Redevelopment in Wedgwood’s Commercial District

Evans Thriftway was in a 1946 grocery building which was remodelled and expanded in 1956-1957 and renamed for owner Russ Evans. The Jasper Apartments are now on this site. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives. The writing on the photo is the legal description with block number and address.

The commercial district of the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle is arranged along the arterial 35th Avenue NE with clusters of stores at the NE 75th and 85th Street intersections.  The majority of the storefronts and office buildings were built during an intense period of development after World War Two ended in 1945.  Soldiers returning from the war married and started families, and the vast areas of vacant land in northeast Seattle filled up with single-family housing.  During those years with a growing customer base in the new Wedgwood neighborhood, the Wedgwood business district took form with various kinds of stores and services.

Today we are beginning to see the tear-down and replacement of commercial buildings in Wedgwood along 35th Avenue NE.  Due to the lack of action from Seattle City Council on zoning issues, townhouses with blank walls are being built in the commercial district instead of the storefronts which are wanted by the Wedgwood community.

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Finding House Histories in Wedgwood

Do you know the history of your house?   Information about your house, including its age and its setting in the Wedgwood neighborhood of northeast Seattle, can tell you about the house itself and about the people who have lived on your street.  In learning about your house and neighborhood, you can share the info with neighbors to help build camaraderie on your block.

Many house-history resources are now on-line, while other materials are best accessed by an in-person trip to the Seattle Public Library or to City and County archives.

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Seattle’s Waterway to the World

In 2016-2017 we have observed the hundredth anniversary of Seattle’s ship canal which spans the city and joins its freshwater Lakes Union and Washington to the saltwater Puget Sound.  This year as part of the Making the Cut 100 centennial project, a wonderful series of documentary films was produced.  You are cordially invited to join filmmaker Vaun Raymond and Waterway book authors Jennifer Ott and David B. Williams for the public premiere of the documentary film “Seattle’s Waterway to the World.”

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Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal

Where do you take your visitors from out of town, when they come to Seattle?

For both locals and out-of-town visitors, one of the favorite destinations in Seattle is the Ballard Locks.  Located in north Seattle just west of the Ballard neighborhood’s commercial center, the locks are a site of never-ending interest, seeing boats of all sizes, both recreational and commercial, pass through.

The ship canal extends eight miles from the saltwater Puget Sound, through the Ballard Locks to freshwater Lakes Union and Washington.  The ship canal is both a channel for recreational boating and a working waterway of fishing vessels heading out to sea.

Incredibly, it took more than sixty years from the time Seattle settlers first envisioned a ship canal in 1854, until its construction and completion in 1911-1917.  In commemoration of the centennial of the locks and the ship canal, authors David B. Williams and Jennifer Ott have co-written a new book:  Waterway:  The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal.

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Ship Canal Centennial Boat Parade

Boat parade on July 9, 2017 in the Lake Washington Ship Canal

July 4, 1917 was the official opening day of the Ballard Locks in Seattle.  On that day one hundred years ago, the SS Roosevelt led a marine parade of commercial and pleasure craft through the ship canal into Lake Union.

On Sunday, July 9, 2017, we will commemorate this historic event by re-creating Opening Day.  The historic schooner Adventuress will lead a marine parade of historic vessels from Salmon Bay, through the locks eastward into Lake Union.

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Balch and Beyond: New Architecture in Wedgwood

The Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle acquired its name and identity in the 1940s with the work of developer Albert Balch.  Balch filed a plat plan on July 31, 1941 for a forty-acre tract of land (five square blocks) on the west side of 35th Ave NE from NE 80th to 85th Streets, which Balch named Wedgwood.

Balch offices in 1962, with the Crawford & Conover real estate sign at 8044 35th Ave NE. Photo 76719 Seattle Municipal Archives.

Balch did not deliberately set out to name the whole neighborhood, but his new housing development gave such a “sense of place” that the Wedgwood name was soon adopted by local businesses, the community club and a new elementary school.  Wedgwood became the epicenter of the Balch construction and real estate businesses when he built his own offices at 8050 and 8044 35th Ave NE, which he used for the rest of his life.

The first group of Wedgwood houses had a unified appearance with all of the houses in consistent scale (size) and setback (distance from the curb).  Balch asked his architects, Clyde Grainger and Harlan Thomas, to design houses with New England/Early American motifs including Colonial and Cape Cod styles.  The house styles were all similar, and Wedgwood was a completely finished development with curbs and sidewalks.

Gateposts as entrance markers to the original Wedgwood plat

As an allusion to English estate properties, Balch put in gateposts as entrance markers on 35th Ave NE at NE 81st Street.  The gateposts, reminiscent of an estate entrance, are ornamental-only but they do give a sense of arrival.

Now more than seventy-five years later, we are seeing tear-downs of small, 1940s Balch houses all around the Wedgwood neighborhood, with new kinds of designs, materials and house forms coming in.  It can be visually jarring to see the contrast between old, traditional architecture and the new styles.

What are houses in Wedgwood “supposed” to look like?  Do new kinds of house forms and materials “fit in” with Wedgwoodian house culture?

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Early Architecture in Wedgwood

7714 37th Ave NE, built in 1911 by Dutch immigrant Ryk Spoor.

The history of the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle goes back only a little more than one hundred years.  Wedgwood was slow to be settled because northeast Seattle was inland, not located on a water resource such as a river or lake, and not close to downtown Seattle for the convenience of commuting to places of employment.  The first families in the area built small houses for ease of heating.  They used wood or coal stoves until electricity came to Wedgwood in about 1923.

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