Legacy of the Gold Rush:
An Administrative History of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
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Chapter 12:
Operation of the Seattle Visitor Center

The Seattle visitor center for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park opened on June 2, 1979, almost three years after Congress authorized the park and two years after the visitor center opened in Skagway's White Pass and Yukon Route depot. Since the visitor center opened, major changes have taken place in the park's operation and resource management capabilities. The most significant changes have revolved around 1) physical site attributes, 2) budget and staff areas, 3) the interpretive program, 4) education and other outreach functions, and 5) the curatorial collection and similar cultural resource concerns. The chapter will discuss the history of Klondike's Seattle unit as a function of those changing program areas.

Site Development

When the visitor center opened, the center was fully staffed, with a supervisory park ranger and several seasonal park technicians. A full coterie of films and slide shows were available for public viewing; staff quarters and space for a small library had also been completed. Thanks to a last-minute flurry of construction work, the visitor center was ready for public presentation when the door were flung open for the first time. Exhibits were largely complete, but many finishing touches remained to be completed.

More than a year would elapse before the construction job was complete. In August 1979, regional officials were informed that work was not proceeding because of a pay dispute between the contractor and one of its consultants. That dispute was eventually resolved, but the completion of the exhibits continued to lag. Karl Popp, the exhibit fabricator, was still working on the exhibits the following June, and in January 1981, a regional official noted that exhibits were still "in progress" and not yet finalized. Klondike staff were also quick to discover that the completed exhibits were so poorly designed that visitors ignored them. (As one former employee noted, "There was virtually nothing in the exhibits to display.") As a result, staff attempted to rework and improve the exhibits with the meager funds made available to them. [1]

Because the NPS did not own the Union Trust Annex Building, where the visitor center was located, and because all development in Pioneer Square was regulated by city ordinance and the decisions of the Pioneer Square Historic Preservation Board, the agency could do little to modify the appearance of the Klondike visitor center. It quickly recognized, however, that the unit was away from the primary visitor attractions. In order to enhance its visibility, therefore, the agency added two flagpoles above the visitor center entrance. Three years later, in 1985, it installed an awning over the front door. Because both actions altered the center's exterior facade, they required (and received) Historic Preservation Board approval. They also installed a sandwich board on the sidewalk and installed a speaker which played 1890s music to passers-by. [2]

Soon after the visitor center opened, Klondike staff began to outgrow the original, 5,505-square-foot facility that the NPS had leased just a year earlier. Staff space was cramped, library and curatorial space was limited, there was almost no interpretive workspace, and the lack of a meeting room prevented the unit from fulfilling its educational and interpretive functions with school and municipal groups. In the early 1980s, therefore, Superintendent Elaine Hounsell requested extra funding to expand the unit's working space. Park officials hoped that satisfactory space could be located near the existing facility. They worked with Lincoln Property Company, the building manager, in a search for a suitable expansion area.

In June 1983, the new superintendent, Willie Russell, took a more aggressive approach. He requested extra space based on new public demand. In 1986, three additional rooms became available in the building's basement, and the agency requested funds for their lease. That request was approved later that year. During the summer of 1987, the NPS increased its working area by almost 30 percent when it occupied 1,600 square feet of basement space. [3]

Because the Klondike visitor center was located in a high-crime, inner city location, security has been a longtime concern. The vast majority of visitors have not been a security risk. The threat of theft and break-ins, however, resulted in the agency's insistence on a state-of-the-art alarm system. Soon after the center opened, regional officials established procedures on building access. Employees hired since that time have been trained to be wary and vigilant; as a 1987 operations evaluations noted, "We are all security oriented." [4] A related security threat has been visitation of public inebriates, vagrants and emotionally disturbed people, some of whom are noisy, odiferous, or otherwise objectionable to others. NPS staff over the years have been trained to handle these individuals with a minimum of confrontation. Such tactics, however, have sometimes failed, and to assist with the removal of these individuals, officials have contacted the Federal Protective Service, an arm of the General Services Administration. Seattle police officers have also been available to assist when necessary. The NPS has enjoyed a longstanding, excellent relationship with both agencies. [5]

Another way in which the agency has reduced its security problems has been by manipulating its hours of operation. When the visitor center was being readied for opening day, Glenn Hinsdale proposed that the visitor center be open for five days per week during the non-summer months. Upper level regional officials, however, vehemently disagreed with that notion and ordered year-round daily operations. [6] Those in charge of site operations soon discovered that security problems were magnified if the visitor center remained open during the evening hours, when few out-of-town visitors were in the area. Officials, therefore, reduced its hours of operation and security concerns dropped. [7]

The Union Trust Annex Building has been owned by two different entities during the period in which NPS has been a tenant. When the NPS first became interested in the building, it was owned by Lincoln Fotups Associates, a limited partnership based in Arizona; it was managed by Lincoln Property Company of Northern California. As noted in Chapter 11, the first lease agreement between the General Services Administration (which handles lease transactions for the federal government) and Lincoln Property Company became effective on September 1, 1978. That agreement remained in force for five years; lease payments were $55,802 per annum. When the agency's lease was renewed on September 8, 1982, annual lease payments rose to $67,288. [8]

In February 1985, GSA's lease on the Union Trust Annex Building was transferred from the Lincoln Property Company to William F. Bailey. The new owner initially assigned building management to Coldwell Banker Real Estate Management Services. Soon afterward, however, Martin Smith Inc. assumed management responsibilities. On June 16, 1986, the lease was revised to reflect a change in the lease fee; the new fee was set at $55,802 per year, the same rate that had been charged between 1978 and 1982. On September 14, 1987 a new five-year lease was drawn up between Bailey and GSA calling for annual payments of $83,839. (The higher payments were due, in part, because of the agency's recent expansion to the building's basement.) Then, on February 28, 1992, Bailey and GSA consummated a ten-year lease. The 1992 lease called for annual payments of $133,912 until 1997; payments from 1997 until 2002 will be $166,334.20 per annum. [9]

Most NPS officials have recognized that the Pioneer Square lease has been necessary because high costs prevented the agency from purchasing and managing one of the area's large, capital-intensive historic buildings. Those same officials, however, have chafed at the lack of management flexibility imposed by a lease arrangement. The solution of even minor building-management problems has required consultation with both the General Services Administration and the building manager. Difficulties with fellow tenants have compounded officials' restiveness. In 1980, and again in 1991, tenants complained about the noise emanating from the auditorium. [10] The agency's long-term lease and escalating lease payments have exacerbated the situation; as at least one regional official has been quick to point out, the agency could have purchased the Union Trust Annex building outright with each ten years' worth of lease payments it has expended. [11]

Another reason that officials have been dissatisfied with the building has been a simple lack of space. This problem, as noted above, has existed for years, and officials hoped it was solved when, in 1987, the park expanded into the building's basement. The benefits of the expansion, however, proved temporary. The increase in visitation--it more than doubled between 1987 and 1993--put a strain on park facilities, and by the early 1990s the space allotted to staff, equipment and storage had once again become cramped and unmanageable. [12]

NPS officials have long recognized that the existing arrangement was less than satisfactory. In 1983, and again in 1990, the park's Statement for Management specified that one of its management objectives would be to "establish a permanent location" for the park. (In neither case did the accompanying text clarify those remarks. More specifically, the text did not state that the agency was dissatisfied with the existing site.) [13]

Several NPS officials, however, have suggested that the visitor center be moved. In 1985, Pacific Northwest Regional Director Daniel J. Tobin, Jr. admitted that he was less than enthusiastic about the South Main Street site, noting that "The space ... was selected on the basis of availability, not because it was an especially desirable configuration." The following year, the approved Resource Management Plan declared that the unit's space problems would be solved if the visitor center moved to another building. [14] Then, in 1987, an operations evaluation, noting that the unit's "greatest challenge is public awareness and understanding of its resources," reiterated that "Strong consideration should be given to relocating the park to a more advantageous location.... The best location for a new unit is one of the corners along First [Avenue South]." [15]

Park Service officials recognize that the unit's space problems can be solved in one of four ways. First, the agency would ideally like to expand within the Union Trust Annex building, and an obvious (if expensive) way to effect that expansion would be to purchase it. That purchase is contingent both on the owner's willingness to sell and the agency's ability to generate the necessary purchase funds. If those contingencies cannot be overcome, agency officials may choose a second option; the NPS would move out of the existing site and either purchase or lease another Pioneer Square building. [16]

In recent years, NPS officials have pursued a third alternative. That option would establish an interpretive annex in another Pioneer Square building, but operations at the Union Trust Annex Building would continue. In 1989, planning discussions began between NPS and Parks Canada officials regarding the centennial of the Klondike gold rush. Four years later, Seattle NPS officials revived those discussions and began coordination efforts with the Port of Seattle, the State of Washington and other entities. As part of those discussions, it was suggested that an interagency interpretive kiosk be located on the Seattle waterfront. No decisions have yet been made regarding that proposal. [17]

A fourth alternative was offered in 1993. In order to satisfy short-term space needs, the superintendent that year requested an additional 2,020 square feet of space in the Union Trust Annex building. That space, located directly above the auditorium, was needed for work rooms, administrative offices, and meeting space. NPS officials have responded favorably to Russell's request, and when Director Roger Kennedy visited the unit in 1994, he indicated that tentative approval for the expansion had been granted. Park officials hope that they will be able to use the new space beginning in fiscal year 1997. [18]

Budget and Staff Growth

Klondike's first staff person was Mike Gurling, hired in early 1978 by Glenn Hinsdale. Gurling, working at the regional office, performed research at various Seattle-area repositories in support of potential programs and exhibits. Gurling and Kathy Maurich, the unit's first park technician, purchased hundreds of historical photographs and books, and obtained several items for the museum collection. [19]

By early 1979 additional staff had been hired, among them Supervisory Park Ranger David Maxon, who served as unit manager, and several park technicians. Soon after the visitor center opened, staff levels rose. During fiscal year 1980, however, several staff members were in a seasonal or subject-to-furlough status. The park that year was allotted just three full-time-equivalent positions (see Appendix C). [20]

During the weeks following the park dedication, regional officials moved to establish the park as a separate field unit, one that would no longer be managed directly by Glenn Hinsdale, Charles Gebler, and other regional office personnel. In order to do so, they evaluated the park operations, helped prepare the unit's first Statement for Management, and commenced the process for hiring a superintendent, an administrative services assistant, and other personnel. Maxon helped the process along by sending the regional office an anticipated staffing pattern and by submitting the proper budget forms. Beginning on August 12, 1979, the regional chief of interpretation no longer had official management authority over park operations; the unit manager took over in his stead. Despite that move, Maxon continued to be directed by Hinsdale and other regional staff. [21]

The Seattle Unit of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park became an independently operating unit in 1980. The year witnessed a dramatic increase in staff, including the hiring of a supervisory park technician, an administrative services assistant, several seasonal park technicians, and three information specialists. The most prominent of the new appointments was Elaine Hounsell as the unit's first superintendent. Hounsell, formerly the Chief of Interpretation at Morristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, assumed her new position on August 11, 1980. Supervisory Park Ranger David Maxon, who had been serving as the ad hoc unit manager until the time of Hounsell's appointment, continued serving in his position and served as the unit's second in command. [22]

By the end of 1980, the unit had almost three times the full-time-equivalent (FTE) staffing level as it had a year earlier. Much of that increase was effected by the upgrading of seasonal positions to subject-to-furlough status or by upgrading subject-to-furlough hires to permanent status. Thereafter, staff levels stabilized. Ever since that time, the park has supported either 7 or 8 FTE's (except in 1990, when the FTE level slipped to 6). [23]

The superintendency during this period has reflected the stability in personnel, because there have been only two superintendents since 1980. (See Appendix D.) Ms. Hounsell served in her position until June 1983, when she transferred to the assistant superintendency of Crater Lake National Park. She was succeeded by Willie Russell, who at the time of his appointment was serving as the Emergency Services Coordinator in the agency's Pacific Northwest Regional Office. Russell has served as superintendent ever since. [24]

Serving under the superintendent have been a number of rangers. David Maxon served as the Supervisory Park Ranger until April 1982, when he was succeeded by Mike Gurling, who had been working in the office since 1978. Gurling served as the head ranger until December 1986; in early 1987, Paul Henderson was appointed as the Chief Park Ranger, while Mardi Butt was appointed to be the Lead Park Ranger. Butt continued in her position until August 1989; after she departed, the Lead Ranger position was phased out. Henderson continued to serve in his position until 1990, when he stepped down and was replaced by Marianne Mills, a ranger who had begun working at the park in August 1988. Mills continued working as Chief Park Ranger until August 1993. The position then lay dormant until December 1994, when it was filled by Betsy Duncan-Clark, who had been working in Klondike's Skagway headquarters for the previous eleven years. The two longest-serving rangers were Mike Gurling, who served eight years, and Marianne Mills, who served for five years. [25]

The other park positions have witnessed a greater degree of personnel turnover, primarily because their pay levels have been less. Ten people have served as the unit's administrative officer, and 32 have worked as non-supervisory permanent park rangers, park technicians, or information receptionists. (See Appendix D.) All of these positions have been at the GS-5, GS-4, or GS-3 grade level. Such positions have often proven fruitful to the employee, inasmuch as they have provided them permanent NPS status. NPS employees, however, often find it impossible to live in Seattle at that salary level. Because of the low pay, therefore, most park personnel have remained in those positions for fewer than two years. Of the 32 employees who had worked as non-supervisory permanent park rangers, park technicians, or information receptionists, only five have remained in their position for more than two years. Only two--park ranger Francisco A. Soto and information specialist William E. Rose--have served for more than five years. [26]

Park managers, over the years, have had three primary staffing concerns. First, they have long complained about the lack of adequate personnel. Since the unit opened, the number of annual visitors has more than doubled, and NPS leaders have attempted to remain visible to both visitors and residents by carrying on interpretation and outreach activities away from the visitor center. In response to those demands, however, staff levels (as noted above) have not grown. As a result of stagnant personnel levels, the working staff has become increasingly absorbed in day-to-day operations and has less and less time for outreach programs. [27] Compounding the problem has been the reluctance of the regional office, at times, to expeditiously fill vacant positions. The various Superintendent's Annual Reports note that many months have often elapsed between the termination of an employee and the hiring of his or her replacement; the Supervisory Park Ranger position that was vacated in August 1993, for example, was not filled for another sixteen months. [28]

Second, park managers have long felt that the grade levels assigned to the park staff are inconsistent with their levels of responsibility and workload. Prior to 1994, only the superintendent (and David Maxon, when he was unit manager) have held a rating above GS-7. Individuals with a GS-5 rating have sometimes been given leadership tasks; and, as noted above, non-supervisory personnel have traditionally worked at the GS-3, GS-4, and GS-5 grade levels. The depressed grade levels, combined with the relatively high cost of living in Seattle, have caused some employees to seek transfers to other parks, and others have chosen to pursue careers outside of the National Park Service. Relatively few staff members, regardless of their dedication to the agency, have financially been able to work at the park for an extended period. [29]

Finally, park managers have long complained that regional officials have exerted, or attempted to exert, an inordinate amount of authority over park affairs. The park has always been located within walking distance of the regional office; perhaps as a consequence, many regional officials have attempted to circumvent the superintendent and decide park matters on their own. David Maxon, the park's first supervisor, was often overruled by officials in the region's office of interpretation; those officials may have felt justified in doing so because they had operated the park before Maxon had been selected for his position. Elaine Hounsell, the first superintendent, fought a long, uphill battle (primarily against the regional interpretive staff) before attaining broad decision-making authority. Willie Russell, who succeeded Hounsell, has been forced to wage some of the same turf battles as his predecessor. He has long been aware of the problem, and perhaps as a consequence, he has retained a broad degree of management independence. Both he and others recognize, however, that because of the park's geographical proximity, regional officials are tempted to manage Klondike's affairs more than those of other Pacific Northwest Region parks. [30]

Because staff expenses have consistently accounted for more than 95 percent of the park's budget over the years, budget figures have closely reflected the staffing levels. In fiscal year 1980, the first year in which the park was provided an independent budget, the operations budget for the Seattle unit of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park was $151,200 (see Appendix C). The park's budget was cut during four of the next seven years, and in fiscal year 1987 had risen only to $165,800. Since that time the park has witnessed consistent increases in its budget, and in fiscal year 1993 the park's ONPS budget had risen to $263,000. Although the park's budget rose 73.9 percent between 1980 and 1993, inflation decreased the value of the dollar to 56.7 percent of its former value during the same period. As a result, the park actually absorbed a 2.1 percent budget cut, in terms of constant (real) dollars, between 1980 and 1993. [31]

Interpretive Program Development

As noted in Chapter 11, personnel at the Pacific Northwest Regional Office began to organize the park's interpretive program shortly after it was authorized by Congress. By December 1976--even before the site of the Seattle visitor center had been chosen--a draft version of an interpretive prospectus had been prepared. That plan, prepared by William T. Ingersoll of San Francisco, was finalized on June 3, 1977. It called for the unit's permanent interpretive program to be composed of historic photographs, three-dimensional displays, a slide show, and an NPS-produced "major motion picture." Exhibits were to focus on the materials sold by the Seattle merchants, a typical stampeder's outfit, Pioneer Square during the gold rush, a selection of gold-rush advertisements, exhibits on both marine and overland transportation, and a park orientation exhibit. [32]

The interpretive program, to a large extent, followed the suggestions contained in Ingersoll's prospectus. The exhibits were designed by Systems Architects Engineers, a Seattle firm, during 1977 and 1978; they and the various photographs were installed by exhibit fabricator Karl Popp in 1978 and 1979. The agency did not sponsor the production of a "major motion picture;" instead, it purchased the rights to the recently-created, hour-long William Bronson documentary, Days of Adventure, Dreams of Gold; it then shortened the film to half its former length and adopted it as its primary interpretive film. Charles Gebler and Glenn Hinsdale assembled five other films and a slide show that would serve as the core of the park's audio-visual program. (The five films were The Chilkoot Trail, narrated by Lyle Bebensee; City of Gold, narrated by Pierre Berton; Dyea and Chilkoot Pass and Skagway, White Pass and Soapy Smith, both of which were narrated by Anchorage entertainer Larry Beck; and The Gold Rush, starring Charlie Chaplin. The slide show was "The Klondike Gold Rush," a ten-minute production based on the music of Skagway folk singer Steve Hites.) James "Rocky" Richardson helped prepare an interim park folder that described both the Seattle and Skagway units of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. [33]

The only other aspect of the park's initial interpretive program was a play, "Gold Fever," that had been written by Barry Pritchard and produced by the University of Washington School of Drama. "Gold Fever" had been created as an added attraction for the visitor center's grand opening, but the play was offered all summer long. Some 4,000 visitors attended one of the 72 matinee performances between June and September. After its four-month run, the play was funded for a road show in the winter and spring of 1980. [34]

A new interpretive function that the park assumed in 1980 was the agency's co-sponsorship of the Joint Information Office (JIO). Since 1975, the U.S. Forest Service and the NPS had combined to support an office that distributed information and answered questions about federal parks and forests in the Pacific Northwest. At first, regional office staff managed the facility for the NPS. In 1980, however, NPS management was transferred to Klondike-Seattle, and as a result, the unit hired several information specialists. These individuals were paid by the NPS and were managed by Klondike-Seattle, but their duties were only tangentially related to those of their co-workers at the Klondike visitor center. At first, the park hired information specialists to work at the JIO, and their duties were restricted to that facility. In 1985, however, the information specialist classification was largely abandoned. Since that time, Klondike-Seattle's rangers and technicians have worked short stints at the JIO on a rotating basis.

When Klondike-Seattle began managing the NPS portion of the facility, the Joint Information Office was located in the new (Henry M. Jackson) Federal Building at Second Avenue and Marion Street. In December 1981, however, it was moved to the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest supervisor's office, located at First Avenue and Spring Street. JIO personnel recorded more visitor contacts than did their counterparts at the Klondike-Seattle visitor center (see Appendix C); fewer than half of those contacts, however, were walk-in visitors. (The remainder of the JIO's workload consisted of answering telephone and mail requests for information.) [35]

In 1981, the interpretive program expanded when park staff began to offer books, postcards and maps to park visitors. The Pacific Northwest National Parks Association (PNNPA), a cooperating association established by federal law for educational purposes, established a branch at the park. [36] The park's interpretive staff created three temporary exhibits that year. The previous year's Statement for Management had pointed out the need for new exhibits located close to the sidewalk, and the installation of the exhibits helped distinguish the visitor center from adjacent business buildings. [37] Also in 1981, personnel at the agency's Harpers Ferry Center created, and began distributing, a separate park folder for the Seattle unit. The project had begun the year before. [38]

The year 1982 saw the completion of a 15-minute slide show on Seattle's role in the Klondike gold rush. That show, entitled "Seattle: Gateway to the Goldfields," was produced by the park staff. It had been in the planning stages since before the visitor center had opened. With the addition of this show, the park dropped the two Larry Beck films it had selected in the late 1970s; thereafter, and for the next decade, the park offered visitors the choice of four films and two slide shows. In June of that year, the park's popular gold panning demonstrations were initiated. Visitors of all ages were intrigued by the exhibit, and school age children enjoyed both the opportunity to pan gold and their ability to take home a painted "gold nugget" after the demonstration. A "mudbox" to facilitate the demonstrations was constructed in 1983. [40]

From time to time, well-known speakers and entertainers augmented the regular interpretive program. In 1982, in conjunction with a re-enactment of the arrival of the S.S. Portland to Elliott Bay, Seattle historian Murray Morgan lectured in the park auditorium. The following year, Anchorage balladeer Larry Beck and Skagway entertainer Steve Hites gave dramatic programs, and Klondike author Pierre Berton paid a visit. Beck returned, on an annual basis, until the late 1980s. [41]

In 1983, the park's Statement for Management declared the need for an exhibit update; the exhibits stressed the relationships between Alaska and the gold rush while minimizing the links between Seattle and the rush. Later that year, the agency began to improve the admittedly inadequate exhibits it had constructed five years earlier. Operating through a local contractor, it rehabilitated several exhibit panels, designed and built new panels, and commenced work on several of the three-dimensional exhibits. The newly-improved exhibits were completed in 1984 and 1985. [42] In late 1985, the agency finalized an interpretive prospectus that heavily criticized several of the park's exhibits. In response, it announced that it planned to redesign the entire exhibit package beginning in 1986. The cost of the exhibit package, however--a projected $360,000--was apparently too high, and the package was therefore not constructed. Four years later, a Seattle firm designed and produced a revised exhibit plan. That plan, however, had no better luck than its predecessor. [43]

A great deal of work was expended during the 1980s to create a living history program. The need for a such a program was recognized in the April 1980 Statement for Management, and by 1982 (as noted above) a semblance of living history was realized with the new gold panning demonstrations. [44] Research work for a broader program began in 1983, and by 1985, the park's interpretive plan recognized the need for "a few short living history vignettes presented in the role of a returned stampeder or other representative gold rush character, mingling with the visitors among the major exhibits and occasionally appearing on stage ... for scheduled groups and special occasions." Park staff, therefore, procured various living history costumes that year. [45] In June 1990, park staff were on the verge of offering a living history program, and confidently predicted that it would begin within the next month or two. Only a smattering of living history programs were held during the early 1990s, however, and prospects for an increased program frequency appear dim. [46]

In 1985, park and regional staff responded to the continuing public interest in the gold rush by promoting the idea of a Klondike handbook. Many units in the NPS system have sponsored the publication of park handbooks, and that fall, Mike Gurling of the Seattle office suggested an agency-sponsored volume that would tell the Klondike story. Gurling contacted Archie Satterfield, a well-known Seattle journalist and author of three gold rush books. Satterfield showed an immediate interest in the project, and offered to write a 224-page volume for $10,000. Superintendent Russell, and the interpretive chiefs in both the Pacific Northwest and Alaska regional offices, were likewise enthusiastic about the project. Gurling, in response, prepared a scope of work for the project, and the proposal was sent to the agency's publications unit in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The unit, however, did not fund the proposal. The idea was dropped, and no action has been taken during the past decade to revive it. [47]

Between 1985 and 1990, few major changes took place in the park's interpretive program. The park's films, slide shows, demonstrations, and exhibits remained static throughout this period. The number of visitors who participated in the park experience, however, changed significantly. During the mid-1980s, for example, the number of park visitors consistently dropped; the 1987 total of 49,617 visitors was 21 percent less than the 62,830 total which had been recorded in 1984. (See Appendix C.) During the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, visitation rose dramatically, and by 1991 the number of visitors was more than twice as high as had been recorded in 1987. The number of people who attended the visitor center's interpretive programs also rose significantly during this period.

Much of the rise and fall in visitation was related to national or local economic trends; as a result, park staff had relatively little control over the number of park visitors. They soon recognized, however, that other factors influenced visitation as well. In 1982, for example, staff noticed that the National Football League strike resulted in a dropoff in visitation; such a relationship was not surprising considering that the Kingdome (where the Seattle Seahawks play their home games) was just three blocks from the visitor center, and that visitation on game days was three times higher than normal. [48] Five years later, staff remarked that downtown transportation construction projects had depressed visitor totals. They had high hopes, however, that the completion of the bus tunnel and the streetcar line would increase attendance. Sure enough, the dropoff in construction activity and the 1990 completion of both the bus tunnel and trolley line resulted in increased visitation. [49] Another factor that resulted in visitor growth was the addition of the park to Gray Line's "Downtown Trolley" bus tour. In conjunction with that tour, park authorities successfully petitioned the city to install a charter bus parking zone directly in front of the visitor center. [50]

Since the early 1980s, interpretive activities have been guided by a steady stream of reports generated by park personnel. The first interpretive document completed after William Ingersoll's 1977 Interpretive Prospectus was the Annual Statement for Interpretation and Visitor Services, completed in June 1981. That document was updated in 1982, 1983 and 1984. Then, in April 1985, park and regional officials along with Harpers Ferry staff combined to create an updated Interpretive Prospectus. In 1988, and again in 1990 and 1992, park staff issued an updated Annual Statement for Interpretation and Visitor Services. [51]

During the 1990s, new interpretive activities have been added for park visitors. During the fall of 1990, the interpretive staff began to sponsor weekly walking tours of the historic district. These walks have continued, on a weekly basis, each summer since then. That same year, the park held a weekly Gold Rush film festival, an activity which was not renewed in later years. [52] And in 1993, park staff began showing a new 15-minute slide program, called Hiking the Chilkoot, which had been developed by personnel at the agency's Harpers Ferry audiovisual center and the Skagway interpretive staff. The program, the park's third slide show, was intended for prospective hikers as well as the general tourist and served as a much needed replacement for Lyle Bebensee's Chilkoot Trail film which had been produced during the 1970s. [53]

Outreach Activities

During the late 1970s, NPS officials hoped that the visitor center being planned in Pioneer Square would be an important part of the downtown tourist's visitor experience. They were well aware, however, that the upcoming visitor center would be a secondary attraction in the area. A sustained effort would be needed in order to publicize the park to area visitors and Seattle residents.

Glenn Hinsdale, the region's Chief of Urban and Environmental Affairs and a key creator of the present interpretive program, felt that a major area of outreach should be the Seattle area schools. Before the visitor center opened, he designed several posters for use in the area's elementary and junior high schools. But Hinsdale, together with Gurling and Maxon, recognized that the available time and personnel prevented site visits. [54]

Instead, park staff devised a multi-pronged publicity strategy. To the general public, the park was advertised weekly in the newspaper listings and in occasional feature articles. Dave Maxon, the unit's first manager, contacted a number of tour operators and mapmakers in order to ensure that one and all knew about the new National Park Service unit. Most efforts, however, were directed to area schools. In 1980, park staff sent letters to every elementary and junior high in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties, encouraging school group visitation, and for the next three years staff contacted area school districts in hopes that notices about the park would be placed in various pedagogical newsletters. Thereafter, letters were sent out every other year. [55] The effort was successful, and the unit began to attract a wide variety of school groups. By 1985, organized tour groups (primarily composed of students) constituted nine percent of total visitation. During the decade which followed, school groups have continued to be a staple of park attendance. To enhance their experience, park staff developed several "site bulletins" (informal park brochures), a teacher's guide, and so-called "Klondike Kits" for visiting students. [56]

Park officials also got involved in Pioneer Square organizations. Two organizations predominated in the area: the Pioneer Square Historic Preservation Board and Pioneer Square Association. The purpose of the PSHPB was the preservation of historical authenticity in the area by promulgating and enforcing regulations that influenced the exterior appearance of area buildings; the PSA, on the other hand, was a business development organization composed of merchants, professionals and others involved in restoring the district. In order to give the NPS a voice in local affairs, Superintendent Hounsell became a regular attendee at meetings of both groups. [57] Superintendent Russell has likewise been a continuing, active participant in the Pioneer Square Association. [58]

During the 1980s, park staff used a variety of media to publicize the park to residents and visitors. Beginning in 1982, the park was featured on several local television and radio shows, and articles appeared in local newspapers. In 1984, park staff augmented their outreach efforts when they began speaking to local civic, historical and youth groups. [59] In 1985, the park was featured for the first time in several out-of-state newspapers and national magazines. Ruth Scott, a staff ranger, further publicized the park when she produced a public relations poster that was distributed to over 150 sites in the Seattle area. [60] Some of these outreach efforts lasted for just a few years. Superintendent Russell, however, was a firm believer in the park's outreach role, and when staffing levels allowed, park personnel continued to speak to a wide variety of civic organizations. In fulfilling this role, staff sometimes travelled to off-site meeting places. After the completion of the 1987 facility expansion, however, groups were also invited to attend meetings in the park's new classrooms. [61]

Special events have often been a spur to park visitation. On the first weekend in June each year since the center's opening in 1979, Pioneer Square business interests have sponsored the Great Seattle Fire Festival in commemoration of the 1889 conflagration which nearly wiped out the town's business district. Tens of thousands of visitors commonly descend upon the area, attracted as they are by antique fire engines and related equipment. Park staff have consistently supported the festival, and the visitor center records some of the highest crowds of the year at this time. [62] Pioneer Square shopkeepers have also been longtime sponsors of special gallery tours of the area's art and antique galleries, and NPS officials have participated by remaining open during the evening in conjunction with those events. [63]

Planning for centennial events has encouraged park managers to coordinate their efforts with others. During the Washington state centennial celebrations in November 1989, the visitor center was chosen as a key site in the re-enactment of the equestrian mail run which had first brought the news of statehood to Seattle's residents. [64] Park staff have also played a role in planning the centennial of the Klondike gold rush. Since the late 1970s, NPS officials in Skagway had been meeting from time to time with their Parks Canada counterparts on Chilkoot Trail management issues. By 1982, however, Klondike-Seattle Superintendent Hounsell was also communicating with her Skagway and Whitehorse counterparts. In 1987, Superintendent Russell met with other parks officials and proposed several ideas for commemorating the centennial. The centennial was discussed again in 1989 at the Northern Parks Planning Session in Anchorage. [65] Interest thereafter cooled for the next several years. In 1993, however, the park began to work on centennial issues with the Port of Seattle, the State of Washington (via Secretary of State Ralph Munro), the NPS in Skagway, and Parks Canada. Those efforts promise to continue until the centennial celebrations have been completed. [66]

Cultural Resource Management

During the late 1970s, the NPS staff recognized Congress's intention that gold rush-era interpretation would be the primary purpose of the new visitor center. Therefore, agency personnel saw that the acquisition of a collection of historic artifacts from that period would be consistent with legislative intent. Artifacts were needed both for exhibit and study purposes. In order to be admissible in the collection, artifacts had to help explain Seattle's role in the gold rush. In addition, because of limited storage space, agency staff preferred small objects over large ones.

The park museum collection began in September 1976, when Interpretive Chief Richardson received and catalogued two folding canvas boats which had recently been hauled down from the cache at the top of Chilkoot Pass. Additional objects began to trickle in during 1977, and by late 1979 more than sixty objects had been acquired. Some were original historical objects, while others were reproductions; some were incorporated into park displays, while others were kept in storage. Four items were on loan, either from the Dawson City Historical Museum or from Parks Canada in Dawson City; the remaining objects were owned by the National Park Service. [67]

The museum collection grew rapidly during the 1980s. By the end of 1981 it included more than 80 items, and by the summer of 1984 more than 130 objects were listed. [68] In 1989, the collection totalled some 200 objects, and by 1993 it had doubled to approximately 400 items. [69]

The agency was proud of what it had amassed. The collection, after all, represented the park's sole tangible resource. [70] The NPS was well aware that museums in Juneau, Whitehorse, and Dawson already had vast collections of gold rush materials, and Klondike-Seattle staff had no intention of matching those museums in size or scope. As the 1985 Collections Management Plan humbly noted,

The [Klondike-Seattle] collection is not particularly large nor particularly valuable in a monetary sense.... The collection does, however, provide the visitor with a tangible, often poignant touch-stone with an emotionally charged chapter of American history.

Items in the collection included an original pan, pick, shovel, and pit saw, all borrowed from repositories in the Yukon; a threadbare blanket, gold nuggets, and a logbook from a Moran Brothers steamboat. [71]

Initially, storage methods for the museum collection were somewhat primitive. At first, goods were stored haphazardly in a standard General Services Administration storage cabinet, located behind the auditorium stage. In January 1981, however, Regional Curator Kent Bush visited the facility, critiqued the park's storage and cataloguing methods, and recommended improvements to the ad hoc system. A year later museum cabinets, a fireproof safe, and a hygrothermograph were delivered. [72] The goods were stored in the interpreters' work room for the next several years. The park's 1987 expansion into the basement of the adjoining building provided the opportunity to create an improved museum storage area, and a year later the collection was moved into dedicated and environmentally controlled storage space for the first time. They have remained there ever since. [73]

Museum records were also upgraded. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the museum accessions book was kept in a bound volume in the park's safe. Records continued to be kept on paper until 1988, when they were verified and computerized. Park staff installed and utilized the Automated National Catalog System for the first time. [74]

In 1989, plans got underway for a local, three-museum exhibit utilizing elements of the Klondike-Seattle collection. The traveling exhibit, called "Gold! Gold! Gold! Klondike Fever Strikes Seattle!" was sponsored by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Bon Marche department store; it was shown to the public in the summer of 1990. Participating museums included the Seattle Children's Museum, the Seattle Museum of History and Industry, and NPS's Klondike-Seattle visitor center. That August, in conjunction with the exhibit, the Post-Intelligencer produced a 16-page historical supplement, much of it written by the NPS staff. [75]

NPS staff, over the years, have prepared several documents to guide the development of the park's museum collection. In 1979, park technician Audrey Mesford and park ranger Mike Gurling began preparing the park's first Scope of Collections Statement; it was approved in September 1980. [76] The first resource management plan, which assessed the status of the park's museum collection, was prepared by park and regional staff and finalized in December 1981. Updates were prepared in February 1983, April 1984, July 1986 and November 1993. [77] The park's Statement for Management, completed in February 1983, had called for the preparation of a collections management plan, and by the end of the year, personnel from Mount Rainier National Park, the Pacific Northwest Regional Office and the Washington headquarters office began preparing it. The plan was completed in August 1984 and approved in March 1985. [78] In 1990 and 1991, the regional curator updated the 1980 Scope of Collections and wrote an new Access to Collections Policy Statement. The park has never been able to assign personnel to exclusive curatorial responsibilities; instead, various park rangers have served as Acting Curator in a collateral capacity. [79]

Closely linked to the park's museum collection has been its assemblage of historical reference materials. A small library of reference books was purchased before the visitor center opened, and over the years the collection has been augmented from time to time. By the late 1980s the research library numbered some 200 volumes; in 1993, 50 new books were added to the collection. [80] The park also contains a significant collection of historical prints and slides, most of which have been copied from public or private collections. Both the historical library and the photograph collection were moved in 1988 from the mezzanine level to one of the newly-acquired basement rooms in the building adjacent to the visitor center. [81]

Because interpretation has been the staff's primary focus, little time has been available for the pursuit of historical research projects. Prior to the commencement of visitor center operations, Glenn Hinsdale gathered research materials on Pioneer Square's business buildings, and technician Charles Konopa created bibliographies on both the Klondike gold rush and Seattle's role in the rush. [82] Since that time, research projects have included a history of the Union Trust Annex Building, the creation of an 1897 plat map, and a contract history of the Moran Brothers shipbuilding company. [83] In addition, Superintendent Russell has reached out to history departments at Seattle-Pacific University and the University of Washington, and he has cooperated with students from both universities in their pursuit of gold rush research topics. [84]

Elaine Hounsell
Elaine Hounsell was the Seattle Unit's first superintendent, serving from August 1980 to June 1983. (KLSE Collection)

William Penn Mott, Willie Russell
During the summer of 1986, NPS Director William Penn Mott visited the Seattle Unit and met with Superintendent Willie Russell. Russell has led the unit from June 1983 to the present day. (KLSE Collection)

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Last Updated: 24-Sep-2000