The Farr Family Story

The Farr Family Story

The Farr Family

Based on an Interview with Grant Farr by Bonnie Rimawi, on May 24, 2013

My full name is Sheldon Grant Farr, Jr., but I go by Grant because my dad was Sheldon; that way we didn’t get each other confused.”

So begins the interview about a boy, Grant Farr, growing up in the family home in the forest of what is now known as part of O.O. Denny Park. The story was told to two members of the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance (FHNA), and is replete with descriptions of the family’s property, their house and landscape and their friends and neighbors along Holmes Pt. Drive.

The woodland contiguous with O.O. Denny Park lays on the eastside of Lake Washington in Kirkland, WA, an intimate forest treasure of cedar and fir. Wild blueberry and huckleberry bushes flourish at the feet of these giants. A lush forested ravine runs through the woodland and forest paths wend their way along and crisscross over gentle Denny Creek. Strong, verdant sword ferns carpet the sides of the ravine and adorn the paths stretching out their ragged arms as though trying to touch passers-by. The visitor can hike the trails and marvel at the charming creek nestled at the bottom of the ravine. In inclement weather, the hiker is sheltered from wind and rain by the towering evergreens and in summer one is shaded from the sun’s sting. In these quiet woods there is little evidence that a family once lived here.

And yet, within this hospitable forest a family settled. The year was 1951. Sheldon Grant Farr and his wife, Helen, purchased 20 acres of forest property in what is now known as upper O.O. Denny Park. They brought their three young children, Grant, Sheila and Pamela and made their home. They were not the first to inhabit this forest, but they were the last.

Farr-Family_5

The Farr’s predecessors were Mr. C.O. Larsen and his wife. Mr. Larsen was the man who had carried out the steel contracting on the Evergreen floating bridge. He had built two small houses, one close to the Denny Park boundary, on property which he had assembled by buying several parcels and parts of parcels to make up the whole property.

Larsen had created a tiny wonderland in the middle of the forest. Although the houses he built were small, his landscaping was extensive. He built a dam and spillways over the stream  (Denny Stream had not yet become Denny Creek). He planted rhododendrons, azaleas and a variety of fruit trees:  apple, pear and cherry. There were concrete walkways graced by regal rows of juniper.

When the Farrs moved in, the fruit trees and much of the plantings were overgrown. Someone had run a bulldozer over the dam and had broken the spillway. The Farr family moved into the larger of the two small houses and the lesser one became Sheldon Farr’s workshop. In later years, the workshop deteriorated, though it remained on the property. Still, the Farr’s family home was equipped with all the necessary utilities. There was plumbing and electricity and radiant heat from heaters that glowed red when one flipped the switch. There were two bedrooms, one bathroom, a small living room and a kitchen.

The original Larsen house.

The original Larsen house.

Larsen had left a barn and the Farrs acquired two steer. Grant’s sisters raised two goats and the family kept chickens as well. Over time the steer became accustomed to expect food or water whenever someone approached the barn and occasionally they got out. One day Grant’s mother, Helen, walked to the barn to bring feed to the animals. The uncorraled steer in their enthusiasm ran toward Helen in happy expectation of feeding. Helen, who believed the animals intended to attack her, turned and ran screaming back to the house. No doubt, at that moment, Helen was grateful that theirs was the lone family living in the woods devoid of curious onlookers to witness her embarrassment.

Seven years after moving into the woodland, Sheldon Farr decided to remodel the small house; two bedrooms were not enough for the growing family.

He hired a man to help with the construction. They poured cement for a foundation that encompassed the old house. Surplus lumber came from the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital in Seattle. They built a great rectangle of forty by eighty feet around the old house. They tore the roof off the old house and for the new roof, constructed four by twelve beams and set trusses on top that bore the load of the house so that interior walls could be built anywhere below.

During the construction period, it was all work for the entire family. Dad was employed at Boeing and so had little time to devote to the work at home. The whole family labored on the weekends; there was no time for play for Grant, Sheila and Pamela.

Farr-Family_6

The new house in the forest was completed in 1959. The family moved in to see studs and tar paper on the walls. Insulation was still to come. Radiant heaters churned out heat as best they could until the insulation was installed and the interior of the house completed.

When asked about his chores as a child, Grant said that they had to rake gravel on the road and cover up pot holes. They also painted around the house and did a variety of maintenance jobs, but mostly they cut brush. We were “trying to keep twenty acres of brush from enveloping all the rest of the landscaping, the house, the road and everything else.” Grant said that this chore began in this way:  his father told him that he could play for the rest of the day, if he cut brush for two hours.

“Well,” Grant said with a chuckle, “you don’t have to cut brush very fast if you do it for two hours.”  Very soon, Mr. Farr, Sr. being one step ahead of his young namesake, laid the task out differently, telling his son, “You have to go from this point to that point and get all the brush cut out of there.”  Thus, this easy chore became a man’s job.

A close-up of the house built by the Farr family.

A close-up of the house built by the Farr family.

In 1974 King County entered the forest sanctuary with a different plan for these woods. The County looked to extend O.O. Denny Park, situated on the lake, to the forested area to the East where the Farr family lived so that the public could enjoy the beauty of the woodland.

Grant Farr remembers hearing the words, “We’re taking the whole thing and there is nothing you can do about it.”  Sheldon Farr would have been amenable to negotiating with the County, had they been “reasonable,” and not demanded the Farr’s entire property. There was a one and a half acre piece of land higher up the ravine that the Farr’s thought of as “view property,” provided one cut down all the scrub alders. The County wanted that piece as well.

Sheldon hired an attorney who had dealt with the County a number of times and won, and while preparations were being made for trial, Sheldon, with the help of a young man, built trails throughout the woods to various points of interest so that during the trial he could invite the jury to come out to inspect the property and see how valuable it was.

Grant recalls a crucial conversation his father had on the phone with his attorney. “I remember it was a Sunday, the day before the trial was to begin.”  The whole family was at the house. The attorney told Sheldon that the County had made another offer and he urged Sheldon to consider accepting it. He said he wasn’t sure that he could get the Farr’s another twenty percent or more for the property than the new offer proposed. “And if we don’t get an additional twenty percent at least, you have to pay me and they don’t,” he added.

Sheldon answered, “I still have to pay you anyway.”

“No, that’s part of this offer. They pay all your attorney’s fees up to this point.”

There was a piece of contested land that the County claimed didn’t belong to Sheldon Farr because it was a right-of-way and, therefore, public property. Mr. Farr felt that if the County was taking the entire property, they should pay him for that piece as well. The County refused.

In the end, the Farr’s were allowed to keep the “view property” and the house, although the house would have to be removed from the grounds. The final straw for the family came at this point.

Sheldon Farr truly wanted to keep the house. He thought it might work to take it out in two sections. It was just too big to take out in one piece. Taking it out in sections turned out to be cost prohibitive, so, he thought he would widen the road, take down the power poles and lines and get it out that way. He was set to pursue this second plan when the power company said that while it was okay to take down the poles and power lines, they would have to be put back up once the move was accomplished and this was not a service the power company could provide because the County had insisted the power remain on in the property. Sheldon argued that there would be nothing on the property that needed power once the house was gone. According to Grant, this felt like the final twist of the screw.

Farr-Family_1

The house, now empty and forlorn, remained in the woodlands that became part of the park. The County put in a couple of renters who sorely abused it. Realizing the house was a burdensome expense, the County bulldozed it.

On the bright side, Sheldon Farr still owned the one and a half acre view property, and one day while clearing out the scrub alders, a man approached him saying, “Do you know who owns this piece of property?”

“Yes, I do,” replied Sheldon.

“I’d like to get hold of him. I’ve got that house over there,”  he said pointing to a large and beautiful house.

“I own this property,” Sheldon blurted.

“Well, here’s my card. If you ever want to sell it, call me first and just tell me how much.”

Sheldon Farr had thought about building a house there, but figured he could never build a house as grandiose as the houses already established in the neighborhood, so, he called the number on the business card and named his price. The man simply answered, “How do you want it?”

Sheldon told the buyer that the terms were one third down, one third the following year and the final one third the year after that.

“Done,” was the man’s answer.

The price for the view property, less than two acres, was almost as much as the entire settlement with the County for nearly twenty acres. Grant Farr paused. He thought for a moment, then, reflecting on the sequence of past events, he said: “Well the funny thing was, well, not so funny really, but some years before we lost the property, a man came to the house. He said he was from the County and that the County was thinking of extending O.O. Denny Park and indicated that the County might want to buy our property. My father told him that he certainly would entertain an offer and that if the County ever wanted this property or parts of it to let him know and they could talk about it.”

Then on a day when no one was at home, Grant was away in the service, and both parents were working, Grant’s two sisters came home from school and found a condemnation order pasted to their front door. There was no bona fide offer. No negotiation.

Grant Farr breathed a sigh. And then he cheerfully began telling the story of a rare tornado that occurred while he lived in the Denny Park woodland. He said that he believed it had begun as a water spout.

“This spout,” he told us, “came across Lake Washington and as it approached the shoreline, it went up in the air, over the houses and came down in the gully behind all the houses. Then it went straight up the gully toward Steiner’s Corner and just before it got to Steiner’s Corner, it went back up in the air. The gully looked like a giant had taken an egg beater and stirred up the whole gully. Trees were turned into toothpicks. There was no damage to private property, no injuries to anyone, and no fatalities.”

“You know,” Grant said, “I remember thinking as a kid, gee, why did we have to live down in this valley in this little, tiny house. And I gotta walk down this road one sixth of a mile just to catch the school bus. We’re always out trying to rebuild the road or re-gravel it or cuttin’ brush and doin’ this and doin’ that. I wished I just lived down on the lake. They had such nice homes. Well, they were doctors and lawyers and executives of some sort.”

“Looking back on it now, it was a really neat place to live and I learned a lot of life lessons there. You don’t get anything for free. You have to be responsible for yourself. And I did have a lot of fun.”

From time to time, in their imaginations, the Farr family walks through the silent verdant woodland of evergreens that is now part of O.O. Denny Park. The family alone carries the memories of this peaceful forest and of what it was like to be living there in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Grant Farr’s interview gives the listener a small glimpse into their time.

Farr-Family_collage

A collage of images from the Farr family and their property

Comments are closed.