Beth Freiheit Chave, a resident of Queen Anne Hill since 1988, passed away on May 15, pursuing one of the many passions that drove her very full life. Beth died following a stroke suffered while paddling a Dragon Boat on Green Lake. Beth’s love of boats, dogs, historic buildings, gardens, hiking, skiing, travel, music, swing dance and her husband Rob inspired all the people around her. The many circles of friends who shared Beth’s passions mourn her loss.
Beth graduated from Stanford and received a master’s degree in historic preservation planning from Cornell University where she met her husband Rob. Beth began her career in Orlando, Florida as that city’s Historic Preservation Officer, where one of her works included editing a book on Orlando’s historic neighborhoods.
Beth went to work as the Landmarks Coordinator for the City of Seattle in 1988. She held that job for 25 years, making an indelible mark on the city’s historic built environment. Her work with professional colleagues, landmark and historic district property owners and neighborhood advocates throughout Seattle has left a legacy of honoring and protecting historic places that matter in our communities. Beth had impact on almost every corner of this city she came to call home. Among Queen Anne’s historic buildings, Beth was particularly proud of her recent work ushering the Pacific Science Center to landmark status and the rededication of the 1962 IMAX Theater attributed to Ray and Charles Eames as a state-of-the-art 3D facility.
Working in the Department of Neighborhoods’ Historic Preservation Program, Beth scrupulously reviewed nominations for landmark status, made certain property owners followed the city’s landmark ordinances and maintained without fail the integrity of the Landmark Preservation Board’s work. In addition to the Science Center, Beth was especially proud of her work protecting the Naval Air Station/Sand Point Historic District and the Fort Lawton (Discovery Park) Historic District.
Born in Ohio in 1955, Beth grew up on the shores of Lake Erie in Avon Lake just west of Cleveland. Beth’s sense of humor and joie de vivre took root at an early age. Dressed in an elegant white gown for her wedding in (of course) a historic structure, Beth amazed her guests by picking up the band’s trombone and belting out a tune.
Aside from being a consummate professional and highly serious about her work for the city’s Historic Preservation Program, Beth was an avid dancer and performer. Her extroverted, sparkling personality and physical skills were a perfect match for the showy, expressive nature of the dance she loved most, the Lindy Hop. Beth was a longtime member of Savoy Swing Club Performance Troupe, Seattle’s longest running Lindy Hop performance group. Her group performed authentic swing dance shows throughout the Pacific Northwest—notably right here at the Northwest Folklife Festival. When Beth appeared on stage, her wild period costumes, super big smile, boundless energy and many cool moves astounded even the most jaded dance aficionados.
Boats, especially historic wooden boats, were another of Beth’s passions. Always facing the wind at the front of her boats, Beth loved to be on the water. Sharing the prow with one of her beloved dogs as the wind stirred their hair always brought big smiles to her face. Of the many photographs of Beth skiing, hiking, traveling in Europe, the happiest ones show her with her dogs.
Beth loved gardens too. The garden at Rob and Beth’s 1911 Queen Anne house was a shambles when the couple moved in. Now it is an elegant collection of historic and contemporary plants in soothing bucolic arrangements.
Hundreds of friends came together at a memorial gathering held at the Pacific Science Center on Thursday, June 7, to celebrate Beth’s vitality and her important contributions to the social and cultural life of our city. At the celebration, Mary McCumber, Historic Seattle’s chair, announced that an award had named for Beth Chave would become part of Historic Seattle’s annual preservation award program. Remembrances may be made to Historic Seattle, the Center for Wooden Boats, or the Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue/Collie organization.
Queen Anne resident Michael Herschenshohn, who attended graduate school with Beth Chave at Cornell, is also president of the Queen Anne Historical Society.