Density on Wedgwood’s Western Edge

The Seattle City Clerk’s on-line map of the Wedgwood neighborhood spells it with the extra “e.”  The northwest corner of Wedgwood adjoins Lake City Way NE between NE 85th to 95th Streets.  Wedgwood extends from NE 75th to 95th Streets and is bounded on the east by 45th Ave NE.

In the 1980s the City of Seattle began to set neighborhood “boundaries” to give Seattle residents a sense of place and of civic involvement.  Today the Seattle City Clerk’s maps of neighborhoods as listed, are still given for that purpose.

Some Wedgwood residents may not feel that the City-defined boundaries match their mental map of their neighborhood.  For that reason, few people realized that the western edge of the Wedgwood neighborhood reaches all the way over to Lake City Way NE between NE 85th to 95th Streets.  And few people were aware that until recently, there was a trailer park at the western edge of Wedgwood at 2101 NE 88th Street, adjoining Lake City Way NE.

A new townhouse development is being built on the former trailer park site in western Wedgwood, to be completed in the year 2020.  The evolution of this site from auto camp to trailer park to townhouse development, shows the changes in northeast Seattle as it is gradually becoming more urbanized over many years’ time.

The romance of the open road:  auto camping

As highway systems began to be developed in the 1920s, people got the idea of traveling by car to follow the open road.  People adapted their cars by adding beds or by towing a trailer.  Some people would set up tents and camp along the roadside.

The first building which called itself a motel was built in 1925 in California. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The concept of a motel evolved from the auto courts or tourist camps along state highways.  Out in the middle of nowhere, landholders began to set up camp sites, cabins, cafes and convenience stores to attract passing motorists.  Tourist courts or auto courts were other words used to describe a place adapted to arrival by car, where people could stay overnight.

The first known use of the word “motel” was recorded in 1925 when a new “motor hotel” in California gave itself this name.   The new motel was a permanent structure with rooms that each had an exterior entrance, with a parking space for the tourist’s car in front of each room.

My husband’s grandparents, Claude and Hallie Green, decided to hit the road after their wedding in August of 1920.  They were early car enthusiasts, they were young, and they just wanted to see “what was out there,” so they travelled from Ohio all the way to Washington State, camping along the way.  In eastern Washington they picked apples to earn a little cash, and then they continued driving westward until they came to the Pacific Ocean.  They returned home to Ohio where Claude Green got a job in an auto repair shop and spent the rest of his life working on cars.  His story illustrates the enormous impact of the car industry upon American culture and lifestyle.

Car-oriented businesses along the highway

The reverse directory of the year 1955 shows the addresses on Bothell Way NE. The Growler Guys is now at the 8500 Lake City Way NE listing.

Northeast Seattle’s Lake City Way NE is formally known as Washington State Route 522.  This route developed gradually as highways were extended more and more, and absorbed portions of earlier roads such as the Pacific Highway and Erickson Road.

Wedgwood north of NE 85th Street did not come completely into the Seattle City Limits until 1954, and the area out along Bothell Way/Lake City Way NE developed a slightly wild reputation for its out-of-the-city-limits roadhouses.  But another characteristic of this northeast Seattle area along the highway, was its rural, open-space availability to accommodate car-oriented businesses such as gas stations and auto courts.

The Seattle City Directory of 1955 was the first year which included business listings north of NE 85th Street.  Shown here is a page from the reverse directory listings beginning with 8500 Bothell Way. “Davidsen’s Furniture” on the top line is the present site of Growler Guys.  Proceeding northward on Bothell Way, at 8600 Bothell Way we see a listing for the Shady Glen Auto Court, which became the trailer park at 2101 NE 88th Street.

Also shown in these 1955 listings were other auto courts: the Pentapark Cabins at 8824 Bothell Way and Sunset Auto Court at 8911.  The listings in these few blocks in the year 1955 included other car-oriented businesses such as gas stations, repair shops, sales lots and towing services.

From auto court to trailer park

World War Two from 1941 to 1945 had a great impact upon the growth of the City of Seattle.  The population swelled with workers in war industries, not just members of the military but also workers for the building of airplanes and production of materials such as canned milk.  After the war was over, the population of Seattle continued to increase as people wanted to settle here and start new lives.  There was an extreme housing shortage and articles appeared in newspapers of military veterans sleeping outside or in cars because they could not find any place to live.

During the Seattle-area housing shortage of the 1940s and 1950s the auto courts and cabin sites were full.  Eventually these became more permanent developments with a bath/shower building, electricity running to cabins and month-to-month rental.  Military veterans who were serving out the remainder of their enlistment or who were enrolled in college wanted an inexpensive and temporary place to live, as they were not sure where they would go next.

The Shady Glen Auto Court at 8600 Bothell Way likely wanted to change its name for two reasons.  The word “shady” had acquired an unsavory connotation referring to the roadhouses along Bothell Way, and the Auto Court had become a more permanent settlement.  The name University Trailer Park was chosen to indicate either that there was convenient access to the University of Washington, or perhaps imply that some of the trailer court residents were serious university students??  Of course this is only speculation on my part.

Over time the owners of the University Trailer Park did not develop the site with cabins or a motel.  They permitted residents to set down trailers or modular homes, with the last being brought in during the 1970s.  As of 1970 the name of this section of the highway within the Seattle City Limits, was changed from Bothell Way to Lake City Way NE.  Access to University Trailer Park was moved to NE 88th Street and the address became 2101 NE 88th Street.

From trailer park to townhouses

The badly deteriorated trailers could not be moved.  University Trailer Park residents had to find somewhere else to live.  They were assisted by relocation services.

By the year 2015 the elderly owners of the University Trailer Park knew that they would have to sell, as their children did not want to continue managing the site.  The owners sought to sell to a developer who would work with them on gradually moving the residents out to other housing.  The deadline for the residents of the trailer park to move out, was June 2017.

At the start of the relocation process there were 63 occupied trailers in University Trailer Park.   A relocation specialist worked with each individual or family to assist them with their search for another place to live.  State law RCW 59.18.440 specifies relocation assistance for low-income tenants.  Seattle’s Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance added some money to the basic state level and Seattle City Council allocated money in the budget for relocation assistance to the residents of University Trailer Park.

NK Architects presentation at a Design Review Board meeting

The developer of the new townhouse project is Intracorp.  They hired Nicholson Kovalchick Architects to design the townhouses.  The beginning of the application process took place on April 11, 2016, when the plan was presented at the Northeast Area Design Review Board meeting.  Design Review meetings are open to the public and I attended to see the presentations for the trailer-park-to-townhouses project.

At this first meeting, two architects from NK presented the proposed site layout of the project and enumerated each corresponding requirement of the City of Seattle’s design guidelines.  Topics which were covered in the first design presentation were how the townhouse buildings would be arranged on the site, the “circulation pattern” for residents through the site, and location of parking spaces.  

Plans for the new townhouse development were updated over three presentations at the Northeast Seattle Design Review Board.

The single entrance to the townhouse complex will be from NE 88th Street (top right corner of the drawing.)  At present there are no curbs or sidewalks on that stretch of NE 88th Street.   As part of the townhouse development a sidewalk and street trees will be put in along NE 88th Street and there will be a paved driveway into the townhouse complex.  Mailboxes are shown on the above diagram, on the driveway just inside the entrance, with five parking spaces intended for the residents’ convenience in stopping to check their mail.  There are 18 more guest parking spaces at the southern edge of the complex, shown at the bottom of the page.  The site will have 87 townhouses clustered in 18 buildings.  There are 115 garage parking spaces for residents, because some of the townhouses have one-car and some have two-car garages.

Two more presentations to the Northeast Seattle Design Review Board (November 2016 and March 2017) included what the townhouses will actually look like as to floor plans, building materials, and roof lines.  Other topics covered were the arrangement of open spaces and walking paths, tree replacement, and a lighting plan.  All plans were finalized after the updates and presentation to the Design Review Board in March 2017 and the design report can be seen on the website of NK Architects.

From groceries to growth

Looking north from NE 85th Street, we see the former grocery store building now occupied by Two Cranes Aikido. At right is a micro-apartments building. In the foreground, the former parking lot of the grocery store will have a six-story retail and apartment complex.

In the year 2006 the Two Cranes Aikido martial arts and fitness studio moved into the former Maple Leaf Superfoods grocery store building at 8512 20th Ave NE, in the block just south of the trailer-park-to-townhouses development.

For more than sixty years since the grocery store was built in 1954, there has been a vast parking lot on its south side along NE 85th Street, just across 20th Ave NE from the present Growler Guys.  Now, like the trailer park which was once in an outside-the-city-limits area with a lot of space, the former grocery store parking lot is succumbing to pressures of density and demand for housing in Seattle.  Plans are for a six-story building on the corner of NE 85th Street and 20th Ave NE, with underground parking, retail at the sidewalk level and apartments of various sizes in the building.

The formerly rural edges of western Wedgwood along the highway which became Lake City Way NE, containing auto courts and roadhouses, now typifies the growth of Seattle with urban housing forms of townhouses and apartments.

The proposed six-story development at 8500 20th Ave NE.


About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer history writer for neighborhood history in Seattle, Washington.
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