The growth of Seattle is the story of waves of immigrants responding to historic events and economic opportunities in the young city. This blog article is about people on 40th Ave NE around NE 70th Street in northeast Seattle in the 1920s and 1930s when there were many immigrants from Holland and Germany, as well as from other places such as Russia and Japan. We will trace the life of one man, William Rose from Germany, whose story represents the immigrant experience in Seattle.
Like William Rose, some immigrants had stopped off at other places in the USA before finally coming to Seattle, a place with economic opportunity and cheap land in the early 1900s. We will see how northeast Seattle was thinly settled until the 1940s when the area was developed with housing for the increasing population during World War Two. The developer of View Ridge and Wedgwood, Albert Balch, played a key role in building houses in northeast Seattle in the post-World War Two years.
Seattle was first “planted” in what is now downtown
As of 1889, Seattle had been in existence for more than thirty years but was not yet the largest city in Washington Territory. It was Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, which set off an economic boom leading to Seattle’s dominance in the region.
In the summer of 1889, in response to the Fire, people began arriving from all over to get in on the rebuilding of Seattle. Porter D. Ehle, age 32, brought his family from Michigan and he worked as a carpenter in Seattle’s construction projects. The next year Porter Ehle went into partnership with another man in a small restaurant called Ripley & Ehle, one in a row of small shops on South Washington Street at the intersection of Occidental Avenue. The Ripley & Ehle restaurant was in a dense district of hotels and rooming houses where men lived as they worked on the rebuilding of downtown Seattle.
Pictured below is an image from a fire insurance map of the year 1893. In the lower right corner are dots and the notation “Restrt” for the restaurants on that block, which included Ripley & Ehle. At left, Pacific House was a boarding house.
Don’s Café and Oyster House
In 1898 Porter Ehle wanted to set up his twenty-year-old son Don in business, so the two men opened Don’s Oyster House on Yesler Way between Second and Third Avenues. This restaurant was advantageously located near the business and banking district at the intersection of Second Avenue. At this time Seattle was experiencing another economic boom due to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. With people pouring into Seattle to buy supplies for travel to the Klondike, Don’s Oyster House prospered as a lunch restaurant for businessmen and shoppers.
Don Ehle’s grandfather had been a German immigrant to the USA, so it may be that when German immigrant William Rose arrived in Seattle in 1917, looking for work, Don Ehle was sympathetic and was inclined to give him a tryout at the Oyster House. William Rose was then 35 years of age, newly married with a new baby, and had worked since he was 18 years old as a chef in St. Louis, Missouri.
From St. Louis to Seattle in 1917
We may speculate on the reasons why William Rose decided to leave St. Louis and go to Seattle. St. Louis had a large immigrant German population but things became difficult for them before and during the Great War (First World War) when anti-German feeling arose in the USA.
Even before the USA got involved in the war as of April 1917, accusations were being made that German immigrants were traitors, due to the incident in May 1915 when a German U-boat torpedoed the Lusitania, a passenger ship, with the loss of 1,128 lives, including some Americans. In St. Louis there were protests against German-owned businesses. It is possible that, circa 1917 when the USA entered the Great War, William Rose thought he might make a new start in Seattle where he hoped there would be less anti-German sentiment and more economic opportunities.
For William Rose from Germany and his wife Mary who was an immigrant from Scotland, the move from St. Louis to Seattle was the second time in their lives that they had made a huge journey to start over in life. We don’t know exactly why William & Mary chose Seattle to start the next phase of their lives, but we know that they found a home here, and they prospered. The story of the Rose family brings out some of the chief desires and goals of immigrants: to have a good job, obtain land ownership and their own home. William & Mary Rose achieved these dreams, including ownership of a tract of land which increased in value over the twenty years that they lived on 40th Ave NE in northeast Seattle.
The Rose family in northeast Seattle
By 1920 William & Mary Rose were living at a temporary location on NE 75th Street nearest to 35th Ave NE in what is now the Wedgwood neighborhood. They landed in a community of immigrants as the neighborhood had begun to be settled largely by Dutch and Germans.
The house which the Rose family probably rented at 3508 NE 75th Street, was owned by the Jacklin family who were Russians. The Jacklins had lived in Alaska before coming to Seattle. Pictured at right is the Ida’s Inn tavern as of 1938. Before Prohibition ended in 1934, the building had been a neighborhood grocery store operated by Mrs. Jacklin. The house the Rose family lived in temporarily, was to the right of this building, on NE 75th Street.
Another nearby neighbor was Andrew Larson, a Swedish man who was a retired fisherman. Larson was raising chickens at his house at the present site of Wedgwood Presbyterian Church, 8008 35th Ave NE. Nearby were German immigrants such as Gustav Morris of 7500 NE 43rd Street, and an interrelated group of Dutch families who had been sponsored by “Uncle Joe” Lobberegt.
The Roses purchased a tract of land to the east, at 40th Ave NE and built a house at 6810 40th Ave NE which was completed in 1925.
Growth of Seattle started at downtown
Seattle’s first white settlers of the 1850s laid claim to what is now downtown Seattle on Elliott Bay. Access to rivers, streams or bodies of water like Elliott Bay was one of the most important criteria for land claims. Residential neighborhoods then expanded gradually outward from downtown. Northeast Seattle was one of the last areas of Seattle to be developed and come into the Seattle City Limits.
Northeast Seattle grew slowly because of its inland location, without access to lakes or rivers which Seattle’s early white settlers had used as a means of travel and commerce. Northeast Seattle was hard to reach until the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed in 1917 and bridges began to be put across it.
The University Bridge, completed in 1919, provided a major gateway to northeast Seattle. For this reason, in the 1920s there began to be more people going out to live in northeast Seattle, and almost all of them owned cars because there was no bus or streetcar service, so there was no other way to get to work. William Rose was among the northeast Seattle commuters who drove to work each day, from his home at 6810 40th Ave NE to the restaurant on Yesler Way in downtown Seattle.
Working at Don’s Oyster House
In the 1920s Don Ehle, proprietor of Don’s Oyster House on Yesler Way, observed how Seattle’s downtown business district was expanding northward. In 1918 the Frederick & Nelson store had made the bold move to Fifth & Pine Street which at that time was considered by some people to be “too far” outside of the downtown core.
As a savvy business owner, Don Ehle watched the trends and he made the decision to move northward, as well. In 1924 Don Ehle sold his Oyster House on Yesler Way which continued to operate under the same name, while Don started a new restaurant, Don’s Sea Food, at 1429 Fifth Avenue (southwest corner of Pike Street).
It was a measure of Don Ehle’s regard for his chef, William Rose, that he took Rose with him to the new restaurant in 1924. At right is a 1933 newspaper advertisement for Don’s Sea Food, and “Mr. Rose, chef” is mentioned by name with Don’s thanks to his loyal staff members.
William Rose continued to work at Don’s Sea Food until both he and Don retired in 1941. Don’s Sea Food was bought by Ivar’s in 1956, and moved a few years later to become the Captain’s Table on Elliott Avenue below Queen Anne hill. It then moved to become Ivar’s Mukilteo Landing next to the ferry dock, north of Seattle.
Real estate development in northeast Seattle
In addition to working as chef at the restaurant, William Rose pursued the immigrant dream of land ownership. William & Mary Rose were among the neighbors near the intersection of NE 70th Street and 40th Ave NE who lived a semi-rural life with only one or two houses in each block, in the 1920s and 1930s. The few people living around the area all owned large pieces of property some of which were planted as “truck farms.” Truck farming meant intensive planting on a relatively small amount of land, sometimes using greenhouses to increase production. One neighbor near the Rose family was Domenico Girolamo, an Italian immigrant, who lived at 7041 40th Ave NE and supplied market stands with the fruits and vegetables he grew.
Another of the Rose’s neighbors was Andrew Gebaroff of 7003 40th Ave NE, a Bulgarian immigrant who had become a teacher in Seattle schools. He developed a nursery business on his property with greenhouses. During his retirement years in the 1950s when new houses were springing up all around on nearby blocks, Gebaroff sold “bedding plants” for new homeowners to quickly dress up their front yards. Bedding plants such as pansies and petunias are low-maintenance and bloom for a long time.
Other immigrants shown on the census of 1930 as living near to the Rose house were the Bilodeau family, who had come from Canada. They had a strawberry farm though family members supported themselves with other occupations as well. A cluster of Japanese families were listed as truck farmers, who likely supplied market stands with fresh produce.
Toward the end of the 1930s William & Mary Rose may have started thinking about retirement plans and thoughts of cashing in on the land that they owned, which had risen in value. In 1938 William & Mary Rose filed a plat for their land along 40th Ave NE, which included the site of their own house at 6810 40th Ave NE.
To file a plat means to have property surveyed and laid out in lots for development. The Rose Mary plat contained twenty lots. In 1941, as William & Mary Rose approached retirement years, they moved to a smaller house by Green Lake while they continued to have income from lot sales in the Rose Mary plat, which they did not sell all at one time.
The Rose Mary plat is from 40th to 43rd Avenues NE, bounded on the south by NE 68th Street. William & Mary Rose’s own house was in Lot 3 on the left, along 40th Ave NE.
The 1940s: a time of increased house-building in northeast Seattle
Big changes came to northeast Seattle as the USA got closer and closer to being drawn into yet another world war which originated in Europe. Changes in U.S. government programs with a buildup of war production caused population growth in Seattle. Northeast Seattle became more desirable due to its lower land cost and its proximity to the Naval Air Station at Sand Point on Lake Washington, located just one mile straight east of William Rose’s house.
The population of Seattle began to increase sharply in 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered an increase in industries for war preparedness. People flocked to Seattle in search of good jobs in the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, as well as food production such as fishing and canning, and military service as a way out of the unemployment of the 1930s economic depression.
By 1944 the lots in the Rose Mary plat, filed by William & Mary Rose, were being bought by developer Albert S. Balch who built starter homes for young families. Today William & Mary Rose’s house, built in 1925, is not as noticeable because it has been updated and it is now surrounded by houses built in the 1940s.
The new residents on the Rose block in the 1940s
In 1941 William & Mary Rose sold their house at 6810 40th Ave NE to Wilford P. Hammer, a 38-year-old tire salesman who had worked at an auto service center. During World War Two in the 1940s he worked at Todd Shipyard.
Later in the 1940s as new houses went up on either side of 6810 40th Ave NE, it appears that Wilford P. Hammer recommended the neighborhood to his friends. The names of new residents on the block in the 1940s were men who had either worked at the same auto service shop where W.P. Hammer had worked, or at Todd Shipyard. The block became characterized, like much of Wedgwood and View Ridge in northeast Seattle, by Balch starter-homes which were accessible for war veterans with government home loans.
The rural character of the Rose block and nearby streets began to disappear under the pressure of post-war housing demands. Andrew Gebaroff’s adult children were given sites along NE 70th Street between 38th to 40th Avenues NE for their own houses on his former “farm” property. In 1955 Domenico Girolamo finally gave up his truck farm site as well, platting it for house-building as Girolamo’s Addition.
Some of the Bilodeau property became the site of View Ridge Elementary School and the rest was given over to new houses built by developer Albert Balch, a neighborhood which eventually came to be called View Ridge.
Who buried the truck?
The exploration of the Rose block for this article began with a comment from someone who had lived at 6808 40th Ave NE in the 1960s. They told that in digging in their backyard at that time, they had found an entire antique pick-up truck buried there! Since the 6808 house was built in 1944 we may speculate on who buried the truck. Perhaps, in developing the block in the 1940s, contractors decided to leave the truck there and just cover it over while building new houses.
We can theorize that during the decades that William & Mary Rose were the only occupants of the block, it would have been unlikely for them to have left an old truck behind on the property, since Rose was a restaurant chef, not an automotive person. Other suspects are Wilford P. Hammer of 6810 or 1940s occupants of nearby houses, since several of them knew one another and had worked at an automotive service center.
The third wave of houses in northeast Seattle
Three houses in a row on 40th Ave NE represent three eras of housing in northeast Seattle. The William Rose house at 6810, built in 1925, represents the rural era when people who were willing to live that way, could obtain land cheaply.
The second era is that which formed the present character of northeast Seattle with its 1940s and 1950s houses by Albert Balch and other developers. The house at 6808 40th Ave NE, built by Balch originally, has now been expanded and remodeled.
The “third wave” of houses is starting to take place where Balch’s 1940s houses are being torn down and replaced. The house at 6802 40th Ave NE is an example of new forms and materials, and of new zoning regulations which allow accessory-dwelling units.
Census, City Directory listings and Washington Digital Archives.
“Frederick (Friedrich) Trump in Pioneer Square, Seattle,” bac-kground.com by Rob Ketcherside, July 4, 2016. In this article, Seattle historian Rob Ketcherside points out the errors in a recently published book about the grandfather of Donald Trump. The author of that biography misplaced the location of Frederick Trump’s Seattle restaurant due to her lack of understanding of Seattle’s block numbering system. Rob K’s article mentions the Ripley & Ehle restaurant which was next door to Trump’s. From Seattle City Directory listings of the 1890s it appears that Ripley & Ehle’s restaurant may have absorbed the Trump restaurant space when Trump left town.
“The German-American Experience in Missouri during World War One,” by Petra DeWitt. MissouriOverThere.org
Library resources: the downtown Seattle Public Library has a Seattle Room with historic resources, including a menu collection. Some of the menus have been digitized.
Property records for houses, Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.
“Frederick & Nelson opens its new store at 5th Avenue and Pine Street,” Essay #2900 by David Wilma, 2000.
“Seattle burns down in the Great Fire on June 6, 1889,” Essay #5115 by Walt Crowley, 2003.
“University Bridge opens on July 1, 1919,” Essay #3139 by Priscilla Long, 2001.
“For 35 Years Famous for Sea Food, the Original Don’s Sea Food,” Seattle Daily Times, December 22, 1933, advertisement on page 13.
“William H. Rose,” (obituary) Seattle Daily Times, September 23, 1945, page 34.
“Interesting Neighbors: Retired Teacher’s Quiet Country Home is Busy Place,” by C.L. Anderson. (Article about Andrew Gebaroff) Seattle Daily Times, June 12, 1955, page 122.
“Don L. Ehle,” (obituary) Seattle Daily Times, March 9, 1966, page 66.