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Remembering Daniel Streissguth and looking back on the growth of Capitol Hill’s family-run hillside gardens

Daniel and Ben worked together to build the Woodland Path in Streissguth Gardens in 1974. (Image: Streissguth Gardens)

By Lily Hansen, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

On a steep hillside just off Broadway sits just over an acre of cultivated woodlands. Home to Seattle’s third-longest stairway, the Blaine Street Steps, with views overlooking Lake Union and the Olympic Mountains, the idyllic gardens are the 48-year product of one dedicated family: the Streissguths.

Its patriarch, Daniel Streissguth, created the garden in 1962 after purchasing a plot of land and constructed a four-story house just north of the staircase. In 1965, Ann Roth Pytkowicz moved into the house next door and began cultivating her own hillside garden.

Bonding over their shared appreciation for gardening, Daniel and Ann fell in love. They married in 1968, and welcomed a son, Ben Streissguth, in 1970. Together, the family of three built, expanded, and maintained the Capitol Hill oasis known as Streissguth Gardens.

On November 21, Daniel died peacefully at his home of natural causes. He was 96.

In honor of his father’s memory, Ben is remembering Daniel for the loving husband, skilled architect, avid gardener, and community socialite he was. With the help of his fiancee and Streissguth Gardens assistant director Jade Takashima, the two are working to ensure that the green space is maintained for generations to come.

In 1972, Daniel and Ann purchased two hillside lots across the Blaine stairs, looking to beautify the land and expand their garden. Although Ben was only two at the time, he has vivid memories of working with his parents in the newly acquired land.

“Some of my earliest memories are of playing in what’s now called the public garden,” he said. “And realizing, even back then, that the soil that we were working with was really horrible. I don’t know how my parents managed to make [gardening] fun for me, but they did. And I’m so grateful to them for that.”


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Working together, the family thinned the property’s heavy tree canopy to allow for adequate sunlight and removed clusters of blackberries, feral ivy, horsetail, bracken fern, and nettles. They built trails for Ben and his friends to run through and introduced woodlands, fruits and berries, perennial plantings, and a vegetable garden.

Despite the extensive work, Ben says the garden’s development came about organically.

“There was no master plan or formal design for that part of the garden,” he said. “It was very much an as-we-went project.”

In 1989, King County voters approved a $117 million King County Open Space and Trails Bond aimed at preserving undeveloped land that was threatened by development. Three lots south of Streissguth Gardens which were under threat of being developed into a condominium and parking lot were nominated for purchase by nearby community members.

Ben, Ann, and Daniel at the 20th anniversary party of Streissguth Gardens becoming a public green space (Image: Streissguth Gardens)

Under the conditions that the City of Seattle purchase the three parcels south of their garden and that the Streissguth would continue to care for the land, the family donated their two lots to Seattle Parks and Recreation in 1996. That transformed the majority of Streissguth Gardens from a private garden to a public green space incorporated within the existing St. Mark’s Greenbelt.

“We knew we weren’t ever going to develop buildings on that land, and wanted to add to the parcels the city was looking to purchase,” Ben said of his family’s decision.

In 2009, the family worked with the University of Washington Press to publish their book, “In Love with a Hillside Garden,” which documents their experiences developing their garden and offers lessons to others looking to develop their own.

In total, the family estimates that an average of 7,000 people visit the garden annually and some 35-40,000 people climb Blaine Street Stairs.

Jade Takashima walked to Streissguth Gardens in March 2018 with the intention of climbing the massive staircase. When she arrived, however, she found Ben pruning trees in the garden and struck up a conversation with him.

“We immediately realized that there was something special between us,” Takashima said.

Shortly thereafter, Takashima began working as a gardener and was eventually promoted to assistant director of Streissguth Gardens.

Exactly two years after meeting, Ben asked Takashima to marry him under the same tree he had been pruning on the day they had met.

Just like his parents, Ben found love in the garden.

UW Professor Emeritus Daniel Streissguth at the University of Washington in 1967. (Image: Streissguth Gardens)

For her part, Takashima remembers Daniel as being an “amazing father” to Ben and admired how much he cared for his wife, Ann.

“Daniel and Ann loved to go dancing and attend functions with their friends,” she said. “But they also loved their everyday routine like reading the paper and chatting together at their dining room table.”

Outside of Streissguth Gardens, Daniel worked as a licensed architect and Professor Emeritus in the University of Washington’s Architecture department. He played significant roles in the design and construction of the UW’s Gould Hall and its Nuclear Reactor Building which was destroyed following significant controversy in 2016. Overall, Daniel was responsible for designing over 70 projects throughout his career.

“I will always have wonderful memories of working with my father in the garden,” Ben said. “My love for gardening came from my family and it has ended up directing my whole life.”

On December 3, Daniel was laid to rest in Lake View Cemetery. As Ann, Ben, Jade, and a few of their close friends returned Daniel to the earth, each threw in a single white rose. Ben then added three blue irises — Daniel’s favorite flower — in remembrance of his father’s parents, Edmund and Lucile, and brother, Richard.

In a virtual service, Ben concluded his eulogy with a quote that had recently struck him: “Death is not the final word. Love is the final word.”

“Dad, we all love you,” he added. “See you in the garden!”

Enter the Streissguth Gardens at 1640 Broadway E. You can learn more and plan your visit at streissguthgardens.com.

The University of Washington News Lab gives advanced journalism students an opportunity to build a dynamic clip portfolio by reporting for any of 70 client news outlets in the greater Seattle area. CHS is proud to work with young journalists and feature their work. You can learn more here.


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John M Feit
1 month ago

The Streissguth Garden is such a wonderful community asset, and we owe a great deal to the family for its design and upkeep. I encourage anyone who has not visited it to do so.

Catherine Smith
Catherine Smith
1 month ago

Agreed. I miss my walking commute between my office on Westlake and my home in Madison Valley, which I often took via the Blaine steps in part so I could enjoy the garden, even though it was steeper than other routes. I look forward to enjoying the garden again soon. Thanks for this history into its development and the work of the Streissguth family in developing and maintaining it.

CC-Haus
CC-Haus
1 month ago

The garden is such a great place, have been going to it since 2003. Introduced it to many out of towners and a few Seatteites. Coincidentally November 21st was my latest visit, it was a stunningly beautiful day for a long walk or existential transition. I doff my hat to you and this piece of your legacy, sir. Picture taken in Streissguth Garden on 11/21/2020

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RWK
RWK
1 month ago

It is very inspiring and uplifting to know of a family which has so generously given a green space to our city. Another example is Dorothy Bullitt, who lives nearby on Harvard Ave E, and who has stipulated in her will that her large estate (mostly a natural garden) will go to the city upon her death.

I would also note that Ann Streissguth, Daniels’s wife, was a distinguished child psychologist at the UW for many years, and if I’m not mistaken contributed significantly to the early research on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

RWK
RWK
1 month ago
Reply to  RWK

Correction: Mrs. Bullitt’s first name is Kay. Here late mother-in-law was Dorothy Bullitt, founder of King Broadcasting Company.

jonathanz
jonathanz
1 month ago

I had no idea the backstory is just as beautiful and special as the garden itself! Respect to the Streissguths. And thank you for this bit of history!

cshel
cshel
1 month ago

I’ve enjoyed this beautiful garden and its trails on many walks up and down the Blaine steps, but I’m glad to hear the sweet story behind its creation and nurturing over the years. Thanks!

Michèl Schummer
1 month ago

I hold beautiful memories of this garden. Thank you for the story.