The Wedgwood neighborhood in Seattle was created by a bold and optimistic developer, Albert Balch. On July 31, 1941 Balch filed a plat for forty acres of land from 30th to 35th Avenues NE, NE 80th to 85th Streets, which became the first section of Wedgwood houses that he built.
Balch did not deliberately set out to name the whole neighborhood “Wedgwood.” As Balch added more houses in other nearby sections of land, local businesses began calling themselves by the name Wedgwood.
By the mid-to-late 1940s Wedgwood was recognized as the name of the neighborhood, with the community club naming itself Wedgwood. Shown here is the Seattle City Clerk’s neighborhood map with the current “boundaries” of Wedgwood, meant to give people a sense of place and concern for community.
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In 1935 Albert Balch and a business partner, Ralph Jones, started out by building one house in what is now the View Ridge area, which they platted after buying up many individual undeveloped lots. At first the View Ridge development included only NE 65th to 70th Streets, on a slope east of 35th Ave NE with a great view of Lake Washington. Balch and Jones were each 32 years old and had belonged to the same fraternity at the University of Washington. In the 1930s they both worked for Fisher Communications (parent company of KOMO radio/TV.) In a risky, adventuresome move, the two men quit their jobs as radio advertising salesmen and decided to seek their fortunes in real estate.
After the stock market crash of October 1929 the economic crisis called the Great Depression caused a near-standstill in new construction of houses. When Balch and Jones filed their View Ridge plat request with King County in 1935, it made news headlines as the county’s first new development in more than two years. Balch and Jones were able to sell the first house they had built in View Ridge, while at the same time arranging for water and electricity to be put in – the area still had no city services in the 1930s because, east of 15th Ave NE, the Seattle City limit was at NE 65th Street.
With the dearth of good news during the 1930s Great Depression era and with Balch and Jones’ experience in advertising, they were able to get a lot of media coverage of their new development. Balch and Jones’ sales gimmicks, such as a picnic to attract buyers, were stories covered by news outlets to boost hope during the economic depression.
Albert Balch launches himself as a community developer in Wedgwood
Ralph Jones spent the rest of his life as a real estate agent but for Albert Balch, the real excitement was in development. He wanted to create communities. His next venture would give him the opportunity to build an entire neighborhood with houses in a unified style. After purchasing a wooded, undeveloped forty-acre tract along the west side of 35th Ave NE from NE 80th to 85th Streets, Balch gave his wife Edith the opportunity to name the new area.
As reported in the April 1956 Wedgwood Echo community newspaper, Albert Balch told the interviewer that his wife Edith didn’t like the name “View Ridge” which Balch and Jones had thought up for their 1930s housing development. Balch let Edith choose the name of the next project. Edith chose “Wedgwood” because she admired the work of that manufacturer of fine china, and as a reference to the wooded nature of the new housing area. (See the newspaper pages at the end of this article)
Balch filed the Wedgwood plat in July 1941 and at first “Wedgwood” meant only that plat from NE 80th to 85th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE. By the end of the 1940s Balch had added many more sections of Wedgwood houses on both sides of 35th Ave NE and Wedgwood had become the neighborhood’s name.
Balch and his real estate partner, Ralph Jones, had built houses for their own families in View Ridge, on the same block of 50th Ave NE. Balch’s house at 6850 50th Ave NE is still extant. The Jones house has been torn down and replaced by two new houses.
Balch and Jones had a business office at the corner of NE 68th Street and 48th Ave NE. As work got going in the new Wedgwood development, in 1943 Balch listed his Wedgwood Corporation in the phone book for the first time. The office was at the 68th & 48th address, with phone number VErmont 5555.
The growing business district takes the name “Wedgwood”
By the mid-1940s the name Wedgwood began to catch on and spread out from Balch’s first group of houses in the neighborhood. The first business other than Balch’s Wedgwood Corporation which named itself “Wedgwood” was the Wedgwood Tavern (8515 35th Ave NE) in about 1945, as shown by a listing in the Seattle phone book. The tavern had previously been known as Hansen’s, and today it is called the Wedgwood Ale House.
In the 1940s and 1950s Balch acquired three of the four corners of the intersection of NE 85th Street on 35th Ave NE, and he held these for commercial development. The growth of housing near that intersection caused increasing numbers of businesses to locate there. By 1946 several small shops at the NE 85th Street intersection were using the name Wedgwood: Wedgwood Radio & Appliance at 8501 35th Ave NE, Wedgwood Market & Deli at 8503, and Wedgwood Tavern at 8515. The exception to the naming in that block was McVicar Hardware at 8507 35th Ave NE, a father-and-son operation. Also listed in the phone book for the year 1946 was Balch’s Wedgwood Rock real estate sales office at 7200 28th Ave NE, where the Wedgwood Rock can still be found.
In 1948 another Wedgwood-named business was Wedgwood Gardens (plant nursery) at 7744 35th Ave NE, present site of the Hunter Tree Farm Christmas tree sales. Also in 1948, Morningside Presbyterian Church changed its name to Wedgwood when it moved from what is now the Northeast Veterinary office at 9505 35th Ave NE to the church’s present site, 8008 35th Ave NE.
The use of the Wedgwood name continued to spread in following decades. Today there are Wedgwood-named apartments, businesses, churches, the elementary school, fire station and the post office. The Wedgwood area defines its boundaries as from NE 75th to 95th Streets, 25th to 45th Avenues NE, and west to Lake City Way between NE 85th to 95th Streets.
Balch builds his own office in Wedgwood
Along with residential development in Wedgwood, Balch built the office complex on 35th Ave NE in the 8000 block between Wedgwood Presbyterian Church and Seattle Audubon Society’s office and nature shop. The Seattle Audubon building at 8050 35th Ave NE was built in 1948 as the office for Balch’s Wedgwood work.
Needing even more space, in 1951 Balch set up the real estate office at 8044 35th Ave NE, present site of Maid in the Northwest. One branch of the Wedgwood Corporation was the Crawford & Conover real estate company, a brand name Balch purchased in the late 1940s from the founders of an 1888 Seattle real estate firm.
As of January 2018 the original C-shaped sign for the Wedgwood Corporation/Crawford & Conover is still at the sidewalk in front of 8044 35th Ave NE and is used by the current businesses. Sadly this sign is likely to be removed in the year 2018 as the business is moving out and the owner of the property wants to redevelop. On the south side of the 8044 building, another building of the same type was torn down and townhouses built in its place.
Seattle city directories and phone books of various years. Accessed at Seattle Public Library, Central Library, 9th floor history & genealogy department.
O. Casey Corr, “A Fine Development.” The Seattle Times, July 22, 1990, page G1.
Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA, the repository of the property records of King County. The building is located on the campus of Bellevue College and is part of the state archives system.
Priscilla Yeager, “The Old Days are Long Gone.” Wedgwood Echo, April 17, 1956, pages 1 and 5 — see photos below. In her article, neighborhood resident Priscilla Yeager did not reveal that she was the daughter of the Jacklin family of 7528 35th Ave NE. Priscilla, the youngest child, was born in that house in 1918. The last paragraph of Priscilla’s article (second photo, second page of the article) tells Albert Balch’s explanation of why “Wedgwood” was chosen as the name of his housing development on the former site of Mr. Thorpe’s ginseng farm. This material is protected under Creative Commons Copyright; do not copy.