John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A Seattle donut shop turned a real 1940s sailboat into public space.
She was built in 1946 by an unknown craftsperson in Edmonds, Washington, measures 24 feet and 3 inches on deck, and has an outside ballast of 1,540 pounds.
A parklet, for those who aren’t familiar, is an often-adorable public gathering/resting area, typically carved from parking spaces or under-utilized parts of the streetscape. This one went up this month outside Mighty-O Donuts in the Ballard neighborhood. Though it’s been rechristened the Mighty-O Parklet, the vessel’s original moniker refers to the triple-masted ship Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed aboard during his grueling, hellish journey to Antarctica. Endurance is an appropriate name, given the boat’s lasted this long, though of course with all the retrofits she would sink like a boulder if dropped into the Puget Sound.
“It only ‘floats’ on the road,” says Megan Helmer, a public-arts enthusiast whose husband founded the donut shop. “The keel has been removed, and the base of the hull cut and placed on cedar decking.”
Mighty-O Donuts and community volunteers began constructing the parklet after crowdsourcing private funds, securing a grant from the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, and roping in local architect David Squires. “I shared with David a nautical-themed idea based on Seattle’s maritime history,” says Helmer. A Craigslist search turned up the Endurance, which has a design similar to the Blanchard Senior Knockabout people used to race around the Pacific Northwest.
“She was in rough shape when we got her, and in need of so much work she wasn’t in the water,” Helmer says. She helped dry-dock the boat at the South Park Marina and got woodworkers to slice the hull and make the structure roadworthy. The resulting parklet has elegant, weatherproofed slats for seats, buoys hanging off the side, a flag at the stern, and even a wheel. It was installed in to much fanfare, with city employees and neighborhood kids coming out to spin the wheel, try on life jackets, and fold origami boats of their own.
“The Mighty-O parklet is a great example of what SDOT’s parklet program is all about,” says Brian Henry at the transportation department’s Public Space Management Program. “They brought the community together to talk about what kind of public space should be created, and designed something that reflects Ballard’s maritime character and history. It shows how a neighborhood business can lead the way in enhancing the public realm, and creating more space for people.”
The idea of a parklet owes its origins to a 2005 experiment that transformed a single parking space in San Francisco. Since then many cities have embraced the concept, including New York, Oakland, L.A., Philadelphia, and Chicago; an annual Park(ing) Day each September celebrates the phenomenon in cities globally. This is Seattle’s ninth parklet since 2013, arriving on the heels of one that encouraged leisurely reading with nearby “little free libraries” and another where people could paint stuff on a board with water and watch it evaporate to “witness the sobering truth that nothing in life lasts forever.”