Lake Burien School Memorial Park

1620 SW 149th Street

Lake Burien School Memorial Park provides 4.6 acres of active use space including open lawn area, tennis courts, walking trail, playground, and restrooms. The amenities of the park make it a great place for community events, such as summertime concerts. The park is the former site of the historic Lake Burien Elementary School.

Park History

The land on which Lake Burien School was built was homesteaded by the Bloomfield family. W.M. or William Murphy owned 160 acres due east. Chas Barton claimed the 160-acre parcel to the south, which includes the western half of Lake Burien. To the north of the Bloomfield property lay the Pope and Talbot claim, which became Seahurst Park.

Homesteading was not as successful here as in other parts of Burien. Claims were given up because it was hard to make a living (hence the early name “Hardscrabble”). The area’s gullies and rocky soil were better suited to chickens and hogs than farming. The land north of 152nd St. and throughout Seahurst was primarily logging land. Around 1910 it was subdivided and sold. In 1915, the Seahurst Land Company owned 200 acres from 16th Ave. SW to Puget Sound, north of 152nd St. The land included the current Lake Burien School Park and supplied residents with spring water.

Later, Fred and Bill Dashley, recently returned from the Alaska Gold Rush, bought the property where the park now sits. The Dashley brothers owned property from 8th Ave SW to 22nd St. on the north side of 152nd St., and possibly as far north as 144th St. The Dashleys were promoters of Ambaum Blvd.

The First School in Seahurst

The first school in Seahurst began in 1913 in a real estate office at SW 152nd and 22nd Ave SW at the trolley terminus . Later that year it was moved into a tent. In order to get a teacher, the school had to have ten pupils. Since there were only nine school-aged children in the area, five-year-old Etta Marasch was drafted to go to school. (Other accounts say this draftee was Angelo Balzarini).

During rainy weather, children worked under umbrellas in their tent schoolroom. In its second year, the Lake Burien School moved three-quarters of a mile east to a real estate office at 10th SW and SW 152nd.

Lake Burien School

A year later a new Lake Burien School, was completed at the current park location, and opened its doors to 13 students in eight grades. The Craftsman-style structure was the only elementary school in the new district. There were two classrooms, a lunch room, and playroom downstairs, with two rooms and a principal’s office upstairs. The building was also used as a community meeting place and Boy Scout headquarters. Woods and wild huckleberries surrounded the school.

Very few families lived in Burien at the time. As the area attracted new residents, it quickly outgrew the first schoolhouse. In 1926 a new Lake Burien Elementary, facing 18th Avenue SW, replaced the smaller building. The two-story school began with six classrooms. Within two years, four more rooms were added to the north side.

Terra cotta sculptures over the school’s entrances were installed in 1926. The Lake Burien sculptures consisted of:

  • A 551-pound, 3 foot by 5 foot owl with outstretched wings, reading a book
  • Two “fish gargoyles”
  • A globe with two candles and the word “LIGHT” above it
  • A plaque with the words “LAKE BURIEN SCHOOL 1926”

In 1930, the school added a gym with a fine hardwood floor. The gym also served as lunchroom, music room, classroom, and PTA meeting hall. During the Depression, the school cook served three kinds of soup daily, knowing that, for some of the children, this would be their only meal.

Continuing efforts were made to keep up with the flood of new pupils. Three more classrooms were added in 1937, and a lunchroom in 1938. Five portables were added in the 1940s. On September 19, 1949, LIFE Magazine featured the entire student body on its centerfold. 380 students the school was designed to hold peered from the school windows, and the remaining 457 standing on the lawn.

In the 1970s, needing to update the school's aging heating system, the District consolidated three elementary schools into the empty Seahurst Junior High. Lake Burien School was closed in 1976. Later, through the efforts of Burien residents, it became the property of King County Parks. In 1978, Seattle Regular Baptist bought the property from the District for $181,000, operating its own school program there into the 1980s.

From School to Park

By 1992, King County had purchased the property as a potential park site and was preparing to demolish the school building. There was some controversy, however, about what to do with the property. Some wanted a retirement home while others wanted low-income housing. Recognizing the artistic and historic value of the school entrance's cast ornaments, community activist Vivian Matthews convinced the County to spare the sculptures and obtained funding to safely remove them.

Protected by many coats of paint over the years, the ornaments were carefully removed from the building, loaded onto a flatbed truck, stored at Kirk’s Feed and the Highline School District’s Maintenance Facility, and eventually mounted on the arch which stands today in the park. The only damage sustained was a broken ear.

The Arch

The Burien Parks, Arts, and Recreation Council was formed in 1993 and assumed responsibility for the sculptures. The Council proposed placing them in the Lake Burien School Park, the first park for the new city. Roger Patton Jr, who attended Lake Burien School, designed a structure to hold the sculptures—an arch replicating the school’s front entrance—where they could sit high off the ground, as they had over the front doors of the school.

Many community members, organizations and suppliers helped create the Arch at the Lake Burien School Park. Friends of Burien Parks member Pam Harper took the lead on the project and enlisted the help of a local architect, builder, and a variety of suppliers. The Friends sold personalized bricks that are part of the plaza today.

The Arch took a year to design and build. An art conservator rebuilt the pieces, a dedication ceremony was held, and trees were planted. Two large hawthorne trees on the park's west side have survived from when the school was still standing.

The Burien City Council negotiated the assumption of responsibility for Lake Burien Park with King County in 1994. The City took the lead in construction of Lake Burien Park which was completed that same year.

Updated April 2, 2020