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Seattle Neighborhoods: Wallingford -- Thumbnail History
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Wallingford, Seattle's north end community that borders Lake Union, is a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood known for its shops and restaurants, Guild 45th Theater, and Gas Works Park. In 1891, Seattle annexed most of the area north of Lake Union and its outlet to Salmon Bay, an area that included Green Lake. Shortly thereafter, an electric trolley running from Lake Union at Fremont to Green Lake spurred the development of the “interlaken” area, most of which developed into the area known as Wallingford. It was named for John Wallingford (d. 1913) who came from Maine and in 1888, purchased land on this picturesque but not precipitous hill between the two lakes.
John N. Wallingford’s first large addition here was set north of 50th Street and east of Green Lake Way N. But is that Wallingford? In joining the developer’s name with the lake, Wallingford’s Green Lake Addition presages an ambivalence that survives more than a century later. By the vulgar and yet grassroots evidence of classified advertisements for garage sales, many of the residents living north of 50th Street in the twenty-first century consider John Wallingford’s nineteenth century addition part of the Green Lake neighborhood and not what in the twentieth century became know as Wallingford. That they describe as lying south of 50th Street. The second tract that Wallingford added to north Seattle, his Wallingford’s Park Addition, was directly east of East Green Lake and certainly not in Wallingford.
Contiguous to the north and east of Wallingford’s Division of Green Lake is a section remembered by some as “Tangle Town.” The likely source for this name is the irregular configuration of the blocks in an addition set by Wallingford’s son in law, the Green Lake pioneer, William Wood. Part of Wood’s South Green Lake Addition extends as far south as 51st Street. At least for some this part of Tangle Town is also part of Wallingford.
Any uncertainly of the neighborhood’s eastern border with the University District was eliminated when the bulldozing began in the late 1950s on the construction of the Interstate-5 Freeway. However, even before the freeway wiped away 6th Avenue NE, the neighborhood status of 6th Avenue was loose. According to William Bayard, who was born into the family home at 4326 6th Avenue in 1925, 6th Avenue was considered to be “on the cusp of the University District and Wallingford. I went to Lincoln High School in Wallingford. But some of the kids on 6th went to Roosevelt High School.” University District teenagers attended Roosevelt. William Bayard’s education was totally Wallingfordian. Before attending Lincoln High he went first to Latona Grade School and then to Alexander Hamilton Junior High. The names chosen for other historical additions once added a “softness” to the border along 6th Avenue.
Latona and Edgewater
Modern Wallingford still includes two additions that are named for the University -- University Grove and University Hill. Both are north of Wallingford’s principal commercial strip, 45th Street, and west of the freeway.
The southern border of Wallingford is easily described as the north shore of Lake Union. But long before Wallingford became associated with the neighborhood, as early as the 1880s, parts of this shoreline were described as bordering the communities of Edgewater and Latona. The name Latona is still recognizable by the primary school that survives in that pioneer northshore community. The name Edgewater is hardly remembered by anyone, except historians and map readers.
The original Edgewater neighborhood was north of Lake Union to either side of Stone Way. It is there that we may introduce yet another border anxiety. Where should we draw Wallingford’s western border, at Stone Way or four blocks west at Aurora, the old Coast Highway 99 “speedway”?
After a core of concerned Wallingford citizens were unsuccessful in stopping construction of the big and often smelly solid waste transfer station on 34th Avenue and Carr Place in 1966, they formed a Wallingford Planning Committee and enlisted the University of Washington’s Community Development Bureau to conduct a house-to-house survey of the neighborhood to determine its “present desires and future needs.”
One survey surprise revealed that most of the families interviewed living in the four-block swath between Stone Way and Aurora Avenue did not consider themselves Wallingfordians, but more often citizens of Fremont. Thereafter the social scientists agreed that households west of Stone Way would be “dropped from future progress plans affecting Wallingford.”
Actually there is a unique name for this uncertain district just west of Stone Way. Some call it Freford, parallel to Frelard, the name given the uncertain area sharing Fremont and Ballard between 3rd and 8th avenues NW. Border anxieties may be expected of Fremont, the neighborhood that describes itself as “The Center of the Universe.” To complicate matters further, some residents of "Freford" refer to it as "Wallmont."
Completing a circle of Wallingford borders we return to the Green Lake South Addition and take note of a curiosity at its western border mid-block between Woodlawn Avenue and Green Lake Way N. From 51st Street N to 55th Street N (the northern border of Wallingford’s addition) the streets jog slightly to the south to join with the streets of the Supplement to the Woodland Park Addition. These picturesque interruptions in the monotony of a city street grid at the western border of Wallingford’s Green Lake tract illustrate how the inability of developers to agree on “rational” streets often results in a more imaginative and so desirable residential streetscape
At least by the evidence of their home life, John and Arabella Wallingford may be associated more with Green Lake than with Wallingford. In 1893, the city directory lists the Wallingford residence at Green Lake. Their daughter Emma (1859-1949) married William D. Wood (1858-1917), the primary pioneer developer of the Green Lake district. Before he resigned to join the gold rush to Alaska along with his brother-in-law Noble Wallingford, Wood was also mayor of Seattle in 1897.
At any rate it was not the Wallingfords that began the transformation of what was later called Wallingford Hill from forest and small farms into one of Seattle’s primary residential neighborhoods. And it was not in Green Lake where the early transformation of the north end begins but rather along the north shore of Lake Union.
The Lake Union Shore
The harvest of the old growth forest surrounding Lake Union began in earnest after the Western Mill was built on the south shore of the Lake in 1882. In 1885, future Seattle Mayor George Cotterill described the north shore of Lake Union as a “maize of undergrowth and stumps.” Cotterill was part of a surveying party preparing a right-of-way for the construction of the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad. (The old railway bed is preserved as part of the Burke Gilman Trail.) When the railroad reached the north shore of Lake Union in 1887, it stimulated growth all along the line, and it was soon extended well into the hinterlands of King County and as far north as the Canadian Border at Sumas.
The communities of both Edgewater and Latona soon developed -- with stations -- beside the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern tracks. The Latona Addition was platted by James Moore (1861-1929), for many years Seattle’s super-developer. He named it for a slim boat that was squeezed into Lake Union from Lake Washington by way of the narrow log canal and locks built at the Montlake isthmus in 1883. In the late 1880s, the Latona was one of the few powered vessels on Lake Union, and an important server to the north end before electric trolleys were extended to both Fremont and Latona in the early 1890s.
The Latona Bridge and Latona
Soon after opening up Latona, James Moore hired the logger Harry Cowan in the fall of 1890 to clear and clean-up another home tract to the east of Latona. Brooklyn, Moore’s name for his second north end addition, is now remembered only as an avenue in the University District.
Most important to the development of both Latona and Brooklyn was the July 1, 1891, dedication of the Latona Bridge. A band of eight musicians were imported from Fremont to play at the opening of the bridge. Until the University Bridge replaced it in 1919, all traffic to the northeast shores of Lake Union and its Portage Bay had to pass through Latona.
The Latona Bridge crossed Passage Bay (a name now rarely used for bend where Lake Union joins Portage Bay) along the same line of the contemporary Interstate-5 Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge. Especially in the early 1890s, before the University of Washington moved to its new campus beside Brooklyn, the Latona business district at the north end of its namesake bridge was the center of both commerce and culture for the general northeast district.
The most important part of early Latona culture was its primary school. Soon after Seattle annexed its north end in 1891, the city school board purchased six lots for the construction of a four-room schoolhouse. In 1906, a larger frame structure was built facing 5th Avenue NE, and in 1917 a block-long brick addition was added along 42nd Street. Soon after, the original structure was razed. During the 2000-2001 school year, Latona School reopened after a year’s closure for renovation of the 1906 structure, destruction of the 1917 plant and the construction of a new addition partly on the site of the original Latona school. The new school was renamed the John Stanford International School, after the then recently deceased school superintendent. Because the Latona School is the last remaining direct link with this historic community, a activist core of former students, PTA parents, and Wallingford residents successfully lobbied to keep the historic name Latona associated both with the renovated 1906 structure and with the entire reworked campus.
Because of its proximity to Fremont, the Edgewater corner of Wallingford never developed many of its own institutions. Unlike Latona, it built no schools, meeting halls, or churches. Beginning in the mid-1890s, Edgewater – or a cow pasture nearby on Wallingford Hill – did feature the city’s first golf course. For a club house it used a pitched tent. During the 1890s, there was considerable time for golf -- several rounds of it on the three-holed course. Following the 1893 economic crash, Wallingford along with the rest of Seattle floundered at least until 1897, when the Klondike Gold Rush helped revive the greater community by making it the principal supplier and transporter for the miners heading north.
The sound in Wallingford of whacking golf balls was temporary. (In 1901 the Seattle Golf Club moved over to another temporary course in Laurelhurst.) It was also antiphonal with the greater noise in Wallingford, that of clearing the land. The quickest way to remove the huge stumps that were vestiges of the forest clearcut in the 1880s was by exploding them with dynamite. Blasting powder booms were commonplace throughout the district well into the twentieth century. As lots were cleared, the generally modest housing stock that now promises to survive well into the twenty first century began to crowd Wallingford Hill after only a few years of construction.
The Gas Works
The 1907 construction of the gas plant on the Wallingford peninsula that was once a destination for pioneer picnics added the roar of gas manufacturing to the Wallingford habitat. The Wallingford gas plant was the hub for its 30-mile radius underground service. If the wind blew from the south, gas manufactured from the high-temperature cooking of coal sent showers of sparks and soot over the neighborhood. Now any Wallingford excavation for a new basement or water service will uncover a sample of the plant’s gifts dropped from the sky during its ordinarily round-the-clock manufacturing until 1937 when the company substituted the cleaner oil for coal.
Seattle's First World's Fair
The summer-long celebration of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYP) on the University of Washington campus in 1909 was a great spur to north end development. Many Wallingford streets, including Bagley, Corliss, Sunnyside, Eastern, and Meridian avenues were graded, curbed, and given sidewalks between 1907 and 1909 as part of the general improvements mania that accompanied preparations for the AYP. By that time, Wallingford had a second primary school, Interlake School at the jogging corner of 45th Street and Wallingford Avenue, opened in 1904. Three years later Lincoln High School opened three blocks to the west.
Also in 1907, trolley tracks were laid from the University District along 45th Street as far as Meridian Avenue, two blocks east of Interlake. Interlake School was designed after school-district architect James Stephen’s 1902 master design for quickly supplying the booming city with well-lit classically styled frame schoolhouses. By the time of the 1909 AYP exposition, streetcars from the central business district also reached the fair by way of Wallingford.
Wallingford's Boom Years: The 1920s
Once the hill between the University District and Fremont was regularly served by public transportation it rapidly filled in with bungalows and box houses. By the mid-1920s, the Wallingford District was downright buoyant. In an illustrated two page 1925 profile of the neighborhood published in The Seattle Times, Wallingford is described as “one of the most active and important component parts of the city of Seattle.” The profile continues:
“Less than 20 years ago this district was sparsely settled with a few dwellings and a number of small farms. Today it is the home of a population roughly estimated at more than 50,000. It contains as its main business thoroughfare north 45th street which has established a record in development of growth not surpassed by any suburban business street anyplace in the nation. The tremendous business growth and development has come about the last few months ... Less than eight months ago business property in the heart of the Wallingford District on 45th Street was estimated at a value of $50 dollars a front foot. Today the same property is changing hands at a value of $250 per front foot, an increase in value which surpasses, according to the Wallingford businessman, those in the thickly populated centers of Southern California cities and even the Atlantic Coast cities of Florida.”
In drawing the neighborhood borders, the Times reporter has a few surprises. In 1925, the eastern border of the district is set at 1st Avenue NE or five blocks west of the border described above at 6th Avenue NE and since the late 1950s the Interstate-5 Freeway. However what the newspaper takes away on the East, it gives back generously at the north, where Wallingford is described as extending as far as 65th Street. In the twenty first century, it is doubtful than anyone living in the Green Lake neighborhood on 65th Street – even on the south side of 65th Street – would consider themselves as residing in Wallingford.
In 1925, the first two blocks north of Lake Union were zoned for industry. But aside from a few bakeries, the largest cooperage in the city, Standard Oil Company’s north end distribution station, and a few maritime related businesses located on the lake shore, the Times article noted that in Wallingford “virtually every available building lot is occupied by a home. It is the home center of the metropolis.”
Then -- if not now -- many homes meant many children. In 1925 besides its primary schools at Latona and on 45th Street and its Lincoln High, Wallingford would soon have an intermediate school as well, Alexander Hamilton Junior High on 41st Street. Times have changed. The 2000 census reveals that Wallingford is one of the Seattle neighborhoods least populated by children.
Civic Improvements, Neighborhood Make-Overs
Wallingford was already in 1925 the home of the police station that patrolled the entire north end of the city. Long before the Times took note of its accomplishments, the neighborhood was being promoted by the Wallingford Commercial Club. The club's achievements included ornamental street lighting for the commercial zones, and the annual Wallingford Hill pageant for neighborhood youth. The Club was also the primary political instrument for having the streets paved so extensively that the Times described it in 1925 as “one of the finest paved residential sections in Seattle among the younger communities.” As the neighborhood filled up with single-family residences, business leaders successfully lobbied to widen to a full block the zone for apartment houses that ran on either side of 45th Street.
A second vision of Wallingford development described an eventual make-over of much of the neighborhood into a “great retail district.” In the 1925 news story an unidentified member of the Wallingford Commercial Club predicted “that in the not far distant future the waterfront along Lake Union will be reconstructed for the handling of ocean carriers and that a great retail district of the north end will grow up along Stone Way and then across the north end from Stone Way to the University District.” These commercial dreams were further encouraged by the expectation that the city’s first high bridge over Lake Union would reach the north end from Queen Anne at Stone Way.
Dreams Modified by Reality
When Aurora Avenue was chosen instead of Stone Way there was a great deal of complaining and gnashing of teeth on the part of Wallingford’s boomer businessmen. And, although Stone Way has developed into a retail corridor, much of what it sells are products for the building and maintenance of homes, including the great stock of surviving homes on Wallingford Hill. The mid-1920s vision for an industrial-commercial Wallingford has also been frustrated on its waterfront where more of the shoreline has been given to play and pleasure than to ocean-going ships.
When The Seattle Times returned to Wallingford 21 years later they discovered a neighborhood remarkably revived following the combined worries of the Great Depression and World War II. Times reporter Margaret Pitcairn Strachan noted that Wallingford was the “central district” in a north side area that had been recently described by a Post Office Department survey as “the center of population in Seattle.” She describes the district as running north from Lake Union as far as 85th Street (actually 65th) -- a residential swath extending east and west from Roosevelt Way to Aurora Avenue. The Post Office surveyors estimated that within this area 42,831 persons lived in 11,575 dwellings. These 1946 statistics are an exhilarating indication of how the region grew more than 10-fold in a half century. However, by the earlier optimistic estimate of Wallingford promoters, the 1946 statistics are a considerable letdown from their 1925 estimate that 50,000 persons lived between 65th Street (not 85th Street) and Lake Union and between the University District and Fremont. Such hyperboles are the predictable and mostly forgivable vice of neighborhood boomers.
Strachan’s report on the cheerful condition of Wallingford in 1946 notes that even the neighborhood’s secondary commercial center at the intersection of Wallingford Avenue and 40th Street featured two beauty salons, a drug store, cleaner, tavern, bakery, shoe repair shop, dry goods store, grocery, and two markets. In 2001 this little nexus of industry has been reduced to a small recording studio, an upholstery shop, and a corner grocery, the Durn Good Grocery.
A Durn Good Grocery
The Durn Good is a Wallingford institution, although a moving one. Opened early in the twentieth century in a storefront at 2133 N 40th (40th Street and Bagley Avenue), the small neighborhood grocery has been run for the most part by a series of couples. In 1912, Michael and Sara Regan operated the Durn Good. By the late 1920s, they were replaced by Charles and Caroline Irwin who also lived upstairs in the two story corner clapboard. The Durn got its “first” name in the 1950s when Charley and Cynthia Robbins ran it, and in the mid-1970s, the store’s next proprietor Gerry Baired added “Good” before selling the store to Suzie and Thom Swink. When the store was still at its original location at the southeast corner of 40th and Bagley, the Swinks were well-loved for the growing neighborhood portrait that they kept on the wall behind the Durn Good counter.
Before the store was forced to move three blocks west to its present location, the Swinks had collected and collaged for the enjoyment of their customers nearly 2,000 cut-out color portraits of their neighborhood regulars. After Thom Swink died in 1997, the Durn Good was bought by Hugh Brannon, who sold it to Joy Yang in May 2001. It remains a thriving neighborhood institution.
Wallingford's Commercial Center
Following World War II, the heart of Wallingford commerce was still the corner of 45th Street and Wallingford Avenue. This jogging intersection was so attractive for business that in 1946 the Wallingford Commercial Club unsuccessfully lobbied the Seattle School Board to move Interlake Grade School (now the Wallingford Center) off the corner to a less lucrative location at North 42nd Street and Woodlawn Avenue.
For much of the second half of twentieth century one of Wallingford’s primary landmarks was the giant red “FOOD GIANT” sign mounted on the roof of the neighborhood’s first supermarket -- across 45th Street from Interlake School. The butcher Frank Wald opened his Wald’s market directly on the northeast corner in 1948. In little more than two years Wald moved from his little corner grocery -- it was razed for parking -- and moved into his modern Wald’s Foodland on November 17, 1950. Six years later Wald’s partner Leo Haskins change the name to Food Giant and soon built a plant large enough to mount his giant sign.
The neighborhood newspaper, the Outlook, described Frank Wald’s 1950 supermarket risk as “one of the most progressive improvements in years for the Wallingford Shopping district.” Years later, in a 1987 feature article for The Seattle Press, Wallingford historian Stan Stapp recalled a number of other neighborhood developments at the half-century mark. In 1950, Clarence F. Massart, owner of Massart Plumbing (now home of Julia’s Restaurant) and founder of the Wallingford Boys Club was the first Wallingford resident elected to the Seattle City Council in years.
Stapp noted that it was in the summer of 1950 that the Green Lake Aqua Theater opened with Seattle Olympian and world champion Helene Madison McIver taking the first swim. Stan Stapp was in the stands. Stapp became Wallingford’s historian by a combination of his charity and curiosity. He operated the Outlook, a family-run newspaper that began publishing in 1922. Also in 1950, at the tender age of 32, the perennially good-natured Stan Stapp was elected “the youngest president ever” of the Wallingford Commercial Club.
The Guild Theater
In 1950, Stan Stapp remembers standing in the middle of 45th Street in front of the Guild 45 Theater joining the thousands awaiting the public drawing for the Wallingford Jackpot. Among the prizes was a 1950 Buick. Inside, kids packed the motion picture theater for a showing of Hop-A-Long Cassidy in Rustler’s Valley, Tarzan Triumphs, and two cartoons. Stapp remembers that “kids living south of 45th attended the first show, kids north of 45th, the second.”
During the 1960s, the Guild Theater was an important venue for the screening of foreign films drawing fans not only from the increasingly progressive Wallingford neighborhood, but also from all over town. Since special parking permits were first issued in the 1990s, one of the rude surprises for visitors to the Guild – or to the many restaurants on 45th street -- is the difficulty of find a place to park nearby.
From Slump to Gentrification
By the time of the Boeing slump in 1970, the Wallingford neighborhood -- especially much of its housing stock -- had gone seedy. But the post-slump prosperity that followed increased the value of Wallingford homes at a rate that rose much faster than the neighborhood’s street trees. The last opportunity for persons to buy Wallingford fix-it-uppers at a price that would not require indenture to a mortgage payment was in the mid-1980s. A home that in 1987 may have cost $90,000 could draw three times that 12 years later. The happy side of this gentrification is that the Wallingford neighborhood entered the twenty first century looking spiffy. The bungalow homes are for the most part kept up and their flower gardens are often dazzling.
Modern Wallingford has also had its share of victories for preservation and the creative adaptation of historic landmarks. The comely old fire station at the corner of 45th Street and Densmore Avenue has been converted into a public health clinic and a Wallingford Branch of the Seattle Public Library. Interlaken School and the Gas Works are two other Wallingford landmarks that have been saved by reason of imaginative innovation. The primary school closed in 1981, and was reopened in 1985 as Wallingford Center, a mixed living and commercial space with 24 top-floor apartments and 38,000 square feet on the main floor and in the daylight basement for retail stores and restaurants. In 1990, the Wallingford Center and its developer Lorig Associates won the Seattle Design Commission’s “Neighborhood Design That Works” award.
Gas Works Park
In 1956, natural gas began to be piped to the Pacific Northwest from the southwest. There was no further need to manufacture gas from oil in Wallingford, and the rusted gas plant on Lake Union built in 1907 was shut down and its open areas used temporarily by the company for parking its service vehicles. When the city agreed to purchase the site in 1962, it was generally thought that its industrial Gothic architecture would be removed, and the land scrubbed clean of its hydrocarbons for a green sward. That a number of its monumental industrial artifacts were kept was in great part the result of landscape architect Richard Haag’s vision. The city hired Haag in 1970 to prepare a park master plan and he proposed recycling the best of the towers as found sculpture. Since the opening of Gas Works Park in 1975, Haag’s creation has won international awards and the daily thanks of local kite flyers.
One test of neighborhood identity came in the late 1990s when the beloved landmark Food Giant and its big block-letter rooftop sign were converted into another QFC supermarket. A considerable number of Walllingfordians still miss the pop art of the Grandma’s Cookies sign that once reflected on Lake Union from a long factory rooftop on 34th Street. Protesting locals failed to convince the store’s new owners to keep the sign despite the change in corporate identity. QFC, however, did promise to write out “Wallingford” in place of “Food Giant” on the same supermarket roof and while doing it to recycle the “F,” “O,” “I,” “A,” and “D” of the old sign into the new one. The neon coloring was cooled from the Food Giant red to the QFC blue but inside the store, the service warmed up and the food selection grew.
Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now and Then Vols. 1, 2, and 3 (Seattle: Tartu Publishers, 1987); Representative Citizens of Seattle and King County, 1903.
Note: The name of Hamilton Junior High School was corrected on January 29, 2007.
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