When Albert Balch, the developer of the Wedgwood neighborhood, put up stone gateposts at the entrance to his new housing area, he tapped into the gateposts’ symbolism of permanence and protection, qualities desired by young couples in search of homes.
Balch was aware of and interested in his family history. He knew that he was descended from John Balch who had come from England in 1623 and settled in Beverly, Massachusetts, near Salem. Today the John Balch house is one of the oldest wood-frame houses still standing in the USA. Albert Balch named his eldest daughter Beverly and he was proud of his early-American ancestors and their accomplishments. In addition to New Englanders of the 1600’s like John Balch, Albert Balch knew that in the 1800’s his relatives had been active pioneers and town-founders in the Puget Sound region. Lafayette Balch, his great-great-uncle, was one of the founders of Steilacoom, Pierce County, in 1851.
When Balch and his business partner, Ralph Jones, started the View Ridge development in 1935 they added sections a little at a time, buying more land as they were able. View Ridge homeowners were required to have an architect design their homes but not in any particular style, which resulted in a neighborhood of well-designed homes but no over-all consistent look.
In July 1941 Balch platted a forty-acre section of land with a plan to develop it all together, instead of piecemeal as had been done in View Ridge. Balch chose the well-known architectural firm of Thomas, Grainger & Thomas to create houses in Cape Cod and Colonial styles, with enough changes of exterior design details so that the houses in the Wedgwood plat would be varied but harmonious. The overall effect would be that of a New England village.
Balch’s intention to create a housing area with English flavor may have helped give his wife Edith the idea for the name she chose for the development: Wedgwood. Edith was an admirer of the work of English potterymaker Josiah Wedgwood. While most people think of Wedgwood as dinnerware with the distinctive blue color created by Wedgwood, it is likely that Edith was alluding to Josiah Wedgwood’s fine craftsmanship in all that he did.
With his English/New England architectural touches in Wedgwood, Balch also borrowed a characteristic English country estate detail: gateposts. While never intended to support actual gates, the gateposts of Wedgwood conveyed a sense of official entry into a private, enclosed residential area. A 1946 article in American Builder magazine said that “massive stone gate posts emphasize the exclusive neighborhood character of Wedgwood, where pride of ownership can enhance home values.”
Gateposts can serve the function of both welcoming and keeping out, suggesting a borderline and that one is entering the driveway of an English country estate. To a person returning home at the end of a long day’s work, a gatepost can signal the moment of arrival, day’s journey completed. The gateposts of the original Wedgwood housing development also served a practical need, to highlight the entrance at NE 81st Street on the west side of 35th Ave NE. Balch left up a screen of trees along 35th Ave NE and having gateposts at NE 81st Street made the entry more visible.
On 30th Ave NE at the corner of NE 86th Street, more brick pillars mark the entrance to Wedgwood #4. After Balch had already started building houses in Wedgwood #4, the Seattle School District came and took a chunk out of the plat for the new Wedgwood School. Instead of the brick pillars marking the entrance to a Balch development, they now seem to stand sentry at the corner of the school playground.
Balch’s gatepost strategy became a signature of his developments and he continued it as he added more sections of Wedgwood housing. On the east side of 35th Ave NE, Balch put up brick pillars at NE 82nd Street to mark Wedgwood #2 from 82nd to 85th, and Wedgwood Park from 80th to 82nd.
UPDATE: One of Balch’s brick pillars on 35th Ave NE at the corner of NE 82nd Street was removed on October 18, 2014. Located on the southeast corner of the intersection, the Seattle Audubon Society decided to remove the pillar because it was deteriorating, was often tagged with graffiti, and the pillar and its brick wall closed in the corner and made it dark.
On October 18 the brick pillar was dismantled and in future Seattle Audubon Society may put a sign there which would help drivers on 35th Ave NE more easily find the office.
The Seattle Audubon Society office and nature shop at 8050 35th Ave NE is in the first office building which Balch built for his Wedgwood Corporation. Later he expanded and also used office space in what is now Maid in the Northwest at 8040 35th Ave NE.
On the northeast corner of the intersection of 82nd and 35th, there is a brick pillar which was the twin of the one on the Audubon site. The northeast corner property including the shopping area from QFC to Homestreet Bank is owned by the Wes Williams Corporation.