Farewell to Alki museum visionary Merrilee Hagen

April 17th, 2017

Merrilee Hagen, 2009

The longtime West Seattle resident who sparked acquisition of our historical society’s “Birthplace of Seattle” Log House Museum on Alki has died.

Merrilee Ann Blackinton Hagen, a former board president of our historical society, a longtime real-estate broker and a prolific painter of local scenes, had been recovering from lymphoma when she died of a massive stroke on Sunday, April 9, 2017, in her home across from her alma mater, West Seattle High School. She was 73.

“Merrilee is one of the giants in our organizational history,” said Clay Eals, executive director of our historical society. “The impact of Merrilee on our organization was wide-ranging, but easily her most enduring contribution was her vision and action to acquire our museum.”

Merrilee served as board president in 1994 and 1995 when our organization was meeting and storing items at then-South Seattle Community College and was looking for a permanent headquarters of our own.

As a broker who “knew West Seattle like the back of her hand,” Eals said, she learned that the 1904 log home at 3003 61st Ave. S.W. was for sale and might be razed or moved. The building, one of the last three log structures on Alki, originally served as the carriage house for the nearby Fir Lodge, which became the Alki Homestead restaurant.

On behalf of our historical society, Merrilee immediately began to organize a campaign to purchase the building by securing a portion of mitigation funds offered by Metro as part of a West Seattle sewage-pipeline project. Our volunteers worked the phones from her real-estate office, calling residents of Alki and Beach Drive, encouraging them to vote for the acquisition, which would be the first step in restoring and opening the building as a community-history museum.

The campaign was successful, and after extensive fundraising and exhibit preparation by Merrilee and other volunteers, the museum opened on Nov. 13, 1997, the 146th anniversary of the arrival of the Alki Landing Party. The museum will mark its 20th anniversary this fall.

Merrilee tells the museum acquisition story in this four-minute video from the Nov. 14, 2015, Annual Meeting of our historical society held at High Point Library. (Turn up the volume. The Carol and Arlene whom Merrilee references are two other board presidents, Carol Vincent and Arlene Wade.)

In recent years, Merrilee regularly attended our historical society’s Champagne Gala Brunch and contributed her unique paintings of the Alki Lighthouse, the Alki Homestead and other icons as auction items. Her painting of the Historic Admiral Theater was part of an auction package at the 2016 Gala last Nov. 5 and was presented to the winners, Maryanne Tagney and David Jones, at the grand-reopening celebration of the theater one month ago on March 22.

Merrilee at age 18 months

A one-eighth member of the Samish Indian Nation, Merrilee was born to Chester and Shirley Blackinton on July 15, 1943, in Bellingham, the second child of four. She lived on Orcas Island until age 4, when her family moved to downtown Seattle and, one year later, to a West Seattle beach house at 59th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Carroll Street, across from the original one-room Alki schoolhouse.

She attended Alki Elementary School, and as a third-grader one of her highlights was attending the 1951 ceremonial celebration of the Alki pioneer landing. (In later years, she delighted in discovering her signature in the guest book at the Alki Lighthouse from when her Girl Scout troop visited there in 1953.)

After attending then-Madison Junior High School, she graduated from West Seattle High in 1961. In high-school years, she served as a “candy striper” volunteer, operating elevators at Seattle Hospital.

She briefly studied commercial art at Edison Art College downtown. In 1963 at age 19, she married Oscar Hagen Jr., a Navy veteran and Boeing office and computer worker, and they lived in the north Admiral and Seaview neighborhoods.

One of Merrilee’s sketches, 1963.

Merrilee gave birth to their only child, Melissa, in 1969, and her family welcomed long-term stays from relatives and friends in subsequent homes in the Highland Park and Arbor Heights neighborhoods.

After working briefly in the shipping department at Sears downtown, Merrilee was a full-time mom, busying herself with projects such as canning garden produce and painting the faces of Raggedy Ann dolls made by her grandmother.

Merrilee and Oscar divorced in 1982, and she moved to Marguerite Court on Alki. With her moves, she had developed an interest in real estate, starting a career in 1977 as a broker for Evan Carlson Realty on California Avenue and opening a realty business with Karis Malagon near 35th Avenue and Southwest Alaska Street.

Merrilee displays one of her Alki Lighthouse paintings, 2013.

She further developed interests in gardening and painting while transitioning to work for high-school classmate and West Seattle broker Rich Bianchi in the Junction and later for John L. Scott and moving to a succession of homes south of the Junction, in Burien, on Beach Drive, across from Lincoln Park, behind the Admiral Theater and to a home west of the Junction to care for her mother.

Merrilee displays her painting of the Alki Homestead, 2015.

Her watercolor, oil and acrylic paintings filled every wall of her homes and hung in her real-estate offices, and her coordination of home tours for the historical society in the 1990s and early 2000s prompted her to create themed poster paintings for those events.

Merrilee retired as a broker in 2005 while battling Crohn’s disease. Following her mother’s death, she moved to lower Queen Anne and, two years ago, to the Island View apartment complex across from West Seattle High School.

Besides her devotion to West Seattle and the historical society, Merrilee was known for her keen memory and low-key sense of humor (one of her maxims was “Never pass up a good straight line”) and for staying in touch with and taking care of family and friends.

Survivors include her daughter and son-in-law, Melissa and Terry Cooper, of Highland Park; siblings Linda Blackinton, Daniel Blackinton and Eileen Addison of Seattle; and ex-husband Oscar Hagen Jr. of SeaTac.

Her ashes will be scattered near the family home in the Guemes Channel north of Anacortes, and there will be no public memorial service. The Southwest Seattle Historical Society will host a time of remembrance for Merrilee during its annual Independence Day picnic from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, 2017, in the museum courtyard.

As printed in our Footprints newsletter from November 1993, here is Merrilee’s September 1993 speech urging acquisition of the log house that became our museum. The text is below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From September 1993: ‘I have lived in West Seattle …’

Below is the text of a speech delivered by Merrilee Hagen at a September 1993 meeting regarding the Alki Community Improvement Fund. The speech was later printed in our Footprints newsletter. The purpose of her presentation was to persuade the fund’s citizen committee to place the log house on the February 1994 Metro ballot, but Merrilee’s appeal also compellingly summed up why Alki residents should vote for the proposal.

By Merrilee Hagen

I have lived in West Seattle for 45 years.

I grew up on Alki.

I reside on Alki now.

I have been a real-estate agent and broker in this area for 16 years.

I grew up surrounded by the history of the area.

I lived near the three-story log home at 59th and Andover, originally a large family summer home, later a boarding house, now occupied by a single family.

I played sandlot ball at the field across the street, site of the original Alki one-room schoolhouse, soon to be filled with proposed scattered-site low-income housing.

I played with a friend at the log house on the corner of 62nd and Stevens – BULLDOZED.

I visited and played at the original Ferdinand Schmitz home – BULLDOZED in 1967.

I walked home past the log house at 61st and Spokane – BULLDOZED.

I remember the little rock house near Alki Point, featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in the 1930s – BULLDOZED.

I attended school functions at the old Alki Fieldhouse – BULLDOZED.

I saw the old Natatorium at Alki – BULLDOZED in 1953.

In my lifetime I’ve seen a lot of our community’s heritage disappear in the name of progress. We can’t stop progress – nor should we try, because our community needs to survive – but we also need to preserve our history.

West Seattle has something unique to our city. We are the acknowledged Birthplace of Seattle.

I remember participating in the centennial celebration of the pioneer landing at Alki in 1951. I was a third-grader at Alki Elementary School. One of my drawings with a story about the pioneers was included in the items in a time capsule buried north of the Birthplace of Seattle monument that day. At the time I didn’t realize who the speaker, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, was, but I remember all the pomp and the crowds and how proud everyone was of our place in Seattle’s history.

There are now as few as half a dozen of the original log cabins left in the West Seattle area. Some have been modernized beyond recognition as log homes. If we don’t make an effort to save at least one, in 10 or 20 years they all will be gone and we will be left with only a memory of what was there before the bulldozers came to make room for another apartment house or condominium complex.

The only way we can guarantee preserving any of these homes is to own it. We now have that opportunity with the Metro mitigation funds available.

The log home at the corner of 61st and Stevens is available for purchase. The seller was offered full price one year ago by a developer. The seller refused the offer, even though he was in dire financial straits, because the developer planned to remove the house from the site and take it by barge to VASHON!

The property has since been traded to the seller’s partner. He has agreed to sell it to us, to be used as a museum to be run by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society.

This log house was originally the carriage house and maid’s quarters for the owners of the log house used as the original Seattle Auto Club (1907), which is now the Alki Homestead Restaurant. The carriage house is in nearly original condition inside and out, with the exception of necessary changes such as indoor plumbing and cooking facilities.

Use of this site as a museum not only will preserve part of our area’s history, it also will give our school children, residents and visitors access to old photographs and artifacts – collections currently stored by the historical society and the Museum of History and Industry.

We are asking your support of this project to preserve and display our community’s history while we have the chance.