Even in the short history of the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle, there are some sites which have had multiple different buildings and uses over time. One such site is the northwest corner of NE 86th Street on 35th Ave NE, which first took on an identity in 1949 when it became the Morningside Electrical Substation.
Names for the neighborhood
Morningside was an early name for the neighborhood, before the Wedgwood housing started by Albert Balch in the 1940s. Today the Morningside Market, built in 1926 at 9118 35th Ave NE, is the only original building or business with a Morningside attribution.
Ironically the Morningside Market is on the wrong side of the street, because the origin of the Morningside name was a plat by real estate developers on the west side of 35th Avenue NE from NE 90th to 95th Streets.
The Morningside Heights plat (a development with streets and house lots laid out) was the first in the future-Wedgwood area to be advertised and promoted by a real estate company. Today the Morningside Heights apartments on the southwest corner of NE 95th Street, built in 1994, are a tribute to the plat name.
Another Morningside reference which is not actually located within the Morningside plat, is the former electrical substation site at 8605 35th Ave NE. An electrical substation was part of the distribution system which transformed voltage from high to low, providing a step-down as electricity served a local area.
The corner site at 8605 35th Ave NE, named the Morningside Substation, was acquired by the City of Seattle electric utility by or before 1949. The photo at right is Seattle Municipal Archives Item #19814 of May 25, 1947, showing that the site was of interest for placement of an electrical substation. Morningside Substation had its electrical equipment on the site until about 2012.
During the time that Seattle City Light owned the Morningside Substation, they permitted other businesses to have a ground lease to put a building at the front of the lot facing 35th Ave NE. The first was a Mobil gas station on the site from 1949 to 1968.
The gas station era in Wedgwood
The 1950s in northeast Seattle was truly an era of gas stations. Using the City Directory of 1958, we can see at least twelve stations listed along 35th Ave NE from NE 65th to 95th Streets. At present there are only two stations in that stretch of the arterial, one at 7300 and one at 9500 35th Ave NE.
The rise of gas stations was an indicator of the economy and the lifestyle of people in northeast Seattle in the 1950s. Cars were the only practical way to get around northeast Seattle and car ownership was a dream which many people wanted to fulfill after the rationing and restrictions of the war years of the 1940s. Once gasoline was no longer rationed and consumer spending increased in the 1950s, car ownership did, too.
In the post-war years many young people who were interested in mechanics aspired to work with car-related businesses, including gas stations. One such young man was Paul McInnis who became one of the “Ms” in the M & M Mobil Station at 8605 35th Ave NE in 1949.
Paul McInnis and the M & M Mobil Station
Born in Tacoma in 1921, Paul McInnis was the youngest of five children and his mother died when he was only six years old. His eldest sister, Elizabeth, who was fifteen years older than Paul, married and moved to Seattle in 1929 but she kept up close ties with her younger brothers. Elizabeth worked as an insurance adjuster and by 1940 she had helped one of her brothers, John, to find a job in the insurance industry. As of 1940 her youngest brother, Paul, was eighteen years old and was living with Elizabeth and her husband Clarence Miller in their house at 3922 Eastern Avenue in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. The census of 1940 listed Clarence Miller as the owner of a gas station and Paul McInnis as a student apprentice at an auto works.
In 1949 Clarence Miller and Paul McInnis went in together as co-owners of the M & M Mobil service station at 8605 35th Ave NE in the growing Wedgwood neighborhood. Miller & McInnis had a ground lease on the property owned by Seattle City Light at the Morningside electrical substation.
The growing Wedgwood business district in the 1950s
Miller & McInnis were on the leading edge of the growth in the Wedgwood business district in the 1950s. Wedgwood was not yet completely within the Seattle City Limits, and there was still a lot of available space, even along the arterial 35th Avenue NE.
In the 1950s the intersection of NE 85th Street and the blocks surrounding it were becoming the heart of the new Wedgwood district, largely created by a benevolent developer, Albert Balch.
Balch built housing developments on both sides of 35th Ave NE and reserved property at the arterial intersections for businesses. With new houses occupied by young couples in surrounding streets, the intersections from NE 84th to 86th began to be built up with small businesses which served the community.
The M & M Mobil service station at NE 86th did a good business through the 1950s, even though there was another gas station, the Wedgwood Texaco, only a block away. The Wedgwood Texaco was on the southwest corner of NE 85th Street, present site of Bank of America.
Many of the gas stations along 35th Ave NE began to close as the Seattle economy slowed down in the 1960s. The Seattle City Directory showed that in the 1960s Clarence Miller was no longer co-owner of the M & M station and Paul McGinnis had found it necessary to find another job; we presume that he needed more income. McGinnis became a mechanical engineer at Olympic Cold Storage on First Avenue South, and McGinnis had moved to live in south Seattle. The M & M Mobil station at 8605 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood closed in 1968 and the station building was removed from the site.
A modular building at 8605 35th Ave NE
In 1968 a modular building was placed on the corner of NE 86th Street, again with a ground lease from Seattle City Light. For many years the building was the office of Lakeview Homes Real Estate, a business owned by neighborhood resident Simon Korch. Then the C C & Co Hair Salon came in, a business which, just as previously, leased from the owner of the modular building.
In the year 2010 the Seattle Parks Department indicated that neighborhoods could begin the process to choose pocket park sites, many of which were surplused City Light substations like the one at 8605 35th Ave NE. A Wedgwood neighborhood initiative identified this site as a preferred choice for a new pocket park, meaning that it will not be a “playfield” but would have some greenery, seating areas and open space.
Over a process of several years, the Morningside electrical substation equipment was taken out, soil testing conducted and some areas of contaminated soil were removed. The owner of the modular building could not find anyone who wanted to take it and remove it from the site, so the building was finally demolished on November 26, 2013. I (Valarie) got there just in time to take photos of the demolition, which began at 7:45 AM and only took ten minutes.
After the modular building was demolished and all soil testing of the site was completed, the ownership of the lot was transferred from Seattle City Light to the Parks Department. A Parks Levy which was approved by Seattle voters in 2014 placed the Morningside Substation site into a land-banked list of parks for future development.
Wedgwood’s Picnic Place
In June 2015 Wedgwood neighborhood activists applied for a Small & Simple grant from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods, to create a usable space for gathering at 8605 35th Avenue NE. Picnic tables which were placed in the shaded area on the corner are now a popular stop for enjoying a cup of coffee and a place to sit and watch the world go by.
The site of Wedgwood’s Picnic Place, as it is now called, is on the Seattle Parks Department list for potential development as a park in 2019, but the project will not automatically be done by the Parks Department. To achieve this, neighborhood activists will again have to organize to apply for funding and create a park design.
It is a measure of changing times in Wedgwood that open space is now valued and the Morningside Substation site has been earmarked for a pocket park. In the past seventy+ years since Wedgwood began to be a neighborhood, empty spaces had all been filled up with houses and businesses. Wedgwood has gone from empty lots to gas stations and back again, to creating space in the neighborhood.
Census and newspaper articles, tracing the lives of the M & M gas station owners, accessed on-line through the Seattle Public Library website.
City directories: Directories published by the Polk Company are similar to phone books but have more information, such as the names of business owners. Beginning for the year 1938 there is also a reverse directory of addresses. Directories are available in several places including the downtown Seattle Public Library and the Seattle Municipal Archives on the third floor of Seattle City Hall. Some directories are on-line at the Seattle Public Library.
Photos: All photos on this article are by Valarie, except the property record photos as noted. If you choose to copy a photo please include the source info, such as Seattle Municipal Archives with the date and item number.
Plat names: Use the “Categories” tab on this blog to find all of the articles I have written about plat names, or put the plat name into the “Search” box to find it. Inexplicably the Morningside substation was named for the Morningside Heights plat, instead of its actual location in the Earl J. McLaughlin plat.
Property records: Past records of the King County tax assessor, including buildings which are no longer extant, are stored at the Puget Sound Regional Archives. I went there to obtain copies of the old tax assessors photo showing the Mobil gas station at 8605 35th Ave NE. Addresses of current buildings can be looked up on-line at the King County Parcel Viewer. Click through to “property detail” to see the build date and photos of a house or other building. See also my House Histories article on this blog, about other available resources.
Seattle Municipal Archives: the SMA on the third floor of Seattle City Hall is the repository of photos of City projects including Seattle City Light, streets and engineering works. The SMA photos used in this article were found on-line at the SMA using the search term “Morningside.”
Washington Digital Archives: dates of birth, death, and marriages.