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Juanita Beach

By Matt McCauley

Juanita Beach is likely the most historic property owned by the City of Kirkland, yet today, despite its deep roots, it has an all-new look and feel.

Kids during the 1920s and ’30s used to find arrowheads and spear points at what is now the north end of the park, which suggests native habitation from pre-history. Prior to 1916, Lake Washington was nine feet deeper and the land south of Juanita Drive was submerged. In 1870, a 19-year-old logger named Martin Hubbard staked his 160 acre homestead claim on Juanita Bay and built a crude cabin on the site of today’s Juanita Village development. In 1877, Dorr and Eliza Forbes of Iowa came to Juanita Bay’s shore with their children. They later purchased some of Hubbard’s claim for use as their home and built a shingle mill on Juanita Creek. Their original house from the mid-1880s burned, but their second home, built in 1905, still stands on the park property, adjacent to the baseball field.

Lake Washington’s lowering in 1916 revealed considerable land on shallow Juanita Bay. Instead of smelly goo, as on most of the lake shore, Juanita Bay’s northern shore was sandy, thanks to millennia of deposits, courtesy of Juanita Creek and its tributaries.

Alicia and Les Forbes in the late 1920’s flanking their daughters, Dorris (L) and Joyce (R). (courtesy Forbes family)
Juanita Beach bath house and dance hall, seen in the late 1920s. The structures visible at far left are located at Shady Beach. (courtesy Forbes family)

Forbes’ adult son, Leslie “Les” and his wife Alicia decided to turn the property into a privately-operated bathing beach, so in 1921, Les Forbes’ Juanita Beach was born. The original Juanita Beach was a small piece of the Forbes property at the east edge of today’s park. Later, two other private beaches were created to the west, Sandy Beach and Shady Beach, though they were later consolidated and operated as Shady Beach.

The 1920s-’40s were a busy time for the beaches at Juanita. Summers brought throngs of bathers from Seattle and outlying areas. Bath houses, dance halls, concessions, rental cabins, and other amenities contributed to Juanita as a summer resort community. In 1956, Juanita and Shady beaches were sold to King County and the entire property was renamed Juanita Beach Park.

By the 1990’s, the park had fallen into disrepair and was overpopulated with waterfowl, whose feces had created serious water quality concerns. King County transferred the property to the City of Kirkland in 2002 and that began a new, positive chapter in the Juanita Beach story.

Over the next few years, a master plan for the park was developed and extensive renovations were begun, with the park reopening in 2011. It boasts 21.94 acres and about 1000 linear feet of Lake Washington waterfront. Current features include: swimming beach, picnic tables, kids’ playground, public dock, fishing area, beach volleyball, restrooms / changing rooms (closed in the winter), lighted tennis courts, Little League baseball fields, a new Juanita Creek nature area, open lawn areas, horseshoe pits and the historic Forbes House. The Juanita Neighborhood Association is currently working with the City to place several historic signs in the park to inform visitors of its amazing past.

Note: This article was originally published in the Kirkland Views blog. An expanded version of this content can be found on the Kirkland Lifestyle site.

The Juanita beach swimming raft, seen in the 1930s. (courtesy Forbes family)
Juanita Beach in the early 1950s, during its final years as a private business. (courtesy Forbes family)
Juanita Beach County Park, September, 1969. A young Matt McCauley (R) and his sister Marla (McCauley) Munson enjoy a post-duck feeding walk at the lake’s edge. The current pier would not be built until 1973. Its predecessor is visible in the background. (courtesy Matt McCauley)