Burien Washington - Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services

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Demise of the Elms
A More Permanent Memorial Is Built

The elms’ demise was almost a certainty from their planting. Not much thought was given to soil preparation, maintenance, or watering. Dutch Elm disease claimed many of the trees. Others were lost to or butchered for power lines, other utilities, and increased traffic. In 1957, Jud Colburn, "Keeper of the Elms," negotiated an "armistice" with the companies involved. Better pruning was done, where needed, to preserve the beauty and shape of the trees. The county authorities recognized the Legion’s jurisdiction for a while, and would not authorize removal of trees without its consent.

In the 1960s, the veterans organizations and garden clubs replaced the threatened elms with the monument in front of Sunnydale School. This site was donated by the State to the King County Parks Department. Here, a bronze bell, which called children to Sunnydale School, warned of fire, and rang for church services, had been dedicated as a historical marker in May, 1952. Principal Harry Kittleman officiated at the dedication. Several former students attended as well.


The New Monument
The permanent memorial is an 84-foot-long wall of rose-colored, South Dakota granite, with two 4-foot high slabs of granite engraved with the names of the 1,428 soldiers, sailors, and marines from Washington state who gave their lives in World War I. The list was compiled from the donor list of trees and carved on the wall alphabetically, along with the donor’s name. The centerpiece of the wall is a 5- by 6-foot granite bas-relief panel depicting the American Elm, taken from a photo of the Elm purchased in memory of the Blue Devils, the famous French regiment.

The dedication took place on September 15, 1963. Jack Jarvis, former Seattle P.I. columnist, wrote the inscription on the monument:
To perpetuate the memory of our dead of World War I, the Seattle Garden Club and other groups planted a double row of trees along this highway. The trees were purchased by families, friends and comrades-in-arms of the dead of all services. The trees, Noble American Elms, were to remind those who stood under their protective branches of the brave men who gave their lives that we, the living, might live in peace. . . . May their memory live forever in the hearts of free men.

Each year, veterans hold Memorial Day ceremonies at the monument.

Funds for the monument ($17,000) were provided by Seattle City Light, Seattle City Water, Washington Natural Gas, Puget Sound Power and Light, and the King County Roads and Parks Department – all of which purchased from the American Legion the right to remove the memorial trees. While the parties involved considered the granite memorial a fair compromise, the community still favors conservation of the historic trees.

Continue on to learn about the efforts to preserve the elms.


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