Neighbors say to install a formal memorial would be a logistical nightmare for this little spot along the lake. And a tad hypocritical.

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Kurt Cobain was a quiet neighbor.

Never a sighting or a sound from that big house on Lake Washington Boulevard, neighbor Bonnie Robbins told me.

Once, Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, invited a neighbor’s granddaughter to a princess party she was having for her daughter, Frances Bean.

“But I never heard anything over there,” Robbins said.

That is, until that awful day in April 1994 when the ambulance came, followed by the news trucks and helicopters. Then came the fans, who filled adjacent Viretta Park to mourn the gifted, tortured frontman of Nirvana who had killed himself in the second-story living quarters of the home’s garage with a gunshot to the head.

Almost 17 years later, the fans are still coming, in tour buses and cars bearing plates from far and wide. Most write messages on one of the two wooden park benches. Some leave flowers, notes, or CDs with a mourner’s magical hope that they will somehow get to Kurt.

On Sunday, what would have been Cobain’s 44th birthday, the fans came again — but with gardening gloves and tools, for a work party arranged by Viretta Park Repair and Seattle Green Partnership.

“I just wanted to see this place cleaned up,” said organizer Daniel Johnson.

Fans were happy to help.

Eli Richardson, 40, of Ballard, brought his 8-year-old son, Levi.

“We’re the ones who like all the pretty songs,” said Richardson, quoting Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”

Tara Denton, 36, came down from British Columbia, as she does every year on Cobain’s birthday.

“He had nice eyes,” she said. “But he also just had a lot of problems in his life.”

This wasn’t just pulling weeds, though.

Johnson sees Viretta Park as not only “an urban neighborhood escape,” but also “a destination to remember and celebrate the life of Kurt Cobain … with creative memorial installations that reflect both the character of the park … and the dedication of fans that visit the park.”

And that is where neighbors like Robbins draw the line.

They don’t mind the benches being covered with remembrances to the point where no one sits on them. They don’t mind the cars and buses straddling the sidewalk and street.

But to install a formal memorial would be a logistical nightmare for this little spot along the lake. And a tad hypocritical.

“This is not a place where Kurt was happy,” said Lin White, who has lived a block away from here since 1970. “He only lived here for two years, and it was a bad chapter in his life.”

It isn’t “an elitist thing,” White said.

“It’s just not appropriate. The place where he died was a private home.”

This seed of controversy growing in Viretta Park raises an embarrassing point: Seattle doesn’t have any formal memorial for Cobain, or for Jimi Hendrix, except for a rock at Woodland Park Zoo.

There’s no official acknowledgment that they were ever residents of the city, “even though they have brought more tourism dollars to Seattle in the last 20 years than anyone in the city is aware of,” said Cobain and Hendrix biographer Charles R. Cross.

There is a statue of Hendrix along Broadway. And there are plans for a Hendrix park on the site of the Northwest African American Museum.

But there is nothing marking where Cobain lived, or where the late Layne Staley hung out.

And yet, we have a street named for former Mariner Edgar Martinez, who is still alive and well.

In Memphis, the streets read like a jukebox. In Macon, Ga., there’s a bridge named for Otis Redding.

In London, the Royal Society of Arts has blue plaques to mark where famous people — even our Hendrix — once lived.

Cross thinks the issue here is how some icons lived.

“The city has a tortured relationship with their personal lives,” Cross said of Hendrix and Cobain. “People worried that if we named a street after Jimi, the kids would smoke more pot.”

But if Seattle really wants to be a global city, it needs to celebrate the music it sent out to the world.

“It would be a great first step toward Seattle being more aware of the fact that, whether you ever wore a flannel shirt, the music of the 1990s is something that Seattle will always be known for,” Cross said.

If that means a memorial in a park, well, that shouldn’t be too much to ask of the neighbors.

“Whether they like it or not,” Cross said, “that place is going to be where tourists go.”

It’s sad to stand at Viretta Park and remember what happened a stone’s throw away, and what could have been had Cobain lived.

“But there is something magical about standing in front of those houses and knowing that the living, breathing Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain walked through those rooms.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

Marty Riemer broke the news.