When I think about my little kick about the metonymy of Olympia, I usually eventually think about how much of Olympia’s identity is really tied up with state government. The legislature, the governor lives here and a lot of the people you know have some connection to state government.
But, what if it wasn’t like that?
What if, before the current state capitol was built, some other city (let’s say Tacoma for the sake of hating on Tacoma) was successful in swooping in and stealing the seat of government. How would have Olympia been different.
Here’s my brainstorm:
1. The power of the Light and Power company.
Instead of limiting themselves to diversion on the lower Deschutes, the Olympia-based power utility takes to the countryside and claims a project in the upper Nisqually. Driven by Hazard Stevens in the last years of his life, they shut out what would have been projects by both Tacoma and Centralia, Olympia Power and Light eventually becomes the sole hydropower purveyor on the Nisqually River.
Instead of Tumwater and Olympia staying separate (and Lacey growing out of Olympia’s eastside), there is only Olympia. Tumwater soon sees the benefits of joining with Olympia, cooperation to save the greater Thurston County after Tacoma’s treachery!
3. Smaller, yet still largest city in the deep South Sound
And, obviously, we don’t grow as large. Maybe 40,000 people in the entire area around Budd Inlet. I don’t know why I’m guessing this. Maybe even fewer.
4. Streetcars Stay
Now, this is a total fantasy, but the Olympia Light and Power Company keeps the streetcars, updating and improving the system while most urban transit utilities go to busses. So, currently, there is a long east to west line going from Cooper Point Road out to Phones Road. Another line up Puget Street and then down Eastside and looping around to Boulevard, back up to Pacific. And, a line going down Capitol Way, possibly over to Tumwater Hill. And, some odd arrangement on the Westside.
I don’t know, total fantasy.
5. The old capitol campus area becomes one ritzy neighborhood
You think the South Capitol neighborhood is nice, check out what they do when they sell off the old campus that never was. Larger lots, bigger homes. Palatial.
6. I-5 never comes close to town.
Instead of cutting through Tumwater and bumping into Olympia, the interstate highway cuts well south of town, turning east just south of the airport, following the railway route generally into Pierce County.
7. Just a few more smaller notes:
- Olympia High School stays where it was on Capitol Way (I mean Main Street)
- Capitol Lake is never built, because Wilder and White never showed up!
- Evergreen still gets built. Just because. But, maybe its closer into town. Like where the Capital Mall is.
- So, if the lake is never built, there is an actually impressive bridge across Budd Inlet.
- The old state capitol becomes city hall.