In March 1945 during the final battles of World War Two in Europe, a homesick soldier wrote a letter to the Seattle Daily Times newspaper. Lieutenant Ralph A. Penington, age 34, was with the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Italy. He told that after crawling into his sleeping bag one night, he had been able to drift off to happy dreams while reminiscing about his boyhood days as a newspaper carrier in northeast Seattle. Lieut. Penington wrote,
“It was twenty-five years ago this coming fall that I first started “in business” out in Morningside. At that time I was nine years of age and I believe I had the grand circulation of fifteen papers. Then as time went on I promoted Times circulation in Sand Point, LaVilla, Chelsea, Lake City, Cedar Park, Riviera and way points.”
In 1920 when nine-year-old Ralph became a newspaper carrier, his family lived at 9404 25th Ave NE in the Morningside Heights plat from NE 90th to 95th Streets, 25th to 35th Avenues NE. Morningside had been named and promoted by a real estate firm but the Morningside designation gradually fell into disuse in the 1940s because of the rising popularity of Wedgwood as the new name for the neighborhood.
Ralph Penington’s letter of 1945 gave the names of northeast Seattle communities which are still recognized today, such as Sand Point, Lake City, and Cedar Park as well as Riviera which is a street name along Lake Washington. Chelsea was the name of a store at 3400 NE 110th Street, present site of the Meadowbrook Apartments, and in the 1920s it was understood to mean the nearby residential area as well. Chelsea was replaced by the name Meadowbrook because of the golf course which opened in 1932 at the present site of Nathan Hale High School at NE 110th Street.
One of Lieut. Penington’s northeast Seattle neighborhood designations, LaVilla, is unfamiliar to us now. Where was LaVilla?
Where are you, LaVilla?
A neighborhood designation which has fallen into disuse is the name LaVilla, although it can still be found on the King County property records for northeast Seattle along Lake Washington from NE 95th to 105th Streets. On the map shown here, the name “LaVilla” seems to be floating out into the lake by Matthews Beach. A humorous article in the Seattle Times newspaper in 2010 told that although LaVilla is marked on the property map, even Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods does not have LaVilla listed as a known place.
In this blog post I will float a theory about the origin of the LaVilla designation, and I will ask you, my readers, to decide whether my conclusion holds water.
Naming the neighborhoods
Many of the names of northeast Seattle neighborhoods such as Morningside, Laurelhurst, View Ridge and Wedgwood, were the creation of real estate promoters. Some of their ideas for neighborhood names came from natural features such as Cedar Park (cedar trees) and Meadowbrook (a meadow and a brook). Some neighborhoods were named in tribute to other places (such as Ravenna, Italy) or for a person’s home town.
O. M. Merritt who had the Pontiac Shingle Mill near today’s Sand Point, was from Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac was strengthened as a place name in northeast Seattle when Thomas Burke set up a brick-making plant near Merritt’s shingle mill. With these two industries plus the Lee Shipyard, in the 1890s there were enough people in residence at Pontiac to justify the establishment of a post office, the mark of Pontiac’s becoming a “real place.” There is even a Pontiac plat in Wedgwood because the land investor thought the Pontiac name close to Lake Washington would attribute its name to most of northeast Seattle at that time.
Sometimes a neighborhood or town name is derived from a family name such as Bothell. A more unusual choice is to use a person’s first name, as was done when developer E. S. Goodwin named Hawthorne Hills, because he had bought the land from Hawthorne K. Dent. Goodwin chose a commemorative name, Victory Heights, for an area he platted just after World War One.
Another unusual name source is recorded for the town of La Conner, about 75 miles north of Seattle. A man had the town named in honor of his wife, Louisa Ann Conner, with the contraction of “La” for her initials.
We can measure “LaVilla” against the above naming options. Could LaVilla be a reference to a place or a person? There is a LaVilla neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida, but I did not find any connection to Seattle’s LaVilla. LaVilla can be a surname and although uncommon, LaVilla can also be a woman’s first name.
Another meaning of “villa” is a luxurious house, a country home for the upper class. In ancient Roman architecture a villa was a house in the hills where the owners could escape from summer heat. Today the term “villa” is not used as much, but in the early 1900s the word was used in real estate ads for a summer home or country cottage. An Internet search shows that today, some hotels, restaurants and spas are called Villa, implying a relaxing place of refuge.
Maple Leaf before LaVilla
McKee’s 1894 map of Seattle shows the branches of Thornton Creek which converge at Meadowbrook and then empty into Lake Washington at Matthew’s Beach, and the map shows the line of the railroad which followed the shore of Lake Washington.
Founded in 1885, the winding course of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad was marked by stops at the little communities of Ross, Fremont, Latona, Ravenna and Yesler (today’s Laurelhurst). As the train line turned northward, there was a station at Keith (Hawthorne Hills) and at Pontiac (Sand Point).
On average the stations of the SLS&E Railroad were located about one-and-one-quarter miles apart. These stations were a place to pick up or deliver passengers, mail, freight and products such as lumber from the mill at Yesler or shingles and bricks from the factories at Pontiac. After Pontiac which was located at about NE 70th Street, the next railroad stop to the north is marked on McKee’s map as Maple (or Maple Leaf) Saw Mill at NE 100th Street on the shoreline of Lake Washington.
The Maple Leaf Lumber and Manufacturing Company was listed in the Seattle City Directories from 1890 through 1892. The company had a downtown office but there was also a notation that their sawmill and dock were located on Lake Washington. Stewart H. Seelye, vice president of the company, was listed in residence at Maple Leaf Station on Lake Washington and that he was also the mate of the steamer ship Edith.
With both a train stop and a dock at the site for shipping out lumber, the Maple Leaf Saw Mill did well, at least for a few years. It is typical for sawmills to be short-lived, because after all of the trees within easy reach have been cut down, the sawmill operation must move to another location.
Thus it was that the abandoned buildings at the Maple Leaf Saw Mill became the first Maple Leaf School, attended by the children of two German immigrant families, the Fischers and the Ohlands. This 1898 photo of the schoolchildren was taken by their teacher, Howard A. Hanson, who later became a well-known Seattle attorney and civic activist. The Howard Hanson Dam at Eagle Gorge was named in honor of his work for flood control.
The sawmill site was not the best location for a school and classes were conducted there for only a few years. The children later attended Yesler School on NE 47th Street near Laurelhurst, before coming back to their own street again, NE 105th Street in a school which was built for them and other neighborhood children. The two-room school building at the southeast corner of NE 105th Street on 35th Ave NE was officially named Maple Leaf. The land plat around that corner was developed as Wilson’s Exposition Heights.
After the Maple Leaf Lumber Company sawmill listings in the Seattle city directories in the early 1890s, no railroad station at NE 100th was listed until LaVilla was shown as the new name in 1916. The “gap” in listings from 1892 until 1916, could mean that the station did not have a name or that it was not being used. Because of the time lag until LaVilla appears in other records, I concluded that the name did not have to do with anyone from the Maple Leaf Lumber Company in the 1890s.
The earliest reference to LaVilla is on the census of the year 1910. Five families, some of them related to one another, are shown on the census of 1910 with the notation of living at LaVilla. There were no women named LaVilla in the group or any other connection to the name. At that time, there were no house numbers in northeast Seattle, so for the census of 1910 LaVilla could have been a reference to the nearby railroad stop or to the dock at about NE 100th Street on Lake Washington. Tracing these families and others through property records shows that LaVilla came to mean the area from NE 95th Street to about 100th or 105th, not always right on the lake shore but nearby.
The LaVilla Dock
The earliest newspaper reference to LaVilla was a classified ad which appeared in the Seattle Daily Times on May 28, 1911: “Bay mare, seven years old, weight 1,100 pounds, sound and true; also spring wagon and harness; all for $95. Take steamer City of Bothell or Harrington to Lavilla Dock, walk one block south. George F. Petersen.”
In an ad on January 8, 1916, Mr. Petersen again had livestock for sale including “two fine young cows.” The Seattle City Directory for that year listed George F. Petersen as a carpenter living at LaVilla Station (near the railroad depot) with his wife Amelia.
By 1920 there were more houses in northeast Seattle near Lake Washington with people listing LaVilla as their address. In 1926 the names of people called for jury duty were printed in the newspaper and the list included Mary L. Hammond of LaVilla Station.
Mrs. Hammond and her husband Frank had built their house at LaVilla in 1918 and were still there when house numbers were assigned in northeast Seattle (about 1932), and then their address became 10020 Lake Shore Blvd. Frank Hammond, an attorney, was involved in northeast Seattle’s bus company lawsuit beginning in 1937.
The LaVilla Dairy
The LaVilla Dairy building is at 10228 Fischer Place NE, just east of Lake City Way NE. In the 1920s local farmer August Fischer was phasing out of the dairy business but his forward-looking son-in-law, Ole Blindheim, envisioned a pasteurization plant and delivery of milk by motor vehicles instead of horse-drawn wagons. Ole Blindheim had chosen the name LaVilla while in business with his cousin Ole Lowell, with the name LaVilla Dairy marked on their wagon as pictured here in about 1916. This preceded the building shown below, which Ole Blindheim also named LaVilla.
LaVilla was the name of the railroad stop and dock known to Ole Blindheim, and as an immigrant from Norway, he may have wanted a business name which showed that he was now part of the local neighborhood scene. When Ole Blindheim built the brick building as a pasteurization plant, he named it the LaVilla Dairy, even though it was not located on Lake Washington by the railroad stop. Today there is also a LaVilla Meadows Natural Area behind the dairy building on Fischer Place, property which Ole Blindheim’s son Al sold to the City of Seattle in 1993 as an Open Space Acquisition.
LaVilla’s real estate promoters
In 1906 the Seaboard Security Company filed a plat called Lake Shore View for the land from NE 95th to 105th Streets next to Lake Washington. To file a plat means to acquire ownership of a piece of land, give it a name and lay out a plan for streets and for residential lots. The names of principals of the company were given to streets, such as Mead Street for F. F. Mead, and McLaughlin Street since Seaboard Security Company had worked with the McLaughlins to create Laurelhurst.
As they had done with Laurelhurst, the Seaboard real estate developers wanted an attractive name for their plat and they came up with “Lake Shore View.” On the plat map the pre-existing train depot is marked at McLaughlin Street (NE 100th) next to Lake Washington, but with no station name written.
On April 26, 1906, the Seaboard Security Company began to advertise vacant lots for sale in their new Lake Shore View plat in northeast Seattle. The first newspaper ad read,
“LAKE SHORE VIEW VILLA TRACTS: MAKE MONEY by investing your monthly income in the HIGHEST CLASS SUMMER HOME property on the WEST SHORE at Lake Washington. Right in line of the growth of the city, with the finest boat service on the lake. Bound to increase very rapidly in value….Fine beach and view. Close in; just north of the University……”
After having named their new plat “Lake Shore View,” the Seaboard Security realtors seemed to have second thoughts because thereafter, the area was referred to as “Villa Tracts,” and then LaVilla. That the LaVilla name became more commonly used, can be seen on the census of 1910, city directory listings of residents at LaVilla Station and newspaper ads like the ones put in by George F. Petersen, seller of livestock.
LaVilla: a fine view
Even though LaVilla was technically not the name of the plat of land, gradually the LaVilla name took over and became recognized. This is probably due in large part to the railroad stop and to the dock at the same site. As of 1906 when Seaboard began advertising, there was literally no way to get to the property via a road. The only sense in which there was a road, was the cleared path of the right-of-way alongside the railroad tracks.
Despite Seaboard’s claim that LaVilla was “just north of the University,” it actually was more than five miles and was far outside the Seattle City Limits. Sand Point Way NE and Lake City Way NE had not yet been put through, and there was no electricity or city water supply available in northeast Seattle outside the City Limits.
Seaboard advertised that LaVilla had a “fine beach and view.” The good view would have been due to the removal of all trees by the Maple Leaf Lumber Company some years before, so that as a result no large trees had yet grown up to block the views of Lake Washington.
It is very likely that Seaboard arranged to repair and improve the old Maple Leaf dock so that potential purchasers could be brought by boat up Lake Washington to see the possibilities for summer homes at LaVilla. It is also probable that a sign was posted to help boats find the dock, and that may be how the property name got shortened from “Lake Shore View Villa Tracts” to Lake Villa and then LaVilla – the original name being too long to fit on a sign at the dock. We also know that the next train stop to the north of LaVilla was called Lake. Platted in the same year, 1906, the Lake City developers put up their sign at their railroad stop, so they might have had some competition with LaVilla as to the use of the word lake, and they wanted to distinguish the two developments.
Seattle, a city of booms and busts, had some real estate men who only stayed around for a short time and then went on to other cities. After coming from Detroit and spending about twelve years in Seattle, the McLaughlins of Laurelhurst moved to Cleveland and became well-known in the real estate community of that city. So too, in time the Seaboard Security Company ended its operations in Seattle. The last mention of the Seaboard company was in 1914 when Mr. Mead took all of his remaining Laurelhurst holdings plus some other properties, exchanged them for holdings in Los Angeles, and moved there.
Into the 1920s Seattle’s LaVilla was understood as a place of summer homes and was advertised as such by other real estate companies, after Seaboard was gone. LaVilla was becoming more accessible due to the influence of the then-new Naval Air Station. The presence of the station led to the development of roads, such as Sand Point Way NE, which made it easier to travel out to LaVilla. George F. Petersen, seller of livestock who also listed himself as a carpenter at LaVilla, may have been kept busy building summer cottages for the wealthy.
In July 1921, an item on the society page of the newspaper read, “Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Doyle and three daughters have removed to their country home LaVilla on Lake Washington for the remainder of the summer.” Mr. Doyle, foreman at Washington Iron Works, had a fine home at 1219 Sixteenth Ave East on Capitol Hill, just east of Volunteer Park. Well-to-do people of the 1920s believed it was healthful to get out of the city and “remove to a country home” for a few weeks in the summertime. With its romantic associations of getting-back-to-nature, LaVilla seemed to have had good name presence, as it was given as the summer home of the Doyle family without any further explanation of where “LaVilla” was.
What’s in a neighborhood name?
There are many instances of neighborhood names in northeast Seattle which gradually transitioned to something else. The name of the village of Brooklyn, for example, platted and designated by a real estate developer, passed into disuse and became the University District. For the residents of the Lake Shore View plat from NE 95th to 105th Streets near Sand Point Way NE, the plat name did not capture the imagination as much as the concept of a villa did, and that may be the key reason for becoming LaVilla. Like the ancient Romans who built hillside villas for respite from summer heat, LaVilla on the hillside above Lake Washington had the association of a place of relaxation and health, especially as a community of summer cottages.
Today, LaVilla has become just a name which floats forlornly on the King County property map because LaVilla has lost its moorings to the railroad station and the dock. People no longer travel through northeast Seattle by train to the LaVilla Station, and there is no LaVilla dock or any small steamers carrying people and products around Lake Washington. Other neighborhood names in the area such as Matthews Beach and Sand Point have risen into greater recognition, and the name of LaVilla has drifted into forgetfulness.
Ralph A. Penington, newspaper carrier of the 1920s in northeast Seattle, survived to the end of World War Two in 1945 and was decorated for meritorious service with the 10th Mountain Division. He continued to serve in the military until he retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and he then started a second career as a college professor.
Descendants of the Fischer-Blindheim family owned the LaVilla Dairy Building at 10228 Fischer Place NE until 2019 when it was put up for sale.
Special thanks to David B. Williams, GeologyWriter, for starting me out in pursuit of LaVilla. Mr. Williams’ book on Seattle’s regrading projects, Too High and Too Steep, was launched on September 9, 2015. He has also co-written, with Jennifer Ott of HistoryLink, a history of the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. His next book will be about Puget Sound.
Lake Washington Steamboats and Ferries, Wikipedia article.