By Polly Keary, Editor
Parallel to the railroad tracks, behind the pawn shop and satellite dish store at Kelsey and U.S. 2, a slim strip of asphalt forms a trail into a forest thick with blackberries and ferns.
After a few minutes’ walk, a gleam of water is visible through the trees to the left. Ducking under the limbs of cedars and threading through the evidence of homeless encampments, one might expect to emerge above a small natural pond.
But instead, one emerges into what looks like the fossilized nest of an ancient dinosaur, a dish of concrete and smooth rock with a length of thick pipe protruding at one edge. At one side of the bowl, a straight metal edge looks over a rocky cliff that drops straight to a small lake.
The concrete bowl, in fact, once was a artificial pond, made to pour water over the cliff and into the lake. All are the archeological remains of one of Monroe’s most colorful pieces of history; Pete’s Party Pit, which soon may be developed for apartment buildings.
Pete’s Party Pit was the pet project of Monroe real estate dealer Pete Wood, a larger-than-life wheeler-dealer who friends say made and lost fortunes several times over.
The son of an Alaska journalist, Wood loved the excitement of real estate, especially the lifestyle that went with success in the business.
“Pete used to have this big real estate office, and he would hang around Hector’s in Kirkland with some of the Sonics and Seahawks and Mariners,” said long-time friend and colleague Jeff Sherwood, owner of Sherwood Appraisals in Monroe.
He is remembered as once spending a week in Las Vegas where he totaled up more than $12 million in bets placed at the blackjack tables. He lost only a small percentage of what he gambled, but it was enough to make him a very valued VIP at the casinos.
One of his greatest exploits, though, was the creation of Pete’s Party Pit on a parcel of land in Monroe.
Located near the intersection of Blueberry Lane and Kelsey Street, the land actually didn’t belong to him, but to a friend, Seattle real estate giant Mike Mastro.
Mastro allowed his friend Wood carte blanche with that parcel of land, and Wood had a dream as grandiose as his personality.
“I think it started when (Monroe real estate agent) Hans De Beer and Pete were over on Maui,” said Sherwood. “I think he wanted to replicate a little of Hawaii, right in the middle of Monroe.”
The Party Pit
Wood decided to create a retreat on the land, and without a by-your-leave to the city, excavated a two-acre pond.
“They dug a huge lake right there in the middle of town, and I don’t think they had any permits,” said Sherwood.
That lake became the foundation of what Monroe old-timers describe as a magical place.
Wood stocked the little lake with koi and trout, built an artificial 12-foot waterfall at one edge and trucked in white sand for a beach on the other.
He built walls around the property with excavated stone, along with Hawaiian-style huts, and he spent a fortune on landscaping.
“There was probably $1 million in plants and flowers in there,” said Sherwood.
There was a putting green, volleyball court, a bar, a bandstand, a dock and even a houseboat.
“The lake is not that big, and there was only so much ground, but it was the ambience,” said Sherwood. “There was white sand, a dock, and it was just like being on a beach in Hawaii.”
Wood envisioned the place as an event venue, and billed it as “Pete’s Party Pit at Woods Lake Resort.” A brochure advertises it as “One of the most beautiful party facilities in the Pacific Northwest” and for a time was successful. Large Seattle catering companies came and catered parties for Microsoft and other large corporations there.
And Pete and his friends used the place socially on a regular basis.
Pete’s ultimate vision for the place was yet more grand.
“Pete wanted apartments and office and retail around that lake,” said Sherwood.
But Mastro didn’t share that vision, and when he needed capital, the good times came to an end.
“It wasn’t that important to Mike, and Mike said, ‘I want to start selling’ and said, ‘We got to get some cash.'” said Sherwood. “So the party pit became expendable.”
And Wood, health perhaps permanently impaired by the death of one of his two sons at age 11 due to a fall from a piece of playground equipment, began to decline.
Badly overweight and diabetic, he died at 61 in 2003.
A quiet decade
With the death of its creator, Pete’s Party Pit was reclaimed by forest and brush, and vandalism took a heavy toll. The waterfall fell silent, and with the lack of oxygenation, the lake water became brackish.
Mike Mastro eventually went bankrupt, and the land remained unused for a decade. Today, nearly no visible trace of the retreat remains.
In recent weeks, however, there has once again been activity on the land. Developer Jeff Burdett has begun preparing the land for 100 or more apartments, and hopes to have at least some of them built and occupied by the end of 2014.
There remain some challenges; Burdett still has to get permits to build multi-family housing, and that’s going to require some creative problem solving around traffic issues at the already heavily-burdened intersection at Blueberry and Kelsey.
Burdett is optimistic and said the city has been great to work with and he expects that they will find solutions.
And he said that he has a great deal of respect for the legacy of Pete Wood. He plans to do his best to preserve what is best about the property.
“Every frog and every fish is important,” he said.