The little community of Ravenna in northeast Seattle began to expand in the early 1900s. Population growth naturally moved in that direction as more people clustered near to the University of Washington.
The growth of northeast Seattle was further stimulated by a world’s fair event scheduled for the summer of 1909 to be held on the university campus. The fair, called the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE), was of permanent benefit for the development of the campus, and it was the cause of nearby infrastructure improvements such as roads, bridges and streetcar lines.
In the run-up to the AYPE during the years 1906 to 1909, more real estate promotion was done in northeast Seattle which included plats of land divided into house lots.
Census and city directory listings show that in those years a lot of people migrated to Seattle to get in on its economic opportunities. It can be shown that some of the new arrivals were of “secondary migration,” immigrants who had been in other areas of the USA before coming to Seattle. Swan Swanson was one of those who had been born overseas, spent time in the Midwest states of the USA as a farmer and then came to Seattle as a carpenter and real estate dealer.
The Swanson family: from Minnesota to Seattle
Throughout Seattle history, immigrants were attracted to Seattle for its available lands and its economic opportunities. Not all of these immigrants came straight from their home countries, however. Like many other Scandinavians, Swan Swanson first spent years in Minnesota before migrating Westward.
Swan Swanson, born in 1851 in Sweden, came to the USA in 1871 and spent most of the next thirty years in Minnesota. Suddenly at age 52, Swan and his entire family moved to Seattle. We may guess that Swan was worn out by farming and wanted a less strenuous occupation, and he may also have wanted greater economic opportunities for his six children.
The Swanson family arrived in Seattle in 1903 and Swan went to work as a real estate salesman for Dielmann Investment Company. The company was selling the still-inexpensive parcels of land which were available just outside the Seattle City Limits of northeast Seattle (at NE 65th Street) in the Ravenna community to the northeast of the University of Washington. The university had been established at its present site in 1895 but the campus was as-yet undeveloped. Ravenna was still mainly a satellite community, like a suburb, with a small cluster of businesses along NE 55th Street nearest to 25th Ave NE.
Swan Swanson, his wife and three youngest children moved into a new house at 1326 NE 62nd Street (built 1908) overlooking Cowen Park. The house was just steps from 15th Ave NE with access to the streetcar line and other modern conveniences in the growing University District.
The permit application for building the house said that it would be a one-and-a-half-story frame cottage with value of $2,000. Swan Swanson was listed as the owner and architect. This didn’t necessarily mean that he had designed the house, but he might have made modifications to a stock plan published in a plan book.
The Swanson’s two eldest sons, Oscar and William, were both carpenters. They moved to the undeveloped area around today’s 25th Ave NE and NE 75th Street where they began building houses.
Developing real estate in northeast Seattle
As of the early 1900s a few other real estate developers were investing in land to the northeast of the university, including Alexandrina McKenzie, Victor Palmer, and the well-known Crawford & Conover. Once plans were announced for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition to be held on the campus of the University of Washington in 1909, interest in northeast Seattle land investment increased. It was known that City water, electricity and streetcar lines would be extended to the university site, and developers probably thought these improvements would come to nearby areas as well.
Northeast Seattle continued as a semi-rural community for decades after the AYPE of 1909, with real estate ads emphasizing existing fruit trees and that the soil was good for gardening. Areas developed by the Swanson family north of NE 65th Street, outside of the city limits, had to have well water and get along without electricity. The Swanson’s two eldest sons, Oscar and William, were carpenters and contractors in the plats of land in Ravenna where they and their father shared the investments.
The plats of 1907
In the early 1900s houses began to be built farther northward of Ravenna’s NE 55th Street, along the valley around 25th Ave NE. In 1907 Swan Swanson and his sons filed plats of land marked with house lots, which were given names reflecting the Ravenna sense of place.
The legal plat filing of Swanson’s First Addition in January 1907 was witnessed by Swan Swanson’s boss, real estate salesman Charles Dielmann. The plat of house lots was between NE 25th to 27th Avenues, in a half-block north of NE 68th Street (only half-way to NE 70th Street.)
The Ravenna Valley Addition
Together with their son William & his wife Annie, Swan & Lottie Swanson filed another plat in March 1907. Their activities showed that they had the funds to purchase land and they felt confident of getting buyers of house lots who would want to live to the northeast of the University of Washington. This plat called the Ravenna Valley Addition extended from NE 73rd to 77th Streets across Ravenna, 24th, and 25th Avenues NE. Charles Dielmann helped by notarizing the plat filing document.
In May 1907 Charles Dielmann himself filed one more plat, the Ravenna Valley Addition No. 2, adjoining the first Ravenna Valley Addition.
Charles Dielmann was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1865, of German immigrant parents. We can speculate that if Dielmann was able to speak German and Swan Swanson could speak Swedish, they could access the immigrant customer base in Seattle. The census of early 1900s in northeast Seattle showed many residents from those backgrounds.
Just prior to the filing of the Ravenna Valley Addition plat map, William Swanson had already built his own house there in preparation for his marriage to Annie in February 1907. The couple raised five children, and William Swanson died at the house at 7508 Ravenna Ave NE in 1958.
Oscar’s Addition plat of houses — now Dahl Field
William Swanson’s older brother Oscar lived on the edge of what is now Dahl Field at 7700 25th Ave NE. In 1923 the plat of Oscar’s Addition to the City of Seattle was filed with a layout of large lots. At that time, 1923, the area was still very rural and it wasn’t unusual for people to have large lots, or more than one lot, for their gardens and for outbuildings such as a chicken house.
The boundaries of Oscar’s Addition were from NE 77th Street (about the site of the present skateboard park) up to NE 80th Street. In the photo above, the street end of NE 77th can be seen as it no longer runs all the way across; the present Dahl Field once had a continuation of this street all the way through to 25th Ave NE.
Filing a plat and beginning house-building in Oscar’s Addition
The legal filing of Oscar’s Addition showed that Oscar Swanson’s brother William was named as mortgagee, that is, the person who loaned the money for the purchase of the property. Perhaps this indicates that the two brothers would share any profits from lot sales and they might work together on house-building.
We may speculate on the reasons why William & Oscar Swanson waited until 1923 to file this plat. Oscar and his family had lived there for a few years on an unplatted lot and perhaps they were ready to develop the site. We see that the northern boundary of the plat was on NE 80th Street, which was adjacent to the Picardo Farm. The plat of Oscar’s Addition was filed at about the same time that Ernesto Picardo acquired his property and began to do intensive farming there.
Before Oscar’s Addition the present site of Dahl Field had been known as Big Swamp. It was very wet there, and we may speculate on how the Picardo Farm might have affected the area perhaps by creating better drainage. For whatever reason, Oscar & William Swanson felt that, by 1923, the site of their new plat was suitable for house-building.
Building houses in Oscar’s Addition
Another reason why Oscar Swanson might have chosen to build houses for income was that he was getting ready to leave Seattle, and he might have wanted to earn money for moving. He and his family soon re-settled in Alberta, Canada.
William Swanson transitioned from being a carpenter in Ravenna to being a “contractor,” which meant someone who coordinates the work of house-building. This was a typical transition for a carpenter as he got older. Some of William’s sons followed him into the carpentry trade and in the relatively prosperous 1920s, they continued to build houses in the Ravenna Valley plat and in Oscar’s Addition. Again in the 1940s, when Seattle’s population swelled with war industry workers, more houses were built at what is now Dahl Field.
The ground-sinking disaster of 1949
This area of northeast Seattle finally started to come into the City Limits of Seattle in the 1940s. In 1949 the City began extending sewer lines northward along major arterials such as 25th Ave NE. In so doing, water poured into the trenches and the engineers realized that there was a peat bog along 25th Ave NE, present site of Dahl Field.
When water was pumped out of the sewerline trenches, the ground sank along with the houses in Oscar’s Addition. This is the reason why a playfield was created, to clear the area of houses and put the field into City ownership.
In his investigation, Seattle City Engineer R.W. Finke wrote that:
“Claims totaling $5500 have been filed against the City of Seattle for damage to the houses within the area by reason of the sewer construction. The unwatering of the sewer trenches produced some subsidence (sinking) in the peat for distances as great as 100 feet from the trenches. The taking of the area for playfield purposes will eliminate the necessity for settling or contesting these claims. Considering the many economies which will result, it is our opinion that the site south of East 80th Street is preferable to the Picardo tract (for use as a playfield.) August 30, 1949.”
Although William Swanson was not mentioned in news articles about the damaged houses, we can speculate that he might have bought-back some houses or offered a new lot placement for houses which could be moved.
Two houses on the (future) Dahl Field were moved over to William Swanson’s Ravenna Valley plat; one has since been torn down. The other house, formerly at 2610 NE 77th Street, is now at 7550 Ravenna Ave NE (built in 1943, moved in 1951).
In the busy years after World War Two ended in 1945, there was a housing boom in Seattle as young adults returned from war service, married, and looked for family homes. Real estate in northeast Seattle was still relatively inexpensive as compared to close-to-downtown Seattle neighborhoods like Capitol Hill.
House-moving, to preserve a building and re-use it, was more common in the 1940s-1950s than it is now. William Swanson seemed to be part of this trend as some houses were moved from other neighborhoods to available lots in his plats.
The house at 7514 24th Ave NE, built in 1913, came from the block which once had a Sears store and is now Roosevelt Square on NE 65th Street. The house was built in 1913 at 1022 NE 64th Street on the southern edge of that block. The house was moved to its present site in 1951.
A house which was moved to 2306 NE 73rd Street came from 6841 17th Ave NE. It had been built there in 1907.
A house now at 7511 23rd Ave NE, built in 1943, came from 12009 34th Ave NE. It was moved to its present site in 1952, for unknown reasons.
Census and city directory listings.
#1954 “City of Seattle annexes six towns,” by Greg Lange, 2000.
#3315 “City of Seattle annexes the Town of Ravenna on January 15, 1907,” by Greg Lange, 2001.
Plat maps — available at the King County Parcel Viewer.
Property records: Puget Sound Regional Archives. Houses which have been moved have the old address crossed out and the new one written in on the Property Record Card.
Ravenna info — see previous article on this blog for a capsule history of the Ravenna neighborhood.
“Ravenna Valley Addition,” Seattle Post-Intelligener, March 10 1907, page 58.
“Lots….close to Ravenna Park,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 5, 1907, page 46.
“Permit application, Swan Swanson, 1326 NE 62nd Street.” Seattle Daily Times, February 18, 1908, page 27.
“Funeral services for William J. Swanson, retired building contractor.” Seattle Daily Times, February 28, 1958.