Seattle Neighborhoods: Broadview & Bitter Lake -- Thumbnail History

  • By Louis Fiset
  • Posted 5/19/2001
  • Essay 3287
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The Broadview neighborhood bordering Puget Sound in northwest Seattle takes its name from the expansive views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains that can be seen from its western slopes. The neighborhood reaches north from N 105th Street to the city limits at N 145th Street, and is bounded on the east by Aurora Avenue N. It is home to Carkeek Park, Evergreen Park Cemetery, the Ida Culver Retirement Home, and Bitter Lake, which beckoned many of the first settlers to the area. It drew its identity from an amusement park called Playland that operated on the south shore of Bitter Lake for 30 years, beginning in 1930. The Seattle-Everett Interurban trolley line ran through the heart of the neighborhood, bringing people and goods to the area and hastening its development. Broadview, once forestland and rural farmland, today is a suburban home to 13,000 residents.

The Broadview/Bitter Lake area was a timbered land of Douglas fir and cedar, often eight feet in diameter, inhabited by Native American lake people who gathered and fished from abundant resources. Settlement began after Seattle’s Great Fire in June 1889. The Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 stimulated growth in Broadview, as elsewhere, with its infusion of riches. Seattle’s population exploded in the 1880s and early 1890s and the forest-carpeted lands north of Lake Union opened up to development, especially near trolley lines, which were usually controlled by real estate speculators.

Early Farmers

Fortunate early settlers found available flatland to farm and, since there were no roads, floated their produce to Seattle markets via Puget Sound. Latecomers were forced to clear their land. These included the Piper family, who built a farmhouse and orchard near a small stream that takes their name today. This creek flows through Carkeek Park (dedicated in 1929) past the house and orchard that survive and into Puget Sound. Other farmers farther inland and farther north raised poultry.

As farmers dynamited stumps, logging companies mowed down the forests to meet the growing demand for lumber brought on by the increasing need for housing. A small, lake-bound sawmill operation at the southwest corner of Bitter Lake contracted with the Puget Mill and Brown Bay Logging Company to process their lumber cut from nearby forests. The tannic acid from logs dumped into the lake was so bitter that horses refused to drink from it, thus giving the 20-acre pond its name. The Bitter Lake Sawmill remained active until 1913, by which time the forests were dwindling and logged out.

From Ballard to Bitter Lake to Everett

As Seattle burst its seams, the hinterlands north and south of the city provided much needed elbow room for newcomers. Broadview benefited significantly from the start-up of a new Seattle-Everett Interurban trolley line that would soon link the two cities. The Interurban began laying tracks in Ballard in 1901, but the six miles of rails to Bitter Lake were not completed until 1906. The Bitter Lake station became a primary service and maintenance depot. To reach downtown Seattle, southbound Broadview passengers had to transfer to local lines in Ballard.

With completion of the line from Seattle to Everett in 1910, passengers could now complete the one-hour-and-forty-minute ride without having to transfer, boarding at North Park (N 103rd Street), Bitter Lake (N 130th Street), and Foy (N 145th Street). Later, a stop was added at Groveland (N 117th Street), at the western boundary of Evergreen Park Cemetery (now Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery). The Interurban line, which transported both passengers and goods, stimulated development of the Broadview area and all stops along its route.

From then on, development of the timbered lands and productive farms to the north into residential lots was assured. By 1908, with the introduction of the Ford Model T, adventurous roadsters carefully made their way south along one of the two main roads then available -- Greenwood Avenue and the North Trunk Road (later Aurora Avenue N and Highway 99). Avoiding ruts and slippage on the two brick-paved lanes in wet weather proved challenging, and for years the Interurban provided the most reliable transportation. Passengers liked it for its cheapness, comfort, and speed.

Shops and a School

The North Trunk road defined Broadview’s eastern boundary. But once the automobile became a fixture in Seattle culture, Greenwood Avenue became the commercial aorta running through the heart of the neighborhood. The avenue was built on a marsh, and between 87th and 145th streets sported a boardwalk lined on the western side with poplar trees. Specialty stores and small grocery stores such as Shook’s, Waters’, Crocker’s, Haven’s, and Keywood’s lined the street from 105th to 145th streets.

The first school was the Oaklake School at Aurora and 103rd Street, built in the early 1890s. It was replaced by the Broadview Elementary School, which opened on Greenwood Avenue in 1914 for children through the eighth grade. In 1926, four rooms were added to the original four rooms, and by 1948, six more rooms had been added. Eventually, 34 classrooms served 1,100 school children. Today the Ida Culver House for retired school teachers sits on the site.

The Cemetery

Pioneer David Denny (1832-1903) started the Washelli Cemetery as the Oak Lake Cemetery. The site of the Evergreen Cemetery, located across the North Trunk Road from the Washelli cemetery, began to be cleared in January 1920, and in July 1920, the first burial took place. The Interurban dog-legged along the western boundary, stopping at Groveland (N 117th Street) midway between its north and south boundaries. An iron turnstile permitting entry to the cemetery through its wrought iron fence still marks the site of the trolley station.

From the outset, Evergreen cemetery operated on the concept of perpetual care, insuring that even after new burials had ceased, the filled cemetery would be maintained through funds set aside as an endowment. This enabled Evergreen to compete directly with Washelli Cemetery. In 1928, after Evergreen bought out most of Washelli's interests from the American Necropolis Corporation in 1922, the two corporations merged. It is today known as the Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery.

To Scream and Bump and Kiss at Playland

Soon after this merger, the October 1929 stock market crash brought a decade of economic and social hard times to the nation. To distract themselves, many people flocked to movie theaters, amusement parks, and other inexpensive venues. Neighborhood theaters abounded throughout Seattle, but there was only one Playland, which opened in at the southern shore of Bitter Lake. Soon the Bitter Lake stop on the Seattle-Everett Interurban route became known informally as the Playland stop.

Playland opened on May 27, 1930, as the venture of under-financed California investors who went broke after two years. Roller coaster builder Carl Phare, who got an early start at Coney Island, took over the 12-acre park and managed it for 30 years until its closure in 1961. Flag pole sitting and dance marathon contests became early attractions for restless young adults who arrived by rail from the north and south, and by car from other points on the compass to scream and bump and kiss on the Red Bug, Dodger, Fly-O-Plane, Old Mill, Shoot the Chutes, Canals of Venice, and Tunnel of Love. But the grand attraction was the Dipper with its 3,400 feet of track that licked the clouds 70 feet above the ground. Rides were a dime, with the cost of getting to Playland not much more than that.

Park goers with less innocent intentions spent time and hard sought money at the nearby dog racing track until it was shut down in 1935 as an illegal gambling activity. A speedway for car racing enthusiasts was sandwiched between Playland’s eastern boundary and Aurora Avenue.

For 30 years Playland contributed to Broadview's identity. But by the late 1950s, amusement parks were no longer a novelty, and the greater availability of automobiles provided an easy drive to other activities. Housing developments began to encircle Playland, and people began to see the park as a threat to property values. A grandstand fire flagged down speedway operations in 1950, and three years later, Playland itself suffered losses from a major fire. Personal injuries began to bring lawsuits. In August 1961, with the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962 soon to open with its own amusement park, Playland closed down forever.

Annexation to Seattle

In 1954, Seattle annexed Broadview and the area around it. The Seattle School District purchased part of the now vacant Playland property for the new R. H. Thomson School (which began as a junior high school, and later became an elementary school). The rest of the land was converted into the park on which now stands the Bitter Lake Community Center.

Whereas Playland was once synonymous with the Broadview neighborhood, today Bitter Lake provides a central focus. Bitter Lake is neither owned nor controlled by the City of Seattle. All property owners with land abutting the shore share in its control. Under Washington state law, developers are prevented from building out over the Lake, although single residence homes and condominiums come within feet of the shoreline. The lake is within walking distance of the new library and retirement homes and is backyard to the elementary school and community center.

Today, condominiums and other multi-family dwellings have replaced farmhouses and other homes from an era that knew the giant conifers that blanketed the area. Broadview, once timberland, farmland, and Playland, is now (2001) an urban village to 13,000 residents who continue to search for a new identity.


Warren W. Wing, To Seattle by Trolley (Edmonds, WA: Pacific Fast Mail), 1988; Portage, Winter/Spring 1984; Gail Lee Dubrow et al., Broadview/Bitter Lake Community History, (Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation), 1995; Today, August 4, 1976; The Seattle Times, May 22, 1930; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 19, 1953.
Note: This essay was corrected on December 19, 2005..

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