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Who was the anonymous donor behind the controversial kid playground at Seattle's Denny Blaine?

caption: An aerial view of Denny Blaine Park is shown on Friday, April 19, 2024, in Seattle.
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An aerial view of Denny Blaine Park is shown on Friday, April 19, 2024, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

A nude beach popular with queer people in Seattle drew ire from wealthy neighbors, who complained about parking and alleged lewd conduct.

An anonymous donor (or donors) offered to pay for a children’s play structure there – ostensibly to tame the park.

Park-goers protested, and won, but a mystery has persisted: Who would have paid for the playground?


he texts went straight to the mayor's personal cell phone.

Stuart Sloan, who amassed his fortune doing business in 1980s Seattle, was frustrated with the naked sunbathers at Denny Blaine Park.

He texted his complaints to Mayor Bruce Harrell, according to a former city hall employee.

Months later, in July 2023, a deputy mayor and Seattle Parks leader paid Sloan a visit to discuss building a playground at the park, according to the mayor’s spokesperson.

Normally a new playground wouldn’t raise eyebrows, but Denny Blaine, which sits on the shores of Lake Washington, is a haven for nudists, who worried they could be charged with indecent exposure to a minor.

The park also happens to be next door to Sloan’s home.

No one at City Hall, nor the parks department, would say on the record who offered $550,000 to build the play structure. But records obtained by KUOW and interviews with internal sources pointed to Sloan, 80, owner of Seattle’s University Village.

Related: It's legal to be naked (anywhere) in Seattle

The veil of secrecy was lifted this week, after KUOW presented these findings to Sloan by email. A communications professional reached out Monday, acknowledging that Sloan had been prepared to donate money for a playground.

“Had it happened, Stuart would not have been the anonymous donor alone,” said Lee Keller of The Keller Group. “Several were willing to give.”

Keller shared something else: The playground had been the city’s idea. “Stuart was happy to listen to the concept along with many others, who were all receptive to what the Parks Department was suggesting,” she said by email.

Activist pressure ultimately thwarted the playground structure plan, after roughly 400 people attended a public hearing to oppose the proposal in December 2023. They said they worried the play structure would displace the LGBTQ+ community that has historically frequented the park.

The playground plans showcase how the ultra-wealthy can exert influence in Seattle city government, and how the city’s policy of accepting anonymous gifts allows it to keep contributors secret.

It also shows the power of people coming together – and collective action.

Differing opinions

On a sunny Friday in April, a dozen nude sunbathers sprawled out on the grassy terraces of Denny Blaine Park, overlooking the shimmering waters of Lake Washington.

Birds chirped and lawn mowers hummed as they perfected the front yards of Seattle’s upper crust.

A group of friends convened at the park that day to work remotely, unclothed. One man, who asked not to be named, said he drove 33 miles to the park from his home in Tacoma. Nearby, Nicole Baich, who has visited the park since 2016, said, “An urban clothing-optional beach is rare; Seattle should protect this.”

Neighbors told KUOW the park is a nuisance, rife with public sex and people urinating on the street – not to mention a parking nightmare.

One neighbor, who spoke with KUOW on condition of anonymity, has lived a few houses from the park for 52 years.

She said she visited the park often when her kids were little, years ago.

But now, she said, “I would never let my grandchildren go down there.”

She has traveled to France, she said, and visited a “fancy beach” where some people were topless. But there were rules there.

She supported building a playground, she said, "because maybe then those people might behave a little better.”

Most Seattle parks get complaints, according to parks spokesperson Rachel Schulkin.

But in the case of Denny Blaine, the most impactful complaints came from wealthy neighbors willing to fund change.

caption: A sign for Denny Blaine Park is shown on Friday, April 19, 2024, in Seattle.
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A sign for Denny Blaine Park is shown on Friday, April 19, 2024, in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Who is Stuart Sloan?

For decades, Stuart Sloan has been an economic force in Seattle. After arriving from Southern California in the 1960s, he graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in business.

A Seattle Times article from 1999 said Sloan made his money as co-owner and president of Schuck’s Auto Parts before finding success in “high-profile business deals” beginning in the 1980s – including as chairman of QFC grocery chain, before selling it to Kroger.

Since then, he has become a prominent philanthropist.

In 2022, Sloan and his wife Molly Sloan gave $78 million to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, the largest single donation to the cancer care institute at the time.

In the late 1990s, Sloan gave millions to T.T. Minor Elementary School, a public school in central Seattle, for free meals and extra staff.

Some of Sloan’s other giving, according to tax documents for his foundation, includes:

$600,000 to Brothers for Life, a Seattle nonprofit that helps Israel Defence Force veterans, in 2021;

$275,000 to the Plymouth Housing Group, a Seattle nonprofit addressing homelessness, in 2021;

$10,000 to Upower, a Seattle nonprofit that provides free movement classes and trauma-informed coaching for underserved youth, in 2021;

$50,000 to Food Lifeline, a Seattle nonprofit that helps to feed the hungry, in 2020.

In 2021, Sloan gave $550 to Harrell’s mayoral campaign.

Sloan appears to value his privacy. No photos of Sloan were found online. He declined to comment for this story.

Queer activists who frequent Denny Blaine said they’ve seen little of Sloan – although he’s made his presence known.

Once, in February, activists and city parks employees met at Denny Blaine to discuss improvements.

Suddenly, loud jazz music blared from Sloan’s home, a 8,310-square-foot waterfront mansion valued at $21 million, according to county records.

Clues point to Sloan

As plans for the playground structure were underway last summer, Sloan met with city officials three times in person.

Emails obtained through public records requests show that Sloan met with Deputy Mayor Adiam Emery at City Hall in June.

Five weeks later, in July, Sloan and Emery met at the Starbucks in Madison Park, a mile north of Sloan’s home.

Soon after, Emery and Andy Sheffer, the deputy superintendent of operations at Seattle Parks, visited Sloan at his home.

There, they presented him with playground equipment mockups and went over ballpark cost numbers before they were made public, according to emails obtained through public records requests.

Jamie Housen, spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said by email that during these three meetings last summer, city officials shared with Sloan strategies for park improvement – including playground equipment.

Housen said the point person for the potential donation asked to remain anonymous, and that anonymous donations to Seattle Parks and the city aren’t uncommon.

He said even the mayor doesn’t know the identity of the anonymous donor.

Another clue that Sloan was the donor: The city presented Sloan with potential “park improvements” including playground equipment, months before the public knew, according to Housen of the mayor’s office. And according to Schulkin of the parks department: The only person outside city staff to see the playground plans at the early stages was the donor.

caption: Roughly 400 people packed the Martin Luther King FAME Community Center in Seattle’s Madison Valley on Dec. 7, 2023, to discuss a proposal for a playground structure at Denny Blaine Park. The proposal was ultimately struck down.
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Roughly 400 people packed the Martin Luther King FAME Community Center in Seattle’s Madison Valley on Dec. 7, 2023, to discuss a proposal for a playground structure at Denny Blaine Park. The proposal was ultimately struck down.
KUOW Photo/Juan Pablo Chiquiza

Friend of the Parks

Even before the playground plans, Sloan enjoyed a close relationship with the parks department.

In June 2022, Sloan rented out Denny Blaine for a dinner party at his home.

In an email to parks staff, he said he wouldn’t use the park, but wanted a “beautiful serene park as the background” to his dinner party.

He also asked the city to monitor parking ahead of his party.

“Can we still count on the Parks Department to have security onsite starting on Sunday morning?” Sloan wrote to Andy Sheffer of the parks department, referring to parks ambassadors.

“Yes, I will have security swing by several times on Sunday,” Sheffer wrote back.

The next month, Sheffer emailed Sloan that the city planned to install signs and paint curbs red to reduce traffic problems around the park.

And in late 2022, Parks Superintendent AP Diaz made plans to meet with Sloan, according to records, although records do not say why.

Holly Miller, a former Seattle Parks Superintendent, worked for Sloan as a project manager in the 90s.

She said Sloan, who she described as a “decent and generous human,” complained to her years ago when homeless encampments popped up in green spaces around Seattle, including at Denny Blaine Park.

Since the playground plan was scuttled, the parks department created Friends of Denny Blaine Park, a group of activists and community members, to reach a compromise.

Some neighbors formed their own group, Denny Blaine Park for All, “to ensure that Denny Blaine Park is a welcoming, safe and respectful place for everyone to enjoy,” wrote group member Betsy Terry in an email to KUOW.

With neighbor and park goer input, Seattle Parks came up with a proposed policy to address neighbors’ concerns while keeping the park’s nudist culture intact.

They plan to add signs to resolve parking problems, and Friends of Denny Blaine Park applied for a city grant to run a behavioral change campaign that empowers people to intervene when someone is openly masturbating in the park.

But, for now at least, there are no plans for a children’s playground.

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