On February 17, 2015, the hundred-year-old Big Green House at 7321 35th Ave NE came to the end of its lifespan and to me, it felt like the death of a friend.
The Big Green House was like an eccentric, misunderstood person, perceived by some as spooky because of the way the house loomed up over the surrounding business district. In getting to know it, I found the Big Green House to be more like an elderly person with long-held memories of bygone days.
The Big Green House was clothed in the architectural preferences of long ago, and will now be replaced by the newest design trend in commercial districts in Seattle: townhouse buildings with live-work units at the sidewalk level.
Getting to know the Big Green House
My efforts to get to know the Big Green House began in 2007 and was aided by librarians, genealogists, property research experts, architectural historians and archivists of many resources around Seattle. The adventure was launched with the help of Powerful Librarians at the downtown Seattle Public Library.
Librarians of the History & Genealogy Department on the 9th floor, and the Seattle Room on the 10th floor, showed me how to trace the immigration story of the original owner of the Big Green House, William Voss, and spurred me on to continue the search for William Voss and his house, through other available resources.
With the encouragement of these librarians, I made my next research inquiry at the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue, repository of the property records of King County. There I was bitten by the bug for research when I had the thrill of seeing original records, including property tax lists with William Voss’s signature, indicating ownership of the site of the house as of 1910. Archivists at the PSRA patiently taught me how to trace property ownership in King County from the earliest homestead claims on through the tax and court records which are kept at the PSRA in climate-controlled vaults.
Some northeast Seattle neighborhood residents wondered if the Big Green House could be considered eligible for preservation because the house was one of a very few hundred-year-old houses in the Wedgwood area. In 2008 this line of inquiry led me to learn about the City of Seattle’s Historic Preservation program. I attended Landmarks Board meetings to hear the nominations and what the criteria were, for historic preservation.
In 2009 I participated as a volunteer in a survey of residential housing in Fremont, which was a free education for me in Seattle history and architecture. None of this would have happened without the hunt for the history of the Big Green House, which introduced me to Seattle librarians, archivists, researchers and preservationists.
The effort to know and understand the Big Green House led me to do more reading in Seattle history so as to learn about the setting of the house in its times. What was happening in Seattle in the early 1900s and why would a person like William Voss come here?
A breakthrough came in 2009 when it became possible to search the historic Seattle Times newspapers on-line via the Seattle Public Library website. From that newspaper search I discovered the Voss family’s connection to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) in Seattle in 1909. William Voss’s wife Ida had a sister, Pauline, whose husband H.B. Hardt came to Seattle to be one of the exhibit managers at the AYPE. Afterward the two couples, the Hardts and Vosses, stayed in Seattle for the rest of their lives.
A symbol of “progress”
The Big Green House carried the memories of these residents of Wedgwood of very early years, and told the story of a neighborhood which was a rural area outside of the city limits until the 1950s.
The demise of the Big Green House symbolizes the new era of the commercial district along 35th Ave NE with new architectural forms and the growing pains of becoming more and more citified with denser styles of housing.
The Future of 35th Ave NE
In coming years the small storefronts built in the 1940s along 35th Ave NE may be replaced with taller townhouse structures. Townhouses have none of the romance of the Big Green House but the lives of the people of Wedgwood, no matter what kind of housing they live in, will form the story of the neighborhood in coming years.
The Future of 35th Project, a grant-funded neighborhood planning effort, was completed in 2014 and was presented to the Land Use Committee of City Council in February 2015. As of today we see that the work of community volunteers in planning and in asking City Council for better zoning in the commercial district along 35th Avenue NE, has been all for naught. What was wanted was appropriate zoning in Wedgwood’s commercial district to have storefronts instead of townhouses. City Council has been completely unresponsive to requests to support the business district along 35th Avenue NE.
In the year 2018 another grass-roots effort has arisen called Save 35th Ave NE, to protest the removal of streetside parking in Wedgwood’s business district. We see that City of Seattle departments work against one another: while the City supposedly has an effort to support small businesses, the transportation department is destroying the business environment. The zoning, which should have been adjusted by City Council and by the City’s construction and planning department, has never been addressed. In the Wedgwood business district it is more profitable for developers to build dense clusters of townhouses as pictured below, rather than preserving the storefronts along 35th Avenue NE.