Willa’s Wedgwood Wilderness

The Maple Creek section of the Wedgwood neighborhood extends from 40th to 45th Avenues NE, NE 88th to 92nd Streets.  A narrow, winding road meanders downhill from NE 88th Street to 45th Ave NE, following the curve of a Y-shaped ravine where two creeks join and where houses peek out from dense foliage.

home built by Dr. & Mrs. Philip Rogers in 1937

In 1936 Dr. & Mrs. Philip M. Rogers purchased fifteen acres in Maple Creek, built a house and held the rest of the land as a nature preserve.   In 1955, after the Seattle city limits had been moved out north and included the Wedgwood neighborhood, the Rogers became concerned about the impact of city growth and construction upon their wooded acres.   They began selling parcels of land to like-minded conservationists who would agree to a protective covenant.   Each half-acre site was to be developed without the use of bulldozers, even to hand-digging the footings of homes, so that the land contours and natural growth would be disturbed as little as possible.  The buyers each agreed not to subdivide their parcel for fifteen years.  Many of the original buyers were artists, writers, or professors at the UW, which inspired the nickname “Culture Gulch” for the ravine neighborhood.

In 1961 Mrs. Rogers was widowed and decided to go and live near her adult children.  She sold her house to someone whom she thought would preserve her conservationist legacy, and she must have hoped that her beloved ravine was forever securely protected from encroachment.   But the battle to protect Maple Creek Ravine had just begun.

In the early 1960’s two alarming events spurred neighbors to organize the Maple Creek Improvement Association.  On one occasion the City of Seattle gave a developer a permit to dump construction debris into the ravine.  The dumping was halted by the brave stand of the Apron Ladies of the neighborhood who joined hands and stood at the edge of the ravine until the truck retreated.  Then another developer, building houses to the east of the ravine, applied to have the winding road widened and straightened.

young attorney Slade Gorton later became a state senator

In August 1963 the Seattle City Council Streets and Sewers Committee held a hearing with young attorney Slade Gorton representing the Maple Creek Improvement Association.  In the face of an overwhelming number of letters from neighbors and from architects, conservationists and civic leaders who supported preserving the wooded character of the ravine, the City Council voted to leave the road as-is.

In 1992 the owner of Mrs. Rogers’ original house and acreage began subdividing and selling to a developer.  Despite neighbors’ protests, all the trees in the once-quiet grove were cut down.  New houses, tightly packed and with no yards, were built.  A court challenge to the development failed because the lot sizes and type of construction were entirely legal under city zoning regulations.

In 1992 a grove of trees was cut down and five new houses squeezed in next to the original 1937 Rogers house (in the background)

The extremely distressing events of 1992, seeing a beautiful wooded section of Maple Creek totally destroyed, caused one neighbor to begin thinking about what she could do to protect the ravine area.  As had been done to the Rogers’ original homesite, what was to prevent other property owners from subdividing and clearing all of the trees off of the lots, even down into the ravine and stream?

Walt & Willa Halperin bought their house in 1969, and like so many of their neighbors, Walt was a professor at the UW.  The Halperin’s house overlooks Maple Creek ravine, with the property line extending down to the stream.  After the alarming events of 1992 Willa began trying to find out what she could do to organize neighbors and get legal protection for the ravine and stream.  She learned of a land conservancy program and, in April of 1993, Willa invited neighbors to come to her home for a meeting with a representative from the program.

Willa and a small group of neighbors, calling themselves the Maple Creek Committee, painstakingly went over the legal terminology of the conservation easement offered by the King County-Cascade Land Conservancy (KCLC) now called ForTerra.   An easement is a legal interest in land owned by someone else (in this case, the Maple Creek residents), and a conservation easement would give the KCLC the right to preserve portions of Maple Creek property in a natural state.   The easement would become part of each property’s title and thus would be passed along to new owners when homes were sold.

At first Willa thought that papers could be signed right away, but eventually it took four years of knocking on doors, telephoning, holding meetings in her home, consulting individually with each neighbor and going over legal terminology until the day came in 1997 when the Halperins and eleven neighbors signed onto the agreement with KCLC.   Since that time, more neighbors have joined.

Willa Halperin and her neighbors now have the satisfaction of looking out their windows at the wooded ravine with its clean, clear stream and knowing that it will always be that way.   Another chapter in Maple Creek history has been written, and once again Wedgwood neighbors proved that they could work together to preserve their heritage.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

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