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Merriwether Property

Imagine an opportunity to purchase 4.1 sloping, lake view acres in Kirkland’s Houghton Neighborhood. Two years before the Evergreen Point bridge opened, land in the Kirkland area was still cheap but those with a little foresight knew what an impact the bridge would have on real estate values.   

Back in 1961c. Raymond Merriwether, whose son, Clyde, describes him as having been an “entrepreneur extraordinaire”, did imagine the potential of such a property and jumped on the opportunity. He purchased the property at 6505 108th Ave NE in the small, independent town of Houghton, for what was then the high price of seventy thousand dollars. A trained architect, Ray designed a beautiful, custom, mid-century modern home with exquisitely manicured surrounding grounds, and moved his family there from Seattle’s Central neighborhood after having completed a graduate degree in architectural engineering in 1960 at Washington State University. 

Originally from Texas, Ray graduated in 1947 with a civil engineering degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he met and married his wife, Marion Schulz. The couple had a daughter, Chrystal, in 1947, and Clyde came along the following year. In 1948, Ray became a structural plan examiner for the City of Seattle’s Building Department. In addition to his city position, the ambitious Ray became a builder and in a very short time developed several apartments in the Central area.  

In 1952, Ray Merriwether bought The Pacific Leader, a newspaper serving the black community, and teamed with National Association for the Advancement of Colored People attorney, Phillip Burton, to challenge racial discrimination in Seattle; which at that time had racially discriminatory practices, such as racially restrictive real estate covenants.

Chrystal and Clyde started the 1961 school year at the old Kirkland Junior High, located on the site of today’s Heritage Park. He compares 1960’s small-town Kirkland to the old television program “Happy Days”, and describes his Lake Washington High School years as, "One of the best times of my life", and says that, “life just wasn't that complicated”, in those days. It was a semi-rural Kirkland area back then, with a small movie theatre, The Gateway, on Central Avenue, a sprinkling of burger drive-ins between Houghton and Juanita, and a single high school serving all of Kirkland and much of today’s Redmond. 

Clyde says being one of the only black kids in school did have some negatives. In those days, Houghton was a separate municipality from Kirkland. The town of Houghton’s police chief once pulled his service weapon on Clyde and a friend because they were out after curfew walking along Lake Washington Boulevard and the officer wanted to know why they were doing so. Clyde says he avoided dating his white female classmates at LWHS due to concerns over their parents’ reactions. Clyde was popular, described by his former classmates as charming, and participated in choir and drama. He is still fondly remembered by “Golden Grad” former classmates for his portrayal of Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the 1965-66 school year play “Guys and dolls”. 

Clyde says having been a child in the Central Area, and then spending his teen years on one of the nicest properties in Houghton, that there was a big difference between “growing up black poor versus growing up black rich”, and that of all of the places he has lived, he considers Kirkland “home”. 

Clyde’s dad Ray died of cancer in 2011.  Ray had co-founded the Peck & Merriwether Architectural and Engineering firm, where he designed, developed, and managed several nursing homes, the largest of which housed 238 residents. Ray went on to launch Ray Merriwether & Associates, and while managing multiple apartment buildings and nursing homes, he also served as a consultant on senior housing for non-profit organizations and supported the educational endeavors of Seattle-area students. The C.R. Merriwether Scholarship Fund for architectural, civil, and environmental engineering undergraduate and graduate students has been established in his memory at both the University of Washington and the Washington State University Foundation.  Ray and Marion divorced, and Ray spent the final 32 years of his life married to his third wife, Barbara. In retirement, he and Barbara spent his final years enjoying travel, family, and recreational pursuits. 

By the 1980’s, Ray, looking forward, had envisioned the family home acreage as a retirement or nursing facility; a sector in which the family had considerable expertise, and Clyde, a degreed architect, had drawn plans for several development proposals. The family’s vision was of elders spending their last days enjoying the beautiful view and grounds, but after years of trying and much publicity, they were unable to get a zoning variance to develop the property in that manner. Instead, the property was liquidated for $3.5 million and subsequently developed into twenty-nine attractive, detached, two and three story townhomes.

Clyde has led a full professional life. He’s lived in different parts of the country and the world, with varied experiences ranging from participating in the late 1960’s racial unrest in Washington, D.C., to living among tribal groups in Africa. He has remained involved in community issues and served for six years as a Planning Commissioner, and also served a stint as Chairman of Kirkland’s Downtown Task Force. Clyde now resides in Mill Creek.

To enjoy more of Clyde’s vivid recollections in his own words, please visit:  https://youtu.be/FOS5YeXjJWQ.

CM 10 photo caption:  Madelyn and Stanley Dunham, who lived on Mercer Island in the late 1950s and early 1960s, were Marion and Ray Merriwether's friends and bridge partners. The Dunhams and their daughter, Ann, later moved to Hawaii and here in a c.1966 photo Marion poses on a Hawaii trip with the Dunham's grandson, the future 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, then about five or six.   

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