In the year 1940 Albert Balch was 37 years old and he was at a turning point both personally and professionally. He had been married seven years and his family had expanded to four children. His father and mother had died in 1932 and 1939 respectively, so by 1940 Albert Balch had become the “elder generation” with his own children to care for. Although he and his business partner Ralph Jones had been successful in the View Ridge development in northeast Seattle and they had been able to build their own homes there, Balch wanted to do more. As Balch thought about what he would do next, he saw that just north of View Ridge there were large areas of undeveloped land. A plan formed in his mind to “build a city” on the model of colonial America.
As of January 1936 Albert Balch and Ralph Jones were on their way: they had started a new real estate development called View Ridge and had been able to get some buyers. Although Balch & Jones had experience in advertising and communications (newspapers and radio) neither had training or experience in real estate and construction. The two men launched out on an incredible adventure, especially considering the dark days of the 1930’s economy called the Great Depression. It was audacious for the men to quit their jobs and go into real estate full-time; one wonders whether they told their wives what they were going to do! Balch & Jones boldly set out to jump-start the Seattle real estate market which was at a standstill in the 1930′s.
Albert Balch, developer of the View Ridge and Wedgwood neighborhoods of northeast Seattle, did not start out to work in real estate. As many college grads do, at first Balch struggled to find a suitable career.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity building in Seattle was built in 1925.
Albert Balch graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1926, and for the next two years he was employed by the national organization of the fraternity he had belonged to, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In his job as travelling secretary he reviewed organizational records and the functioning of the fraternities, whose mission statement was to “turn promising young men into true gentlemen.” Judging from the activities of Balch and his fraternity brothers after graduation, it appears that having been in Sigma Alpha Epsilon gave the men social advantages as the men went on to respectable careers and civic involvement. In the period after his graduation Balch was many times noted in the Seattle newspapers as active in groups, such as UW alumni, the Municipal League, and business associations.
This series of articles will outline the life of Albert Balch, the developer who, in 1941, built the Wedgwood houses which gave their name to the neighborhood in northeast Seattle.
Balch’s father Albert S. Balch Sr. was from a Michigan farm home, and as a young man in his twenties he went to seek his fortune out West. Balch Sr. arrived in Washington Territory before statehood and first lived in the Bellingham area of Whatcom County. An anecdotal family story is that Balch Sr. travelled on a boat in Puget Sound which would bring him to Seattle, as he wanted to have a look at the city and decide whether to settle there. But it was the day of Seattle’s Great Fire, June 6, 1889, and there was too much smoke drifting over the waterfront to see what the town looked like. The boat could not dock at Seattle, and Balch Sr. went back to live in Whatcom County.
The developer of the Wedgwood neighborhood, Albert Balch, grew up in Blaine, Washington, and graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1934 Balch was thirty years old, married and about to become a father, and his natural ambition and drive caused him to want to improve his status for himself and his family. Balch was working as a salesman of radio advertising for Fisher Communications. Along with co-worker Ralph Jones, the two men quit their jobs because they thought they could do better in real estate. They dared to take a big risk in the face of the “down” economic times of the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
The original office of Albert Balch, developer of Wedgwood, is now the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop at 8050 35th Ave NE.
Balch & Jones succeeded in developing and selling house lots in View Ridge, centered along NE 70th Street east of 35th Avenue NE. After five years’ experience Balch was ready to do even more, so in 1940 he launched out on his own to build what became the Wedgwood development. The first plat which became the original group of Wedgwood houses was on the west side of 35th Avenue NE from NE 80th to 85th Streets. As Balch acquired more land and built more sections of Wedgwood houses, in 1949 he established an office at 8050 35th Ave NE, which remained his home base for the rest of his career.
The first Dairy Queen store opened in Illinois in 1940 with immediate success. The menu started out with ice cream and sundaes but soon expanded to malts, milkshakes, and banana splits. The company began to register its trademark products and in 1958 the Brazier logo on a DQ indicated that the store had their patented new cooking device using charcoal or electric to grill food. DQ rapidly expanded its Brazier menu to serve burgers, fries, hot dogs and fried chicken. In the era of post-World-War-Two population growth and the rise of the fast-food industry, Dairy Queen was very, very successful.
Dairy Queen was a leader in the nationwide franchising of restaurants and by 1959 one DQ had opened in Seattle on Elliott Avenue west of Seattle Center. The next year, 1960, the operators added a DQ in Wedgwood, the third DQ to open in north Seattle (after Ballard and the University District; a Lake City Way DQ soon followed.) Wedgwood’s Dairy Queen was built as a freestanding building on the parking lot of the Safeway grocery store, closest to NE 75th Street. The Wedgwood Dairy Queen was open seven days per week beginning at 11 AM and was open until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. The listed menu was banana splits, malts, shakes, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and fish.
The square outline of a 1920′s neighborhood grocery building can be seen above the storefronts, built in 1949-1950, at the northeast corner of the intersection of 35th Ave NE and NE 75th Street.
The intersection of 35th Ave NE and NE 75th Street had no buildings at any of the four corners until after 1946. The only building near to the corner was Ida’s Inn at 7500 35th Ave NE, which began as a small grocery store in 1926 and was converted to a tavern after Prohibition ended in 1934. Ida’s Inn closed in 1948 but the building still exists and its square outline can be seen above the rooftop of the stores built in front of it in 1950.
In the period of 1945 to 1950 after the end of World War Two, Wedgwood really began to grow in population and bigger grocery stores started to come in at that time. In 1946 the Safeway Corporation started planning to build at their present site on the southeast corner of the intersection of 75th & 35th, but first they had to apply for the zoning to be changed from residential to commercial.