If you went to last Sunday’s Morgan Junction Community Festival and visited the Southwest Seattle Historical Society booth, you would have seen Clay Eals helping kids paint stones and answering questions. He was there as a volunteer, helping out the organization he served as its first executive director. The focus of the group’s booth at the festival was the Save The Stone Cottage preservation effort. Eals has been involved with many other campaigns to protect icons of local history, like the Hamm and Campbell Buildings in the heart of The Junction. That work is one reason why Historic Seattle is honoring him as a Preservation Champion. Eals is also an author and journalist, with a long body of work, including, most recently, “Now and Then” columns for The Seattle Times. Historic Seattle’s Erika Carleton tells WSB that Eals’ written work educates and inspires people: “In years past (the award recipients) have often been architects or structural designers … but sometimes it makes sense to think about somebody like Clay, who as a writer, journalist, advocate, plays a really important role … he tells the stories!”
Eals has been “telling the stories” for half a century, in a storied career dating back to his first newspaper job in Oregon in 1973. Here on the Duwamish Peninsula, his five years as editor of the West Seattle Herald/White Center News in the ’80s included producing the most comprehensive book of local history to date, West Side Story. More recently, he wrote the award-winning biography of musician Steve Goodman, “Facing the Music,” first published in 2007, and edited “Seattle Now and Then: The Historic Hundred,” published in 2018, co-authored by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard.
“He gets the stories out there. That’s super valuable for us,” Carleton adds, noting that historical preservation is not always the sexiest topic.
Eals is appreciative of not only the honor but the mission, and those who also walk its path. “I’m deeply honored, and I trust that the ceremony on September 28 will bolster the preservation cause citywide, just as it has in previous years. It’s all about identifying and saving the gems that make us unique so that they can keep functioning and inspiring us all down the road. None of us does preservation work alone. I truly believe in the well-worn phrase ‘It Takes a Village,’ and I’m grateful to know first-hand that many in West Seattle and in the city as a whole are key parts of that village.”
The September ceremony he mentioned is Historic Seattle’s Preservation Celebration, at Washington Hall in the Central District. Attendees will celebrate honorees also including this year’s other Preservation Champion, Dorothy Cordova. Eals shared this photo from a coincidental meeting with her at her Central District-based Filipino American National Historical Society Museum office, weeks before Historic Seattle announced the awards.
You can see who, and what, else Historic Seattle is honoring this year by going here.