From Laurelhurst to Wedgwood: the McLaughlin Realty Company

Hotel Washington decorated for visit of President Theodore Roosevelt, Seattle, 1903. Museum of History & Industry Photograph Collection Image Number SHS 7921.

If you live between NE 85th to 90th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE in Wedgwood, the legal description of your home is in the Earl J. McLaughlin plat. Who was Earl J. McLaughlin?

In the early 1900s in Seattle, a “land grab” was set off by the news of two major civic projects:   a world’s fair at the new campus of the University of Washington, and preparations to begin digging the Lake Washington Ship Canal.   Land developers knew that areas adjacent to these projects would increase in value, so they began buying up property.

Even people who lived far from Seattle heard of the real estate boom and wanted to get in on it.  Out in Detroit, Michigan, brothers Robert & Joseph McLaughlin were bitten by “Seattle fever.”   Both were attorneys specializing in real estate.   Despite the fact that both men were over fifty years of age, had families and had lived all their lives in Michigan, in the summer of 1905 the brothers came out to Seattle to survey the prospects for real estate investment.   Perhaps they had been impressed with news reports of the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to Seattle in May of 1903.  President Roosevelt had stayed at the sumptuously decorated Hotel Washington, formerly called the Denny Hotel.  The hotel sat on a high hill north of downtown Seattle at Second & Virginia Streets and was accessed by its own tram service from Third & Stewart.

In September 1905 the McLaughlin Realty Company was incorporated by the McLaughlin brothers with a business partner, Seattle real estate attorney/investor R.F. Booth.  On January 12, 1906, newspapers reported that Robert McLaughlin, the older of the two brothers, had “dropped dead” in Hotel Washington where he was staying.  Perhaps Robert McLaughlin’s sudden death added to the hotel’s reputation for being under a curse.  The hotel closed on May 7, 1906 and was torn down the following year as part of the Denny Regrade project (present site of Belltown.)

Despite the shock of his brother’s death, in 1906 Joseph McLaughlin brought his wife and two youngest children out to Seattle to live.  He and R.F. Booth filed their first plat in May 1906 for land in the Oxbow area of the Duwamish River in southwest Seattle.  The Duwamish River channel was later straightened as a part of the overall engineering work of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and land there increased in value.

McLaughlin developments in northeast Seattle

The world’s fair in Seattle, at first planned for 1907, was finally set for 1909 and was named the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.  The two-year postponement was all to the good, as it gave the AYPE organizers more time to develop their plans.  In October 1906 a contract was signed to hold the AYPE on the campus of the University of Washington in northeast Seattle, setting off another land rush as real estate investors sought to buy up nearby property.  To create a housing development near the UW, McLaughlin Realty worked to acquire property from several different landowners in the Scottish Heights & Yesler Village areas, which the realtors platted in November 1906 and named Laurelhurst.

The McLaughlin Realty Company, promotional brochure for Laurelhurst circa 1907. Laurelhurst Community Club records, Special Collections, UW Library. The man standing behind the car may be the McLaughlin's British chauffeur who drove clients to see the new Laurelhurst development.

The McLaughlin Realty Company, promotional brochure for Laurelhurst circa 1907. Laurelhurst Community Club records, Special Collections, UW Library. The man standing behind the car may be the McLaughlin’s British chauffeur who drove clients to see the new Laurelhurst development.

McLaughlin Realty did manage to bring water, electricity and sewer service into Laurelhurst but they were frustrated by the lack of transportation improvements which would help attract buyers.  By the time the AYP Exposition opened in 1909, city streetcar service extended from downtown only as far as the UW campus. McLaughlin’s real estate ads touted the “proximity” of Laurelhurst to the AYPE and the University District, but streetcar connections never arrived and it would be several more years before Laurelhurst could be reached by city bus.

Earl J. McLaughlin joins the Seattle development company

Joseph’s eldest son Earl J. McLaughlin finished college in Michigan and in 1906, at age 26, he came out to join his father’s development company in Seattle. In 1908 Earl married Agnes Genevieve Raymond in a ceremony performed by Rev. Mark A. Matthews of First Presbyterian Church, a prestigious downtown congregation.  The young couple settled in their own home on Cascade View Drive in Laurelhurst.

Conroy house 1938 photo

The Conroy family built this house at 3239 NE 87th Street by or before 1919.  The writing on the photo is the property description including the plat name.  Property photo courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives.

Joseph delegated projects to his son and named a new land purchase for him, the Earl J. McLaughlin plat in what is now Wedgwood.  The plat was five blocks square, on the west side of 35th Avenue NE from NE 85th to 90th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE.

Trying to develop the remote plat was even more frustrating than in Laurelhurst, as there wasn’t any electricity or city water in Wedgwood in 1907 when the Earl J. McLaughlin plat was filed.  This kept land prices low, and lots did not sell very fast.  Today there are still a few old homes in the Earl J. McLaughlin plat such as the house built by the Conroy family in about 1919.

The McLaughlins leave Seattle

The booms and busts of the Seattle economy took their toll on Joseph McLaughlin’s family life.  His wife brought a divorce action in 1917 stating that they quarreled constantly about money.  Joseph left town and went to Cleveland, Ohio, where two of his married daughters had settled.  Earl J. McLaughlin & his wife soon followed, and for the next twelve years Earl was an active member of the Cleveland real estate community.

By 1932 Earl’s wife Agnes had been dead for three years and Earl made the decision to emigrate to Canada.  Earl was in his early fifties, just as his father had been when he came to Seattle, and like his father, Earl was ready to start a new phase in his life.  Just as his father had spent twelve years in Seattle before moving on, Earl had been in Seattle about twelve years and in Cleveland another twelve.

We have the Earl J. McLaughlin plat in Wedgwood to remind us of the booms and busts of the Seattle economy of one hundred years ago, and the ups and downs in the life of the McLaughlin family.

Sources

Birth, death & marriage records: Washington Digital Archives at http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/

Census:  on HeritageQuest and EJ McLaughlin Canadian border crossing record on Ancestry.com  accessed via Seattle Public Library,  http://www.spl.org/

City directory listings for the McLaughlins:  Polk’s Directory of Seattle, various years; accessed at Seattle Public Library, Central, 9th & 10th floors.

Court case records:  McLaughlin divorce record, King County Civil Case File #125496, 3 Nov 1917.  Plaintiff: Josephine McLaughlin. Accessed 4/1/2010 at Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.

Historical background info:

Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Washington’s First World’s Fair by Alan J. Stein, Paula Becker & The HistoryLink.org Staff, 2009.

A History of Laurelhurst by Christine Barrett.  Laurelhurst Community Club, May 1981.

HistoryLink.org   Essays on the AYP Exposition and its impact upon the development of Seattle.  See Essays #692, 1724, 8244, 8630, 8774, 8939, 8966, 8985.

HistoryLink.org  Seattle Neighborhoods: Laurelhurst – Thumbnail History, Essay #3345.

“Robert F. Booth,” History of Seattle Volume III, page 344-345. C.B. Bagley, 1916. Seattle Room of the Seattle Public Library/Central. (Robert Booth was secretary of the McLaughlin Realty Company.)

Thomas Burke Papers, UW Library, Special Collections. Box 51, file 13, undated note from J.R. McLaughlin to Chamber of Commerce; Sec. C.B. Yandell replied with copy to Burke.

Newspaper articles (in chronological order):

“McLaughlin Realty Company of Seattle articles of incorporation.” Morning Olympian, 22 Sept 1905, page 1.

“R.J. McLaughlin dropped dead.” Morning Olympian, 12 Jan 1906.

“Funeral services for Joseph Rodgers McLaughlin, 72.” Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, 8 Jul 1923, page 2.

Maple Heights Develops Fast.” Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, 17 May 1925, page 30.

“Death of Mrs. Agnes McLaughlin.” Seattle Daily Times, 7 Aug 1929, page 16.

Plat maps: available on-line from King County at http://www.kingcounty.gov (Property Services)

Paul Dorpat:  See his column of December 14, 2013 for a perspective of the Town of Yesler which later became Laurelhurst.

Too High and Too Steep:  Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, by David B. Williams, 2015.  The story of the regrade projects of Seattle.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer history writer for neighborhood history in Seattle, Washington.
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