Wedgwood is the neighborhood in northeast Seattle where I (Valarie) grew up. My research and writing started in 1991 as a PTA mom in the local-history project of Wedgwood Elementary School that year. From that beginning which mostly involved interviewing elderly neighborhood residents, over the years I learned to use more research resources such as property records.
The purposes of the Wedgwood in Seattle History blog are to tell stories of the development of northeast Seattle neighborhoods; their setting in the time periods of Seattle history; and to highlight the research resources which everyone can access – many sources are now on-line. See “Links” on the right-side-margin of this blog page for the list of resources I regularly use.
Expanding this blog to include other neighborhood histories
Many bloggers find that over time they want to diverge from their original purpose or add sidelines. This blog started out in January 2012 to be just about Wedgwood but then I found other stories of Seattle history which I wanted to include. I have added stories about other northeast Seattle neighborhoods, most especially Meadowbrook which is contiguous with Wedgwood on the north. I delved deeply into the history of Meadowbrook when I was commissioned to create a display book for the opening of the Meadowbrook Community Center in January 1997. Today, most of the stories in that print resource have now been posted here on this blog.
Meadowbrook history goes back to the 1890s when its residents established a school in northeast Seattle. In 2014-2015 I posted articles on this blog about the work which was done at the site of Meadowbrook Pond, and along 35th Ave NE at NE 107th Street. There, Thornton Creek’s two branches converge at The Confluence. To learn more, choose the Meadowbrook topic on the Categories tab.
And I love Fremont, too!
Another one of my interests and involvements is in the Fremont Historical Society. Fremont is a Seattle neighborhood located at the northwest corner of Lake Union. Its history and development is in great contrast to that of Wedgwood. The contrasts between the two neighborhoods have helped me in pondering why Wedgwood is the way it is. I have added my Fremont history writings to this blog and they can be found on the Categories tab.
Defining Wedgwood: businesses and boundaries
The business districts of northeast Seattle are mostly aligned along the north-south geographical ridge of the arterial 35th Ave NE. East of the arterial, the land slopes sharply away, down to Sand Point Way NE which follows the shoreline of Lake Washington.
The boundaries of Wedgwood are from NE 75th to 95th Streets, 25th to 45th Avenues NE and west to Lake City Way between NE 85th to 95th Streets. “Boundaries” is a bit arbitrary, but in the 1950s the first Wedgwood Community Club set these streets as defining the neighborhood. Ironically Wedgwood Rock at 7200 28th Ave NE is technically outside of the boundaries of the Wedgwood neighborhood because it is south of NE 75th Street.
Beginning in the 1980s Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods reinforced a sense of ownership and investment in defined areas for newly re-engaged community councils. I knew the founders of the Wedgwood Community Council, Frank & Dorothy Brancato, and I have written about how they re-started activism in Wedgwood.
Wedgwood’s neighborhood features and commercial district
Wedgwood is a residential neighborhood with a vibrant commercial district along its central arterial, 35th Ave NE. Wedgwood has banks, businesses, coffee shops, churches, park/playfields, restaurants, stores, public & private schools, a fire station and the main post office for the 98115 zip code. Here’s a link to the City of Seattle neighborhood map (misspelled Wedgewood!!!!)
Wedgwood’s most unique space, The Gathering Place at Hunter Tree Farm, was created in 2011, a public-private partnership for a usable outdoor meeting area. The Gathering Place initiative was coordinated by Wedgwood’s community council which plans activities, partners with other organizations and is involved in many issues such as emergency preparedness, land use, park acquisition, streets and traffic safety, and future development.
Wedgwood was somewhat rural, was outside of the city limits and had NO apartment buildings until after World War Two. Then sixty more years went by until another apartment building opened, the Jasper in 2012. The Jasper was the first four-story-tall building to be built near Wedgwood’s commercial center on 35th Ave NE nearest to NE 85th Street. Construction of the Jasper was a wake-up call which precipitated action by the Wedgwood Community Council: the formation of a land use committee to address future developments.
Redevelopment changes in Wedgwood
Issues of building height, density and development will continue to be felt in Wedgwood as its commercial buildings age and are replaced. On February 17, 2015, the Big Green House, one of the oldest houses in the Wedgwood area, was demolished to make way for a new townhouse complex. The Big Green House was in a commercial zone and had long been under threat, but when demolition finally happened, it was symbolic of the type of redevelopment which will come to other buildings as they age.
In 2014-2015 the Future of 35th Ave NE project was conducted to address the look and usability of the commercial zone along 35th Ave NE. The purpose was to get ahead of new development projects by defining neighborhood needs and presenting documentation. Only by setting out guidelines ahead of time for what we want in Wedgwood’s commercial district, can we get the retail storefronts we want instead of the blank walls of townhouse structures.
The Future of 35th Ave NE document was published and presented to the Land Use Committee of Seattle City Council in February 2015. Since that time, City Council has not taken action on the request and has added more layers of “process” before Wedgwood can get the requested zoning changes which will affect what can and can’t be built along 35th Ave NE.
Zoning regulations for the desired retail district in Wedgwood
Wedgwood is still waiting, waiting and waiting for the zoning request of the Future of 35th Plan, to go through the process of consideration by City Council. As of 2016 another step in the process was added. City Council is considering a bill which essentially addresses zoning for the whole city and includes the need for more housing. The HALA legislation (Housing Affordability and Livability) creates denser zoning in some areas of Seattle, especially those referred to as “Urban Villages.”
For neighborhoods like Wedgwood which are not dense urban zones, the Future of 35th Plan requested zoning changes only for the commercial nodes in Wedgwood (primarily at the intersections of NE 75th and 85th Streets.) The “pedestrian zone” as defined by the Future of 35th Plan, is for retail storefronts and a walkable streetscape in the business districts along 35th Ave NE. In this way, by a requested zoning change, the Future of 35th Plan hoped to prevent townhouses from coming in by requiring that buildings in the commercial districts have retail storefronts with apartments or condos above, to help to create the needed population to support small shops.
Waiting and waiting for the Future of 35th Ave NE
As of the year 2017 there is still no indication that City Council will act on Wedgwood’s request for changes to the commercial zoning. While we are waiting and waiting for City Council to take action, it is too late for some buildings in Wedgwood as more buildings in the commercial zones are being lost to the pressures of townhouse developments. On September 27, 2016, one building in a cluster of the office complex built by Albert Balch, Wedgwood’s original developer, was demolished. The building at 8038 35th Ave NE will be replaced by townhouse structures which will mar the harmonious look of the low-scale Balch office buildings on this block.