Dozens of individuals helped shape the city of Bellevue over the past half-dozen decades. Here's just a handful of those whose legacy is still visible today...

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Dozens of individuals helped shape the city of Bellevue over the past half-dozen decades.

Here’s just a handful of those whose legacy is still visible today.

Parks builder

Siegfried Semrau: Bellevue’s reputation as a “city in a park” owes a lot to Sig Semrau. Director of the city’s Parks Department from 1961 to 1978, the German immigrant and landscape designer started when the department was two men with shovels and him. During his tenure, the city’s parks holdings grew from 94 acres to 676 acres. Among lands with his imprint: the city golf course, Kelsey Creek Park, the Winters House, Robinswood Park, the beginnings of the Mercer Slough Nature Park, the Lake Hills Greenbelt, beach parks and numerous neighborhood parks.

Downtown developer

Paul Vander Hoek: A man of blue-collar origins who grew up in Seattle, he is inextricably bound up in downtown development and the power of the city’s business establishment. The owner of Eastside Glass and Paint at the time of incorporation, Vander Hoek gradually bought up key properties along Main Street downtown. At the same time, he became a driving force behind creation of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and later the Bellevue Downtown Association. Known for his blunt, no-nonsense style, he became a fixture at city government meetings and a key link between government and industry. His family continues to own parts of downtown and sit on numerous boards through the leadership of his son, Stu Vander Hoek.

Master planner

Fred Herman: Why is downtown Bellevue where it is? How come the blocks are so long and the streets so wide? Who decided to segregate business districts from residential areas in much of the city? If one person can be credited for much of those ideas, it’s Fred Herman. A 42-year-old architect when he became the city’s one-man planning department in 1953, Herman set about crafting plans for a “new city” and spent much of his 22-year career with the city pursuing and tinkering with that vision.

Voice of have-nots

Nan Campbell: What civic matter hasn’t former Mayor Nan Campbell left her fingerprints on?

A leader in Crossroads neighborhood politics before joining the City Council in 1982, she became the city’s first woman mayor in 1987. She has spent three decades as a leader in environmental conservation, neighborhood planning and social services. In a city of haves, she has been a voice for the have-nots. She pushed the city to get involved in social service and was a leader in many of the city’s major efforts, including Youth Eastside Services and Youth Link.

City manager

L. Joe Miller: Bellevue’s longest-serving city manager, he took the helm at a time when Bellevue was metamorphosing from a small town to a city. From 1961 to 1977, Miller proved an aggressive policy-maker and administrator, often taking the lead with ideas and bringing them to elected officials. The city during that period upgraded the downtown street system, built the current City Hall, expanded the city limits by annexing much of East Bellevue, laid the fiscal foundation for building Meydenbauer Center, purchased much of what has become the city parks system, and created a unified city utilities system.

Arts advocate

LaMar Harrington: Harrington helped Bellevue’s art scene grow up. A veteran of the museum world from her two decades at the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery, the longtime Bellevue resident and Bellevue Art Fair volunteer elevated the Bellevue Art Museum to regional prominence during her five years as museum director, from 1985 to 1990. Under Harrington’s guidance, the museum held its most ambitious show: an exhibit of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural work. She pushed the museum’s board to look for a new home outside its third-floor spot in Bellevue Square. Eventually, the idea became the distinctive red-hued museum that now stands in the middle of downtown.


M. Frank Odle: When Frank Odle arrived in Bellevue in 1918, it was a country town of dirt roads and farms. At 29, he became the Bellevue School District’s superintendent and a teacher all in one. He ran the district until 1944 and continued to teach for 24 more years as Bellevue was transformed from a rural village to a suburban destination spot. Along the way, he gained legendary status for his teaching stamina and was recognized as a beloved and demanding educator. Odle Middle School was named in his honor.

Bellevue Square developers

Kemper Freeman, Sr. and Jr.: You can’t separate the Freemans from Bellevue. Father and son altered Bellevue’s landscape perhaps more than any other duo over the past 50 years. Freeman Sr. took the $1 million he made building ships in World War II and opened the Eastside’s first shopping center, Bellevue Square, in 1946. A longtime political force, the elder Freeman pushed for the founding of Overlake Hospital, was one of the leaders behind the movement to build the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge and was the first chairman of the Overlake School District — now the Bellevue School District. His son, Kemper Freeman Jr., renovated a graying Bellevue Square and turned it into one of the nation’s premier shopping malls, built the $260 million Bellevue Place with a Hyatt hotel, office tower, shops and restaurants, and led a $23 million capital campaign for the new Bellevue Art Museum building. A fixture of the business community, Freeman has ruffled a few feathers in his push for construction of new freeway lanes to battle the region’s gridlock.