Juanita Beach is likely the most historic property owned by the City of Kirkland, yet one might never realize that. Today it has a vastly different feel and look than it had throughout most of the 20th century, part of an apparent effort by the city to achieve homogeneity throughout its park system at the cost of a park’s historic character.
Kids during the 1920-30’s used to enjoy finding arrowheads and spear points at what is now the north end of the park (north of NE Juanita Drive) which suggests natives once camped or hunted there. Prior to 1916, Lake Washington was nine feet higher and the land south of NE Juanita Drive was submerged. In 1870, a 19-year-old logger named Martin Hubbard staked his 160 acre homestead claim on the north side Juanita Bay, then called New Year’s Bay, and built his crude cabin on the site of today’s Juanita Village development. His friend and fellow logger, Henry Goldmyer, also about 19-years-old, claimed the eastern side of the bay. Goldmyer only owned his claim for a few years before selling it to Seattle pioneer Mary Terry, widow of Seattle co-founder Charles Terry. It was she who first called the bay and surrounds Juanita.
In 1877, Dorr and Eliza Forbes of Iowa came to Juanita with their children and staked a claim on Rose Hill on the small lake that today still bears their name—as does Forbes Creek, which drains the lake into Lake Washington--but a decade later sold their claim to Peter Kirk and S.J. “Leigh” Hunt’s fledgling Kirkland Land & Improvement Company and purchased a narrow strip of Hubbard’s claim for use as their home and a shingle mill on a log pond Dorr created by damming Juanita Creek. Their original house from the mid-1880s burned, but their second home, built in 1905, still stands on the park property adjacent to the baseball field, though it was remodeled in the 1930’s.
Lake Washington’s 1916 lowering revealed considerable acreage on shallow Juanita Bay. Unlike most of the lake shore, instead of smelly, gooey mud, Juanita Bay’s northern shore revealed an inviting sand expanse, thanks to millennia of deposits courtesy of Juanita Creek and its tributaries as they gradually ate away at rocks farther up the watershed.
Juanita Bay’s northern edge quickly gained popularity among locals as a swimming and picnicking spot. Seeing a great business opportunity, one of the Forbes’ entrepreneurial adult sons, Leslie “Les” and his wife, Alicia, decided to turn the property into a privately operated bathing beach, a type of private resort popular in the northwest before municipal and state parks were common. So, in 1921 Les Forbes’ Juanita Beach was born. The original Juanita Beach was a narrow strip of the Forbes property at the east edge of today’s park, later two other, larger private beach resorts opened to the west, Sandy and Shady beaches, all separated by chain link fences. Each had piers with diving boards (Juanita Beach even boasted a 32-foot high diving platform) and water slides. Revenues were derived by entrance fees, concessions and changing room locker and swimsuit rentals. Shady and Sandy beaches were later consolidated and operated as Shady Beach by the D'Alessandro family. Modern Juanita Beach Park comprises the land occupied by the three resorts.
The 1920-40’s were a busy time for the beaches at Juanita. Summers brought throngs of bathers from Seattle and outlying areas. Bath houses, dance halls, concessions, rental cabins and other amenities contributed to Juanita as a summer resort community. In 1956 Juanita and Shady beaches were both sold to King County and the entire property, including with the 1905 Forbes family home, which renamed the entire parcel Juanita Beach Park. Les and Alicia, then into their senior years, relocated to Camano Island. Les told his daughter Dorris (Forbes) Beecher at the time that he thought Juanita was overdeveloping and the Camano Island of 1956 reminded him of Juanita during his 1890s boyhood.
King County removed some of the oldest structures, including the aging dancehall, and added some new playground equipment, lifeguard towers—for years the lifeguards wore signature red swimsuits with white pith helmets--built cinderblock changing rooms, one with a caretaker’s residence on a second floor, and various other improvements. In 1973 the county removed the old wooden swimming piers, replacing them with the distinct concrete “U” shaped pier there today—considered two piers connected by a breakwater--which until a few years ago had wooden baffles around the outer edges designed to reduce wave impact on the newly enclosed swimming area. The water within the swimming enclosure was dredged and thus significantly deeper then, and the new pier even boasted a popular diving board platform. Unfortunately, the anti-wave baffles helped to trap sediment in the enclosed swimming area, so over time the water depth decreased dramatically and the county removed the diving boards rather than re-dredge the diving area. The park was popular for decades, but by mid-1970’s the invasive Eurasian watermilfoil began choking Lake Washington’s shallows and by the 1990’s the county let the park fall into disrepair and it was overrun with waterfowl, particularly pesky, aggressive Canada geese, whose feces had created serious beach and water quality concerns. Between the milfoil-choked swimming area and the goose feces wreaking havoc on the water quality and beach the throngs of summer swimmers and picnickers dropped dramatically. King County transferred the property to the City of Kirkland in 2002 and that began a new chapter in the Juanita Beach story.
Over the next few years a master plan for the park was developed and extensive renovations began, with the park reopening in 2011. It boasts 21.94 acres and about 1000 lineal feet of Lake Washington waterfront. Current features include: swimming beach, picnic tables, kids’ playground, public dock, fishing area, beach volleyball, restrooms/changing rooms-closed in the winter, lighted tennis courts, little league ball fields, a new Juanita Creek nature area, open lawn areas and the historic Forbes House. The Juanita Neighborhood Association worked with the Kirkland Parks and Community Services Department to place several historic signs in the park to inform visitors of its colorful and important past.
Photo 1: View east from L. L. Forbes' Juanita Beach, mid-1920s. The first Juanita Beach bath house is at right, Juanita Junction is in the distance and today's NE 116th Street cuts through the trees up what was then called Little Finn Hill (Today's Finn Hill was to the photographer's back and was then called "Big Finn Hill"). The paper squares hanging from the radiator caps of some of the cars served as proof the entrance fee had been paid.
Photo 2: The Juanita Beach Cabins was a separate business from L. L. Forbes' Juanita Beach, but Les and Alicia Forbes managed that business for its owners for many years. They were painted white with white trim and locals often referred to them as simply the "red and white cabins". They remained for about 15 years after King County created Juanita Beach Park, but in their latter years fell into disrepair and became more of a low income rental property than resort cabins. They were demolished in the early 1970s, but one was salvaged and remains today as an outbuilding on private property on Finn Hill.
Photo 3: September, 1969. Bill McCauley captured this image of his kids, Marla and Matt (this article's author), walking on the sandbar near the mouth of Juanita Creek. The old Sandy Beach pier is behind them.
Photo 4: C. 1959, If you were a local kid in the 1960s or '70s you probably remember this slide. On hot, sunny days the sheet metal would get uncomfortably warm, so you had to get moving quickly!
Photo 5: A 1940s winter polar bear plunge at the Juanita Beach bathhouse. Photo 6: Late 1950s view across Juanita Drive NE at the filled to capacity Juanita Beach Park parking lot, it was an enormously popular local recreation destination for decades. Photo 7: Cooley's Burger Mart opened across Juanita Drive NE from Juanita Beach Park in 1960. It did not operate very long and soon became the home of Juanita's iconic Spud Fish & Chips, which it remains today
Photo 6: Late 1950s view across Juanita Drive NE at the filled to capacity Juanita Beach Park parking lot, it was an enormously popular local recreation destination for decades.
Photo 7: Cooley's Burger Mart opened across Juanita Drive NE from Juanita Beach Park in 1960. It did not operate very long and soon became the home of Juanita's iconic Spud Fish & Chips, which it remains today.
Photo 8: The 1920s roared for the beaches at Juanita as well! Here in the mid to late 1920s we see Juanita Beach has gone to a .25 cent admission charge, by the carload. This was a problem at first because groups would come in several cars, park all but one outside the resort and then pile everyone into one car just to ends for the fixed price of a quarter.
At left are the Juanita Beach cabins and in the distance coming off the Juanita Trestle is a gravel wharf where a barge is being loaded. This wharf's ruins are still visible today from the now pedestrian-only trestle. A gravel pit owned by the City of Seattle stood on the site of today's Juanita High School and gravel was hauled by dump truck to the wharf and dumped into barges, where it was taken to Seattle for use as aggregate in road building.
Photo 9: A Shady Beach picnic shelter, seen in 1939.
Photo 10: Late 1950s-early-1960s, water skiing dock starts and other summer fun at King County's crowded Juanita Beach Park.
Photo 11: There were several vacation cabin rental businesses in the Juanita Junction area. The Kuivas family operated one on a narrow strip of property at about today's 11410 98th Avenue NE--some of the old cabins are still standing and can be seen from 99th Pl NE (across from the Shumway Mansion). This was the office, on the old 98th Avenue NE (which took cars over the Juanita Trestle, now pedestrian only). Seen here in 1939, it was demolished in 1968.
Photo 12: Juanita Pioneers Eliza and Dorr Forbes with their sons in the 1890s. Their youngest, Les, is seen just behind Eliza and with his wife, Alicia, founded L. L. Forbes' Juanita Beach on his family's strip of waterfront property in 1921.
Photo 13: This dance hall was located east of Juanita Beach and Juanita Beach Cabins, providing some of the nightlife for visitors and locals. Photo 14: This photo was taken c.1930s from the gravel wharf that once extended off the Juanita Bay Trestle (the ruins of its piles are still visible), giving a good sense of the scale of the beaches at Juanita. Shady Beach is visible above the rowboat's bow, Juanita Beach is above the two girls in the stern. Photo 15: Juanita Beach founder Les Forbes, right, walks on the old Juanita Beach pier with a King County staff person during near the time the property was purchased by the county in 1956. Mr Forbes was born and raised on Juanita Bay, where is parents, Eliza and Dorr, settled in 1877. He was likely the first white baby born in Juanita Junction area. Photo 16: King County lifeguard, c. late 1960s.