Before There Was a Wedgwood Safeway: From Rural to Urban

The area around the NE 75th Street intersection in Wedgwood never had an organized scheme of development.  As a result, people who came to live there in the 1920s saw startling changes over the years in everything from road grading to commercial growth.

Northeast Seattle residents near NE 75th Street started out in the 1920s with chickens and cows. By the 1960s their houses were surrounded by stores and businesses.

In 1938 the King County property survey showed a chicken house or barn on what later became the site of the Wedgwood Safeway store. We are looking east with NE 75th Street at the left. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives.

Copyright notice: the text and photos of this article are protected under Creative Commons Copyright. Do not copy without permission.

Swedish immigrants in Seattle

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was held on the campus of the University of Washington in 1909.

John Gus Johnson and his wife Amanda were immigrants from Sweden to the USA.  After stopping off with relatives in Michigan they made their way to Seattle in 1907.

It is likely that the Johnsons were among those who heard of Seattle’s preparations for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition to be held in 1909. Many people came to Seattle at that time to get in on the economic upswing created by this worlds-fair event. Many kinds of businesses, from restaurants to real estate, would benefit from the influx of visitors to Seattle.  Gus Johnson’s barber shop in downtown Seattle did a brisk business during these years.

Moving to northeast Seattle

Seattle Engineering Department map of the city showing the annexations dates of different neighborhoods as of 1910. A “jog” can be seen at the northeast corner where the City Limits were at NE 65th Street. Map from the Seattle Municipal Archives Record Series 2616-03.

The Johnson family grew, and with the birth of a third daughter in 1920 the Johnsons were ready to move out of their tiny two-bedroom house in West Seattle.  They wanted a homesite with more space, not exactly a farm, but a place where they could have a couple of acres in which to plant a vegetable garden, keep chickens and even a cow. They found such a site in northeast Seattle, joining a growing community of immigrants who were all pursuing their American dreams.

As of 1910 the north Seattle City Limits were set at 85th Street except for a “jog” at the northeast corner, where the line was at 65th. It is not known why northeast Seattle got “left out,” but it may have been due to low population density.  At that time in 1910, prior to creation of the ship canal and its bridges, northeast Seattle was hard to reach and few people lived there.

After the University Bridge opened in 1919 it became much more common for residents of northeast Seattle to own cars and drive across the bridge to work locations including downtown Seattle. The Johnson family joined this migration, building a new house for themselves in northeast Seattle in 1920.

The Johnson house at 3603 NE 75th Street

Photo of the Johnson house at 3603 NE 75th Street in 1938 for the King County property survey. Courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives.

We don’t know how Mr. Johnson found out about the opportunity to buy a homesite and build a house on NE 75th Street in northeast Seattle in 1920. Certainly as a barber in downtown Seattle he might have been told about it by a customer.

Gus Johnson cut his grandson’s hair at home in 1948.

Many real estate agents had offices in downtown, like Frank Vickers Cook who might have told Mr. Johnson about the availability of house lots and the growing community of immigrants along 35th Ave NE near NE 75th Street, where Mr. Cook also lived.  Around that area were other Swedish immigrants including bachelor Andrew Larson at the corner of NE 80th Street with his egg & poultry business. Other neighbors near to the Johnsons new home hailed from Germany, Holland, and Russia by way of Alaska.

The Johnson house was built on the plat owned by the Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands. Lots in this plat were only being sold along roadways such as NE 75th Street between 35th to 40th Avenues NE.  As a result there were just a few scattered houses and none inside the section between 35th to 40th Avenues NE. This resulted in residents being able to own five-acre tracts because streets were put through only on the perimeters of forty-acre, five-block squares such as NE 70th to 75th Streets, 35th to 40th Avenues NE.

Johnson family grandchildren in the summer of 1949. Looking southward behind the Johnson house was their garden, orchard and pasture for the cow.

At the corner of NE 70th Street and 40th Avenue NE, the Gebaroff and Girolamo families had fields and grew vegetables and landscaping plants for sale. There is no indication whether the Gus Johnson family ever sold products commercially, but they did plant a garden and fruit trees, build a chicken house and keep a cow.

The Johnsons might also have investigated the school situation before choosing their new homesite. By the time the Johnsons moved to their new house, a new, six-room Bryant School had opened on NE 57th Street, where their eldest daughter could attend. By the time their youngest daughter was old enough to attend school, a large brick building had been constructed, the present Bryant School at 3311 NE 60th Street.

From Johnson to Morgan

The Johnson family in the summer of 1940 with their three daughters and their first son-in-law.

The Johnson’s three daughters Agnes, Myrtle and Ruth grew up and married. Gus Johnson died in 1958 and his widow, Amanda, lived in the house a while longer before going to live with one of her daughters and selling the house at 3603 NE 75th Street.

The purchaser of the house, Don Morgan, was forty years old in 1960 when he was able to get a transfer back to his home state of Washington in his work with the US Postal Service. Don and his wife Ginette had met in the closing months of World War Two in 1945. Ginette was from a village in France where US Army troops swept through as they liberated Europe.

Don Morgan married Ginette in France and six months later she came to join him in the USA under immigration provisions as a war bride. The couple spent about fifteen years living in California before they moved back to Seattle in 1960.

Don & Ginette Morgan in 2011 when Don was 90 years old.

Don and Ginette were attracted to the farm-like aspect of the house at 3603 NE 75th Street with its acreage for a garden. The house also had a large basement which was suitable for setting up the Morgan’s side-business of making plaster figurines and decorative pieces. Like the Johnsons before them who benefited from the growth of Seattle during the AYPE of 1909, the Morgans derived income from Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition in 1962, for which the Morgans produced everything from commemorative plates to totem pole replicas.

The Wedgwood business district in the 1950s and 1960s

Don and Ginette Morgan felt that the house at 3603 NE 75th Street offered the best of both worlds, rural and urban. The house had a large garden area with fruit trees which had been planted by the Johnson family, and there were no houses behind theirs or next door.  At the same time, the house was just steps from the lively business district which had grown up at the intersection of 35th Ave NE and NE 75th Street.

Ginette Morgan, who did not drive, could walk to access everything she needed from the nearby stores.  Clustered around the intersection were some small shops which may have reminded Ginette of her youth in a village in France, such as a deli and a bakery.  There were barber and beauty shops, and a pharmacy. There was even a womens dress shop, MacLennan’s, at 7500 35th Ave NE.

Ginette Morgan’s favorite store of all was McGillivray’s Variety and Gift Store at 7512 35th Ave NE (in the building which is now Chase Bank). The McGillivray’s store had everything from household supplies to toys for children.  The store was owned and operated by a local family, the McGillivrays and their daughter & son-in-law, Ray & Bette Euse.

The types of stores in the Wedgwood business district

The Morningside Market in Wedgwood opened in 1926 with a grocery on one side and a butcher shop on the other.  Photo by Valarie.

It is interesting to note that Ray Euse who married the McGillivray’s daughter Bette and helped run the store, had previously been a butcher at the Morningside Market at 9118 35th Ave NE.  In the 1950s the transition in Ray Euse’s career mirrored the changes in store operations during that era.  There never was an old-fashioned meat market near the intersection of NE 75th Street in Wedgwood; instead, in 1951 the site became that of a modern supermarket offering prepackaged meats along with many other products.

The era of the supermarket

Opening announcement of the Wedgwood Safeway in June 1951 (Seattle Times newspaper). The notice emphasized the modern format of the store with refrigerated cases, convenient self-service and with abundant parking for cars.

The idea of a supermarket, with many products sold under one roof, had been on the rise since the early 1900s, but these stores really came into prominence after the end of World War Two in 1945.

In the post-war years there was a huge demand for consumer products including refrigerators and freezers, and for greater convenience in foods such as pre-packaged meats. Instead of going to a butcher and requesting certain cuts of meat, at a supermarket one could buy pre-cut meat packaged in plastic film. A shopper could quickly pick up the desired amount of meat servings after reviewing all of the selections on display.

Supermarkets offered many kinds of conveniences and these stores grew rapidly in the 1950s. In 1950, supermarkets accounted for 35 percent of food sales in the USA; by 1960, these stores sold 70 percent of food for home consumption. During the decade, the number of supermarkets in the USA more than doubled — from 14,000 in 1950 to 33,000 in 1960.

Don Morgan’s photo from his house next-door to the first Safeway, which was placed at 35th Ave NE.

At the intersection of NE 75th Street a big new Safeway store had opened in 1951, which Don and Ginette Morgan were certainly aware of because their house which they bought in 1960 was right next-door. However, they could not have predicted that the Safeway would get bigger and bigger and would eventually overshadow their house.

The first Wedgwood Safeway in 1951

Notation in the Seattle Times newspaper of Safeway’s application for building, approved by the City Planning Commission in June 1947.

When the Safeway corporation began applying to build at the corner of 35th Ave NE & NE 75th Street in Wedgwood, they first had to submit a proposal to change the zoning from residential to commercial. They sent letters to all surrounding residents and obtained a petition with 248 signatures in favor of having a Safeway store.

After obtaining the needed zoning & construction approvals from the City of Seattle Planning Commission in 1947, the new Wedgwood Safeway was built, opening in 1951. It was set up close along 35th Ave NE with parking on the sides and behind the store. This was the Safeway which Don and Ginette Morgan first knew after moving into their house next door in 1960.

The “remodeling” referred to in this article of 1959 is of improved presentation of products in the Wedgwood Safeway store which had been built in 1951. During the 1950s supermarkets were constantly making changes to modernize the shopping experience.

After only about eleven years, the Safeway corporation made the decision to tear down the store, reposition it on the lot and build an even bigger building. One reason for this might have been because of the rapid changes in the grocery store business with increased numbers of products.

At the start of the 1950s drugstores still had a monopoly on some over-the-counter items like aspirin, cough syrup, cold and stomach remedies. In 1956 these laws were overturned as unfair restraint of trade, and by the late 1950s supermarkets had won the right to sell these products. As soon as grocery stores were able to offer cosmetics, personal care products and over-the-counter medications, they needed more space to stock these items.  This expansion of products might have been one of the reasons for the decision to build a bigger Wedgwood Safeway.

Another reason for starting over and building a bigger Wedgwood Safeway was that the site had never been properly prepared in the first place as to grading and leveling the site before building. The site was steep, with customers having to climb uphill from the parking lot to the store entrance.

I believe that the “last straw” which induced Safeway to tear down the first Wedgwood store, was that Safeway found out that the City of Seattle was going to widen 35th Ave NE.   When the first Wedgwood Safeway opened in 1951, its front door was on 35th Ave NE which at that time was a two-lane road.  There simply would not be enough space at the front of the store after the roadway was widened to four lanes, as was completed in 1968.

For all of the above reasons, including wanting a bigger store with better placement on the lot, Safeway decided to tear down the first Wedgwood Safeway store and build another one, which opened in 1965.  The new Safeway was set all the way to the eastern side of the lot with the parking in front and with improved driveways for access.

Looking eastward along NE 75th Street in 1963, Don Morgan’s photo shows that his house was level with NE 75th Street, next to the Dairy Queen which was on the Safeway parking lot. To build the new Safeway in 1965, the Dairy Queen was torn down and the site was built up and held with a retaining wall.

The second Wedgwood Safeway (present building)

Safeway retaining wall along NE 75th Street. The wall is there because the site was built up to be level and the new building set back on the lot, all the way to the east. Photo by Valarie.

Safeway’s do-over first involved grading to make the store site more level, which had not been done prior to construction of the first store.

“Grading” is the process of excavating or building up soil to level an area and provide for drainage. Grading is a term used for both street construction and the creation of a site for houses or commercial buildings.  To grade and level the Safeway site, rocks and dirt had to be brought in to fill the site and to hold it a new retaining wall was built along NE 75th Street, which can still be seen today.

The Morgan house at 3603 NE 75th Street is now behind the towering wall of the Safeway as rebuilt in 1965.  Photo by Valarie.

Unfortunately for the Morgan family at 3603 NE 75th Street, the new Safeway store was set all the way eastward to its lot line, abutting the Morgan house, so that their house, as of 1965, is behind the looming wall of the store.

As of 1965 when the new Wedgwood Safeway building opened, the surrounding neighborhood had completely transitioned from rural to urban. Ginette Morgan still had her garden but no one in Wedgwood was keeping chickens and cows any more.

More about Safeway and its surroundings:
Before There Was a Safeway: The Plat of Public Lands
The Wedgwood Safeway
Dairy Queen in Wedgwood

Sources:

Grocery stores:  Seattle historian Rob Ketcherside has written extensively about the evolution of self-service stores in Seattle, starting with a chain called Groceteria and then Tradewell.

HistoryLink essays on the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and the 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair.

New Frontiers of the 1950s: Supermarkets

Don Morgan memorial marker at Tahoma National Cemetery, Kent, WA.

Photos courtesy of the Johnson & Morgan families.

Puget Sound Regional Archives, repository of the property records of King County.  Property records of Safeway, including the 1938 photo of the barn on the site before Safeway purchased it, is the photo posted at the top of this blog article.  The purpose of the 1938 photo survey was to assess valuation of buildings for property tax.  Here is a link to the HistoryLink Essay #3692 which tells how the survey was done.

Remodeling of the Wedgwood Safeway was done again in 2011, bringing the front of the store forward just a couple of feet, upgrading the mechanical systems and improving the interior storage areas.

Seattle Municipal Archives, photos & files of Safeway application for re-zone: “Petition of Safeway Stores, Inc. for rezoning of southeast corner of 35th NE and E. 75th Street,” Comptroller File #194270. Photo #73832 and the architectural sketch of the proposed Safeway building were included with the application, and I used these items on a previous blog post about Safeway. The letters and documents are in the file (not on-line) at the Seattle Municipal Archives, Seattle City Hall, Third Floor.  The photo at the top of this article came from a different source, the Puget Sound Regional Archives, repository of the property archives of King County and is a photo taken as part of the county’s survey of all taxable properties.

Seattle Municipal Archives Legislative Records, street-widening in 1968: “An ordinance relating to the engineering department, authorizing the acquisition of property necessary for the 35th Avenue Northeast Widening Project.” Council Bill Number 88038, Ordinance Number 96507, March 1968.  Lists of street ordinances can be found on the SMA website under “ordinances.”

Seattle School Histories – Bryant School at 3311 NE 60th Street.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in businesses, Immigrant heritage and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Before There Was a Wedgwood Safeway: From Rural to Urban

  1. Kelly Dole says:

    once again, an entertaining and well-researched read!

  2. wildninja says:

    Wow, I’m very impressed with you providing the whole timeline of this property. And the house is still there! Well done.

  3. Is Ginette still alive?

  4. Yes, she is 90 and has moved to Tacoma, closer to her children and grandchildren. She was only sixteen when she married and was about eight years younger than Don Morgan.

  5. jimofseattle says:

    When I was about five years old I remember walking up the hill on NE 75th Street past Safeway and smelling the fresh baked bread. To this day when I smell baked bread I think of that walk.

  6. Love this one! What great stories and photos, and so carefully researched!

  7. Thanks, Girl Scout! I am trying not to be sad about what I can’t do now during the pandemic, as all research archives are closed. It’s better to just be thankful that I have a ton of stuff I can work on at home.

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