The Wedgwood neighborhood did not come completely into the Seattle city limits until 1954. The area retained some of its semi-rural character into the 1960s, such as the Picardo Farm which operated at 8040 25th Ave NE.
The Picardo family’s long legacy of farming would, in the 1970s, be shared with others to create a P-Patch program all over the city.
The Picardo Brothers Immigrate to the USA
In the 1890s three Picardo brothers, Ernesto, Orazio and Sabino, left the village of Salza Irpina in Avellino Province, southern Italy, to find their fortune in America. After they had lived in Boston a short time the brothers heard of people going to “gold rushes” in various places Out West. Seattle was heavily advertised as the Gateway to the Yukon, so the Picardo brothers made their way to Seattle. Perhaps dissuaded after hearing tales of the harsh climate and conditions of the Yukon, the brothers instead began working in the gardening and produce industry of Seattle.
For a number of years the Picardos lived in South Park along the Duwamish waterway, until changes to the waterway made it impossible to farm there. At around that same time in the 1920s land in northeast Seattle along 25th Ave NE at NE 80th Street became available. By that time the patriarch of the Picardo family had died in Italy, so their mother sold the land holdings there and joined her sons in Seattle. With money from that family inheritance the Picardos were finally able to purchase a big house at Green Lake and their own farmland in what is now Wedgwood.
Ernesto Picardo’s Big House
In 1920 Ernesto Picardo and members of his extended Italian immigrant family moved from South Park in south Seattle to Green Lake in north Seattle. Ernesto and his wife Luisa were the center of family life, and other family members took houses clustered near to theirs on the estate property around what came to be called the Big House.
In a piece of poetic irony, Ernesto had acquired the Green Lake home of a Seattle Port Commission official who, at least indirectly, was responsible for the loss of the Picardo’s Duwamish farmland. Prior to 1920 the Picardos had farmed near the Duwamish River but their land was lost to a rechanneling project authorized by the Port Commission. As part of an overall Seattle waterways development plan which included creation of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1913-1917, the Duwamish River was straightened to make it more usable for shipping.
In 1920 Ernest Picardo bought the house at 2200 N. 77th Street (Green Lake) which had been owned by Charles E. Remsberg. Along with Hiram Chittenden and Robert Bridges, Remsberg was one of the first three commissioners of the Port of Seattle, created in 1911. Remsberg worked for the Port for more than seven years without pay; somehow the legislation for paying the commissioners never took effect. To support himself, Remsberg continued to work as an attorney and as co-owner of Fremont Bank. The bank was in a building Remsberg had constructed for it at 3416 Fremont Avenue, which today houses small shops.
According to Remsberg family descendants whom I interviewed, Charles Remsberg lived a life of integrity. In the early 1900s there was no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and when banks failed, depositors could all their money. When the Fremont Bank failed, it appears that Remsberg “walked away from” his house and estate property at Green Lake so that it could be sold and bank investors could be repaid from the proceeds.
Their daughter’s wedding in 1917 was the last Remsberg family event held in the Green Lake house, and then Charles & Belle Remsberg moved into a much smaller house on 26th Ave NE just north of where University Village is now. Remsberg concluded his term of service as a Port Commissioner in January 1919. He no longer ventured into banking, but went back to work full-time as an attorney.
The Picardo family album contains a photo of Ernesto’s Big House with a notation that they had acquired it “from a banker who lost the house.” The purchase price was $10,500. The 1920 deed of purchase of the Big House shows Ernesto Picardo buying from a man named Benjamin B. Putnam of Marietta, Ohio. Putnam never lived in Seattle; it was common for people from other parts of the USA to invest in Seattle banks, railroads and real estate. Putnam “held the note” on Remsberg’s house at Green Lake and was reimbursed for his investment in Fremont Bank by selling the house to the Picardos.
The Picardos Buy a Farm
Part of Picardo family lore is the story of how patriarch Ernesto Picardo first came to look at the farm property in Wedgwood which he would buy. According to the story, around 1920 Ernesto took a streetcar from Georgetown, near where he lived, and travelled by transferring to various lines until he got to Green Lake, at about N. 80th Street. There he was met by a real estate agent who took him via horse and buggy to see the farm property. There were no streetcars out to the Wedgwood area and 25th Ave NE had not yet been put through, either. The farm property Ernesto Picardo looked at was twenty acres from 25th to 30th Avenues NE, NE 80th to 82nd Streets.
Although the Picardos purchased to the Big House at Green Lake in 1920 and we presume that they moved in soon after, the deed of purchase of the farm property did not come until 1922. Picardo family descendants believe that Ernesto might have leased the farm land for a couple of years first, to be sure that it was fertile ground, or perhaps until the owner, Mabel Barry, was willing to sell.
The farm property was in the plat of Mary J. Chandler but she had sold to others by 1895 and the property passed through many different hands. Deed transactions show that a woman, Mabel Barry, was the owner of the farm property as of 1915, but she did not live on-site. She may have bought the land as an investment and leased it to farmers. The deed transactions of October 1922 show that a swap was arranged: Mabel Barry exchanged the farm property for the house which Ernesto Picardo had formerly lived in at 1037 Elmgrove in the South Park neighborhood.
The Picardos never lived on-site at their Wedgwood property, though in later years, after his wife Luisa died, Ernesto moved to a house across the street from the farm on 25th Ave NE at the northwest corner of NE 80th Street. Census records show that Japanese agricultural workers lived on-site at the farm through the 1930s. During World War Two in the 1940s, all Japanese people were removed from the Seattle area by a security order of the federal government. Then the Picardos hired Filipinos to live and work at the farm.
The Picardos were “truck farmers,” which means to plant market crops intensively on a small amount of acreage, rotating in season. Another term that could be used is “market garden,” as the Picardos harvested every day during the growing season and sent fresh produce to be sold. Deed and lease records show that the large Picardo family owned or leased produce stands in various places, such as on NE 45th Street in the University District, as outlets for the fruit, vegetables and flowers grown on the Picardo Farm.
Ernesto Picardo was gifted at management and would plant so that vegetables would ripen “in rotation,” just enough to be sold each month. There were also greenhouse crops such as tomatoes. On the hillside going eastward up toward 30th Ave NE, crops that needed more drainage, such as corn and potatoes, were planted.
The Picardos Share their Farm
Picardo family patriarch Ernesto died in 1961 at age 89. Though he was no longer able to work outdoors at that age, his love for growing things was so great that he worked in the greenhouses a few hours per day, up until the day he died. By the time of Ernesto’s death in 1961 all the Picardo descendants had gone into other occupations except Ernesto’s son Rainie, who still worked the farm. Gradually Rainie began allowing neighborhood people to use some of the land to plant their own vegetable gardens.
In the early 1970s during the years of the massive Boeing Company layoffs when a lot of people in Seattle were without jobs, there was a “back to basics” movement for people to grow their own food. A program was begun for Wedgwood Elementary School students and their families to learn how to grow vegetables. Volunteers working with the school got permission from Rainie Picardo for school families to have garden plots for their own use at the Picardo Farm.
Rainie Picardo was approached by developers who wanted to put a grocery store and shopping mall on the site of the farmland, but Rainie did not want to put buildings on the fertile soil. In 1973 the City of Seattle bought the Picardo farm land and began a community gardening outreach which spread throughout the city, commemorating the Picardos in the name: the P-Patch Program.
The legacy of the Picardos and their love for the land has spread nation-wide as the P-Patch movement has been adopted by other cities. The original Picardo P-Patch in Wedgwood celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2013.
Deed index, King County, Vol. 1086, page 611: Benjamin B. Putnam to Ernesto Picardo, house purchase date March 8, 1920, purchase price $10,500. Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.
Deed index, King County, Vol. 1180, pages 566 and 606: October 19 & 25 of 1922, exchange of tracts 14, 15, 18, 19 of Mary J. Chandler’s Addition for house at 1037 Elmgrove, Mabel Barry/Ernesto Picardo. Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.
Historic sites index, City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods; “Remsberg House,” Greg Lange, author.
History of the P-Patch program, Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods.
Interviews with Picardo and Remsberg family descendants.
“Seattle’s P-Patch godfather ditched the gold rush for gardening,” Roots of Tomorrow, Crosscut, October 25, 2013 by Knute Berger.
“Straightening of Duwamish River begins on October 14, 1913,” HistoryLink Essay #2986 by David Wilma.
Tax Assessment Rolls of King County, 1920 and 1925, Mary J. Chandler’s Addition to Seattle, tracts 14, 15, 18, 19. Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.