Nick Rolovich is not afraid to engage in trash talk.
Though the interaction started off innocently enough. On Oct. 22, Rolovich — Washington State’s first-year football coach — tweeted a photo of an orange sun peeking out over Martin Stadium.
“Now that’s a Cougar sunrise,” Rolovich wrote for the caption.
To which an account with the handle @daWg78448629 — whose profile photo depicts an animated Husky wearing a white Washington football jersey — ribbingly replied, “Nice high school stadium!”
Rolovich, it appears, was unwilling to abide such abhorrent blaspheming. To his 37,500 followers, the Cougars coach openly queried: “Isn’t your stadium built on an old garbage dump?”
The tweet tore through Apple Cup Country like a trash-talk tornado — earning 1,800 likes, 334 retweets and 153 replies.
But was Rolovich on to something?
Was Husky Stadium — which celebrates its 100th birthday Friday, the same day as the since-canceled 113th Apple Cup — built on an old garbage dump?
While the Apple Cup collapsed, we went searching for answers.
· · ·
To Rolovich specifically: The easy answer is no.
When the Montlake Cut — which connects Lake Washington to Lake Union — was completed in 1916, Lake Washington’s water level was subsequently lowered by roughly nine feet. According to Ken Yocom, department chair and associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at UW, “That lowering of Lake Washington exposed all of this new shoreline around the lake, and part of that location is right where Husky Stadium was built.
“It’s a really important location within the history of Seattle. The lowering of Lake Washington and the opening of the Montlake Cut basically replumbed the whole region to drive urban development and the understanding of the city that we have today. So it’s really at the critical point where that happened.”
And yet, much of that newly exposed shoreline — which was essentially marshland — “was thought to be unbuildable and to have little use and less value,” according to John Caldbick of HistoryLink.org.
Which is why, barely a half-mile north of Husky Stadium, there was once a garbage dump.
Not just any dump, either. The Montlake Dump — also known as the Ravenna Dump, the Union Bay Dump or the University Dump — was Seattle’s largest dump from 1926 to 1966, a festering 200-acre field that received 40-66% of the city’s garbage at any given time. Caldbick wrote that “stuff of every description was dumped there, almost without limitation and totally without accurate or detailed records. Both organic garbage (primarily food and animal waste) and rubbish (virtually everything else) found its way onto the marshlands of Union Bay.
“For its first two decades, this was where many city-contracted waste haulers took their loads, dumping great reeking truckloads as often as 100 times each day. After 1949 (although at least one source says as early as 1933) the commercial haulers were joined by ordinary residents, who added to the growing field of refuse one carload at a time, and by private industries, which were permitted to dump God-knows-what with little or no oversight.”
Of course, some residents didn’t need a car to deliver rubbish. Caldbick noted that UW began repurposing the landfill’s grounds as early as 1946, “when the school built housing for married students on the far northeast portion of the tract, within yards of where dumping had started 20 years earlier.”
And newlyweds weren’t the only ones who found a home directly north of Husky Stadium. In University of Washington Magazine, Jon Marmor wrote in 1996 that “the dump was also appreciated, to some degree, by the UW rowers who used to live right next door at the old Conibear Shellhouse. In between classes and rowing practice, they would kill time by shooting at rats living in the landfill.”
Still, more than a stray rifle would be needed to subdue the Hitchcockian swarm of seagulls. On a bad day, according to estimates, more than 20,000 seagulls descended on the site. Beginning in 1956, an average of 9,000 cubic yards of dirt was trucked in each month to cover the constantly arriving mounds of trash. But, despite the dirt, the seagulls were undeterred.
“In 1965,” Caldbick wrote, “an attempt to rid the dump of seagulls using trained falcons failed.”
Oh, and if you didn’t mind the seagulls, what about the smell? In 1949, the area nearest to Montlake Boulevard began use as a “burning dump” — “with perpetual fires used to reduce some of the dumped material to ash,” according to Caldbick. “Neighborhood complaints of smoke and odors brought this to a halt within a few years; all burning ended by 1955.”
And all dumping ended 11 years later. The landfill was covered with two feet of clean soil in 1971. The E1 parking lot, rec fields and driving range less than a mile north of Husky Stadium were built upon its grounds. The area east of Ravenna Creek was also rehabilitated and reimagined as the Union Bay Natural Area — which “serves the University of Washington community and the surrounding areas as a place to learn about and appreciate nature,” according to UW’s FieldNotes Journal. “Located on the shore of Lake Washington, the wetlands of UBNA function as an important buffer between the lake and the surrounding developed areas, filtering runoff and providing habitat for shoreline creatures.
“On the surface, the UBNA appears to be a rare example of nature being valued over urban expansion. However, what lies beneath the surface tells a more complicated story of mistakes, circumstance and second chances.”
So, to reiterate the original answer: Husky Stadium was not built on “an old garbage dump.” It was built six years before that old, dingy dump actually opened, and it’s survived — and thrived — for a hundred years since.
And in another way, at least, Rolovich seemed to learn his lesson. On Nov. 5, the Cougars coach tweeted another sunrise at Martin Stadium, only this time with a far more comedic caption:
“Due to the recent upswing in sensitivity to sunrise posts over stadiums, no comments (will) be accompanying this photo.”
But since we’re learning about stadiums, how about one last bit of trivia?
Martin Stadium was actually named after former Washington Gov. Clarence D. Martin, who graduated from the University of Washington in 1906.
You read that right: Washington State’s stadium — the one that started this whole social media mess — was named after a Husky. Go figure.