The small city of Medina is blessed with an almost pristine location on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, a short bridge crossing (ferry ride in earlier years) away from the pleasures and perils of Seattle. The city, which includes Evergreen Point, has a stable population of about 3,000 and a land area of 1.43 square miles. Throughout its history Medina has been a quiet (and increasingly affluent) residential community with little commercial activity, and quiet and residential it plans to stay.
Medina's beginnings date to the 1870s and 1880s, when it developed as a tiny community of berry (mostly strawberry) farms and orchards. A few settlers came and went during the early years, but Medina's first permanent settler is considered to be Thomas Dabney (1847-1923), who arrived from Seattle in 1886. He wasted little time claiming his stake, and took ownership of land along Lake Washington from what later became NE 8th Street south to and including Dabney Point. By 1890 he'd built Medina's first ferry dock, Dabney's Landing, near the future location of NE 8th. Roads quickly followed.
Soon the little community was big enough for a name. Dabney wanted to name it "Flordeline," but this didn't sit well with other settlers, especially the women. Three women -- Flora Belote, Ruby Burke, and Eliza Geicker -- got together to choose another choice. They each presented a favorite name, and the group chose Belote's: "Medina," for a city on the Arabian Peninsula that is one of the holy cities of Islam. Dabney put up a fight. He planted a Flordeline sign near his ferry landing, which the Medina faction promptly swapped with one that read Medina. Legend has it that there was a war of dueling signs for a while, but Dabney finally gave in. The name Medina stuck, though with a different pronunciation ("Me-dye-na") than the Arabian original ("Me-dee-na").
As if by Magic
The community grew steadily. In 1908 the Medina Grocery opened on the northeastern corner of NE 8th Street and Evergreen Point Road. In 1910 a post office opened in the back of the store, operated by David Hagenstein (c. 1849-1939) and his son Walter (c. 1885-1975). Walter went on to run both establishments from 1924 until 1955. The community also formed Medina School District No. 171 and opened a one-room school in 1910. (This wasn't Medina's first school. Another schoolhouse had been serving local children for at least a decade.) Telephone service arrived a few years later.
Medina was platted on February 18, 1914, as "Medina Heights" (the "Heights" didn't last) by E. A. and Ade Barnes. Six weeks later the ferry Leschi began providing service from Seattle's Leschi Park to Medina, opening the little community to development and turning it into a gateway for those traveling from Seattle to the Eastside, as the area east of Lake Washington came to be called. To handle the increased traffic, a bigger dock was built at the southern end of Evergreen Point Road barely a quarter mile from the old dock.
Medina boomed. A Seattle Times article from April 1914, shortly after the Leschi began service to the community, described the "new suburb spring[ing] up as if by magic" and presciently pointed out that "the people of Seattle are watching developments on the east side of the lake with more than ordinary interest" ("New Suburb Springs…"). In 1916 Lake Washington was lowered nearly nine feet, opening prime new real estate along Medina's shoreline and spurring development further.
With this growth came a need for a coordinated effort to ensure that development met the community's needs. By 1914 the Medina Improvement Club had formed to handle these challenges. It quickly became the community's champion. One of its earliest projects involved drafting a contract with Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power Company to install 25 streetlamps. (Revenue raised from club "streetlight dues" paid for the project.) The club's ladies auxiliary wing hosted card parties, dinners, and dances to raise money for other civic projects. The club remained the community's voice until the 1950s, and played a leading role in the drive to incorporate Medina in 1955.
The Gold Coast
In the 1920s wealthy Seattleites began moving in larger numbers to Medina, lured by its country attractions and easy ferry service to the city. They built splendid mansions there. Seattle publisher Miller Freeman (1876-1955) built an attractive 14-room Tudor on Groat Point which years later was used a set in several films. Medina became known as the "Gold Coast," but not all of its residents in the 1920s were wealthy. Many of the community's early settlers had been farmers, and some of them were still there. More than a few of these farmers were of Japanese descent, but this came to an abrupt end in the early 1940s when they were "relocated" to internment prison camps soon after the United States entered World War II.
With the influx of wealth into Medina, it's not surprising that a golf course and club soon followed. The Overlake Golf Club (later Overlake Golf & Country Club) opened an 18-hole golf course in 1927 on a sprawling expanse west of 84th Avenue NE between NE 12th and NE 24th streets. It quickly became a magnet for well-to-do golfers, and just as quickly lost its attraction when the Great Depression struck a few years later. It closed in 1934 or 1935 and for the next 15 years the land was pastureland, first for horses, then for Herefords. The club returned in the early 1950s and a redesigned golf course opened on the 132-acre site in 1953. It remains a popular draw today, though membership is by invitation only.
In 1940 the Lake Washington Floating Bridge opened south of Medina. It crossed the lake from Seattle's Mount Baker neighborhood via the northern end of Mercer Island to the eastern shore near Bellevue. Ferries that had cruised the lake for decades began disappearing. The Leschi made its last run to Medina the day before the bridge opened, and though ferry service continued until 1945 at a smaller dock in Fairweather Bay on the east side of Evergreen Point, the community was no longer a gateway to the Eastside. This worried some, but it turned out not to matter.
By mid-century the entire Eastside was growing fast. The residents of Medina and the neighboring Evergreen, Hunts, and Yarrow points to the north (the Three Points) had relied on county services over the years, but by the 1950s these were becoming less adequate to meet their needs. Local residents were also concerned because county zoning regulations allowed smaller lot sizes than what was the norm in the community. Yet they were ambivalent about taking action until, in 1953, Bellevue incorporated, and its officials began seeking to annex land adjacent to the new city.
There was a clear sentiment against annexing to Bellevue (or the smaller Clyde Hill, located between Medina and Bellevue, which had incorporated on the same day Bellevue did), but beyond that, residents were more divided. Results of an informal straw ballot put out by the Medina Improvement Club in the winter of 1955 showed that a majority of residents did not favor incorporation of Medina or the Three Points. However, as that winter turned to spring, Bellevue officials asked to meet with community residents to discuss the advantages of annexation. People saw it was now or never. Dueling petitions went out in the community, one favoring annexation to Bellevue, one favoring incorporation as the City of Medina. Evergreen Point was included in the incorporation petition, but not Hunts or Yarrow points, whose residents each filed their own separate petitions to incorporate.
The Medina incorporation forces got on the ballot first, and the election took place on July 26, 1955. The incorporation measure passed by a margin of more than 25 percent, 244-135, and became official on August 19, 1955. The new city, with an estimated population of 1,940, lay west of a line that more or less followed 84th Avenue NE from Groat Point to the middle of Fairweather Bay. One of the first things the new city council did was tackle the zoning issue, and Medina's first zoning ordinance established spacious lot sizes of between 16,000 and 30,000 square feet.
Bridges to Prosperity
By the 1950s it was obvious that a second bridge across Lake Washington was needed to handle the flow of increased traffic between Seattle and the Eastside. Several routes were considered and debated, and by 1960 one had been chosen. The new bridge would run from Seattle's Montlake neighborhood to Medina's Evergreen Point. The property taken on the Medina side of the bridge for its eastern approach was largely unoccupied so construction displaced few people in the city, but when the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge opened in 1963 it split Evergreen Point from the rest of Medina.
A bigger problem came when people realized that the bridge brought a roar of traffic to the northern end of the city which hadn't been fully anticipated. It wasn't long before locals were complaining. In 1968 the city began enforcing a sound ordinance aimed at noisy motorists and fining passing vehicles $25 if they created a racket that registered more than 95 decibels on a meter set up 20 feet away. But this may have been a short-term measure, because in an interview with The Seattle Times that spring, police also admitted that the problem came as much from the bridge itself groaning and rattling as traffic passed over it as it did from the actual traffic.
As it passed the half-century mark, the bridge -- now more commonly known as the "520 bridge" as shorthand for the highway's official state route number -- was showing its age and becoming too small to adequately handle the huge increase in traffic in the last 50 years. As of spring 2015 a new bridge was under construction immediately north of the existing one. It was scheduled to open in spring 2016, with the original 1963 bridge to be demolished the following autumn.
By the late 1970s growth in Medina had largely stabilized, held in check by the lake in three directions and the city's municipal boundaries to the east. There was always far more residential than commercial construction in the city, and the emphasis on keeping the community residential, with only a few commercial businesses, continued to hold true into the twenty-first century.
Increasingly, it was also a community for the rich. A new influx of wealth in the 1980s and 1990s, brought on in large part by the rise of computers and the internet, put home prices out of reach for most urban dwellers. Huge homes sprang up in Medina that put the 1920s-built mansions to shame. One example was the home of Bill and Melinda Gates on 73rd Avenue NE, which the couple moved into in 1997. The King County Assessor's Office reports the house has an enormous 48,160 square feet of floor space while other accounts (perhaps adding other buildings on the property) claim it's larger; either way, its floor area encompasses more than an acre. The house and its five-acre lot were valued at $123 million by the assessor's office in 2014.
Medina in the Twenty-first Century
Medina's population was 2,969 in the 2010 Census. Eighty-three percent of the city's residents were Caucasian and nearly 12 percent Asian; African Americans and Native Americans combined made up less than one percent of the population. Medina's median household income for the period 2009-2013 was $183,833, more than two-and-a-half times the median of $71,811 for King County, and one of the highest in the state. Home prices there averaged well north of $1 million, and the crime rate was far lower than in most of the rest of metropolitan Seattle.
The attractive, exclusive community has become known for hosting large political fundraisers. President George W. Bush (b. 1946) visited in 2006, and President Barack Obama (b. 1961) visited several times after taking office in 2009. These visits have not been cheap, either for attendees -- with tickets to dinners typically five figures -- or for the city, which often has also spent five figures providing backup security.
Throughout its history Medina has maintained its reputation as a special place, keeping its community residential with large homes on spacious lots, good schools, and a relaxed lakeside atmosphere. With its shady, attractive ambiance, the peace and quiet rarely broken by more than the occasional roar of a boat hot-dogging on Lake Washington, it remains a great place to live for those fortunate enough to afford it.