Where is “Ravenna” in Seattle?
When asked to define a neighborhood we might think of natural boundaries such as ravines or rivers. There are also man-made dividing lines such as streets and business districts.
The Ravenna business districts are along 25th Ave NE and NE 50th to 55th Streets, north of today’s University Village Shopping Center. Ravenna’s origins were as a ravine which became a park, and a scenic stop on Seattle’s early railroad line. The first cluster of businesses were near to the railroad stop on NE Blakeley Street.
The origins of Ravenna in Seattle
In 1938 long-time real estate agent C.T. Conover began writing a column for the Seattle Times newspaper. He recounted stories of the old days and told that before he went into business in 1888, George Dorffel was one of only a few others in business full-time selling real estate in Seattle. Today there is a street named in George Dorffel’s honor, Dorffel Drive, in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood.
George Dorffel was born in Germany and came to the USA at a young age. In 1883 in Seattle he married Otilda Ulin who had come to Seattle in 1868. Otilda was the daughter of immigrant parents. Her mother Frederica was from Germany and her father Eric Ulin, from Sweden, was a shipwright (a carpenter who builds and repairs boats.)
Ravenna was the name chosen by the Dorffels in 1887 for a natural area, a tree-filled ravine in northeast Seattle, which later became Ravenna Park. They filed this plat map in 1887 for land they had bought adjoining this wooded ravine, and another map in 1888 for land from NE 50th to 55th Streets west of today’s 25th Ave NE. This second plat map called Ravenna Springs Park Supplemental, showed the curving route of the railroad line along today’s NE Blakeley Street, with its train depot at 24th Ave NE just west of 25th Ave NE.
Filing a plat map with a diagram of house lots implies that the lots will be offered for sale, but in the 1880s sales were slow in this area which had few resources such as stores, and was hard to reach due to the lack of roads. As a real estate speculator, perhaps Mr. Dorffel wanted to get ahead of the development he believed would come to northeast Seattle with the extension of Seattle’s own railroad line sponsored by city mover-and-shaker Thomas Burke.
The coming of the railroad: train stops established in northeast Seattle
By the end of the year 1887 the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad (SLS&E) was making its way through northeast Seattle towards Bothell, in the quest to bring materials such as bricks, coal and lumber from outlying areas into the city of Seattle. Thomas Burke and his co-investors had set up a brick plant at Pontiac (Sand Point area on Lake Washington) just before Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. The timing could not have been better. The brick plant and the railroad itself was successful in those days of strong demand for materials to rebuild the city.
The train stops of the SLS&E averaged about a mile-and-a-quarter apart. On a map of 1894 the stops can be seen which helped establish place names in previously-unnamed northeast Seattle.
At Ravenna we see the park marked on the map, along with Seattle Female College and Calvary Cemetery. Written vertically underneath the word Cemetery, “Keith” is labeled, which was the train stop at the present site of Metropolitan Market on 40th Ave NE.
There was a community at Yesler (today’s Laurelhurst) and Pontiac at the present site of Magnuson Park on Lake Washington. The University of Washington had not yet moved to its present site as of this map of 1894, but the site was designated.
The Becks become Ravenna’s boosters
In 1888 the little community of Ravenna began to take shape as molded by new planners and developers, Rev. W.W. Beck and his wife Louise. The Becks had come from Kentucky, arriving in Washington Territory in time for the birth of their first son in Spokane in 1886. By the time of the birth of their second son in 1889, the Becks were settled in the new community of Ravenna which they promoted with plats of land given the Ravenna name.
On January 8, 1890, the Ravenna postal stop on the SLS&E Railroad was made official. This meant that there were enough people at the site to justify a train station and a postal address. A census taken in 1892 listed fifty people living at Ravenna, including William M. Blakeley who was the owner of a flour mill near the railroad. The railroad stop was located just west of 25th Ave NE on NE Blakeley Street (would be NE 51st Street if it had a number.) The present site is the Blakeley Manor building at 2401 NE Blakeley Street.
East of 25th Ave NE, the course of the railroad tracks curved along Blakeley around a swampy area (now the University Village Shopping Center).
In 1891 the Rainier Power & Electric Railway, a streetcar line, was extended up 15th Ave NE and then over to Ravenna Park on its north side at about NE 60th Street. The Becks had begun charging admission to the park which like many other developments in north Seattle, such as Green Lake, was meant to attract new residents to buy property in the area.
Plats and house lots laid out by the Becks
Beck’s plat of 1889 called the Cumberland Addition, was for house lots east of 25th Ave NE from NE 60th to 65th Streets. Cumberland is a river name and region straddling Kentucky and Tennessee, and the Becks represented the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination. This church group had been established in Kentucky-Tennessee in 1810 and survived the Civil War, 1861-1865, because it was in a region where the people did not want to get involved in the war.
As developers of Ravenna, Rev. & Mrs. Beck platted house lots, founded a Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Ravenna and ambitiously tried to start a school called Seattle Female College. Mrs. Beck was a musician who taught at the school. After the nationwide economic crash of 1893, the fortunes of the school declined. The last newspaper mention of the school was in January 1896 when Mrs. Beck’s students gave a music recital. It may be also, that after the University of Washington opened at its present campus in 1895, young women could seek advanced education there rather than at the Beck’s private school. Over many years’ time, Mrs. Beck continued as a piano teacher at a studio space.
A plat called Wassom’s Addition to Ravenna Park, filed by the Becks in 1890, gave tribute to co-investor Jonathan Wassom of Kentucky. This plat was the first to include the name Blakeley Street, named for businessman William Blakeley who owned a flour mill at Ravenna. Many street names were revised in “the Great Renaming” of 1895, but Blakeley has been preserved, the same street name as was bestowed by the Becks in 1890.
The Beck’s first home in the 1890s was marked on the Wassom’s Addition plat map with a square just above the section number 9. Their house was located at approximately the northeast corner of NE 57th Street and 26th Ave NE (this house is not extant).
Over the decades from 1888 to 1928 the Becks were active Seattleites in the community. Mrs. Beck was often mentioned in news articles about music programs and participation in the Seattle Federation of Womens Clubs. These clubs promoted education and voting rights for women, and helped organize charitable work.
Ravenna in the suburbs
In July 1897 the Klondike Gold Rush began when a ship containing “a ton of gold” arrived in Seattle. In August an article in the Seattle Daily Times newspaper commented on the sudden population increase of those coming to Seattle and embarking for the North, and commented on the corresponding increase in crime including pickpockets and burglars:
“Burglars have been especially active during the past week… They operate in all parts of the city and have gone into the suburbs. Thursday evening of last week they went through the general merchandise store of L.R. Roper at Ravenna…. they took a generous assortment of ready-made clothing. The matter was reported to the police Friday morning…. No developments resulted from the investigation as the robbers left no clues behind…” (Seattle Daily Times August 3, 1897, page 5)
This burglary may have been the last straw for the storekeeper, Mr. Llewellyn R. Roper, as the next census listing showed that he had moved to Capitol Hill, Seattle, with his wife and two sons. Besides the difficulties of business in remote Ravenna, the area lacked some basic services such as schools for children, so in some respects Ravenna was still a pioneer outpost and it struggled to become a town.
Even in those gold rush days of 1897, Ravenna was “too far out.” A newspaper article commented about the sudden population increase and lack of sufficient housing in Seattle during the gold rush, except in remote areas like Ravenna:
“Perhaps no one is better able to judge the number of vacant houses in the city than the car conductors on the various lines of street railroads. In the territory covered by the Third Street and Suburban Railroad, from Brooklyn clear into Seattle, hardly an empty house can be seen from the car platform. The conductors say that they do not know of any in good condition but what are occupied or will have an occupant within a few days. At Ravenna, the terminus of the line, there are a few houses without tenants, owing to the distance from the business portion of the city.” (Seattle Daily Times, September 22, 1897, page 5)
Finally in 1907 a portion of Ravenna was annexed to become part of the City of Seattle, but this was only a narrow area closest to 15th Ave NE, contiguous with the University District. It is likely that the City was trying to get areas along streetcar lines ready for the “world’s fair” event to be held on the campus of the University of Washington, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. The streetcar line went only as far as Ravenna Park. The city limits went up to NE 65th Street and would remain there until the 1940s. Finally in 1954 the north Seattle City Limits were set at 145th Street as they are today.
The end of the Beck era in Ravenna
As of 1926 Rev. & Mrs. Beck lived at 2128 NE Park Road, off of Ravenna Blvd, west of the intersection of 55th and 25th. Mrs. Beck died there in 1928 and Rev. Beck moved away. This house was the beginning of the Park Home Circle houses (today’s Candy Cane Lane) which was developed by the Beck’s son Broussais.
The Becks had been living in a larger home aligned with 21st Ave NE just to the north of the present Candy Cane Lane. That house was demolished and the Becks moved into the new, smaller house at 2128 NE Park Road, while their son developed the rest of the site. Broussais Beck hired architect Carl Gould to do the site plan of houses in a circle, and the architecture of the Tudor-castle style houses.
Today Candy Cane Lane and the nearby intersections of 55th and 25th as well as Blakeley and 25th, are in contrast with Ravenna’s early days as a remote suburb with few buildings. As the University of Washington grew, residential areas expanded to the northeast in neighborhoods like Ravenna. Ravenna housing expanded and the commercial district underwent explosive growth. Now the intersection of 25th & Blakeley is dense with cars where the Burke-Gilman Trail, the former rail route, crosses the busy street.
Annexed cities and the setting of Seattle City Limits: resource guide.
Census and city directory listings for the Blakeley, Beck, Dorffel and Roper families.
King County Parcel Viewer: plat maps.
#504 “Ravenna Post Office opens January 8, 1890,” by Greg Lange, 1998.
#3315 “City of Seattle Annexes the Town of Ravenna on January 15, 1907,” by Greg Lange, 2001.
#3502 “Seattle Neighborhoods: Ravenna-Roosevelt Thumbnail History,” by David Wilma, 2001.
#10580 “Ravenna School History,” Seattle School Histories.
“The Old Days,” by C.T. Conover, Seattle Sunday Times, March 6, 1938, page 36.
“Ravenna Park.” Wikipedia on-line encyclopedia, info retrieved 10 March 2022.
Seattle Historical Sites: Park Home Circle (Candy Cane Lane)
Seattle’s Streetcar Era, by Mike Bergman, 2021. King County Library System 385.509797 BER.
Writes of Way: street names in Seattle.