The Blue House at 2316 NE 85th Street in Wedgwood is vacant and its future is uncertain. Today in Wedgwood there are many sites where old houses are being torn down and new ones built in their place. At some sites which are zoned multiple-residency or commercial, single-family homes are being replaced by townhouses or apartments, and perhaps the Blue House will fall to that fate.
Just around the corner from Wedgwood Rock, a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house at 7022 29th Ave NE, built in 1950, was demolished in April 2015 and a three-story structure is being built in its place.
Whether a house is sixty-five years old like the original house in that Wedgwood Rock plat, or one-hundred years old like the Blue House at 2316 NE 85th Street, the pressure of development has caused a new-construction boom in Wedgwood.
Some houses on residential streets, like the one at Wedgwood Rock, are being replaced by much larger single-family homes. In some instances such as that of the Big Green House, the site is now in a commercial or multiple-use zone and the former single-family home can be replaced by a townhouse structure or apartments.
In past times, especially in the 1950s, some older houses were considered to be still-usable and moving a house to a new location was done several times in Wedgwood.
Moving around Wedgwood
At the end of World War Two in 1945, Wedgwood in northeast Seattle began to grow, take form and acquire its name as a neighborhood.
Enormous tracts of vacant land were still available in the future-Wedgwood in the 1940s and were acquired by builder Albert Balch whose plat name, Wedgwood, eventually caught on as the name of the neighborhood. The post-war community of young married couples caused businesses, seeking a customer base, to be attracted to Wedgwood, and during the period of 1946 to 1961 Wedgwood’s commercial district took shape along 35th Avenue NE.
During the post-war growth period in Wedgwood there were several times when an old house became surrounded by newly-created business buildings, and sometimes the old house was literally “in the way.” One example of house-moving was Mr. Cook’s house which had been built in 1920. It faced NE 75th Street nearest to the corner of 35th Ave NE.
When Mr. Cook sold the corner-of-NE 75th property in 1946 for commercial development, builder Marinus Halffman built the storefront building, originally a pharmacy, now occupied by Blossoming Buds Child Care at 7501 35th Ave NE. Finally, after Mr. Cook had his house moved in 1948, another section was added onto the back of the pharmacy building.
In 1955 the McGillivray family built a very successful store at 7512 35th Ave NE (now the Chase Bank building) and they soon realized that they needed more parking for customers. Next door to the north of McGillivray’s was an old house which they bought and had moved to 7308 38th Ave NE, so that the space could become a larger parking lot for their store.
Into the early 1960s the neighborhood struggled with zoning issues about how 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood would develop. A grocery store corporation wanted to put in a new shopping complex mid-block at the present site of the Wedgwood Post Office and the Hunter Tree Farm at 7744 35th Ave NE. This site had been a plant nursery business with the property still owned by the Herkenrath family. Finally when the zoning request for a grocery store was denied by the Seattle City Planning Commission in 1958, the site was sold to other entities. The post office acquired 1/3 of the property and the Herkenrath house was moved from that site, northward half a block to 8004 36th Ave NE.
There are two examples that I know of, of houses which were moved to Wedgwood from other neighborhoods. One house now at 8921 25th Place NE came from 5816 5th Ave NE in the University District. The house was moved because it was in the path of the freeway which was being built in 1959, and the owners wanted to preserve the house and continue to live in it.
A house in the Roosevelt District along 15th Ave NE at Lake City Way NE, was crowded out by commercial development on that street and came to rest in Wedgwood in 1958. The Blue House, built in 1914, was moved to 2316 NE 85th Street in a quiet area just to the east of Lake City Way NE.
A family builds a house
In the year 1909 Seattle’s world’s fair event, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition on the campus of the University of Washington, attracted nation-wide attention. Some visitors came to Seattle only to attend the fair but others came in search of jobs and a new start in a new city, Seattle, which seemed full of new prospects.
In 1909 a broken-hearted young man, Jay Holman, arrived in Seattle from Colorado. At age 26 he had already been widowed and he went back to living as a single man again in one of Seattle’s many boarding houses. Holman obtained a good job as a Seattle fireman, and within three years he was enfolded into a new life with a new family in Seattle.
Jay Holman’s job description was pipeman, the firefighter who is on the nozzle attacking the fire, and thus the closest to the heat and flames. Jay Holman’s courage and presence of mind gained him the respect and liking of his Seattle Fire Department workmates. He was invited to spend time at the home of fellow fireman Charles Aitken, where Holman soon fell in love with Charles’ sixteen-year-old sister Jennie. The couple waited until Jennie turned eighteen and they married in December 1911.
Jennie’s parents had moved to the growing residential area just northeast of Green Lake, and Jennie’s brother Charles Aitken and his new wife did the same. Jay and Jennie Holman found a site near Jennie’s family members where they could build a new house at 8041 16th Ave NE. The location was east of the Fairview real estate development where there was a fine new elementary school on Roosevelt Way NE at NE 78th Street.
The original construction permit for Jay and Jennie Holman’s new house is dated February 6, 1913. It gives the description, “build a 1 ½ story residence 26 by 36 feet,” with the address 8041 16th Ave NE in the Green Lake Reservoir plat. J.W. Holman was listed as the homeowner, and the builder of the house was C. Jacobson who lived only a block away at 8224 16th Ave NE.
The Holman’s house was completed in early 1914 and they began to fill the house with children. By 1920 two Holman boys and a girl played along 16th Ave NE with other neighborhood children and they all walked westward across NE 80th Street to attend Fairview Elementary School. But Jay and Jennie Holman were becoming uneasy about their house’s location because of the busy streets with car traffic and the encroaching commercial district.
Car ownership had increased exponentially since the year 1900: by 1920, there were 186,827 cars and trucks in the state of Washington. Because so many more people owned cars, more new roads were demanded. Unexpectedly, by 1920 the site of the Holman’s house was uncomfortably close to the planned new Victory Way Highway which would cut diagonally across the north end of their block, heading in a northeast direction toward Lake City and continuing on out to Bothell.
The Holmans decided to move their house southward on the same block, building a new foundation and basement for the house at the corner of NE 80th Street facing 15th Ave NE. The house-moving permit which Jay Holman applied for on October 2, 1920 said the new address would be 8008 15th Ave NE.
Rapid urban growth continued around the Holman’s re-positioned house. More commercial buildings were going in on that block and 15th Ave NE was widened. After only ten years’ occupancy, in 1924 the Holmans gave up on their house and moved their family, now numbering five children, to a quieter neighborhood on Woodlawn Avenue at Green Lake.
New commercial development, new roads and more population
A high school teacher, Patrick Murphy, bought the Holman’s house in 1924 and lived in it for the next thirty-five years, glad of the convenient location. From the house facing 15th Ave NE the Murphys had ease of travel and access to stores along the newly created Victory Way NE, which cut across the block’s northern end (later renamed Lake City Way NE.)
In 1924 to 1926 new commercial buildings were going up all around on that block, including a grocery and pharmacy at 8014 15th Ave NE, which today is the site of the Ravenleaf Pub as of July 2016. The Ravenleaf replaced the Hudson, pictured here.
On the Ravenleaf block, surrounding buildings all built in the same period, 1924 to 1926, include Pagliacci Pizza, Cafe Kopi, All the Best Pet Care and Mr. Villa Mexican Restaurant.
The Blue House gets moved again
As of 1958 the next owner of the Blue House made plans to move the house again. Gene Merlino, member of a well-known Italian family in Seattle, was owner of a chain of gas stations. He saw that the site of the Blue House at 8008 15th Ave NE, adjacent to other businesses and to busy Lake City Way NE, was already zoned commercial and would be an excellent location for a gas station. In the 1940s and 1950s it was still common to move houses rather than tear them down. In Wedgwood, the McGillivrays had a house moved when they wanted to expand the parking lot next to their store. Similarly, because Gene Merlino wanted the site of the Blue House for a gas station, he arranged to have the Blue House moved from 8008 15th Ave NE to another residential lot.
In 1958 the Blue House was moved to 2316 NE 85th Street, just east of busy Lake City Way NE, and then Gene Merlino sold the house to another owner. The Blue House became the Rogers Retirement Home, with the Rogers family living next door in house number 2312.
After only five years the Rogers were gone, and the Blue House was listed in the phone book as the Mary Ellen Retirement and Rest Home, with David & Mary Ellen James living next door in house 2312. Barely another five years went by and then the Jameses were gone, too, with the Blue House listed as an apartment building as of 1969.
Years of heavy use have gone by with the Blue House cut up into individual rooms. Most of its block is now zoned multiple-residence instead of single family, and townhouses are being built on the north side of the block along NE 86th Street, where another old house was torn down.
The strange journey of the Blue House, now one hundred years old, may come to an end with demolition, unless the current owner still values the house and decides to restore it.
As of February 2017 the Blue House is boarded up and fenced. However, there are no construction permits on file which would indicate either fixing-up or tearing-down.
Biographical/genealogical info: Ancestry.com; Washington Digital Archives; old city directories accessed at the 9th floor History Department, Seattle Public Library, downtown Seattle.
Business ownership change: The site of the Hudson, pictured below, is now the Ravenleaf.
Construction permits: Microfilm library of the Department of Planning and Land Use, Municipal Tower/20th floor, 700 5th Avenue, Seattle.
Property history: Original records at the Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue. The property card for the Blue House shows all three of its addresses and the dates of moving.