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Kirkland says goodbye to the man who helped unlock the waterfront

Kirkland’s first city manager Al Locke, right, with former Kirkland mayor Bob Neir stand at Houghton Beach in 2012.  - Contributed, city of Kirkland
Kirkland’s first city manager Al Locke, right, with former Kirkland mayor Bob Neir stand at Houghton Beach in 2012.
— image credit: Contributed, city of Kirkland

Kirkland’s first city manager Al Locke has passed away but his impact on the city he served still lives on. He was 82.

For 21 years, from 1965-1986, he oversaw the development of a small community into a city acquisition of the waterfront parks, the consolidation of Houghton and the Costco headquarters that later led to the Kirkland Signature brand.

A Minnesota native and Michigan State University graduate, he was described by friends and coworkers as outgoing and down-to-earth, as well as direct. Often, he would hold meetings outside of city hall and at businesses where he could communicate with people. He also was known for his sense of humor, joking “What do you expect from a left-handed guy?”

Janet Jonson was his executive assistant and worked for the city for 30 years. She said he was a “people person,” as did former Kirkland mayor Jim Vaux.

“He was down home, if you want to use the phrase,” he said.

Locke first came to Kirkland in the 1960s after the city voted to change its government from a mayor-council to a council-manager system. The city put out an advertisement for a city manager, and eventually it came down to two applicants, one from Yakima and Locke. Locke’s sociability, Vaux said, seemed to make him suitable for the city of roughly 9,000 people.

Jonson recalled that Locke had a bit of trouble at first getting acquainted with Kirkland’s hills, as he had grown up around flat areas. Shortly after arriving in town, he took her new bicycle for a ride down 10th Avenue Northwest. A few minutes later Jonson’s six-year-old son approached her husband and said, “Dad, I think he needs your help.” Locke had gone straight over the handle bars while trying to brake and required 21 stitches.

At the same time, Locke’s childhood growing up in a city located on the water would serve him well when he got a look at Kirkland’s waterfront. At the time, the properties had private owners. Gasoline-holding tankers were sitting in the water, and Marina Park was full of potholes and used for dumping.

One day as they were walking along the ferry dock, former council member Dick Shinstron said Locke told him the city was not using the waterfront properly. After negotiating with the property owners to donate the land to the city, the city obtained funding for Houghton Beach and eventually redeveloped Marina Park.

“He knew what Kirkland could look like,” former Kirkland mayor Bill Woods said.

Locke also won numerous awards and served as the vice president of the International City Manager Association.

Much of Locke’s success, Woods said, was his ability to negotiate, hire good staff and keep in the loop about what was happening not only in the city but in surrounding cities.

“His humor conveyed a genuine concern for others,” Woods said. “He had a sense of vision. He had the ability to make it happen.”

In 1968, Kirkland consolidated with Houghton, bringing the population up to 13,500. The Seahawks also later made Kirkland its headquarters and training facility for the first 32 seasons at Northwest University. Although Locke stepped down as city manager in 1986, his coworkers at the city credit him with playing a role in convincing Costco to move its corporate headquarters there in 1987. Costco would later introduce the Kirkland Signature in 1995.

“Al Locke was one of those rare individuals who made his organization better, his community better and his profession better,” said Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett.  “Al’s vision and management helped set the foundation for the exceptional city that Kirkland is today, particularly acquiring waterfront properties that are the parks that so many have enjoyed over so many years. He will be missed.”

After leaving Kirkland, Locke went on to act as the interim manager for nearby cities as they incorporated.

Locke is survived by his wife of 36 years, Jeanyne.

A memorial service will be held 2-4 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Kirkland Performance Center.

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