On a sunny Friday morning, Jim Curtis — a 70-year old Vietnam vet, local veterans’ advocate and martial artist — strolled through his neighborhood park and pointed out features.
There’s a tennis court that sat empty, and which Curtis — who lives down the road — said he rarely sees people use. There’s a rainwater runoff gully that winds through the park, which he said adds character to it. He’d like to see a wading pool for children installed too.
But more importantly, he’d like to see the park’s name changed.
The park in question is EJ Roberts. The park sits in a quiet corner of northeast North Bend with a full view of Mount Si towering above. It serves the local neighborhood and community as a peaceful place to take a break. It’s also named after a local developer who explicitly barred people of color from buying homes when he built out the surrounding Silver Creek neighborhood.
In the late 1940s, while the Silver Creek tracts were being developed, EJ Roberts included a covenant that states that “no person of other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or lot except as servants domesticated with any owner or tenant.”
When Roberts died in 1972, he donated the 5 acres of land that became the park.
A Living Snoqualmie article from last July states that North Bend and the surrounding areas of King County enforced sundown rules. These rules prohibited Black people from staying in the area after dark. Today, more than 80% of residents in North Bend and Snoqualmie are white.
That history of EJ Roberts’s exclusionary covenants doesn’t sit right with Curtis, who draws upon his time in the Marines as an example of how the country could function instead.
“In the military, people of all colors and races and creeds work together,” he said. “And here in America, that’s how it should be.”
After he found out about the covenants at Silver Creek, Curtis sent an email on April 4 to the city of North Bend, urging them to consider changing the name. He said as of April 16, he hadn’t received a response.
A spokesperson for the city of North Bend said they are not currently considering a name change for the park.
“His name needs to go bye-bye, in my opinion,” Curtis said.
Curtis said he has another idea for a park name — Five Eagles Park. Curtis explained the name as a subtle nod to the five branches of the U.S. military and its veterans. Despite what Curtis views as somewhat of a bias against veterans in the Pacific Northwest, he hopes the name would be one the community could support.
The idea of the name dates back to 2011, when Curtis and his wife were running a tournament in honor of a young Marine, Eric Ward, who had been killed in 2010 in Afghanistan. The tournament wasn’t drumming up much interest, and Curtis was feeling discouraged. As he and his wife walked near the park, they looked up and saw five eagles flying overhead. Curtis said he took this as a sign, and continued with the tournament.
Curtis said it would be a nice park especially for older veterans to visit and relax, along with the general community.