In 1939 a newlywed couple, James & Bonnie May Burnett, moved into a new house on NE 88th Street in northeast Seattle. Their block of new houses was occupied mostly by other young couples. This was only the Burnett’s first house, as they moved to newer houses twice more, following the real estate trends in northeast Seattle.
James Burnett was an up-and-coming real estate salesman who had moved to Seattle for its more hopeful economic outlook. Seattle was beginning to pull out of the long down-period of the 1930s and houses were beginning to be built again. James Burnett’s career as a real estate salesman and as a developer, followed the growth of northeast Seattle.
Building houses and relationships
In 1940 the Burnetts were guests at a dinner dance fundraiser for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital. The hosts of their table were Mr. & Mrs. Tom Coppage; he was a well-known north Seattle real estate salesman.
Other couples at the table were Mr. & Mrs. Russell Young (he was manager of the classified ads department at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper) and Mrs. & Mrs. Melville Shortt (owner of a construction materials company).
The Coppage & Shortt families were already close friends, as they had been witnesses at each other’s weddings in 1929. The Burnetts were also becoming friends with the others in the group and the men were working together in the increasingly prosperous housing boom in the 1940s in Seattle.
The Fir Crest development of houses in 1939
James & Bonnie May Burnett’s first home in 1939 was a “starter house” at 2759 NE 88th Street, about 1,000 square feet with one bathroom.
The Fir Crest development which began in 1939 is located three blocks north of what would become Wedgwood in 1941. The Fir Crest land had been held by its owners, the Mylroie family, since the early 1900s, for such time as there would be a market for new houses in then-remote northeast Seattle.
The Fir Crest plat is between NE 88th to 90th Streets, 27th to 30th Avenues NE, with about fifty houses in harmonious styles. The Fir Crest houses are in “minimal traditional” design, with little decoration but charmingly set in heavily wooded lots.
Tom Coppage was the real estate agent who represented sales in the Fir Crest plat. It is likely that this was how the Burnetts met him, when they bought their Fir Crest house.
Building houses in Wedgwood in the 1940s
As of 1940 the future Wedgwood was still undeveloped. It was a forty-acre tract of land between NE 80th to 85th Streets, with big trees and a single log house which had been serving as a Catholic chapel. The tract was marked as “Seattle College” because the Jesuits had planned to move the university to this undeveloped land. Instead, about ten years later they sold the site to Albert Balch.
It is likely that Albert Balch, the developer of Wedgwood, looked around to see what other developers were doing in northeast Seattle. We may speculate that Balch saw how attractive the Fir Crest neighborhood was, and he thought to replicate the preservation of trees when he planned the nearby Wedgwood development. He bought the Seattle College tract and re-platted it as the Wedgwood Addition of houses.
In 1946 James Burnett launched out to become a developer who created groups of houses. He and the co-owners of a tract of land, Lewis & Nancy Breece, filed a plat map called Hillcrest Manor Addition. The plat filing indicated that the two couples, the Breeces and Burnetts, would share the profits from house-building on twenty lots in the development between NE 82nd to 85th Streets, bounded on one side by 28th Ave NE.
Lewis Breece had owned this land since the 1930s but he never lived there. It seemed to just be an investment, while he worked for the Seattle School District as a gardener, maintaining the landscaping at school buildings. By the time of the Hillcrest Manor plat filing in 1946, Breece was nearing retirement age and perhaps this land development was intended as income for him.
Hillcrest houses on the hilltop
The Hillcrest Manor Addition comprised a re-naming of one section of land, Tract 16, of the Mary Chandler plat which had originally been named in 1890. At the top left of the Kroll map (below), the topmost, pink-colored section is Hillcrest Manor. To the right (east) along 28th Ave NE is the Nevins & Park plat which had been filed in 1918. Below those, the four pink sections lined up in a row became the Picardo Farm.
The top right corner of this map, marked Seattle College, is the property which had been bought by the Jesuits in 1929. They had planned to move the school (Seattle University) out to northeast Seattle, but they never did. In 1940 they sold this tract to Albert Balch and the land became the site of the original Wedgwood houses, between NE 80th to 85th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE.
House styles become “modern” going into the 1950s
The houses in the Hillcrest Manor plat were built in 1948 in Mid-Century Modern style. Mid-Century Modern architecture features clean lines, flat planes, geometric forms and asymmetrical composition. There are no “historic references” such as gables, shutters or mullioned windows as in the Colonial and Cape Cod styles which were meant to evoke early Americana.
The Burnetts built and moved into a house at 2568 NE 83rd Street in their Hillcrest plat. Next door was the Coppage family at 2562 NE 83rd Street. Both families’ houses were perched on the crest of the hill, overlooking the view to the south, including the fields of the Picardo Farm.
The Coppage family lived in their Hillcrest Manor house for many more years and they became active members of the Wedgwood community. In 1958 Tom Coppage moved his real estate office from the University District to Wedgwood’s business district at 8038 35th Ave NE. The building was next door to Woodlawn Optical and was torn down in 2016.
After eight years in their first house in Fir Crest on NE 88th Street, the Burnett family lived only five years on NE 83rd Street in Hillcrest in Wedgwood, before moving on again. James Burnett had become a developer in plats adjacent to Windermere, east of Sand Point Way NE, and the family moved to 6614 NE Windermere Road. He became known for clusters of houses on the east side of Sand Point Way NE in or near Windermere.
A view of Wedgwood history from the hilltop
From the corner of the Hillcrest development at NE 83rd Street and 28th Ave NE, we have a panoramic view of houses and history in Wedgwood.
Across from the 1940s Hillcrest houses is the Nevins & Park block, represented by the Big White House at 8234 28th Ave NE. This house built circa 1916-1918 was for one of the group of architects and architectural draftsman who came to live on this hilltop in early years.
Next-door to the 8234 house is 8304 28th Ave NE, which represents the growth and upheaval of the 1950s when the school district suddenly decided to create Wedgwood School where Balch had already started building houses. The 8304 house was originally built on the present site of the school and had to be moved.
Looking southward from the hilltop, south of NE 82nd Street are the houses of developer Albert Balch’s Wedgwood #3. Like other developers such as James Burnett, by the late 1950s Balch was also building houses in Mid-Century Modern styles. These were larger houses with two-car garages and a finished basement family room for watching television.
Looking northward along 28th Ave NE, we can see Wedgwood School at the intersection of NE 85th Street. The school represents the coalescing of the neighborhood identity as “Wedgwood,” when the school was officially named on April 16, 1954. Even though construction of the school building was not finished until June 1955, the Wedgwood name was already obvious as the choice.
The Wedgwood name spread organically from Balch’s first group of houses in 1941, to businesses as they began to use the name and the neighborhood began to form an identity. From those days, even though there were other plat names including James Burnett’s Hillcrest Manor houses, the entire area became known as WEDGWOOD.