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Seattle Neighborhoods: Wedgwood -- Thumbnail History

HistoryLink.org Essay 3462 : Printer-Friendly Format

Wedgwood (sometimes misspelled Wedgewood) was born of the housing boom of World War II, but its history reaches back to prehistoric times. Native Americans used the Wedgwood Rock as a landmark. In later years, picnickers, university students, climbers, and even hippies enjoyed it too. One of the farms in the neighborhood became the first P-Patch in Seattle. Wedgwood is a neighborhood in northeast Seattle, north of Ravenna, along what would become 35th Avenue NE.

Urban Farmers

The neighborhood began to develop when logging slash gave way to small farms. A. W. Chandler purchased a wetland above N 85th Street and platted it into four-and-a-half acre farm tracts. The bog was drained to reveal rich soil. He named his project the Mary J. Chandler Addition to Seattle.

In 1922, Italian immigrant Ernesto Picardo bought four of the blocks and began raising vegetables. In 1965, the last Picardo retired from farming. Darlyn Rundberg saw the Picardo farm going unused and she envisioned a community garden. With the help of City Councilman Bruce Chapman, she got the city to lease the land and to pay the outstanding taxes of $688. Three acres were turned over to the Puget Consumers' Cooperative and the plot became the 'P' Patch. By 1971 there were 180 plots being cultivated. The land was purchased by the city in 1973 and the program expanded. In 2001, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods had 38 P-Patches with 1900 plots and 4,600 gardeners on 12 acres of land.

Boom

In 1941, Albert Balch (1903-1976) and Maury Seitzer proposed a $1 million housing project northwest of View Ridge. The U.S. was preparing for the war that was sweeping Europe and Seattle was inundated with defense workers who needed housing. With the assistance of the National Housing Act and the Federal Housing Authority, Balch started building 500 homes on a 40-acre tract. Balch built the homes and sold them for $5,000 each.

Balch, a former radio ad salesman, got his start in development when he bought 10 acres above Sand Point in 1935 for $25 down. He called the project View Ridge and made it his home. Balch's wife Edith (d. 1970) never liked the name so he told her she could choose the next one. She picked the name of her favorite English china -- Wedgwood.

Big Rock

Native Americans knew what would become the Wedgwood neighborhood because it was a crossroads. Over 14,000 years ago, the Vashon Glacier left behind a large boulder, 19 feet tall and 75 feet in circumference. Geologists called the feature an erratic since it was unlike any other rocks in the area. It was similar to one larger rock near Coupeville on Whidbey Island, and to Four-Mile Rock off Magnolia Bluff. The rock was useful landmark and it became the intersection of a number of trails through the dense forest.

After the Native Americans departed for reservations, the rock became a popular picnic site for Seattle residents. Professor Edmund Meany of the University of Washington often led field trips there. It was called simply, Big Rock. Mountaineers and Scouts enjoyed climbing it.

Big Rock was owned by Winlock Miller, a regent at the University. His father had acquired the land prior to statehood. In 1941, Big Rock was in the middle of Al Balch's Wedgwood development. Balch had to promise not to touch the rock as part of the agreement to sell. After that, Big Rock became Wedgwood Rock. Neighbors cared for the plants and trees that grew around it.

In 1970, Wedgwood Rock acquired a new reputation. Some neighbors complained to the city council about hippies who frequented the rock. Complainants reported that, "dirty, long-haired, bearded individuals" (Lake City Star) loitered around the rock, climbed it, and disturbed the neighborhood. Climbers were accused of harassing citizens, taking drugs while on the rock, and using abusive language. The petitioners expressed the belief that Big Rock was being used by hippies to identify homes to burglarize. In October 1970, the city council took the situation seriously and passed an ordinance making it a crime to climb Big Rock, punishable by a fine of $100.

The "e" issue

Edith Balch's china was made by Wedgwood in England. Some business owners found the spelling odd and inserted an "e," making the spelling Wedgewood. In 2001, five businesses in the neighborhood are named Wedgewood, while 11 stuck to the original spelling. Community council meetings have been marred by vocal support of each version.

Sources:
Don Sherwood, "Dahl P.F.," in "Interpretive Essays of the Histories of Seattle's Parks and Playfields," Handwritten bound manuscript dated 1977, Seattle Room, Seattle Public Library; Don Sherwood, "Davis Park," Ibid.; Don Sherwood, "Wedgwood Square," Ibid. Mark Higgins, "A Little Slice Of Life That Suits Neighbors Just Fine," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 31, 1998, Neighbors; "Wedgwood Rock Being Investigated By City," Lake City Star, July 15, 1970; Clipping, "Million Dollar Project Calls For 500 Homes," The Seattle Daily Times, July 6, 1941, p. 8, Local History File, Northeast Branch, Seattle Public Library; Clipping, "Work Starts In Wedgwood Area," Ibid., July 14, 1941, Local History File, Northeast Branch, Seattle Public Library; O. Casey Corr, "A Fine Development," The Seattle Times July 22, 1990, G-1; Charles R. Cross, "To 'e' Or Not To 'e,'" Seattle, August 1993, pp. 25-27.


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Map showing location of the Wedgwood neighborhood of Seattle
Map by Chris Goodman, Courtesy HistoryLink


Wedgwood Rock, 2001
Photo by David Wilma


The first P-Patch
Courtesy Seattle Department of Neighborhoods


 
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