How Did Lake City in North Seattle Get Its Name?

Lake City in northeast Seattle, map courtesy of HistoryLink.

Lake City is the northeasternmost neighborhood of Seattle and did not come completely into the City of Seattle boundaries until 1954.

Though it was platted as a suburban area of single-family homes, Lake City also developed its own commercial district around the intersection of NE 125th Street, and Lake City had a strong community identity from early years.  Today Lake City has an active neighborhood association and a busy business district.

The Shoreline Historical Museum, located at 18501 Linden Ave N., has a lot of information about north Seattle areas which were once outside the City of Seattle.  Museum director Vicki Stiles has written this wonderful essay about how Lake City got its name, which I (Valarie) am re-posting here.

Essay by Vicki Stiles, director of the Shoreline Historical Museum:

Lake City in north Seattle has a vibrant business district including Dick’s Drive-In.

HOW LAKE CITY GOT ITS NAME – mostly! Among the many interesting questions we get here at the Shoreline Historical Museum is “how did such-and-such a place get its name?”  Sometimes the answers are pretty simple. Other times, it takes a bit of sleuthing to come up with the definitive answer, if we ever really can.

In the latter category is the question of how “Lake City” got its name.

There are two schools of thought on this, and there’s evidence that the truth lies somewhere in between.

Did Lake City take its name from a stop on the railroad line?

Judge Thomas Burke was an attorney, real estate investor and civic activist in Seattle.  Argus magazine cartoon of 1906.

The Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad, organized by Seattle boosters Thomas Burke and Daniel Gilman, had its inaugural run in 1887.  It was used for freight and was also a way of getting passengers from Seattle to Bothell, and eventually to the coal mines at Gilman, now called Issaquah.

You could get on (or off) the train at several stops along the shores of Lake Washington, including Pontiac near Sand Point, LaVilla near NE 95th Street, and at a stop called “Lake” at the foot of NE 115th Street. Here is where we might have the first part of the “Lake City” calculation.

Just like many neighborhoods along rail corridors, people referred to their home territory using the train stop nearest them. When asked by someone where they lived, a person often replied with the name of the stop:  “I live at Pontiac” or “I live at Lake.” The first school of thought is that people living near the “Lake” station simply adopted the word “city” in conjunction with the word “lake” to come up with the “Lake City” concoction.

Did Lake City take its name from a real estate development?

As Valarie suggests, though, in her history article about the LaVilla neighborhood name, “Many of the names of northeast Seattle neighborhoods such as Morningside, Laurelhurst, View Ridge and Wedgwood, were the creation of real estate promoters. Some of their ideas for neighborhood names came from natural features such as Cedar Park (cedar trees) and Meadowbrook (a meadow and a brook). Some neighborhoods were named in tribute to other places (such as Ravenna, Italy) or for a person’s home town.” And herein lies the other part of the answer.

The Lake Side City plat, filed in May 1906, is from NE 105th to NE 115th Streets and is bounded on the west by 35th Ave NE.

On April 19, 1906, President D.H. Lee and Secretary R.H. Lee of the American Investment and Improvement Company filed a plat called “Lake Side City Addition.”  The plat map, shown above, is from NE 105th to 115th Streets, and is bounded on the west by 35th Ave NE.  On the east, the plat meets Lake Washington where the water came up higher than it does now (the water level was lowered when the ship canal was created in 1916).

The Lake City plat of 1907 has NE 115th Street on its southern border where it adjoins the Lake Side City plat.

Less than a year after filing the Lake Side City plat, on January 11, 1907, D.H. Lee filed a plat named “Lake City Addition.” Running right between the two plats was NE 115th Street, at the foot of which the “Lake” train stop was located.  “Prospect Avenue,” which would become 35th Ave NE  north of NE 110th Street, bordering the west side of the two plats, would be part of the original Gerhard Erickson Road.

D.H. Lee marketed the property, but it turned out that his dealings were fraudulent, and at least fifty people bought property to which they could get no title. Lee’s company went into receivership, people sued, and in 1909 Lee’s company was ordered out of business.

Another developer, H.L. Hillman, took over the presidency of Lee’s company for a time, and ultimately the property was remarketed starting in 1910 by Seattle Homeseekers, a property investment firm also owned by H.L. and Pearle Hillman.

The plan for the new Victory Way in 1921 — today’s Lake City Way NE. The dotted line to the right is the old Gerhard Erickson Road. Photo from the Seattle Daily Times of March 14, 1920, page 5.

As plans for the Erickson Road/Bothell-to-Seattle Road became solidified, the marketing became more clever.  On May 21, 1910, they began advertising that “the new Erickson Macadamized Boulevard runs through the center of this beautiful addition.” That may not have been the entire truth at that point, as not only was the paving of the road not finished at that time, technically the road ran on the west side of the plats, not “through the center.”

For two years, 1910 to 1912, the realtors continued to advertise the “new” road and the “new” addition (the land plat).  Finally, by April of 1912, the Erickson Road really was finished from NE 65th Street out north as far as Lake Forest Park (but not all the way to Bothell – that would come over a year later).

Newspaper references to the neighborhood name

A real estate ad in the Seattle Times on the Fourth of July 1912 specifically says “‘Lake is the name of Seattle’s newest suburb,” and we find out in a July 30th article that they had opened a company grocery store, with the newspaper saying it was “at Lake.”  Then on December 1, 1912, Seattle Homeseekers began a new marketing campaign: “live at Lake City – work in Seattle.” The transition to “Lake City” was finally made public!

Lake City Safe Roads campaign at the intersection of NE 125th Street and Lake City Way NE, in 2014.  Photo by Valarie.

But who knows for how long the people living in that area had already been colloquially calling it “Lake City” anyway, especially since one of the plats was named “Lake City” back in 1907?

So there we have it – the answer to how Lake City got its name.  Though the history may not be entirely definitive, perhaps it’s at least entertaining.  When the commercial center of the area began to develop along the new highway, Victory Way, just ten years later in 1922, the Lake City name prevailed and the road was eventually re-named Lake City Way NE.

–Essay by Vicki Stiles, director of the Shoreline Historical Museum.  This essay first appeared on the museum’s Facebook page on September 6, 2018.


Lake City Parade Western Vigilantes

Today’s Lake City has service groups such as the Western Vigilantes who raise money for youth programs.

The two plat maps shown in this article are from the King County Recorder’s Office. “Prospect Avenue,”  the western border of the plats, corresponds to 35th Ave NE north of NE 110th Street where 35th Ave NE became part of the Erickson Road.   “Superior Street” is NE 115th Street.

The map showing the newly planned Victory Way and the old Erickson Road, on which is marked the suburb of Lake City, is from an article in the Seattle Daily Times newspaper, Mar 14, 1920, page 5.

Seattle street names:  The City of Seattle started standardizing its street names in 1895, but the Lake City area was “out in the county” and did not have to conform to the street naming system.  Land developers like the Lees could give the streets in their plat, any names that they wanted.

Seattle School Histories:  The year 1912 was a year of organizing in the Lake City community, including its own school.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in name of the neighborhood, Plat names and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to How Did Lake City in North Seattle Get Its Name?

  1. Karen says:

    Interesting that the word “side” was dropped from “Lake Side City,” and also interesting that it was named so long ago. I’d be curious to know if there are any houses near that stop built around 1907. Thanks for the intriguing repost!

  2. Thanks, Karen, it would have been good if someone had marked the train stops more permanently as well as former dock locations on Lake Washington! Now we are not completely sure exactly where these were, and the lowering of the lake changed the landscape, as well.

  3. Now I will wonder if Seattle Homeseekers had anything to do with the naming of Hillman City in south Seattle. Thank you for sharing Ms. Stiles’ informative essay, Valarie.

  4. Jason, developers Clarence D. Hillman and Homer L. Hillman were brothers, but C.D. is better-known for Hillman City in south Seattle. Here is a HistoryLink essay about C.D. Hillman.

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