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The Olympian, May 2004

Sprucing up the block
THE OLYMPIAN, May 4, 2004

OLYMPIA - It's not just the adults living in the Northeast Neighborhood who are excited by a project to outfit one of the area's busiest intersections with two Korean dogwood trees and a colorful mural.

Five-year-old Leo Spencer understands why the project is important as well. "Because we get to see it for a long time," said Leo, who lives about a block away from the intersection of Bethel Street and San Francisco Avenue.

Leo also was among neighborhood residents who helped prime a graffiti-covered garage at that corner last weekend. A Northeast Neighborhood Association event that's open to the public Saturday will continue the work. Residents will plant the two trees in a planting strip on San Francisco Avenue. They'll also begin a mural on the garage that eventually will be finished by Roosevelt Elementary School fifth-graders - with the help of artist Heather Zimmerman.

That's just the beginning. Most neighborhood residents have to drive through the intersection daily either for work or to drop their children off at school. Roosevelt Elementary is next to the intersection. The Saturday event is a first step toward transforming the intersection into a more neighborhood-friendly spot, residents said.

"This effort is about bringing folks out to that corner and giving them information about the potential for that intersection to really become a neighborhood crossroads or neighborhood public square," said Peter Guttchen, president of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, which planned the event. "We want to turn it into a place where people stop and get to know their neighbors."

About 350 households belong to the Northeast Neighborhood Association, Guttchen said. There are as many as 1,500 households in the neighborhood, which stretches from north of Yew Street in Olympia east into Thurston County to South Bay Road. The Saturday event will feature face painting, a clown, music by The Tune Stranglers and baked goods from the San Francisco bakery, which is at the Bethel Street intersection. And at 1:30 p.m., there will be a tour of the Mission Creek wetlands - open space north of Pine Street owned by the city of Olympia.

Several years ago, the neighborhood fought against a housing development at the site when it was privately owned. The city subsequently agreed to purchase the property to prevent future projects, Guttchen said. Since then, the public has had access to the wetland area, which features several trails, he said. "It's glorious back in there; things are starting to bloom," Guttchen said, adding that many residents don't know the land is open to the public. "It's an oasis in our neighborhood, and we're hoping as part of this event to make folks aware of it."

For Melinda Spencer, the neighborhood association's vice president and Leo's mom, the effort demonstrates a rare partnership between residents, Roosevelt Elementary School, the city and nearby businesses. "All of the groups are coming together to improve an area of our neighborhood that really needs some attention," she said.

If you go
· The Northeast Neighborhood event is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Roosevelt Elementary School, 1417 San Francisco Ave., Olympia. The event is open to the public.
· A tour of the public wetlands will be at 1:30 p.m.
· For more information, go to the neighborhood association's newly launched Web site at www. neneighborhood.org.

Photos by Toni L. Bailey/The Olympian
Members of the Northeast Neighborhood Association (from front to back) Peter Guttchen, Leo Spencer, 5, and Melinda Spencer paint primer over the surface of a graffiti-covered garage on Bethel Street in Olympia.

Leo Spencer waits with his paintbrush as Peter Guttchen pours a tray of primer for a neighborhood graffiti cleanup day. Beautifying the intersection at San Francisco Avenue and Bethel Street is a neighborhood association goal.