From early years Wedgwood in northeast Seattle was a car-centric neighborhood because of the lack of other transportation options. Streetcar lines never reached Wedgwood, and there was no city bus service because the neighborhood was outside of the Seattle City Limits. Some people in northeast Seattle had cars from as early as 1910 so that they could drive to work.
The population of the (future) Wedgwood really began to grow after construction of Seattle’s ship canal and bridges to cross it, especially the University Bridge.
The University and Montlake bridges made it possible to live in northeast Seattle and drive downtown to work, which caused northeast Seattle to have an increasing number of residents with cars in the 1920s.
Thirty-fifth Ave NE started out as a dirt path, was paved and arterialized in 1934, and has evolved into a busy street with multiple lanes. Until recent years 35th Ave NE was completely car-oriented although it did have sidewalks for pedestrians. As of 2019 bike lanes were created on 35th Ave NE and cars and bicyclists were asked to share the roadway.
Today, neighborhood activists are still advocating for a vibrant commercial district along the arterial heart of Wedgwood.
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Wedgwood before the 1920s
In the 1990s I interviewed Dora Verhamme Nicklas (1906-2005) who had emigrated from Holland to the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle in 1916. The Verhamme family lived on 35th Ave NE near to the corner of NE 80th Street. They had followed other relatives to Seattle and lived in the (future) Wedgwood neighborhood where there were a number of Dutch and German immigrants.
After Dora married Fred Nicklas, her parents built a house for the newlyweds at 7757 35th Ave NE, and Dora lived there for the rest of her life.
Dora told me that in early years the neighborhood was very quiet and dark at night because there were few houses and there was not yet any electricity for streetlights. Dora was an outdoorsy person and was put in charge of gathering firewood for the family’s kitchen stove. Dora would go out to chop wood in surrounding areas where there were plenty of trees and no one around, where they did not know who owned the property.
In those years the 35th Ave NE roadway was more like a path, because it was unpaved. Once per day a car would come along the road. Because it was otherwise so quiet along 35th Ave NE, the car could be heard coming from a long ways away. Dora and her two sisters would go and stand at the edge of the road to wave to the driver as he passed by.
Neighborhood boosters in the 1920s
That lone driver in 1916 was most likely Lores Goodwin, whose family had started living at 3248 NE 89th Street in about 1906. It was documented in a 1910 newspaper article that Mr. Goodwin had a car, because he had driven downtown to request City assistance for fighting a fire at NE 95th Street.
The Goodwin family members were neighborhood boosters who participated in early activities such as doing a neighborhood newsletter, taking photos and organizing a private bus service. The Goodwins went door-to-door to get subscriptions for the bus service, Northeast Transportation Company, which began serving the neighborhood in 1926.
Mrs. Goodwin once said that “35th Ave NE is going to be a big deal someday!” Family members took a photo of the stop sign at the end of their street, NE 89th, when 35th Ave NE was arterialized in 1934.
Little did Mrs. Goodwin know, or could she have imagined, how big 35th Ave NE would eventually become. The Goodwin family, Dora Nicklas and other early residents would live to see 35th Ave NE regraded, paved, arterialized, and widened. In their lifetimes almost all of the commercial spaces at the major intersections of NE 75th & 85th Streets were filled, and they lived to see “Wedgwood” become the name of the neighborhood.
Upgrades for car travel on 35th Ave NE between the years 1934 to 1968
Over the past hundred years since Mr. Goodwin first drove up and down 35th Ave NE, the roadway has been improved (from the standpoint of car use) by grading, leveling, and paving, and by widening the lanes several times.
The changes of grading and leveling of 35th Ave NE particularly impacted the area around the intersection of NE 75th Street, where there is a steep hill on one side. The roadway of 35th Ave NE was raised there to make it more level, necessitating the building of some retaining walls at surrounding houses and commercial buildings.
Two houses near the intersection of NE 75th Street, those of the Jacklin and VanderWel families, started out at street level prior to 1920. The VanderWel house was moved to another location (7308 38th Ave NE) when the McGillivray family acquired the site for the building of a new store. The Jacklin house is still at 7528 35th Ave NE and is below the level of the sidewalk.
The Safeway grocery store which had been built in 1951 at the NE 75th Street intersection was also affected by increased traffic and the proposed improvements of 35th Ave NE. In 1965 the original Safeway store was torn down, and a new one was built on the same lot, set far back from 35th Ave NE.
It is my belief that Safeway’s rebuilding decision was made because of the proposed street work on 35th Ave NE which was to come in 1968, as to how it would affect the store. The store’s original site was snug against 35th Ave NE. Any regrading (changing the level of the roadway) or widening of the roadway would affect the store entrance which faced 35th Ave NE.
In 1965 a new Safeway store was built as far east on the lot as it would go, with a big parking lot in front along 35th Ave NE. The lot had to be filled (raised) and leveled, and retaining walls were put in along NE 75th Street. The work of regrading, raising the parking lot and repositioning the store, affected a free-standing Dairy Queen building which had been on the parking lot. The Dairy Queen moved to a new building at 7320 35th Ave NE.
Widening the roadway in 1968 and changing the parking configuration
Up until 1968, 35th Ave NE was a narrow two-lane arterial and there was angle-in parking in front of the stores such as McVicar Hardware at the heart of Wedgwood’s NE 85th Street shopping intersection.
When I interviewed him in the 1990s, Mr. McVicar told me that the angle-in parking on 35th Ave NE had been problematic because more than once, drivers had shifted into “drive” instead of “reverse” and had struck his building at 8507 35th Ave NE. Mr. McVicar implied that it was customers of the adjacent Wedgwood Tavern who were guilty of these late-night crashes.
In 1968 when 35th Ave NE was widened, it was striped to allow one lane for parking parallel to the curb. This eliminated the angle-in parking in front of Mr. McVicar’s store and others around the NE 85th Street intersection.
Some property owners protested the changes because they felt that the widened roadway would cut too close to their building, such as Mr. Copestick’s building at 8613 35th Ave NE.
Mr. Copestick, grandfather of the present owner of the building, disputed with the City over the road-widening work. The City of Seattle Engineering Department prevailed, saying that business owners had not allowed enough set-back and that the City had the right to widen the arterial 35th Ave NE.
The year 1968 was the last in any major roadway changes such as widening of 35th Ave NE and changes to the buildings at Wedgwood’s commercial intersections at NE 75th and 85th Streets. It was not until the year 2012 that a major new building was built in Wedgwood along 35th Ave NE, the Jasper Apartments.
The era of commuting by bicycle
When I (Valarie) was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, only children rode bicycles except for some use by teens or adults specifically in recreational areas such as riding around Green Lake. In the present era, college students may ride from Wedgwood to the University of Washington, and adults may commute to work by bicycle.
Previously-built options for commuting include the Burke-Gilman Trail or the Neighborhood Greenways along 38th/39th Avenues NE through Wedgwood. The Greenway was intended as a quieter, off-the-arterial route for pedestrians and bicyclists leading to schools (Safe Routes to Schools program) and to Wedgwood’s commercial district at the NE 85th Street intersection.
In the year 2015 concerns about heavy traffic led to the City of Seattle’s advocacy of bike travel to stores and to work. A Bicycle Master Plan by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) proposed the creation of dedicated lanes for bike travel along the arterial 35th Ave NE.
Revision of the roadway, completed in 2019, included a dedicated center turn lane which was a strategy recommended by SDOT to help reduce rear-end car collisions. Since 35th Ave NE could not be widened any more, elimination of some of the curbside parking was necessary to create enough space for all of the lanes of travel for cars and bikes, plus the center turn lane.
The City of Seattle’s final decision on reconfiguration of lanes on 35th Ave NE was a compromise plan which did not satisfy advocates of car parking availability in the business district, nor did it satisfy bicycling advocates who wanted a protective barrier for the bike lane. In some areas such as Second Avenue in downtown Seattle, pictured below, a Protective Bike Lane has heavy-duty barriers. Many bicyclists say that travel along the bike lane of 35th Ave NE is still too dangerous because nothing separates them from the lanes of car travel.
The Future of 35th Ave NE Project
The arterial 35th Ave NE is the heart of the Wedgwood neighborhood, a lifeline where community resources are located.
On 35th Ave NE there are essential services such as a library, medical, dental and physical therapy offices, a fire station and a post office. Along 35th Ave NE Wedgwood has many other kinds of offices and services including hair salons, yoga and exercise studios, attorneys, accountants, real estate and a bicycle sales & service shop.
Some of Wedgwood’s unique spaces include the Gathering Place at Hunter Tree Farm at 7740 35th Ave NE, and a proposed pocket-park at 8605 35th Ave NE. Wedgwood is known for its tall trees and appreciation of nature, and the neighborhood is home to the Seattle Audubon Society office and Nature Shop at 8050 35th Ave NE.
Wedgwood would seem to “have it all” and yet Wedgwood activists have been unable to effect all of the changes intended to ensure healthy development in the commercial district along 35th Ave NE. Development is uncontrolled due to lack of proper zoning.
“Zoning” refers to what kind of buildings can be built, their height, bulk, scale and access to parking. Due to lack of appropriate zoning regulations in Wedgwood, older commercial buildings on 35th Ave NE are being torn down and replaced with townhouses ill-suited to the business district.
The controversy and struggle continue, over how to configure traffic lanes on 35th Ave NE and the zoning issues of the built environment along the arterial. More advocacy work for Wedgwood is needed. The neighborhood advocacy/planning initiative is continuing on through the goals developed through the project called The Future of 35th Ave NE. The final report with recommendations of the grant-funded Future of 35th Project was completed in 2015. Activists still continue to advocate for the neighborhood, pursuing goals of applying to the City of Seattle for benefits for Wedgwood.