Albert Balch, Part Three: Learning Real Estate in View Ridge

As of January 1936 Albert Balch and Ralph Jones were on their way: they had started a new real estate development called View Ridge and had been able to get some buyers.  Although Balch & Jones had experience in advertising and communications (newspapers and radio) neither had training or experience in real estate and construction.  The two men launched out on an incredible adventure, especially considering the dark days of the 1930s economy called the Great Depression.  It was audacious for the men to quit their jobs and go into real estate full-time; one wonders whether they told their wives what they were going to do!  Balch & Jones boldly set out to jump-start the Seattle real estate market which was at a standstill in the 1930s.

On December 2 and 8, 1935, the Seattle Times ran articles and photos of Balch & Jones in the King County Auditor’s office, where the men were filing a plat for their View Ridge Subdivision.  The ten-acre tract consisted of just two blocks centered along 50th Ave NE, from NE 65th to NE 70th Streets. There was alley access to garages mid-block, running north-south between 50th and 51st Avenues NE.  Balch & Jones filed their plat in the King County Auditor’s office because in northeast Seattle the city limit was at NE 65th Street, so the View Ridge development was “out in the county.”

The December 1935 news articles noted that View Ridge was the first plat filed in King County in more than two years “since the present administration has been in office.”  While some houses were built in Seattle and in King County during the early 1930s, what was meant by “the first plat” was that no one had filed notice of intent to lay out a plan for a group of house lots in any undeveloped new areas since 1933.  By “the present administration” it was meant that since elections of 1932 when there was a change in the political parties which were in power, the personnel in the King County Auditor’s office had not seen a new plat filed.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt won the election of President of the United States in November 1932, the Democrat Party also swept the elections at other levels.  There had been twelve years of Republican administration at the federal level, and similarly in Washington State there had been Republican governors and administrations.  As of the beginning of administrations in January 1933, political appointees in King County, such as the Auditor’s Office, were of the Democrat Party along with new Governor of the State of Washington Clarence D. Martin and President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The news article of December 1935 described the new View Ridge tract:

The property, originally covered with a heavy growth of small timber has been more than 50 per cent slashed and cleared, while streets and alleys have been cut through and forty-eight lots staked out. Several lots have been sold and construction of residences will start soon.

The entire tract affords a sweeping view of Lake Washington and the Cascades. The contour is such that every house will have an unobstructed view, as the land slopes well toward the east.

Crews from the county engineer’s office and from the Public Works Administration have completed the widening and graveling of 50th Ave NE, have cut through the depth of the property for NE 68th Street and have cut through and cleared space for 51st Ave NE and the alley between 50th Ave NE and 51st Ave NE.

Balch & Jones learned the construction, development and real estate businesses literally from the ground up in View Ridge. They first arranged to clear some of the ground, cutting down all of the trees to expose the views of Lake Washington, so that they could sell lots to potential residents. Then, about three months later, they did the official plat filing (described above) for a layout of streets and lots.  Although done slightly in backwards order, starting to sell lots first and then filing a plat later, it was not illegal. Next Balch & Jones began to line up the team of architects, engineers and construction companies who would help them develop View Ridge.  The plat was surveyed by an engineering firm and was accepted by King County, and then some work began to be done for putting in streets.

View Ridge map courtesy of HistoryLink.org

View Ridge map courtesy of HistoryLink.org

Since the View Ridge development was outside of the Seattle City limits, there were problems regarding utilities.  Each house had to be on a septic system because there were no sewers, and Balch & Jones had to arrange for water lines to be put in.  They found that business was slow for electric companies City Light and Puget Power so the two competed with one another.  At first there were two sets of electric poles and lines in View Ridge, as some homeowners chose one company and some another.

All during their View Ridge development campaign Balch & Jones kept up a steady barrage of publicity.  Interviewed by reporter Casey Corr in 1990, at age 87 Ralph Jones reminisced that in the 1930s newspapers had printed anything that Balch & Jones sent in to them.  There was such a dearth of upbeat stories during the economic depression years of the 1930s, that something new and hopeful like Balch & Jones’ development project was of interest.  Balch & Jones even drew crowds to celebratory bonfires after clearing some of the lots.  Here is an example of an early news bulletin, even before any houses had been built in View Ridge:

7520-57th-place-ne-in-view-ridge-built-1958-architect-wendell-lovett

As is typical of houses in the Pacific Northwest Modernist style, this 1958 View Ridge house by architect Wendell Lovett has an unpretentious front entry.  The house opens up in the back with a wall of windows looking out over Lake Washington.  The address is 7520 57th Place NE.

October 20, 1935, Winter Building Plans are Made: View Ridge, that new colony being developed for young married couples, is squaring off for a winter building program which is expected to lead the Seattle construction activity predicted on every hand to get well under way by next spring.

This new subdivision, which four months ago was an unimpressive tract of land on the crest of the ridge between Laurelhurst and the Sand Point Golf Club, has advanced today so that it is one of the show places of Seattle. Clearing and road work have converted this spot into one of the outstanding view sites of the Northwest, commanding a sweeping view of Lake Washington, the Cascades and Mount Rainier.

The Stewart Construction Company plans to start excavation for the first home in the subdivision by December 1………at least two more homes will be started the first week in December and another in February. Houses will cost from $3,500 to $8,000.

View Ridge is being developed by two young Seattle businessmen, Ralph Jones and Albert Balch.  They have found a great demand for desirable home sites among their friends who desire to build under the conditions existing at View Ridge.  The colony is restricted to compatible young couples and is being developed on a cooperative plan at prices that would have been regarded extremely low during the darkest days of the depression, when business was at a standstill.  The colony is located just outside the city limits at 50th Ave NE and East 65th Street and each plot of ground always will command an unobstructed view.

7520-57th-place-ne-back-patio-built-1958

The View Ridge house built in 1958 at 7520 57th Place NE typifies Pacific Northwest Modernist architecture.  The house “has its back turned” to the street and all emphasis is on private family spaces and a connection with the outdoors, including windows to see the view of Lake Washington, and an outdoor patio.

From the above news excerpt which was written by Balch & Jones and submitted to the newspaper, we see how they promoted the View Ridge development as a new, trendy residential colony for young married couples.  This strategy was probably in part due to Balch & Jones themselves being young (each was 32 years old), early in their careers and marriages.  They emphasized the “desirable home sites” but there is also a subtle reference to buyers being willing to “build under the conditions existing at View Ridge.”  New home buyers in View Ridge would have to be willing to live with some of the difficulties starting out, such as the utilities (lack of sewers, the need to have electric lines put in) and the out-of-the-city location.  Other difficulties not mentioned were that there was no bus service, no paved roads, nearby stores or schools.  By referring to the development as a “colony” and “restricted to compatible young couples,” Balch & Jones implied that young marrieds who were willing to live with a few inconveniences at first, would be making a good investment in homes and in long-term residence in View Ridge.

Balch & Jones recruited heavily from among their fraternity brothers and other young professionals.  Each time a sale was made, they arranged to have that person’s name mentioned in one of the publicity articles.  Today, most people would not like to have it advertised when they made a house purchase.  But in the 1930s the newspapers had a Society Page and printed lists of people who had attended charitable fundraisers, women’s programs, and weddings.  People enjoyed the prestige of being mentioned in a positive way and, as they were proud and excited to have a new home in View Ridge, mention in a news item on the Real Estate Page was part of the celebration.

Albert Balch built his own home in View Ridge in 1936.  Original property card photo courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives.

Albert Balch built his own home in View Ridge in 1936. Original property card photo courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives.

In his 1990 interview by reporter Casey Corr, Ralph Jones stated that his own home was the fourth house to be built in View Ridge.  The house was at 6800 50th Ave NE (torn down in 2008 and since replaced by new houses.)  Albert Balch’s house, also built in 1936, still stands at 6850 50th Ave NE.

To their credit, the two men showed by their residence in View Ridge that they stood by the integrity of their work.  Certainly if they were not planning to do a good job, they would not have come to live in the same community that they were building.  Albert Balch (1903-1976) and Ralph Jones (1903-1996) lived in their View Ridge houses for the rest of their lives. The View Ridge development expanded from the original ten acres, to a total of two hundred acres today.

To be continued: Albert Balch, Part Four: Launching out into Wedgwood.

Sources:

“Winter Building Plans are Made.” Seattle Daily Times, October 20, 1935, page 20.

“View Ridge Tract Submits Plat for First Subdivision.” Seattle Daily Times. December 2, 1935, page 18; and “First Plat Filed” (photo & caption) December 8, 1935, page 27.

“New View Home Open to Public.” Seattle Daily Times, April 26, 1936, page 47.

“A Fine Development” (interview of Ralph Jones) by O. Casey Corr, The Seattle Times, July 22, 1990, page G1.

The Albert Balch house in View Ridge as it looks today.

The Albert Balch house in View Ridge as it looks today.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer history writer for the Wedgwood neighborhood in Seattle, Washington.
This entry was posted in Balch, Houses and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Albert Balch, Part Three: Learning Real Estate in View Ridge

  1. alesiablogs says:

    Another interesting post. “colony”—how intriguing….

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