We Could Plant a House, We Could Build a Tree – Kurt Cobain’s beautiful and tragic Lake Washington home

Visiting Kurt’s house in 2020 was a 26 year dream-come-true for me. I wrote about it briefly at the time, as part of a wider blog piece, but after going down a Nirvana rabbit hole today, I want to write about it again.

Kurt’s death remains one of the most impactful events in my life. The 90s had been gearing up to be a wonderful time of empowerment for young, creative people who didn’t quite fit into the mainstream. We could embrace our unique artistic visions, our average looks (‘I’m so ugly/ That’s okay, ‘cause so are you/ We broke our mirrors), and were learning to channel our anger and frustration into constructive endeavours. DIY culture made us all designers, producers and publishers. We could do anything, and we did. Gen X had a bright, bright future.

And then, suddenly, the party was over. With one tragic gunshot, Kurt reminded us that there was no point in even trying, that in the end, even our heroes would leave us, with no guide, no light, no hope. The cruel world would always win, and the gentle souls would always be crushed. 

Of course, this is not really the truth at all, but it really seemed it during those teenage dark days.

Kurt battled his demons long and hard until the sad day in April 1994 when they overwhelmed him. The saddest part of it all is that his depression was lying to him – we loved him and we needed him, and he should have stayed. Those of us who have struggled with suicidal depression know the truth, that the light is still there if you just hang on long enough to see it, but also that letting go is not a weakness.

Photo by Ewing & Clark, Inc

And so, despite the fact that Kurt lived at 171 Lake Washington Boulevard East for such a short time, and by all accounts, never felt at home there, I have always been drawn to the place where he left the world. I wanted to remember him and to acknowledge his struggles, and to show that we are here for him, even if far too late.

Kurt and Courtney bought the house in the early days of 1994, and Kurt died there just months later, barely knowing it as a home at all. Courtney continued to live there on and off for several years before finally selling in 1997. The greenhouse where Kurt died was demolished and later replaced with a basketball hoop.

The gates to the house, so familiar to fans everywhere

My trip in 2020 was blessed with glorious sunshine, after days of relentless grey PNW rain. The house is very easy to find – just follow Lake Washington Boulevard along the coast until you come across it. As we passed Viretta Park, the tiny patch of green space next to the home, the MP3 player switched itself to Smells Like Teen Spirit! Such a weird coincidence! 

We had been unsure if there would be parking nearby, and would have been content just to drive by, but just around the corner is Denny Blaine Park, another tiny green space attached to a beach, and a few parking spots (probably private ones, but we risked it).  

Lake Washington from Denny Blaine Park

My first thought was that would have been the most perfect spot to bring up a child – quiet, safe, clean air, a beach just a couple of minutes’ walk away. I can just imagine the future Courtney dreamed of when she first found it.

Despite us clearly not being from such an affluent area in our beat-up car and old clothes, the neighbours we encountered were friendly and didn’t seem to mind us being there.

Lake Washington from Denny Blaine Park

The house itself isn’t easily viewed from the street, and for good reason. The owners are very private, and although fans will undoubtedly always want to visit the area, it is important to respect that privacy. We did walk up to the gates, and I collected a little pebble from the driveway (I always have a pocket full of stones, shells, acorns etc). 

I have found it very difficult over the years to find any photos of the interior of the house, even on the agent’s listings when the house was for sale. All we have are a few descriptions of its 4 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, and this view from the master bedroom.

The view from the bedroom. Photo by Ewing & Clark, Inc

Mostly that day, we spent time in Viretta Park, from which the house is visible. A single lonely bench has become a memorial to Kurt, one I hope will never be removed. I feel most peaceful in nature, and so it felt appropriate to sit here among the trees and say a little prayer for him. It felt like a farewell to a lot of the feelings I have carried since 1994. 

Kurt’s bench

There were a few people around – a dog walker on the beach, a mother and child walking home, the gentle hum of a mower. It was the ideal of picturesque suburbia-on-the-sea. The whole street smelled like jasmine and magnolia. I didn’t want to leave.

Viretta Park

We climbed up the steps at the back of the park that also take you behind the house, and snapped a few photos of the upper windows, but honestly, there is not much to see at all. It’s just good to be there and to say goodbye.

We also spent time on pretty Denny Blaine Park beach, just sitting and watching the birds over Lake Washington. It was such a hot, bright day, unseasonably so for the first days of March, with the fresh smell of spring in the air, bringing new hope.

This water was visible to Kurt from the garage of his house, and I wonder if he could hear it that night. I would love to think that he saw one last beautiful Seattle sunset before he left the world. If only he had known that the brightest light of all was inside of him all along.

Denny Blaine beach

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