Juanita Beach Park (Kirkland)

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 10/01/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4009
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Juanita Beach Park, located along Juanita Bay in Kirkland, has been a popular summer destination for most of a century. Originally settled by Dorr and Eliza Forbes, the park blossomed as a resort in the 1920s under the guidance of their son Leslie and his wife Alicia. In 1956, they sold the park to King County. It remained a county park until 2002, when ownership was transferred to the City of Kirkland.

Dorr and Eliza

The Juanita Beach Park property was homesteaded in 1876 by Dorr and Eliza Forbes, who planned their move west soon after getting married in Iowa in 1874. After traveling by train with their newborn son Ray to San Francisco, they headed north and briefly lived in a log cabin near Hillsborough, Oregon, where they had a second son, Leon. From there, they continued on to Puget Sound.

Once in Seattle, Dorr scouted around and eventually decided to move his family to a small bay on northeast Lake Washington. They hauled all their belongings onto a boat at McGilvra Landing (later Madison Park) and traveled from there to their new home, where they would spend the rest of their lives.

The hills near the bay were heavily forested, and Dorr set to work clearing his land and building a shingle mill. At first, their closest neighbor, Martin Hubbard, lived a mile away and delivered the mail. As more settlers moved nearby, the community chose the name Hubbard, but later changed it to Juanita.

Pioneer Life

Before others moved to the area, the Forbes family had the bay to themselves. Once, when Dorr and the boys were out logging, Eliza was surprised when a group of Indian women opened her front door and walked in. Afraid at first, Eliza soon realized they were cold and hungry. She fed them and had them stand next to the fire. Afterwards, they left peacefully.

In an attempt to upgrade his sawmill, Dorr added a kiln, but the night after it was installed it burned the mill down. Then he attempted to grow cranberries and took up a preemptive claim on Forbes Lake (now Lake Kirkland) a few miles southeast of Juanita. Unfortunately, beavers kept eating his berries, and he gave that up too. But Dorr was a jack-of-all-trades, and found work at other mills and on other farms.

Eliza gave birth to two more sons -- Allen and Leslie -- and also became the first female Justice of the Peace in King County, and possibly in Washington state. She began this job in 1887, when Washington was still a territory, but had to relinquish her duties in 1889 when it became a state. At that time, women still didn’t have the right to vote.

Eliza, a staunch Republican, remained active in politics, but mostly lived out her life as an archetypical pioneer housewife. Even into her 90s she would fish in the nearby stream, pick nettles and dandelions for salads, and sit on the porch shooting robins in the cherry trees. Robin breast, dressed and cooked correctly, was a delicacy.

Leslie and Alicia

As some of the older Forbes boys moved away from the homestead, Leslie helped his father more and more. During the Klondike Gold Rush, Dorr and Leslie brought crates of pickled eggs to Alaska to sell to the sourdoughs. They discovered that if they had brought phonograph records, they could have made a fortune, as these were what many miners wanted the most.

In 1905, the Forbes lost their home and possessions in a fire, and built a new house. At the time, the shoreline of Juanita Bay was peppered with many structures. Crossing the east side of the bay was the Juanita Slough bridge and steamer dock, built with timbers donated by Dorr Forbes. West of the Forbes property was the Urania Dock -- named for the ferry Urania -- and the Urania Club House, a meeting place for Scandinavian families who lived on nearby Finn Hill.

Just south of their house the Forbes built a dance hall. It was here that Leslie Forbes met Alicia Stuart, stepdaughter of Sherm Stuart. The Stuarts lived in Houghton, south of Kirkland, where Mr. Stuart was the superintendent of Anderson Shipyards. As a young girl, Alicia had christened the ferry Atlanta. Leslie and Alicia fell in love and were married in 1910.

The Sands of Time

Leslie and Alicia’s first home was in a small confectionary store connected to the Juanita Slough bridge, but they later moved to a room in the dance hall where they had met. They eventually raised five children -- Dorris, Joyce, JoAnn, Elizabeth, and James. In 1918, the dance hall burned down and they lost everything they owned, but an event from two years earlier soon added to their fortune.

In 1916, the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal caused Lake Washington to drop 8.8 feet, as the body of water sank to the level of Lake Union. Most lakeshore dwellers had to deal with thick, smelly goo in their new backyards, but at Juanita Beach the receding waters exposed a vast expanse of fine white sand. Not only that, the shelf extended far out into the water. Almost 500 feet from shore, the water was only 5 feet deep, unlike elsewhere on the lake where it tended to go deep fairly close to dry land.

Recognizing the business potential of owning such a rare piece of Lake Washington property, Leslie capitalized on it. In 1920, he and his partner Ed Nelson opened a concession counter for the growing number of Seattleites who were crossing the lake for weekend getaways. A year later, he bought some property from his mother -- Dorr had died in 1919 -- along with adjacent strips that gave him a total of 100 feet of beachfront land.

His first task was clearing sunken logs and cleaning up the park site. Then came the construction of restrooms and a 20 by 30 foot bathhouse. In 1921, Juanita Beach opened for business.

On The Beach

It became a huge success. Thousands of people traveled to Juanita each summer for fun in the sun. Leslie and Alicia were living with their family in a small house where the dance hall used to be, and they soon turned part of it into a small store that sold groceries and had a lunch counter with ice cream and soft drinks.

Leslie worked in Seattle as chief clerk for Judge Rhea Whitehead, so Alicia managed the beachfront business during weekdays. Dorris Forbes Beecher remembers her mother as having “an astute sense of business, great energy, and keen foresight.” Alicia always kept ahead of her times, and was one of the first women in Juanita to bob her hair -- quite daring in the 1920s.

By 1925, the Forbes built an open-air kitchen with tables, a stove, and hot water. In 1928, they built a larger, two-story bathhouse -- which also had a jukebox and dance floor -- and offered swimsuits for rent. They planted 150 cottonwood trees, some of which to this day cover the neighborhood with white fluff during the spring blossom.

Award Winner

Initially, admission to Juanita Beach was free and the Forbes charged only 25 cents for picnic table rentals. When they found that some visitors were subletting the tables at a cheaper rate, they started charging by the carload. After noticing the number of people who were parking outside the gate for free, they started charging 10 cents a head to go to the beach. Some grumbled at this, but even during the Great Depression, a day of swimming, picnicking, and general gamboling was quite a bargain for one thin dime.

In 1931, the Washington Outing Resorts Association designated Juanita Beach as the most modern, clean, and convenient resort in the Northwest. In 1933, a re-enactment of the signing of the 1855 Point Elliott treaty brought members of many Indian tribes, as well as thousands of celebrants to one of the largest cross-cultural Indian celebrations ever held in King County since the arrival of the first white settlers in 1851.

The Forbes operation was not the only resort on Juanita Beach. Nearby were the Shady Beach and Sandy Beach resorts, and Pop Bergeron ran a business called Juanita Park, which had a dance hall with entertainment provided by Milt Gootee and his band. All resorts operated well throughout the 1930s, and they all saw a decline in attendance after the start of World War II.

End of an Era

In 1937, Leslie and Alicia moved back into the 1905 Forbes house -- which they expanded -- to be with Eliza, then in her 80s. Eliza was still active, especially in politics. She always found a way to make it to Republican Party meetings in Seattle, mostly through rides from family members. When she reached the age of 90, the family decided it was unwise of her to travel that far, but she defied them and hitchhiked to town. Eliza passed away in 1942 at the age of 92.

When tolls were taken off the Lake Washington Floating Bridge after the war, Juanita became less remote in the eyes of weekend travelers, and Juanita Beach lost much of its appeal. Places like Norm’s Resort between Woodinville and Duvall, and campsites deep in the Cascade Mountain range became the “new” getaways, far off the beaten track.

Around the same time, communities along Lake Washington were dealing with pollution problems caused by population growth and inadequate waste disposal systems. Many towns dumped sewage right into the lake, and Juanita was no exception. Juanita Beach was closed for a short time in 1953 due to the outfall of 65 local residents.

In 1956, Leslie and Alicia sold their property to King County for $42,000. They retired to Camano Island, yet came back to Juanita often to visit friends and family. In 1957, King County bought the Shady Beach and Sandy Beach properties, and created Juanita Beach Park.

Upgrades and Changes

Under King County’s management, Juanita Beach Park underwent some changes. A few of the cottonwood trees planted by the Forbes family were felled for “safety reasons,” although the ones left standing have since posed no threat to those walking underneath. In 1965, a $44,000 building with dressing rooms, restrooms, and a concession stand was built and the parking lot was expanded.

Further upgrades to the park occurred after the approval in 1968 of Forward Thrust bond Proposition 6, which provided $118 million for parks throughout King County. More than $300,000 was allocated for Juanita Beach, most of which was spent to build a concrete pier-breakwater combination which surrounds and protects the swimming area. New picnic shelters were built, and tennis courts were added.

The park remained a popular swimming spot, but by the mid-1970s local thugs and hoodlums had taken it over as their home turf. In 1975 the county hired Bernard “Benny” Bennett as caretaker, and although hooligans pinned him against a tree at knifepoint during his first week on the job, he is credited with making the park more family-friendly by the end of the decade.

Juanita Beach Park has remained a popular place for parents and children, especially on hot summer days. In the 1990s, King County Parks moved the offices of their interpretive program into the Forbes house, but in 2001, a $52 million general fund shortfall led to the closure of 20 parks throughout the county. Juanita Beach Park was one of them.

In 2002, approval was given by the King County Council to transfer the ownership of the park to the City of Kirkland (Juanita was annexed to Kirkland in 1988.) On November 5, 2002, Kirkland voters agreed, and voted for a slight property tax increase to pay for maintenance and improvements.


Dorris Forbes Beecher interview by Matt McCauley, May 29, 1993, transcript, Kirkland Oral History Project (Kirkland Heritage Society, Kirkland); “Juanita Man Passes Away,” East Side Journal, April 3, 1919, p. 1; “Juanita Beach Has Many Improvements This Season,” Ibid., May 15, 1924, p. 1; “Juanita Beach to Open on Larger Scale,” Ibid., February 23, 1928, p. 1; “Juanita Beach Given Award,” Ibid., January 15, 1931, pp. 1, 6; “Improvements Are Feature of “Pop” Bergeron’s Management,” Ibid., April 22, 1937, p. 12; “First Woman Justice,” Ibid., April 29, 1937, pp. 1, 6; “Three Juanita Beaches to be Closed,” Ibid., May 7, 1953, pp. 1, 8; “Forbes Sell Lake Beach to County,” Ibid., April 12, 1956, pp. 1, 5; “Total of 635 Ft. To Be Available for County Park,” Ibid. June 16, 1957, p. 1; “Cottonwoods Down For Safety, Parking,” Ibid., July 29, 1965, p. 5; “Leslie Forbes, Member of Pioneer Family, Dies,” The Seattle Times October 29, 1966, p. 57; “Juanita Beach, Marymoor to Undergo $600,000 Facelift Job,” East Side Journal October 29, 1969, p. 1; “The High-Kicker of Juanita Beach,” Bellevue Journal-American August 15, 1980, p. A-2; “2 Park Transfers OK'd for Ballot in November,” The Seattle Times August 20, 2002, p. B-1; Further information provided by Matt McCauley.

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