Aretha Curtis and Maple Leaf Gardens

In the years 1915 to 1945 the lives of Americans were bracketed by two world wars with an economic depression in the middle.

For a few years in the 1920s, after the First World War and before the stock market crash of 1929, there was relative prosperity and economic opportunity in the USA.  After the First World War and the ending of the flu epidemic of 1919, everyone looked forward to starting a new phase of life in a peacetime economy.

During the 1920s a young couple, Percy & Aretha Curtis, moved from Spokane to Seattle to start out their married lives.  They became residents of northeast Seattle where Aretha started a flower sales business.

Starting out married life in Seattle

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

Newlyweds Percy & Aretha Curtis found a place to live in northeast Seattle which was low-cost and where the community showed the promise of future growth.

In the 1920s the new Victory Way highway made it easier to reach northeast Seattle.  Real estate developers advertised the convenience of commuting to work by car from these new neighborhoods.

The developers of Morningside Heights in the northwest quadrant of what is now Wedgwood, put through NE 95th Street to connect to Victory Way (today’s Lake City Way NE).  Morningside is marked on the map of the new highway route.

A photo (below) from the Morningside Heights sales brochure of 1923 looked eastward along NE 95th Street through the intersection of 35th Ave NE, toward the view of Lake Washington.  On the left of the photo can be seen the houses in mid-block which belonged to Percy & Aretha Curtis and their neighbors.

At this highly visible site on NE 95th Street with its increasing car traffic, Aretha Curtis set up a new business called Maple Leaf Gardens.

A 1923 photo from the Morningside Heights real estate brochure looks eastward on NE 95th Street toward Lake Washington. The home of Percy & Aretha Curtis is at left.

Wedgwood and the neighborhood to the north of Wedgwood

The Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle is defined as from NE 75th to 95th Streets. Wedgwood has a linear commercial district along 35th Avenue NE.

Today’s Wedgwood neighborhood is defined as extending from NE 75th to 95th Streets along the central arterial of 35th Ave NE.

The neighborhood did not identify with the name “Wedgwood” until about 1945.  Then some local businesses began using the name which at first was only a plat name for houses built by developer Albert Balch.  The Wedgwood identity was finally solidified with the naming of the new Wedgwood Elementary School in 1953.

At that time the Wedgwood School attendance boundaries were set from NE 75th to 95th, which contributed to the community’s sense of place.  The community club of the 1950s defined the Wedgwood neighborhood according to the school attendance boundaries.

Maple Leaf Lutheran Church, across from the former school site at 32nd & 100th. Photo by Valarie.

For many years children living north of NE 95th Street attended Maple Leaf School on 35th Ave NE at the southeast corner of NE 105th Street.  In 1926 the community resolved to build a new, bigger Maple Leaf School building on 32nd Ave NE at the corner of NE 100th Street.  Maple Leaf School was the pride of the neighborhood and was the center of activities as the area had no business district at that time.

From the 1930s to the 1950s a few other entities adopted the Maple Leaf name, especially on or near 35th Ave NE around the intersection of NE 95th Street.  Aretha Curtis at 3236 NE 95th Street named her flower & plant supply shop, Maple Leaf Gardens.  She operated the business for about thirty years from 1925 to 1955.

Maple Leaf Gardens store building at 3236 NE 95th Street as pictured in 1938. Photo courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives.

The Maple Leaf Gardens store

Aretha’s Maple Leaf Gardens store with its rooftop sign was part of a complex of houses and service buildings at 3236 NE 95th Street where two or three families lived.  Census and city directory listings indicate that Aretha had the help of some family members and a tenant who all lived on the Curtis property.  By 1930 Aretha’s parents George & Anna Carroll were living there and Mr. Carroll, age 67, listed his occupation as gardener of flowers & shrubbery.  The other family on the property was Garrett & Emma Frasher and their two sons.

Chicken house on the Curtis property

The Curtis property was on four large tracts of land in mid-block between NE 95th to NE 96th Streets and included garages, shed buildings and a chicken house.

Mrs. Curtis targeted her business to flowers, bedding plants and vegetables such as tomato starts, all low-cost items which would be wanted by nearby homeowners in the growing Morningside Heights and Maple Leaf areas.

Mrs. Curtis offered ready-to-go bouquets of cut flowers at the storefront building and she also allowed customers to walk in the gardens and select the flowers themselves.  Her Maple Leaf Gardens advertisements in the newspaper said, “Make your plant selection from flowers in bloom; also, cut flowers.  Visitors welcome.”

Mrs. Curtis sold “bedding annuals” which are blooming plants which can be placed in flower beds, pots, hanging baskets or window boxes.  Bedding plants come in many colors and as with pansies for example, after flowers are cut the plant will bloom again and again.  Bedding plants are very popular for quickly decorating such as when a house is newly built and has little landscaping, or when a house is being dressed up to receive guests.

Mrs. Curtis also advertised her specialty in chrysanthemums, an autumn-blooming plant with large blossoms.  Customers could choose from a variety of colors for the purpose of accenting their home décor or going with a color theme of an event.

Mrs. Curtis seemed to have kept her garden business in the niche of flowers, which was not in competition with other local plant sellers such as Oriental Gardens.  Oriental Gardens on the corner of NE 98th Street & Lake City Way NE dealt in landscaping and sold larger shrubbery and trees.

Another war in the 1940s and new directions in the 1950s

For Americans who had lived through the First World War and then the Great Depression of the 1930s, it must have seemed almost unbearable when yet another world war broke out in the 1940s.  The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, brought the United States into the war.  In addition to the fears and concerns of wartime, for civilians in the USA there were economic impacts such as rationing and restrictions of consumer goods.

Shed building on the Curtis property.

For some people, the war brought the opportunity of good jobs.  During World War Two, 1941 to 1945, the population of northeast Seattle swelled with war workers and there was a housing boom.  Mrs. Curtis continued to advertise Maple Leaf Gardens during this period and it seemed that her business was doing well.  Her business was visible on NE 95th Street and was in a growing district of new houses.

After the war, pent-up demand for consumer goods included a spike in acquisition of cars, along with the migration of families to suburbs where lower-cost homes were being built.  Young couples who had finished war service got married and planned new lives in peacetime, with goals such as home ownership.  The suburb-like neighborhoods of Wedgwood and Maple Leaf in northeast Seattle still had plenty of space for house construction, and the population continued to increase in the 1940s and 1950s.

A storage building on the Curtis property.

Other people planned new lives after the war by making a new start which might mean ending a marriage instead of beginning one.  It was in the post-war period that Aretha Curtis filed for divorce from her husband of thirty years, Percy.  There had been issues of lack of economic support and Aretha apparently felt that she could get along better without him.

By 1950 Aretha was a divorced woman, her parents were deceased and Aretha’s two children were getting married and starting their own families.  In 1955 Aretha transitioned into a new phase of life as she ended her Maple Leaf Gardens business of thirty years.  Her experiences paralleled those of other Americans who had lived through two world wars and emerged in the 1950s to face rapid changes in society and economic conditions.  Americans hoped for peace and the opportunity to live out their lives with their families, free from the threat of war.

Wedgwood and Maple Leaf come into the City Limits

A 1938 Seattle Engineering Dept. map of the city, showing the annexation dates of different neighborhoods. A “jog” can be seen at the northeast corner, where the city limits were at NE 65th Street.

As of 1910, northeast Seattle north of 65th Street was still outside of the City Limits.  Gradually beginning in the 1940s, sections voted according to election precincts to become part of the City of Seattle.  Finally in 1954 the Seattle City Limits were set as they are today, at 145th Street.

Inclusion inside the Seattle City Limits may have been one of the reasons which convinced Aretha Curtis that it was time to give up her farm-like Maple Leaf Gardens.  Other reasons were that the buildings were worn out and the property value had soared in the hot house-building market of the 1950s in northeast Seattle.

Changes in northeast Seattle in the 1950s

Then too, by the 1950s Aretha may have seen that the NE 95th Street area was not developing as a business district as much as had been previously predicted.  In the 1950s cars zoomed down NE 95th Street without stopping, on their way to larger shopping districts such as the Northgate Mall.

In the 1950s businesses around the intersection of 35th Ave NE at 95th were closing, instead of expanding, until there wasn’t much left but gas stations on three corners of the intersection of NE 95th.

Barber shop at 9516 35th Ave NE

One surviving building from the pre-World-War-Two era is the 95th Barber Shop which has been moved slightly north of the intersection.  Originally it had the Maple Leaf Barber & Beauty operators.

Even the church which had been at 9505 35th Ave NE decided to move away in the 1950s.  It moved to 8008 35th Ave NE and became Wedgwood Presbyterian Church.  It changed its name to reflect the strong Wedgwood neighborhood identity where developer Albert Balch had built houses and created a business district centered at NE 85th Street.

The Morningside Church was built in 1926 at 9505 35th Avenue NE, present site of a veterinary clinic. In 1951 the church moved to 8008 35th Ave NE and became Wedgwood Presbyterian.

The end of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1955

In 1955 Aretha Curtis was ready to move into a new phase of life as a grandmother.    She sold the Maple Leaf Gardens property to a local builder, Elmer L. Nielsen, who built new houses in that block of NE 95th Street and through onto the NE 96th Street side.

In 1955 Aretha built a new house about five blocks to the north, on NE 103rd Street.  She shared this home with her married daughter’s family.  Aretha continued to grow flowers and sell them to clients out of her home, not via storefront.  As she aged into her seventies, Aretha participated in the Washington Senior Craftsman program which had a shop at Pier 70 on the Seattle waterfront.  She sold flowers from her garden via this sales outlet.

Today’s eastward view along NE 95th Street. The Curtis home was in mid-block at left.

Born in 1898, the life of Aretha Curtis reflects the ups and downs of life in the twentieth century.  She was always a hard worker, persevering through the years.  Aretha lived to see NE 95th Street become part of the City of Seattle and she saw the formation of the Wedgwood neighborhood identity in the 1950s.

Sources:

Census and city directory listings.

Newspaper references — Maple Leaf Gardens advertisements in the Seattle Daily Times, 1942-1943.

Property records:  Puget Sound Regional Archives, repository of the property records of King County.

History of Seattle street names:  The Writes of Way blog explores the stories behind the names.

NE 95th Street looking eastward from 25th Avenue NE

City Limits and street system:  The north Seattle City Limits were finally set at 145th Street in 1954.  It was a gradual process through the 1940s and 1950s when election precincts voted themselves into the City.

At the end of my blog article about Election Districts is a source list to the dates and a map of precincts.  Info about the inclusion of separate cities, such as Ravenna, is in this article about annexations.

Info about the system of Seattle street names is in this article.  The Seattle street directional designations changed in 1961 so that East 75th Street, for example, became NE 75th Street.

Paving of NE 95th Street in 1931:  Along with the paving of Sand Point Way NE, work began in that year to connect cross-streets such as NE 95th which goes all the way from Lake City Way NE to Sand Point Way NE.   “King County paving contract for NE 95th Street awarded to Fiorito Brothers,” Seattle Daily Times, March 17, 1931, page 15.

There has been a gas station at 9500 35th Ave NE since 1932.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

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

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