There is something magical about a sunny summer evening in downtown Kirkland.

Flowers in the marketplaceWhether you’re a resident, an employee or a guest, the sparkling waters of Lake Washington combined with the vibrant green parks, whimsical public art and beachy downtown shopping district make for an intoxicating atmosphere that can exhilarate even the weariest of souls. Especially now, as we navigate the choppy waters of COVID-19 and its impacts on communities across the nation, it is refreshing to experience a renewed sense of joy in things we formerly took for granted. Simple things, like the Kirkland Downtown Association’s (KDA) Kirkland Wednesday Market, held in Marina Park.  

I’m lucky enough to work for the City of Kirkland, and I can tell you from experience: walking around downtown Kirkland never gets old. Its charming, unique vibe is framed by an unparalleled beauty not found in other places. Kirkland is just so very… Kirkland.

Recently, I was working on a series called “Kirkland Undercover,” in which I was tasked with photographing and interviewing Kirkland residents to find out what inspires them to wear their facemasks in public. We’ve been trying to raise awareness of the importance of mask-wearing to reduce to spread of COVID-19, and with my reporter background, it was the perfect assignment for me.

I parked my car at City Hall, which offers free parking after 5 p.m. and on weekends, and took to the streets with my camera, voice recorder, and other various tools of my trade. Most times, if you see me out in public, I’ve got a Canon Rebel T6i slung around my neck, a stack of photo releases clutched in my fist and a slick little Olympus voice recorder tucked into my pocket.

These are my typical fashion accessories.Two women walking in Marina Park at the Kirkland Wednesday Market

My goal on this particular evening was to find a couple of willing candidates for my Kirkland Undercover series at the farmers market, and then walk up to the Kirkland Arts Center to check out the freshly painted murals adorning the recently installed plywood on the historic building’s exterior walls. Not only has our community been plagued by the impacts of COVID, but in early June we worried about property damage and theft by individuals seeking to corrupt peaceful protests promoting racial justice.

As a result, many of our businesses reinforced their outer walls with plywood for protection.  

I arrived at Marina park and was, as usual, taken aback by the beauty of the park. Marina Park is one of the City’s most popular parks for events, and rightly so. With its sandy beach, wading area, boat launch, covered pavilion, grassy knoll and inspirational public art, the park exudes the charming, heart-filled essence of Kirkland. There is no more glorious place to watch the sun set on Lake Washington than Marina Park.

Except for maybe Juanita Beach, but that’s another story for another time.   

I browsed the market for a bit, taking in all the wonderful sights while chatting with the amazing vendors and snapping photos here and there. The Kirkland Wednesday Market is organized by our downtown association, and they do a fantastic job. This year was wrought with significant challenges, with all the added public health and safety requirements and limitations, but they nimbly navigated the mandates and worked hard to meet the stringent new public safety recommendations.

They made it happen for the community.  Photo of woman wearing face mask at Kirkland Wednesday Market in Marina Park

As a result, there are vibrant, fresh cut flowers, handcrafted cheese, organic fruits and vegetables, and delicious things to eat like handmade Russian-style crepes, desserts and pastas. As of July, food cannot be consumed at the market, but the vendors were just as nimble and hardworking as our KDA, tailoring their businesses to accommodate the restrictions.

Under normal circumstances, Blinchiki Russian Style Crepes owner Oksana Gutsy uses showmanship – cooking each crepe on a propane crepe maker – to enhance the sale of her delicious sweet and savory crepes that are made to order with fresh ingredients. Now, she prepares them ahead and time and freezes them, and customers take them home and microwave them very briefly to enjoy.

After I made my rounds at the market, I wandered up Market Street to the Kirkland Arts Center, located at 620 Market Street in the historic Peter Kirk Building. A holdout from another era, the Peter Kirk Building is the only surviving building directly linked to City founder Peter Kirk. Construction on the Peter Kirk building started in 1890 and was completed in 1892, in what was intended to be Kirkland’s core downtown region. For over 55 years, Kirkland Arts Center has owned and maintained the historic structure, transforming it into a vibrant art gallery, community studio and series of classrooms.

KAC’s mural project began on June 1, after the City issued a warning to its businesses of the impending protests and the potential for vandalism. The KAC joined many downtown area businesses in boarding up vulnerable windows, out of an abundance of caution and to thwart any bad actors that might want to do harm. Of course, being a haven of all things artistic, KAC saw the six-foot by eight-foot panels as blank canvases that not only invited artistic expression but inspired it.

The idea was to transform the “potentially ominous sight into beacons of hope and solidarity.” With that in mind, KAC staff reached out to its teachers and students and extended an invitation to participate. The resulting murals are vivid works of art by local artists SooThe Peter Kirk Building on Market Street with murals painted on the exterior walls Hong, Adina Segal, Miha Sarani and Che Lopez. The colorful art is hope filled, compelling and striking.

They are worth a trip to Kirkland to see!

I snapped a ton of photos, as capturing building exteriors can be tricky and I’m strictly an amateur photographer trying to learn the craft as I go. I hone my skills by taking a million shots of each thing, out of which I get a few lucky shots each time.

After that I headed back to City Hall, which is just a block away from KAC. That’s another great thing about wandering around downtown Kirkland; so much of it is walkable, and every inch of that walkable space is gorgeous with stunning views, pretty parks and fun public art. KAC is located across the street from Heritage Park, a glorious grassy park that boasts amazing views of Lake Washington and Seattle, and is home to another one of Kirkland’s historic buildings, Heritage Hall.

I tucked my camera away in its case, buckled my seat belt and reached for my glasses… Only to discover that they were missing. That’s the only thing I’ll say about wearing my mask in public; I still have not come up with a workable way to avoid the inevitable fog that covers my lenses. Because of this, my glasses often end up crammed unceremoniously in my pocket.

And on this evening, they inconveniently found their way out of my pocket.

Colorful mural painted on the outside of the Peter Kirk buildingI was dismayed, to say the least. I have a backup pair of specs but the ones I had lost were reasonably new and cost me a substantial chunk of change. I didn’t feel like walking back to Marina Park, but figured if they were anywhere, they’d be down there. If they’d fallen as I was walking, they wouldn’t be too hard to spot, and it was always possible that somebody had turned them in at the market.

If I had been in any other city, honestly, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I was tired, and ready to head home. But I really believe that Kirkland has magic and I felt a distinct pang of hope associated with that belief. I remember sitting in my car at Heritage Park as I was preparing to interview for my job. It was such a longshot, or so I had thought, but I felt such an incredibly strong pull in that beautiful park, my employment in Kirkland had seemed like it was meant to be.

And it was.

I trudged purposefully back to the Wednesday market, staring diligently at the ground on my way like Sherlock Holmes in search of a clue. Once there, I headed straight for the KDA’s information desk, to see if anybody had turned in a pair of glasses.

Sure enough, there my glasses rested, waiting patiently for me to retrieve them.

“See, I told you Kirkland was magic,” they seemed to whisper.  

Whether a few hours, a day, or a weekend, Kirkland is an amazing City filled with beauty and yes… Maybe even just a little magic.