The Wedgwood neighborhood of northeast Seattle has a linear business district along the arterial 35th Avenue NE, with stores clustered at the major intersections of NE 75th, 85th and 95th Streets. As the neighborhood began to take shape in the 1940s, there were one or more gas stations at each of these intersections.
Pictured at right, the Subway sandwich shop at the southwest corner of NE 75th Street & 35th Ave NE, was once the site of a gas station.
By the 1980s the number of gas stations in Wedgwood had declined sharply and they were replaced mostly by store buildings.
Wedgwood begins in the 1940s
In the 1940s and 1950s Wedgwood was a neighborhood where there was still a lot of open space. As late as 1945 there were no buildings at any of the corners of NE 75th Street on 35th Ave NE, except for the Ida’s Inn Beer Parlor located just slightly north of the intersection. The same was true of the corners of NE 85th Street where the only building was Hansen’s Tavern, present site of the Wedgwood Ale House at 8515 35th Ave NE. Both of these taverns had begun as small grocery stores in the 1920s and were converted to taverns when Prohibition ended in 1934.
The Wedgwood neighborhood took its name from a housing tract by developer Albert Balch, beginning in 1941. Within the next few years Balch acquired ownership of three corners of the intersection of NE 85th Street, and he began leasing out these lots to stores and businesses.
The four corners of NE 75th Street were not controlled by a single developer like NE 85th Street was developed by Balch, but similar development began to happen around the NE 75th Street intersection in the 1940s and 1950s as stores began to be built.
The first major new store to apply for building was the Wedgwood Safeway at the southeast corner of the NE 75th Street intersection. Planning for it began in 1946 and the store officially opened in 1951.
The Ida’s Inn Beer Parlor on the northeast side of the intersection closed in 1948, and then a new owner built the present storefronts which can accommodate four or more stores and offices.
Next to the former Ida’s Inn, in 1955 the McGillivray family built a store, present site of Chase Bank at 7512 35th Ave NE. The McGillivrays had begun their business on the northwest corner of the intersection in a storefront built in 1947, which later became known as the View Ridge Pharmacy building.
Beginning in the 1940s the southwest corner of 75th and 35th had a gas station, which was one of many established along 35th Avenue NE in that time period.
Wedgwood as a growing post-war neighborhood of young families
During the war years of 1941 to 1945, production of consumer goods had been severely restricted, as every kind of metal and other material was dedicated to the war effort. Once the war was over in 1945, factories began to re-tool to produce consumer goods such as automobiles, household appliances and construction materials for housing. There was “pent-up demand” since these items had not been available for many years. Once the war was over people wanted to have consumer products and they wanted to buy houses.
Gas stations seemed to sprout like mushrooms in the Wedgwood neighborhood of the 1940s and 1950s, which was a place of tremendous post-World-War-Two population growth. Wedgwood and the greater northeast Seattle area had available housing in the price range affordable to young couples. As people moved into northeast Seattle, businesses including gas stations were attracted to come and establish themselves to serve the growing population.
A look at the Seattle City Directory for the year 1958 shows at least twelve gas stations along 35th Avenue NE in the stretch between NE 65th to 95th Streets. Some of the other gas stations have been described on this blog in articles about Gray’s Service Station and the Morningside Station.
We may speculate on the various factors which led to so many gas stations in Wedgwood in the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the reasons may be because of the post-war increase in auto ownership, the nature of the cars themselves (gas guzzlers?), the available open space at business intersections in Wedgwood and the lack of zoning or any urban planning of commercial districts.
The gas station at the intersection of NE 75th Street
With stores being built at the other three corners of NE 75th Street, the southwest corner of NE 75th Street was the only one at that intersection which became a gas station in the 1940s.
The earliest photo of the gas station at the southwest corner of the intersection, shown below, is from the Seattle Municipal Archives and is dated June 1949. A woman who was applying for a permit to build a gas station in Ravenna took this photo of the gas station at 75th & 35th as a “comparison study.” She wanted to show that other commercial corners in nearby northeast Seattle already had gas stations and hers would be similar.
The photo below looks northwest so that in the background we see the steep grade of NE 75th Street as it descends to the intersection with 35th Avenue NE, as it still does today. The photo also shows fold marks as it apparently was placed in a business-size envelope along with the applicant’s other paperwork to be submitted to the construction permit department of the City of Seattle.
This gas station architectural style is Streamline Moderne, meaning a smooth undecorated surface with rounded corners of the building, construction materials of metal, glass and chrome, and emphasis on horizontal lines. An architectural description specific to gas stations is “ice box style”: an oblong box with a gas pump island. The station has two service bays, a flat roof, and construction of the building with white enamel steel panels. Large metal windows in the office and service areas are meant to imply openness and visibility, and showcase products in the display windows.
This Shell station on the southwest corner of NE 75th Street was of long duration, nearly forty years. It began in the 1940s as McDonald’s Shell. There was also a McDonald’s Service Station at 7215 Sand Point Way NE, which may have had the same owner, James P. McDonald who lived at 7722 Fairway Drive NE in the Sand Point Country Club.
In the 1950s the gas station at NE 75th Street was known as the Tobin & Dawson Shell Station. In the 1960s it was Lisherness Shell Service Station, and then Ev’s. In the 1970s Ken Thompson was briefly listed as owner, and then Frank E. Ferrell. The last listing in the 1980s was Dan’s View Ridge Shell Service Station (Dan Morrison).
The present building at this corner of NE 75th Street (photo below) was built in 1988 and is called “line retail” with several storefronts: Subway sandwiches, a caterer, dentist, hair salon and a Chinese restaurant.
We may guess that the former gas station at NE 75th Street went out of business due to economic pressures and because the land owner knew he could gain a bigger return with rental income from more stores. The demise of the gas station at this corner was part of the economic evolution of the Wedgwood neighborhood as it became more built-up with storefronts. Of all of the stations in Wedgwood’s Gas Station Era of the 1950s, only two remain today: one at 7300 and one at 9500 35th Ave NE.
Census and City Directory Listings: on-line and in directories available at the downtown Seattle Public Library.
Gas Station Magazine: bound volumes of this 1940s service-industry publication, are in the downtown Seattle Public Library.
Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA, is the repository of property records of King County.
Seattle Municipal Archives: Most of their photos are oriented to engineering projects and public works such as streets, electricity, etc. See my article on this blog for more info on finding house histories.