Here’s another of the snippets that accompany my show at Carco Theatre in Renton, WA displaying 10 works involving discarded maps from WPA project 2541, 1937-42. There will ba a reception the evening of April 23 at the theatre. More about these maps here.
Hillman’s Garden of Eden was a dreamy, come hither name for a swath of land that would become Newport Hills, a neighborhood of Bellevue, Washington. The Garden of Eden is an obvious real estate come-on, but who was Hillman?
To say C.D. Hillman was an entrepreneur is to wildly understate the range of his abilities. He was a natural born salesman, an opportunist, a scam artist, a visionary, a fraud, a businessman, a player. At the dawn of the 20th century, Hillman made his way west from Michigan to Seattle, Washington, a boomtown, a logging bonanza–just the ticket for a go-west-young-man type of guy.
Logging would remain a thriving industry in the region for many decades, leaving vast tracks of skag and debris where once were forests. In those clear-cut fields, Hillman saw a gold mine where others saw nothing.
And he made millions. Adjusted for inflation, that would be billions. By 1903 he was a prominent businessman in Seattle. But unlike others of the era, there are no streets named after him, there are no plaques.
His target audience: immigrants from all over who came to the Northwest with great ambition but little cash. To these bright eyed newbies, he sold lots two and three times over. He sold lots at the bottom of a lake. He sold decimated so-called farmland from the back of a wagon in front of a false storefront with overflowing trays of fruits and vegetables carted in from Pike Place Market that morning. He had an innate understanding of theatre, and paid actors to bid up the price of the land. He whipped up a frenzy.
Hillman finally went too far and in 1911 ended up in jail for fraud, but his legacy remained. The Garden of Eden that became Newport Hills was finally developed, the natural resources such as coal and timber were extracted, houses and stores were built, subdivisions expanded where the land had been cleared.