lake Aqua Theatre.  After a couple of years, Jean and Greg began to look for a space to open a contemporary summer theatre, to complement the two-year-old Seattle Repertory Theatre that staged classic plays during the winter. This led to the 1965 opening of ACT at its original Queen Anne location on West Roy.  Jean notes that Jim Whittaker the first American to summit Mt. Everest and an originator of REI – had used the Redding Building as a staging area.

In 1974, Jean began to write lyrics, often in collaboration with composer Rob Duisberg. Her work has included lyrics for performances at ACT, Empty Space, and Issaquah’s Village Theatre.  In 1999, she performed her final stage role in a production of Margaret Edson’s WIT at Seattle Repertory Theatre.  She also travelled with the show to theatres in Houston, Phoenix, and Tucson.

Stewart Ballinger, Greg and Jean Falls at ACT’s 20th anniversary celebration in the Rainier Tower, May 1, 1984 (courtesy ACT)

Jean’s civic roles have included activism in the late-1960s fight to save the Pike Place Market, culminating in her service on the first Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority/PDA.  There she played an instrumental role in establishing the Pike Place Market Foundation, originated in 1981-82. In 1975-81, she served on the Seattle Center Advisory Commission.

Jean has resided on Queen Anne since 2007.

Has Uptown Forgotten About Schools?

New schools in or around Seattle Center are nothing new. The former Warren Avenue School sat on the current site of the Washington State Coliseum, now KeyArena. When the site was purchased in 1902 the Seattle school enrollment is said to have increased annually by 2,000 children. The school opened in 1903 to relieve overcrowding in the nearby Mercer and Denny Schools (these schools are also gone). Enrollment peaked in 1929 at 734 students. In 1957, Seattle voters approved a proposal for the development of a Civic Center and the World’s Fair. At the time of its closure enrollment had dropped to 250 students as families moved to make way for the fairgrounds. The school district sold the site after the State Supreme Court ruled the state could condemn the property.

Since this time, the Uptown community has been heavily dependent on the rest of Queen Anne for many of its city services. In recent history, Uptown has tried to create its own identity separate from Queen Anne. The Uptown Alliance worked hard to build a voice for their community and I praise them for their tireless advocacy.

This month the Uptown Preliminary Rezone Recommendation Director’s Report was published. In this document, Uptown is called a neighborhood, a regional center, and a district. What is new to hear is that the report calls Queen Anne an “interested neighbor”. I argue that, at this time, Uptown is not an independent entity and Queen Anne is more than a neighbor to Uptown.

The report thoughtfully addresses development standards, the increase of housing supply, transportation and traffic, sensitivity to pedestrians, its connection to Seattle Center, and makes mention of preservation. The report never studies the impact on the school district. The only place the school district is mentioned in the city’s planning efforts is in the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Deep in the comp plan, the city calls out potential future discretionary projects. Specific to Queen Anne, the plan highlights Seattle Center; it bullet points the Memorial Stadium relocation, Memorial Stadium site redevelopment, Key Arena enhancement, and the North Parking Lots redevelopment. These are capital projects that the City might undertake or fund in the future. It’s important to stress that Memorial Stadium is owned by the Seattle School District and the funds used for redevelopment would come from the Seattle citizens.

If the comp plan and the Uptown report won’t address the impact on the schools, then the Seattle School District must… but it doesn’t. The projected growth boundary changes are not slated to account for rezones. The Uptown community cannot rely on the Seattle School District to figure this out for them. When Uptown sits at the table with the city to create a vision for their community they need to advocate for the return of their own schools – for their benefit and the benefit of their interested neighbors.

Historical Photos of Uptown’s former Warren Avenue School

Huh? My mother-in-law’s an ADU?

There was a lot of chatter this summer of 2016 over the proposal to allow the construction of three-story Detached Alternative Dwelling Units (DADUs) on modest sized lots now hosting single family homes. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) tend to be independent dwelling units in an attic or a basement with separate doors and appropriate emergency exits. Realtors call an ADU a mother-in-law.

Some people fear that these new dwelling units will change our neighborhoods by increasing density and expediting the loss of the neighborhood’s historic character. Interestingly, the historic character of Upper Queen Anne especially the area west of Queen Anne Ave. with alleys includes a large number of alley houses. A brief tour of the area north of Smith between First and Third Avenues revealed at least 15 alley houses, all of which add to the historic character of Upper queen Anne. At least two of these alley houses are brand new, and three of them on Galer between 1st and 2nd West are really for the birds.

These Alley Houses are for the birds.
These alley houses are for the birds

It may turn out though that the increase in DADUs (Detached ADU) and ADUs has an effect not unlike what happened in response to the Urban Villages created as part of the 1993 Comp Plan. Although written primarily to prevent urban sprawl in rural King County, the plan forced multi-family apartment buildings and condos into the Urban Villages and successfully protected single family homes and the historic neighborhoods in which they are located. Upper Queen Anne and Uptown were both designated villages with the Uptown village encouraging more commercial development than Upper Queen Anne’s.

I am particularly interested in the DADUs constructed long ago in our neighborhood and which now in their own right add its historic character. In many cases, the DADUs are located along the alley edge of simple single family homes and may have replaced early garages. Of course, that conclusion may indeed be speculative, for many of the houses in the neighborhood were constructed before cars were the prevalent way to get around. As is more likely, the alley houses expanded the main home on the lot making room for growing families or newlyweds. The house at 2004 First Avenue N. is said to have been a wedding gift for a newlywed child.  Even if it isn’t an alley house, the gift idea lends credence to my guess. …Continue reading “Huh? My mother-in-law’s an ADU?”