In early years before the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle acquired its identity, it did not have a commercial center on 35th Ave NE at NE 85th Street as it does today.
In the 1920s there was much more residential development near the NE 95th Street intersection. In the 1930s local businessmen opened stores on 35th Ave NE at NE 95th Street where they thought a commercial district would thrive.
Today, there isn’t much “going on” at NE 95th Street and the heart of Wedgwood is found at the NE 85th Street intersection, instead. This blog post will explore the reasons why.
Morningside and Maple Leaf
In the 1920s a residential community had formed around the intersection of NE 95th Street on 35th Ave NE, which today is considered the northern boundary of the Wedgwood neighborhood. In the 1920s at NE 95th Street the neighborhood name “Morningside” was sometimes used because of the Morningside Heights plat at the southwest corner of the intersection.
The Morningside Heights residential plat was promoted and advertised by real estate developers, the Burwell & Morford Company, who were the first to do a planned development in what is now the Wedgwood neighborhood. The Burwell & Morford Company did not build the Morningside Heights houses themselves, but they gave a free set of house plans to purchasers of lots, which tended to encourage the construction of attractive Craftsman-style homes. That is the reason why there are more older homes in the Craftsman style in the northwest quadrant of Wedgwood closest to NE 95th Street.
Capitalizing on the name familiarity and the population growth in the Morningside Heights development, the Morningside Market opened at 9118 35th Ave NE in 1926. It had two sections, a small grocery and a butcher shop space which today is occupied by the La Pasta store.
In that same time period of 1926 the first church group to be organized in the neighborhood, the Morningside Sunday School Union, started a building at 9505 35th Ave NE, present site of the Northeast Veterinary Clinic.
Another name identifier near NE 95th Street was “Maple Leaf” because of the school at 3212 NE 100th Street. Maple Leaf School had a strong foundation of community support because it had been organized as an independent school district in about 1910, and a fine new brick building had opened in 1926.
In the 1920s and 1930s enterprising neighborhood businessmen thought that the NE 95th Street intersection would become a commercial district accessed by the growing residential areas. The population was increasing especially in the Morningside Heights development. As of 1926 the newly built Maple Leaf School building on NE 100th Street was attracting residents who wanted to live near a school for their children.
NE 95th Street is put through to Sand Point Way NE
In the 1920s and 1930s neighborhood residents were optimistic that NE 95th Street would become a major east-west through-street connecting to the new Victory Way (Lake City Way NE) and to the new Sand Point Way NE. It was believed that traffic to and from the new Sand Point Naval Air Station would travel along NE 95th Street. This belief was boosted in 1931 when King County awarded paving contracts for NE 95th which had been only a dirt road, so that it became an official east-west paved arterial. (Source: Seattle Times article of March 17, 1931, page 15, noting that a paving contract for NE 95th Street was awarded to the Fiorito Brothers.)
It is very likely that Walt Haines observed the growth of the Morningside residential district and the anticipation of increased traffic on NE 95th Street, and that is why he decided to locate his new tavern, the Fiddler’s Inn, near to the intersection.
The Fiddler’s Inn opened in 1934 and became a successful neighborhood gathering place. Walt Haines had been a musical performer in theaters and dance bands, and he made evenings lively at the Fiddlers Inn with music and sing-alongs. Walt built the tavern himself with two rooms on the back where he and his little daughter Gerry lived.
Anticipating that car traffic would zoom through the NE 95th Street intersection as soon as the road was arterialized and paved, in 1932 the William Faulds family opened a grocery and gas station at 9500 35th Ave NE, present site of Johnson’s Spirit Gas Station. There has been a gas station continuously at this corner since 1932, although the buildings have been torn down and rebuilt several times.
The next-door barber shop at 9516 35th Ave NE was built in 1939. When the corner gas station was expanded in 1964, the barber shop building was shifted slightly farther to the north. Now known as the 95th Street Barber, in the 1950s the two businesses which shared the building were listed in the phone book as Johnnie’s Barber Shop and the Maple Leaf Beauty Salon. (Update: On October 3, 2016, there was a fire in the barber shop building at 9516 35th Ave NE. After standing vacant for a year, as of October 2017 the building re-opened.)
Faulds Corner Grocery and Gas Station opened at an inopportune time in 1932, just when the economic impact of the stock market crash was beginning to be felt, setting off the Great Depression which caused people to cut back on spending. The first thing to go, was automobile use and instead of increased car traffic on NE 95th, there was less.
Faulds Corner Grocery operated for about fifteen years and then closed in 1947. Probably the final blow to the business was competition with the big new IGA Supermarket which had opened in 1946, located ten blocks to the south near the NE 85th Street intersection, in what was rapidly becoming the Wedgwood business district.
Economic trends of the 1950s
The concept of a supermarket grew gradually and really came into its own in the 1950s, tied partly to the increase in car travel, as well as new methods of packaging and refrigeration of foods. In earlier years grocery stores were small and usually did not have many fresh items. Meat was sold separately and that is why the Morningside Market was built with two halves, with a butcher shop on one side. That side of the building is now being used by La Pasta, a producer of fresh pasta and sauces.
Earlier in the 1900s, grocery stores did not have medicines, cosmetics or other health-related products; these were sold exclusively by pharmacies. For about twelve years beginning in 1940, the NE 95th Street intersection had a small pharmacy located just east of the Faulds Grocery. Bloomer’s Drugstore at 3506 NE 95th Street was operated by Andy Bloomer and it had a soda fountain. The Bloomer family lived in a house behind the storefront.
Drugstores and soda fountains in American history
The history of the American soda fountain is an interesting one as it is inextricably tied to drugstores. Some of the reasons may be that medicines would go down more easily in a flavored drink or an ice cream soda. In an era before packaged medicines, many remedies were dispensed by a pharmacist in individual doses. Pepto-Bismol, one of the first non-prescription medicines to be sold under a brand name, was sold to pharmacists in a huge tub and they would give a customer a single dose, washed down with a carbonated drink from the soda fountain. Soda fountains were part of the drugstore experience and became enormously popular as social gathering places during Prohibition (1916 to 1934) when there were no taverns.
In the early 1900s pharmacists had a monopoly on both prescription and non-prescription drugs such as aspirin, until the 1950s when federal legislation defined categories of drugs which needed a prescription and those which could be sold “over the counter.” From that point, pharmacies began to lose their grip on the dispensation of medicines. Supermarkets were eager to sell health & beauty items and non-prescription medicines like aspirin, because the profit margin on these products was higher than on food.
By the end of the 1950s there were far fewer stand-alone pharmacies because consumers preferred the one-stop-shopping of buying products in supermarkets. Car use continually increased so that Wedgwood-area residents were becoming two-car families, with housewives driving to stores which had parking lots.
The site of Andy Bloomer’s Drugstore had included his house, and it was torn down to build the present Cascade View apartment building at 3506 NE 95th Street and the church building at 3524 NE 95th Street (originally built in 1954 as Maple Leaf Baptist Church.)
Car use shapes the development of the business district
Following the wartime rationing and restrictions of the 1940s, the 1950s was a period of economic prosperity in the USA with a resurgence of car use. In the 1950s the NE 95th Street intersection had gas stations on three corners. Wight’s Richfield Service Station went in where Faulds Corner Grocery had been at 9500 35th Ave NE, and is now the Spirit Gas Station. In earlier years there was George’s Garage Auto Repairing at that northeast side of the intersection between Faulds and the Bloomer’s house on NE 95th Street.
Clif’s Chevron Gas Station was at 9425 35th Ave NE, present site of the Morningside Heights Apartments at the southwest corner of the intersection.
The southeast corner at 9418 35th Ave NE became Bill’s Union Service Station. From 1989 to the present, the southeast corner site is Johnson’s Auto Repair. As of 2015 Johnson’s is also leasing the Spirit Gas Station on the northeast corner, in order to have more space for their work.
The fourth corner of the NE 95th Street intersection became the office of a veterinary clinic in 1951 when they bought the site of the old Morningside Church building at 9505 35th Ave NE. The Morningside Church moved to 8008 35th Ave NE and became Wedgwood Presbyterian, showing the southward shift in the center of population and the emergence of “Wedgwood” as a neighborhood name in the 1950s.
Seattle’s economic “boom” cycle busted in the early 1970s with the Mid-East oil embargo and massive layoffs of workers at Boeing Aircraft, Seattle’s major employer at that time. The population of Seattle decreased and once again, as they had during the economic depression of the 1930s, gas stations went out of business. The station at the northeast corner of NE 95th Street survived (today’s Spirit Gas Station) but the other two closed. One corner became Johnson’s Auto Repair in 1989.
In 1994 a new apartment building at the southwest corner of the NE 95th Street intersection was named Morningside Heights in tribute to the old plat name. The building has storefronts which are often vacant as this commercial area has low foot traffic and is not attractive to shoppers.
The growth of the NE 85th Street intersection
Today the NE 85th Street intersection on 35th Ave NE is the heart of the Wedgwood neighborhood. Extending for two blocks around the intersection are banks, a national-chain drugstore, a grocery store, and smaller, locally-owned coffee shops, hair salons, offices, a tavern and a restaurant. It is hard to imagine a time when this commercial zone did not exist, and yet up until the 1940s and 1950s, three of the corners of the NE 85th Street intersection were empty lots with no buildings.
The northwest corner of the 85th Street intersection is the site of the Wedgwood Ale House at 8515 35th Ave NE and Wells Fargo Bank at 8517 35th Ave NE. In the 1920s the Shauer family had their house at the present site of the bank building, and the Shauers built a small store next door. After Prohibition ended, the Shauers converted the little grocery building into a beer parlor. This was Wedgwood’s first commercial intersection but the Shauers were discouraged by the economic downturn of the 1930s, and by the sale of nearby property, Mr. Thorpe’s ginseng farm, to Seattle University. Mr. Shauer thought that the proposed school campus would not be a good business environment, so the Shauers moved away. The next owner called the property Hansen’s Tavern, ancestor of today’s Wedgwood Ale House.
The southwest corner of NE 85th Street including all of the land between 30th to 35th Avenues NE, had been owned by Charles Thorpe from 1905 to 1929. He built a log cabin, grew ginseng to sell to the Chinese herbal medicine market, and maintained an isolated life on his heavily-wooded forty acres.
In 1929 Mr. Thorpe sold his land to the Jesuits of Seattle University who intended to move the school to the site, but the financial problems of the 1930s Great Depression prevented the plan from going forward.
By 1940 it had been decided not to move the university after all, and the Jesuits sold the land to Albert Balch. Balch was the developer whose plat of houses named Wedgwood ultimately gave its name to the neighborhood.
On the east side of 35th Ave NE, the other two corners at the NE 85th Street intersection are today the site of a Rite-Aid store, a QFC grocery, a complex of other stores, the Wedgwood Broiler restaurant and the Homestreet Bank. In the early 1900s these two corner properties on the east side of 35th Ave NE, which today are Rite-Aid and QFC, had absentee owners who never developed the property, and it was left vacant until the 1950s. Well into the 1950s developer Albert Balch was using the present QFC site as a place to park his construction equipment.
Original tax assessment rolls show that the Rite-Aid site was once owned by the Kibler family in eastern Washington, but they never built anything on their Seattle property.
The present site of the QFC store was owned by Walter Fulton, an early Seattleite whose family continued to hold the property without developing it long after Mr. Fulton’s death. The QFC site was still vacant with no buildings on that corner into the 1950s. In the period after World War Two, owners of these two corner properties finally decided to sell to Albert Balch, developer of Wedgwood.
Balch promoted business development at the NE 85th Street intersection
As of 1940, the Hansen’s Tavern (forerunner of the Wedgwood Ale House) was the only business at the NE 85th Street intersection. The other three corners were empty lots, and the neighborhood still had a very rural aspect.
In the 1940s and 1950s developer Albert Balch gradually bought properties until he owned three corners of the NE 85th Street intersection. He reserved these sites for commercial development and that is how Wedgwood acquired its present business district on 35th Ave NE at the intersection of NE 85th Street.
Balch also acquired and built at some other sites along 35th Ave NE, as well, including a complex of medical-dental offices from 8010 to 8050 35th Ave NE. Although Balch was not a commercial developer, he commissioned these buildings to be done because he wanted the Wedgwood neighborhood to have a full array of businesses and services. The present Seattle Audubon Society office at 8050 35th Ave NE and the building next to it at 8044 were used by Balch as his construction and real estate offices.
Why did NE 85th Street become a more successful commercial district than NE 95th Street?
Business development began at the NE 95th Street intersection twenty years before the Wedgwood community was created, but by the 1950s NE 85th Street had become the neighborhood’s major commercial intersection. During that period the NE 95th Street intersection died down to nothing but three gas stations and a veterinary.
The reasons for the greater commercial success at NE 85th Street include housing patterns, density of population, shopping trends which included the kinds of stores and the increase in car use, and the building of contiguous businesses.
By the 1950s Albert Balch had built groups of Wedgwood houses on both sides of 35th Ave NE nearest to NE 85th Street. The NE 85th Street intersection was the closest shopping area and the businesses benefited from the large number of new residents nearby. Some of the businesses, such as McVicar Hardware, gave thought to the needs of young couples who were new homeowners. McVicar offered home improvement items and the store hosted seminars in the evenings when manufacturer’s representatives could showcase their products.
In the 1950s at NE 85th Street, the business district grew until there were many stores and every kind of convenience could be found all at one intersection, from supermarkets to hair salons, banks, and places to eat. NE 85th Street even had a drugstore, Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy which had a soda fountain.
The NE 85th Street intersection today
It is unlikely that Wedgwood will ever again see a soda fountain drugstore like Bud Gagnon’s or a locally-owned hardware store like McVicar, but Wedgwoodians still long for locally-owned businesses, cafes, coffee shops as gathering places and a walkable commercial district. What will happen to the commercial district along 35th Ave NE as buildings age and are replaced, and what kind of zoning regulations can be legislated to create a pedestrian-friendly business environment?
A wake-up call in the neighborhood was the Jasper Apartments at 8606 35th Ave NE, a project which began in 2007, stalled during the economic downturn of 2008, and then was finally completed in 2012. The Jasper was built on the site of Wedgwood’s original grocery store, the IGA, which was torn down.
The Jasper symbolized the passing of the earlier-era of stores and the beginning of new types of buildings in Wedgwood, and it became the turning point for neighborhood awareness of what can happen when new buildings do not have a “pedestrian friendly” front.
The Jasper is the first building to be built four-stories tall near Wedgwood’s commercial center of NE 85th Street on 35th Ave NE. During the process, concerned neighbors learned that the height, bulk and scale of this new building were all permissible under current city zoning regulations. A consortium of neighborhood activists then took up the subject of land use and how to have more “say” in what will be built in future years.
Advocating for a shopper-friendly commercial district
From 2010 to 2015 Wedgwood activists did two grant-funded projects to document neighborhood input and create a plan to be presented to the City of Seattle for Wedgwood’s commercial zone. The first was called the Vision Project which surveyed the neighborhood as to the types of stores and businesses desired by neighborhood residents. Building upon the foundation of the Vision Project, the Future of 35th Ave NE project worked with consultants to evaluate the zoning regulations which affected what can be built.
This zoning request of the Future of 35th project was presented to the Land Use Committee of Seattle City Council in February 2015, but was never implemented. The City seemed to have put it on the back burner while City Council elections were held that year and while the City land use planning department worked on a big-picture Comprehensive Plan for Seattle. Now we see unwanted townhouse developments being built along 35th Ave NE, something which the zoning request of the Future of 35th Project was meant to prevent.
As of 2018 all appeals to City Council to implement neighborhood plans, have been ignored by the City Councilmembers who supposedly represent Wedgwood. The most recent controversy is the City transportation’s department plan to remove streetside parking in the business district along 35th Ave NE. This plan seems to be at cross-purposes with the needs of the commercial district, so we wait to see if the plan will prevail.
Due to current zoning, there is a lack of ability for Wedgwood to restrict or control the building of townhouses instead of the commercial storefronts which are wanted by Wedgwoodians. What Wedgwoodians want is for its commercial zones to continue to have vitality, variety and accessibility, with small locally-owned businesses. To accomplish this the neighborhood must actively engage with City of Seattle regulations governing commercial development. To date, Seattle City Council has continued to ignore Wedgwood’s requests for the needed zoning changes in the business district. As a result we are seeing deterioration of the business district.