In the 1940s and 1950s the neighborhoods of northeast Seattle grew rapidly, with housing developments filling up what had been semi-rural areas which were still outside the city limits. Some people resisted the process of being absorbed into the City of Seattle, but eventually, district by district, sections and voting precincts voted themselves into the city. The annexation process placed the north city limits where it is today, at 145th Street from Puget Sound all the way over to Lake Washington.
“Wedgwood” was first used in 1941 by Albert Balch as a plat name for a housing development from NE 80th to 85th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE. This forty-acre tract of houses in similar scale and harmonious styles (with New England-style Cape Cod detailing) was a huge success.
After the end of World War Two in 1945, many war veterans got married and were able to buy a Wedgwood house with a GI loan, the government assistance program for veterans.
After the war, young couples flocked to the Wedgwood development to establish homes and start new lives, hoping to leave behind the hardships and deprivations of the war years. Into the 1950s Balch acquired more tracts of land near the first Wedgwood plat, and he did more well-planned, attractive streets and groups of houses on both sides of 35th Ave NE. The neighborhood was gradually “becoming Wedgwood” by taking its identity from the orderly and charming Balch housing developments.
Businesses become Wedgwood
As of about 1945 the name “Wedgwood” began to catch on in the growing business district along 35th Ave NE at the intersection of NE 85th Street.
In 1946 Mr. Henry R. Hansen, who owned the tavern previously called Hansen’s, built a new building at the corner of NE 85th Street. The new building enclosed the tavern which was approximately in mid-block, and added storefronts. Then Mr. Hansen renamed it the Wedgwood Tavern.
Telephone directories of 1945-1946 (available at the downtown Seattle Public Library) show that the Wedgwood Tavern (now the Wedgwood Ale House) was the first business to adopt the name taken from Albert Balch’s Wedgwood housing development. Prior to the 1940s the tavern had been the only commercial structure at the intersection and the neighborhood had no definite name.
In the 1940s and 1950s the new Wedgwood storefront building had several small businesses including McVicar Hardware. Today the building at 8507 35th Ave NE has several studios and shops, with the Wedgwood Ale House on the north end of the building at 8517 35th Ave NE. North of that, in 1955 the Wedgewood Pharmacy building took up the rest of the space to the corner of NE 86th Street. That space is now a brick bank building constructed in 1972.
The community organizes around development issues
While homeowners and businesses on the west side of 35th Ave NE were “becoming Wedgwood” in the 1940s, residents on the east side of 35th Ave NE were becoming disgruntled at their lack of representation. To deal with specific east-of-35th issues, community organizer Fred Kane of 8008 39th Ave NE founded the Eastwood Community Club in March 1946. His house was in the Eastwood plat which was named by another landowner, not Albert Balch, but many of the houses on Fred Kane’s street were built by Balch.
In the years 1947 to 1950 the Eastwood Community Club kept up a steady barrage of letters, petitions and legal actions to Seattle City Council on development and land use issues. These records can be found listed on the website of the Seattle Municipal Archives though the contents of the files are not on-line. The documents are on microfiche and can be read in the research room on the third floor of City Hall in downtown Seattle.
One of the first organized efforts of the Eastwood Community Club was to try to prevent the Oneida Gardens apartment complex from being built (today called Wedgewood Estates.)
File #195181 of August 1, 1947 in the Seattle Municipal Archives contains a letter from Eastwood CC protesting the closing of 38th Ave NE between NE 75th to 77th Streets. The protest was meant to prevent the creation of a bigger block for the apartment complex.
The apartment complex developers (Carroll, Hillman & Hedlund) had filed a “street vacation” request with the City, an application to have 38th Ave NE closed off. The design was for Oneida Gardens to have buildings around the perimeter, 37th to 39th Avenues NE, with a central commons for parking areas and a children’s playground. Eastwood CC wanted the neighborhood to have only single-family homes, not apartments, so they hoped to stop the development plan, but the City of Seattle did approve it and the apartment complex was built.
In 1949-1950 Eastwood CC engaged in a fight with the City of Seattle on behalf of homeowners on the west side of 35th Ave NE in the State Park plat. State Park is from NE 75th to 80th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE.
In the busy post-World-War-Two years the City of Seattle was trying to keep up with population growth and put in needed streets, water and sewer lines. The State Park plat had become part of the City of Seattle as of March 1945, an annexation which included only Wedgwood south of NE 85th Street (see area 23, Sonora Precinct, on the annexation map.)
After annexation, residents along 30th and 31st Avenues NE between NE 75th to 80th Streets disputed with the City about property lines. There were discrepancies in the original survey of the State Park plat (of how the streets were laid out) and the City seemed to want to reposition the streets and the water main connections.
In September 1949 Mr. C.T. Webster of 7536 31st Ave NE complained that the Engineering Department had started chopping into his front yard in order to realign the street, so he appealed to the Eastwood Community Club for help.
The Club hired an attorney whose letters are preserved in file #204500 at the Municipal Archives, protesting that the City Engineering Department was cutting into existing property owners’ yards. Eastwood CC won this dispute. The City Attorney ruled that although the original survey was in error, it was too late to try to realign the streets.
In a different dispute in the State Park plat, the 1956 case of the House in the Road, the City won the right to require that the house be removed so that NE 80th Street could be properly put through, but the City had to pay a condemnation fee to the property owner to get rid of the house.
Wedgwood becomes part of the City of Seattle in the 1950s
By the 1950s residents of Wedgwood north of NE 85th Street could see that they, too, would soon become part of the City of Seattle. “North Wedgwood” came into Seattle in 1953 (area 37 on the annexation map.) Finally as of January 4, 1954, Lake City and all areas out to 145th Street were annexed (see HistoryLink Essay #7514.) This set the north limits of Seattle where they are today, at NE 145th Street.
A school defines the neighborhood
In September 1953 Wedgwood School opened three weeks late while portables were installed for classrooms and plans for a permanent building begun. The school was officially named Wedgwood in April 1954, even though there were still only portables and no building. The choosing of the name “Wedgwood School” seemed to confirm and finalize the use of the name Wedgwood for the whole neighborhood. By that time there were also many businesses and churches named Wedgwood.
The Community Club defines itself
By 1953 the Eastwood Community Club had made peace with the west side residents of Wedgwood and they merged into one organization, called the Wedgwood District Community Club. Official bylaws were written that year though the neighborhood boundaries were still somewhat in question. In the excerpt below, the first paragraph is from the 1953 bylaws and lists areas of inclusion by plat names, rather than specific streets. The second paragraph (in boldface type) is the proposed amendment of November 1956 as printed in the Wedgwood Echo Community Club newsletter for that month.
The original 1953 bylaws (top paragraph) spoke rather vaguely of “all Wedgwood Additions” and did not specifically mention all the areas which we now think of as Wedgwood, from NE 75th to 95th Streets.
The 1953 list includes only one plat, Pontiac, which is north of NE 85th Street (beginning at the present site of Rite-Aid at the northeast corner of 85th & 35th, the Pontiac plat goes up to NE 95th Street.) The list does not include other old plats in Wedgwood which are on the west side of 35th Ave NE: Mary J. Chandler, Nevins & Park, Earl J. McLaughlin, and Morningside Heights.
The 1953 list tends toward plats between NE 75th to 80th Streets, including State Park on the west side of 35th Ave NE and Oneida Gardens on the east side. The list even includes the View Ridge Park plat which is south of NE 75th Street. The reason for this may be that in the 1940s the Eastwood Club had joined forces with residents across NE 75th Street in the View Ridge Park plat to oppose apartment buildings, get rid of Navy-owned housing (pictured at left) and oppose the development of 40th Ave NE as an arterial street.
In November 1956 the proposed amendment, with specifically-stated neighborhood boundaries, appeared in the Wedgwood Echo newsletter, to be voted on that month at a Wedgwood Community Club membership meeting. In the proposed amendment the Wedgwood area was defined almost as we consider it today, from NE 75th to 95th Streets; however the northeast corner from NE 90th to 95th Streets was omitted. This may be because it was inaccessible (in the Maple Creek ravine) or because part of the ravine area is in a plat called Matthews Sand Point Garden Tracts, so perhaps it was considered a part of Matthews Beach or Sand Point.
It is likely that the coalescing of Wedgwood’s neighborhood identity in the 1950s was most influenced by the setting of school attendance boundaries. Once Wedgwood got its own school which drew its attendance from NE 75th to 95th Streets, people naturally thought of these streets as the boundaries of the neighborhood, as well.
Another defining event was the request in June 1956 from the Wedgewood Rock Community Club to be absorbed into the main Wedgwood group. The Wedgewood Rock plat is from NE 70th to 75th Streets, 25th to 30th Avenues NE.
The letter of request from the Rock group caused the Wedgwood Community Club to look at its bylaws, including membership definitions, and draw the lines at specific streets.
While somewhat arbitrary, boundaries definitions give neighborhoods a sense of place and the desire to get involved in community action to influence future development. Here is a link to the City of Seattle map of neighborhoods and their boundaries.
For further reference:
Annexation info on Seattle Municipal Archives. From this map page there is a link to the list of dates of annexations. On the right margin of the page is a list of annexed cities such as Ravenna, and a link to just the north Seattle portion of the map with dates of annexation.
Voting precincts: Before the era of voting by mail throughout Washington State, people would vote on-person at the polling place for their precinct. Sometimes the name of the precinct reflected an already existing name for the neighborhood.
These voting precincts were the ones, area by area, which voted yes or no on joining in to become part of the City of Seattle. Here is a link to the list of dates that the areas came into the city. The list of dates corresponds with the areas as shown on the annexation map.
#2214: Seattle doubles in size by annexing north-of-downtown communities May 3, 1891.
#3315: City of Seattle annexes Town of Ravenna on January 15, 1907.
#1954: City of Seattle annexes six towns in 1907.
#7514: Seattle annexes the area north of 85th Street to 145th Street, effective on January 4, 1954.
In my travels, more than once, the name of a tavern has told me what little town I am in. And of course we had a tavern before a school of our own :). Great post! Love learning how Seattle grew up.
I like your rock. Sounds like everyone wants to claim it.
I’m glad you caught the humor in my little neighborhood joke about the Wedgwood Rock actually being “over the line” in the next neighborhood, Ravenna. The Rock is supposedly a glacial erratic, carried here in the Ice Age and blah, blah, blah….but we know that really, God dropped the Rock for our wonderment and enjoyment.