Bellevue buys land on the waterfront to be a public park

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The former home of a whaling-fleet owner will someday be a public park in Bellevue, with sweeping views of Meydenbauer Bay. The city plans to buy two-thirds of an acre from the family of former Bellevue City Councilman Bill Lagen for $3.9 million. Lagen's grandfather, William Schupp, operated a fleet of seven steam-powered whaling ships that hunted off Alaska and wintered in Bellevue from 1919 to 1941.

The park acquisition would provide 85 feet of waterfront access in a city that has nine miles of lakeshore but few public beaches. Nearly all of the city's lakefront belongs to private landowners, and the city has long sought to build more parks on the water.

View-seekers already trespass on the Lagen back lawn to watch the annual armada of illuminated Christmas boats. Parks Director Patrick Foran envisions an observation area, picnic tables and a nod to whaling history at the new park. There would be bay views from Lake Washington Boulevard and a sense of connection between downtown and the water — a goal of Mayor Chuck Mosher and other city leaders.

Meanwhile, an old whaling-boat repair shop at the marina might be turned into a boatbuilding center or educational site, Foran said.

The city has not yet established a timetable, funding source or design for park construction.

Two houses occupied by Lagen and his family eventually will be torn down. Lagen and his wife, Anne, live on the waterfront, while their son, Joseph, lives in a second home uphill. The Lagens will stay at least five years under a renewable lease. The $3.9 million purchase price was reached by averaging two city-ordered assessments and two arranged by the family, both sides said. King County assessor's records value the land and homes at $2.1 million.

Last year, Bellevue paid $3.1 million for another two properties on the bay, next to the existing Meydenbauer Beach Park. The money comes out of a capital-improvement budget that combines business taxes, sales taxes and other sources. Parks officials say they would be delighted if other lakefront-property owners inquired about future deals.

Lagen, 78, grew up in the Schupp house and spent summers at the Alaska whaling stations as a teenager in the 1930s. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946, worked as a Boeing engineering supervisor, operated a family-owned marina on the former whaling port, and served on the City Council 1981-'85. He sold the marina to the city for $6.4 million in 1998, forming two-thirds of what is now the publicly-owned Bellevue Marina.

He fondly remembers the early years, when a few hundred people lived in Bellevue.

"When I was a kid," he recalls, "the other side of Meydenbauer Bay was all trees, just one house over there. Bellevue was a good place to live in those days."

The present-day view extends past a promontory of lakefront houses toward the Interstate 90 floating bridge. A level spot on the lawn still marks the original water line of Lake Washington, before the opening of the Ballard Locks lowered the lake by nine feet in 1916.

The new locks enabled Schupp, owner of Alaska-based American Pacific Whaling, to repair his ships in wintertime in Lake Washington, where the fresh water was gentler on the steel hulls than a saltwater mooring. Demand for whale products waned by the late 1930s, and when war broke out with Japan, the boats were refitted for military patrols.

Despite the family's longtime connection to the land, they're apparently not sad about the sale. Their children and grandchildren can't afford the property taxes and other costs anyway, Bill Lagen said. But if his name were to appear at the park entrance someday, "it would be a nice tribute," said Joseph Lagen.

Mike Lindblom can be reached at 206-515-5631 or