The neighborhood of South Park, on the west bank of the Duwamish River, was once a small town of Italian and Japanese farmers who supplied fresh produce to Seattle's Pike Place Market. South Park annexed to Seattle in 1907. After World War II, the tiny community struggled to keep from being overwhelmed by industrial development.
The first residents of South Park were Native Americans of the Duwamish tribe. For thousands of years, they took fish from the river, grew potatoes, gathered bulbs and berries, and hunted game. Extended families lived in large cedar longhouses. In 1853, S. S. Crow described the area as "bottom land, covered with white maples, cottonwood, alder and crabapple, and is easily cleared."
Beginning in 1851, settlers like Eli Maple (or Mapel) (1831-1911) from the United States staked claims to the land. Across the river and a little downstream, Luther Collins (1813-1860) claimed land that would later become Georgetown. Daniel and Adam Schneider joined Maple in 1853. George Holt, Augustus Hograve, William Ralston, Francis McNatt, and John Buckley built farms there.
In last half of the nineteenth century, development and industry favored Georgetown, which left South Park to the farmers. The area was variously known as South Duwamish Station, Station South, McNatt Place, and Donovan Place.
In 1889, I. William Adams purchased the Donovan farm and he platted the town of South Park. The Grant Street Electric Railway extended a trolley line from Seattle to South Park, crossing the Duwamish River over a wooden drawbridge.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Italian immigrants moved in to raise crops. In the 1890s, two Roman Catholic brothers from Belgium opened the Brothers School accepting boarders and day students. This later became Our Lady of Lourdes Church. After Concord Public School opened in 1914, enrollment declined. The brothers returned to Belgium in 1919.
Japanese farmers joined the Italians and they all took their produce to Seattle. After 1907, they were able to bypass middlemen and commission houses, and sell directly to consumers at the Seattle Public Farmers' Market. South Park farmer Giuseppe "Joe" Desimone (ca. 1880-1946) became quite successful and began acquiring property at Pike Place. By 1941, he owned the Pike Market Company.
On July 8, 1905, South Park voted to be a city of the fourth-class and S. J. Bevan was the first mayor. Joining the city of Seattle offered many advantages including water and electrical utilities. Voters approved annexation on March 24, 1907, 186 to 36. South Park's population was 1,500 and the largest employer was Newell's Mill.
South Park's natural beauty was changed forever when the Duwamish River was rechanneled, beginning in 1913. By 1920, the lazy meanders had been straightened into a straight, deep channel that would accept ocean-going ships and barges. South Park grew by more than 66 acres. Industry began to develop along the banks of the waterway. In the 1920s, the Boeing Airplane Co., just north of South Park, built airplanes for the military and flew them from a gravel airstrip there.
Like the rest of Seattle, South Park experienced rapid and dramatic change during World War II. Just across the river at Boeing Field, Boeing's Plant No. 2, built on land that Joe Desimone sold the company for $1, attracted thousands of workers, as did area shipyards, creating a critical housing shortage. The little farming community was flooded with newcomers. A 256-unit housing project, South Park Courts, was completed in July 1945 for war workers and remained for several years after the war ended.
Industry rapidly encroached and the fertile bottom land that had attracted early settlers and later, Italian and Japanese farmers, was paved. In 1956, the area was rezoned by the city council as "transition to industrial." A 1962 headline proclaimed, "South Park: A Square Mile of Defiance." Housewives marched on City Hall to protest open garbage burning at a nearby dump. Residents reaching back for traditions renewed the Labor Day celebration that World War II had ended.
The Community Hangs On
In the mid 1960s, South Park was rezoned as industrial. Four thousand two hundred residents staged a protest at City Hall and got the zoning changed to low-density residential.
In 1971, Our Lady of Lourdes Church was abandoned and demolished. By 1974, crime was up and the area attracted poor immigrants, principally Hispanics. A freeway sliced between Concord School and the rest of the neighborhood.
In 1989, the city built a community center. By 1999, more amenities were built including a health center. In 2000, Concord School was remodeled and reopened. South Park's low-priced homes within city limits began to attract buyers who improved their properties. This invited retail businesses, but also tended to drive up rents and taxes, putting pressure on older, low-income residents. The dredged river yielded up some of its industrial shoreline for the Duwamish Waterway Park and Cesar Chavez Park.
By 1999, 2,809 people lived in South Park, two-thirds white and 13 percent Asian and Pacific Islander. About 40 percent of the residents are property owners. The median age is just under 31 years.