All of the Wedgwood neighborhood came into the Seattle City Limits in 1954, and then all of Wedgwood’s businesses were listed in the Seattle City Directories. The business listings are a fascinating look at the economics and lifestyle of the 1950s.
By way of contrast, a listing of the present-day businesses along 35th Ave NE shows the changes in economic conditions in Wedgwood over the decades and changes in the types of goods and services which are wanted. The business listings are different now, but the buildings themselves are much the same, dating from the 1940s and 1950s during Wedgwood’s period of growth and development.
The arterial 35th Ave NE is the main business corridor through northeast Seattle, connecting at NE 125th Street with the Lake City neighborhood. For my purposes in this blog post, I will list the businesses along 35th Ave NE from south to north, beginning at the intersection of NE 65th Street and continuing up to NE 95th Street.
In the 1950s Wedgwood certainly had a “car culture.” In the year 1958 on 35th Ave NE between NE 65th to 95th Streets there were thirteen gas stations. At present in the year 2016, there are only two gas stations.
There was no such thing as a Starbuck’s, a yoga studio or a tanning salon in Wedgwood in 1958 nor were there any commercial banks. Today there are seven banks in Wedgwood and some other kinds of businesses, particularly hair salons and dental offices, are plentiful.
Let’s cruise up 35th Ave NE and remember the businesses as of 1958. Perhaps our (imaginary) car has 1950s tail fins?
Listed here are the businesses of 1958 with notes on the present buildings and businesses at each address. Keep in mind that the odd-numbered addresses such as 6501 are on your left (west side of the street) and the even-numbered addresses such as 6500 are on your right (east side of the street.)
Intersection of NE 65th Street
In 1958 three corners of this intersection had gas stations, with the northeast corner, 6500 35th Ave NE, having a new apartment building built in 1957. The gas station corners were:
6257: (southwest corner of the intersection) Pete’s Sav Mor Service Station. It is now the site of the Crestvue Apartments built in 1966.
6501: (northwest corner of the intersection) Jones Richfield Service Station; there is now a apartment building with offices at sidewalk level, built in 1998.
6256: (southeast corner of the intersection): Cline’s Service and Auto Repair; now the site of the Wedgewood Food Market, built in 1976.
Intersection of NE 68th Street
Probably because this intersection is “midway” between the grid of 65th and 70th, the corner was not subject to the profusion of gas stations in 1958. The Theodora Home at the southwest corner (6559 35th Ave NE) has been on-site since 1910 in a series of buildings, the present one built in 1965. On the northwest corner at 6801 35th Ave NE is the Northeast Branch Library which opened in 1954.
On the east side of the NE 68th Street intersection is the University Unitarian Church which was able to acquire a large vacant lot and build in 1957. These three buildings, the Theodora, the Northeast Branch Library, and the University Unitarian Church were all designed by well-known architects of Pacific Northwest Modernism. The library and the Theodora building have been “landmarked” under the City of Seattle’s historic preservation program. Landmarking does not restrict the type of use of a building, so the Theodora was converted to a “regular” apartment building and an addition built on the south side.
The building at 6800 35th Ave NE (northeast corner of the intersection) has the most unusual history and changes of use of any in Wedgwood. It started out in 1955 as View Ridge Brethren Church.
After only about five years the building was purchased by University Unitarian Church and was remodeled for their classroom and meeting space. UUC next sold the building to Congregation Beth Shalom to be remodeled into a synagogue.
Intersection of NE 70th Street
In 1958 the southeast corner of the intersection had a small grocery and butcher shop, Al’s Market Meats and Petersen’s Super Cash Market. In 1962 these buildings were torn down and a new medical-dental office building went in at 6858 35th Ave NE. The Northeast Professional Building was designed by Gene Zema, a well-known architect of the Modernist era.
The other three corners of this NE 70th Street intersection all had gas stations in 1958. Two of the buildings still stand and have retained the old-time gas station drive-up canopy. The former Wilson & James Texaco at 7000 35th Ave NE, built in 1949, is now the Northeast Cleaners. Si’s Flying A Gas Station at 6855 35th Ave NE, built in 1951, is now Top Pot Doughnut.
At 7001 35th Ave NE there was Ed’s Signal Service Gas Station. It was torn down to build the Grateful Bread Cafe and Bakery in 1969.
The 7300 block
From the 1950s to the present, this block, which once had mostly single-family homes, has been the site of creeping commercialization with lack of an overall harmonious design. The block has a jumble of different types of business buildings, some apartments and townhouses.
One of the last holdouts, a homeowner who refused to sell, was the owner of the Big Green House at 7321 35th Ave NE. By 1958 the house stood towering above commercial development on both sides. The owner lived in the house until he died in 2001, and then the site was acquired and held by a developer.
Finally in 2015 the Big Green House was torn down and townhouses were built in its place. This type of uncontrolled, patchwork development was the subject of the Future of 35th Project, a land use and planning initiative. The Wedgwood Community Council and nearby community councils advocate to have zoning adjusted to create a more walkable and lively retail district.
Here are some of the then-and-now buildings on this block:
The Messiah Lutheran Church at 7050 35th Ave NE was built in 1950. Next to it on its north side there was a Standard Gas Station. The original gas station was torn down and rebuilt in 1996 as the Chevron Food Mart (gas and convenience store) which is now one of the only two gas stations in Wedgwood.
7303 to 7317 35th Ave NE: originally there were houses on this site, then in the 1960s a Herfy’s Burgers, then a Godfather’s Pizza. The present complex of storefronts was built in 2005 and includes Starbucks, Key Bank and orangetheory fitness studio.
7329 to 7345 35th Ave NE: In 1958 these storefronts were Custom Cleaners, Why Knot Cafe, Ginsberg & Pysson Appliances, Jean’s Children’s Shop, and View Ridge Hardware. Today the stores are Sunshine Cleaners, a yoga studio, nail salon, hair salon and dental office. Wedgwood of the 1950s had many small shops including cafes, clothing, housewares and appliances. Today, many of the stores in the neighborhood are national chain stores such as Rite-Aid, and some of the smaller businesses offer services which did not exist in 1958 in Wedgwood such as yoga classes, tanning salons and exercise studios.
Along with the reduction in the number of gas stations, there used to be more drycleaning shops in and around Wedgwood. Now there is only one, Sunshine Cleaners. This may be do to changes in clothing since the 1950s with more easy-care fabrics.
Intersection of NE 75th Street
As of the end of World War Two in 1945 there were no buildings at any of the corners of this intersection which, along with NE 85th Street, is today one of the major commercial districts of Wedgwood. Set slightly north of the northeast corner was Ida’s Inn, originally built as a small grocery and converted to a tavern after the end of Prohibition in 1934. The square outline of the original Ida’s Inn building can be seen above the “storefront system” added on in 1950.
The tavern business had come to a sudden end in 1948 when the proprietor, Ida Ihrig, had a stroke and died. The tavern building was acquired by a Wedgwood resident who remodeled and added the present storefronts onto the Ida’s Inn building. In 1958 the shops were (listed from south to north): MacLennan’s women’s clothing; Frosty Shop Ice Cream; Binek’s Electric Bakery; June Kraemer’s Wedgewood Beauty Shop; Wedgwood Shoe Repair. Today, the businesses are: I Love Bento; Fox Chiropractic; Edward Jones Investments; Rainglow Airbrush Tanning; and United Health Care Insurance.
The next building to the north of the former Ida’s Inn was McGillivray’s Variety and Gift Store, built in 1955. The store was one of the most beloved in Wedgwood for its variety, the willingness of the owners to do special orders for customers, and that the store owners were Wedgwood residents. When the owners retired in 1974 the building was sold to Washington Mutual Savings Bank.
Safeway at the southeast corner of the NE 75th Street intersection is the largest store in that commercial district and is one of the earliest. The Wedgwood Safeway opened in 1951 and has operated continuously since then.
On the west side of the intersection, the storefront building at 7501 to 7507 was also built in the years immediately following World War Two. Prior to that time the site was vacant, held by long-time investor Mr. Cook.
In 1958 the building tenants were Eastwood Pharmacy, Wren’s Grocery & Delicatessen, and Thomander’s Barber & Beauty Salon. The pharmacy, at first called Eastwood and then View Ridge Pharmacy, was one of the longest-running businesses in the neighborhood but eventually it, too, succumbed to economic changes such as competition with chain-store pharmacies. Today the former pharmacy space is occupied by a preschool and childcare. The other storefronts of the building have a barber and a coin shop.
In 1958 the southwest corner of the NE 75th Street intersection had a gas station, Lisherness Shell Service Gas. It was torn down and in 1988 a storefront was built. Today its tenants are a Chinese restaurant, a dentist, hair salon, caterer and Subway sandwich shop.
Mid-block issues from NE 77th to 80th Streets
In 1958 the present site of the Wedgwood Post Office and the adjacent Hunter Tree Farm were occupied by the Herkenrath house and the Wedgwood Gardens plant nursery business. The site became the center of a zoning controversy in 1958 when a corporation sought to buy the property and build a grocery store complex. The February 1958 ruling of the City Planning Commission was that stores should be clustered at the major intersections of Wedgwood, such as at NE 75th and 85th Streets, and for that reason the Planning Commission denied the petition to rezone for commercial development at this mid-block site.
The Herkenrath family eventually moved their house to 8004 36th Ave NE and the former site of their house at 7714 35th Ave NE was sold to the post office. Today the Hunter Tree Farm owns the lot at 7744 and Wedgwood Presbyterian owns the lot at the corner of NE 80th — referred to in the neighborhood as the Grassy Lot. Part of the site is used for church parking and they have no plans for further development. This open space in Wedgwood is a wonderful community amenity.
Balch’s business complex
Albert Balch is the developer who is considered the “father” of Wedgwood because his first plat, filed July 31, 1941, eventually gave its name to the entire neighborhood. In the 1940s and 1950s there was still an enormous amount of vacant land in what would become the Wedgwood neighborhood. In addition to building houses on large tracts of vacant land, Balch acquired property in what today is the commercial district of Wedgwood.
The Morningside Presbyterian Church acquired a site at 8008 35th Ave NE, built a new building in 1951 and changed their name to Wedgwood Presbyterian. Balch acquired the rest of the lots on that side of the block up to NE 82nd Street. He built an office for himself which today is the Seattle Audubon Society Office & Nature shop at 8050 35th Ave NE.
Next to Balch’s former corporate office building (now Seattle Audubon Society office) is a row of medical and dental offices built in 1951 by Balch so that the Wedgwood neighborhood would have a place for these services. Balch took one office at 8044 for his real estate outlet called Crawford & Conover. Today the C-shaped sign is still used by the present businesses.
The Intersection of NE 85th Street
Beginning in the 1920s the northwest corner of the NE 85th Street intersection was occupied by the Shauer family with their house, a gas station and a small grocery. As of the 1929 economic crash called the Great Depression, the businesses struggled. The gas station closed and the grocery was turned into a feed store, reflecting that during the economic downturn, many people went “back to basics,” raising chickens and keeping vegetable gardens to sustain themselves.
In late 1933 as Prohibition was ending, Mr. Shauer opened a cafe and sold three-two beer, so called because it was only 3.2% alcohol. But incredibly Mr. Shauer gave up on his property in what would later become the heart of Wedgwood, because of the purchase of nearby property by the Jesuits of Seattle University. The Jesuits had originally planned to move Seattle University to 35th Ave NE between NE 80th to 85th Streets, just south of Mr. Shauer’s block. Mr. Shauer thought his block would no longer be a good business environment because of the planned university campus. For this reason the Shauer family moved away.
After World War Two a later owner, Mr. Hansen, built the present storefront building in the 8501 block which enclosed the already-existing tavern and could house other businesses. As of 1958 the businesses were Wedgewood Cleaners, McVicar Hardware, and the Wedgwood Tavern. Today the building at 8501-8515 holds a dance studio (All That Dance), a small storefront space for a childrens & dancewear shop, and the Wedgwood Ale House.
On the north corner of the block where Shauer’s house once stood, Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy was built in 1958. The pharmacy was torn down in 1972 for the present brick bank building.
In 1958 Albert Balch owned the other three corners of the intersection at NE 85th Street and he had begun to lease them to commercial entities. There was one gas station, the Wedgewood Texaco, at 8425 35th Ave NE, present site of the Bank of America building.
At the northeast corner in 1958 there was a Tradewell grocery store, present site of Rite-Aid. The next year, Tradewell moved across to the southeast side of the intersection, into a new building which is the present QFC grocery. The other store buildings on the site next to QFC were not built until much later, and now include the Wedgwood Broiler restaurant, a nail salon, hair salon, insurance office, coffee shop and Homestreet Bank.
At NE 86th Street: east side
Balch’s acquisition and development of the NE 85th Street intersection and the building of houses on both sides of 35th Ave NE in the 1950s, caused this intersection to become the main commercial district of Wedgwood. Business development spread a little to the north as well, with another major grocery store, the IGA, at 8606 35th Ave NE. In the 1940s and 1950s there were the two grocery stores next to one another with the Tradewell at the present site of Rite-Aid, then moving to the present site of QFC in 1959.
The IGA building became Evan’s Thriftway and then Matthews Red Apple, and finally in 1989 Matthews Red Apple moved into the present QFC building so that there was only one grocery store in Wedgwood’s NE 85th Street commercial district.
The consolidation of grocery stores shows the power of larger chain corporations as well as the greater willingness of Wedgwoodians to drive farther distances to shop, rather than patronizing neighborhood stores. Wedgwoodians today still complain about the lack of small, locally-owned businesses but the fact is that many of these have failed due to lack of customers or the greater power of national chain stores.
Two of the greatest land use and business district crises in the history of Wedgwood have had to do with grocery stores and their buildings. In 1999 the Matthews Red Apple at 8400 35th Ave NE lost its lease as the property owner elected to have QFC Grocery come in. This set off protest demonstrations as Wedgwoodians felt the loss of yet another locally-owned business. QFC prevailed, but the experience heightened community awareness of potential changes in the commercial environment.
In 2007 the old, worn-out IGA building at 8606 35th Ave NE was left standing empty after another group moved out and the owner sold the site to developers. The project stalled during the economic downturn of 2008 but eventually a new building was completed as the Jasper Apartments in 2012.
The Jasper was the first four-story structure to be built in the heart of Wedgwood’s commercial district. It has “live-work” units at the sidewalk but these are not the same as retail stores. The experience of not being able to influence this development led directly to activists of the Wedgwood Community Council initiating land use awareness and engaging directly with the City of Seattle development guidelines. That process continues today with the Future of 35th goals.
At NE 86th Street: west side
At NE 86th Street in 1958, on the west side of the street at 8605 there was another gas station, Miller & McInnis. The site later became an electrical substation called Morningside, with equipment on the half of the property farthest away from 35th Ave NE. At the front of the lot closest to the sidewalk, from 1968 to 2013 a modular building had a ground lease from Seattle City Light. The building was leased for office space and in the building’s final years it was a hair salon. In 2013 the site was acquired by the Seattle Parks Department and it has been land-banked for future development as a pocket park. In 2015 the Wedgwood Community Council applied for Department of Neighborhoods grant funding to create a usable space for gathering, called the Picnic Place.
Next to the former gas station and now pocket park site, in 1958 the storefront spaces at 8611 35th Ave NE were Russell’s Barber Shop, Adams Insurance Agency, Jennie Oakvik’s Wedgwood Cafe, A&M Cleaners, and Glazell Electric Contractors.
The 8611 building is owned by the grandson of the original owner. Today the 8611 building has an accountant’s office, a hair salon, laundromat, Javasti Cafe, and still has the Adams Insurance Agency, one of the longest-running businesses in continuous operation in Wedgwood. Javasti Cafe has expanded into two spaces in the building, showing the popularity of this coffee shop. Many Wedgwoodians feel strongly about patronizing local businesses like Javasti instead of national chains. Still, there is a big contrast with the neighborhood building listings of 1958 which showed a lot more small shops and cafes in Wedgwood in those years, and specialty businesses such as the two pharmacies (View Ridge and Bud Gagnon’s Wedgewood Pharmacy.)
North Wedgwood to NE 95th Street
In 1958 there were three gas stations at the intersection of NE 95th Street with the veterinary clinic on the fourth corner.
The reasons why this intersection never really grew into a commercial district are discussed in greater detail in another article on this blog. Some of the reasons were the lack of population density in that area to support businesses. Also, after Wedgwood came into the Seattle City Limits in 1954, zoning regulations prevented the spread of businesses between major intersections. Today the Morningside Market (1926) and Fiddler’s Inn Tavern (1934) remain the only businesses in the expanse of blocks between NE 86th to 95th Streets on 35th Ave NE.
Changes and not much has changed
There certainly are contrasts between the Wedgwood business district of 1958 and that of today in the types of businesses. However, the physical environment and number of commercial buildings is almost the same. Few new commercial structures have been built in Wedgwood since the 1950s. This warns us of the increasing likelihood of changes as buildings wear out and are replaced. As Wedgwoodians learned with construction of the Jasper Apartment (completed 2012) we need City requirements as to the forms of new commercial buildings and the interaction at sidewalk level.
One of the main purposes of the Future of 35th Project in Wedgwood has been to get ahead of potential changes by creating zoning regulations for the commercial intersections. The asked-for zoning would require retail at the ground floor of new buildings at the intersections of NE 75th and 85th Streets. The needed ventilation and other mechanical equipment to accommodate coffee shops and restaurants would be required. It is cheaper for developers NOT to do this, and as a result the Jasper Apartment building has not fulfilled the community’s desire for food and coffee venues, and other gathering places.
The City of Seattle still has not acted upon Wedgwood’s Future of 35th zoning request which was presented to them in February 2015. One of the saddest potential changes from the standpoint of architectural values, is the loss of one of the medical-dental buildings built in the early 1950s by Balch. The building at mid-block, 8038 35th Ave NE, was torn down on September 27, 2016. The site is now being redeveloped in a manner inconsistent with surrounding buildings and the style of Wedgwood.
The 8038 building was in a row with others of similar size, scale and setback from the street. It is being replaced with a radically different form of building, townhouses, which will stick out in appearance and will not be in harmony with Balch’s original row of 1951 buildings. This might not have happened if City Council had acted on the Future of 35th zoning requests in a timely manner.
As of this writing in 2017, Seattle City Council is still grandstanding on other issues which have nothing to do with the needs of neighborhoods. The present City Council has not given attention to neighborhood needs such as the zoning request which would prevent unwanted townhouse developments in the Wedgwood business corridor.
Gas stations: many stations closed in the early 1970s during a period of economic slump in Seattle called the Boeing Bust, which in turn was caused in part by the Mideast Oil Embargo. The population of Seattle decreased at that time which caused some businesses to fail due to insufficient customers. The fewer number of gas stations today, also has to do with cars themselves and their increased fuel efficiency. Seattle historian Rob Ketcherside describes the gas stations of Capitol Hill in this blog post. Mr. Ketcherside has also written about Tradewell and Pay ‘n Save stores.
The Future of 35th Project, completed in January 2015, surveyed the business environment of Wedgwood. As part of this grant-funded project, it was found that Wedgwood is susceptible to chain stores and banks which are on a different business model than stores and restaurants. There is a need to make Wedgwood more walkable with retail stores clustered closely together in storefronts, for them to succeed.