Lake Forest Park, located along the northern tip of Lake Washington, is one of King County's first planned communities. It has an estimated population (in 2021) of 13,358. From its inception in 1909 until today, the community has paid great attention to its natural surroundings. It has created a marriage of residential dwellings and wooded terrain quite unlike many other suburban cities.
Displacing Native Americans
Lake Forest Park is situated on land that was once a winter village site for the Snohomish tribe. In the late 1800s, early non-Native pioneers encountered a small group of houses still used by tribe members. Indians inhabited this small village as late as 1903, by which time the influx of loggers and settlers disrupted the Indians and caused them to move elsewhere. Most of the first landowners (in the 1860s) took up plots only to sell them to sawmill companies within a fairly short time. But by the 1880s, other pioneers preferred to log the cedars and Douglas Firs and to improve the land themselves or with the help of a small crew. Small logging operations were common, but loggers usually harvested only the larger trees nearest the lakeshore.
At first, the lake was the easiest way to get to and from Seattle, 10 miles away. In 1879, the Military Road, a muddy set of ruts that eventually became Bothell Way, was cleared and graded. In 1888, the Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern Railway was built around the lake, which created another connection to the big city.
By the turn of the century, logging operations were in full swing along Lyon and McAleer creeks (which run through the town and drain into the lake). Along with new log flumes (wooden chutes filled with water to transport logs) and skid roads (greased timbers on the ground to transport logs), a small logging railway was built. The railroad parallels present day Ballinger Way and, farther on, 35th Avenue NE. By 1910, most of the old growth forest had been cut down, opening the way for residential development.
Ole Hanson (1874-1940), along with his wife’s nephew, A. H. Reid, incorporated the North Seattle Improvement Company in 1909 with an eye to the future. The population of Seattle was burgeoning, and more and more people were moving outside the city limits. Hanson saw the real estate potential in the outlying area, and started buying up land. He hired civil engineer B. E. Corlett to create the plat of what would become Lake Forest Park. "The Park," as many still call it in the late 1990s, was laid out along the contours of the hillsides. The pristine topography and the remaining trees received prime consideration in determining lot size and location. Even the name "Lake Forest Park" stressed the three rustic elements of the new community.
By 1912, Hanson created a stunning promotional brochure, calling attention to the benefits of buying a home in Lake Forest Park: "Here the laughing waters will forever make gladsome the hearts of the sylvan dwellers," proclaimed the text, which was interspersed with photos by noted photographer Asahel Curtis. Hanson did not want his community to be a playground for the rich. Anyone who could buy a lot was free to build a home, as long as it wasn’t a saloon, shack, store, roadhouse, or apartment house. This was a residential park, especially for people who had cars. Paving the road from Seattle had already begun.
The promotion was a success. Further promotions, such as large ads in Seattle newspapers and articles in national magazines, opened the door for Hanson’s company to annex surrounding land for more homebuilders. The homes built during this era (some are still in existence) ranged from quaint bungalows to large Colonial or Tudor Revival style homes. Just as Hanson had hoped, the design of each home was individual and picturesque.
Hanson and Reid built homes in the Park, but they only stayed a few years. They later took on the development of San Clemente in Southern California, but not before Ole Hanson became Seattle’s union-busting mayor during the Seattle General Strike of 1919. After that, he briefly became a candidate at the Republican National Convention, running a campaign based mostly on squelching Socialists and baiting Reds.
Harmony of Nature
The folks back in Lake Forest Park were happy just to build a home within the harmony of nature. In the 1920s, more than 100 new homes were built in the Park. The roads were improved, gas was cheaper and more families saw the community as a way of escaping the hubbub of the city. In 1923, a school was built. The following year, a civic club was formed. Small businesses like grocery stores and gas stations began popping up nearby. Even after the Great Depression hit in 1929, the community continued to grow. Larger lots were subdivided. Land along the shoreline exposed in 1917, when construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal lowered the lake, was now subdivided into view lots. Many of the new homes were not as grandly designed or constructed as the older dwellings, but much of the old character remained.
Hanson’s vision of an arboreal living space carried on. Homes were now tucked within groves of trees, which had grown thicker during the past few decades. Children growing up in Lake Forest Park had a multitude of knolls and streams to play in. Occasionally, they would stumble across remnants of an old log flume, or if they were lucky, an Indian artifact.
Following World War II, some of this idyllic lifestyle would change. The 1950s brought an explosion of suburban growth to the entire nation, and Lake Forest Park was no different. Seattle’s northern boundary had been pushed farther north, causing apartments and commercial properties to encroach upon the community. Some new homes had a look of bland conformity. Ongoing development and construction marred the natural environment. By the end of the 1950s, a large shopping center was planned near the foot of Ballinger Way.
Many long-time residents feared a loss of freedom from urban sprawl – just the reason many of them had moved to the Park in the first place. Fifty years earlier, the keynote to Ole Hanson’s brochure stated that potential residents of Lake Forest Park "... desire to live where the surroundings are beautiful and cannot be marred by disagreeable things" (Hanson). In 1961, citizens banded together and incorporated. The City of Lake Forest Park was born. Incorporation gave residents a voice in how to accommodate themselves within the ever-expanding metropolitan ring. Since incorporation, the city has annexed the additions that were added to the original development in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Modern-day boundaries of the city serpentine along the hills and ridges, just as they did when it was first planned.
Today, Bothell Way remains a main thoroughfare, carrying more traffic than ever before. Tens of thousands of drivers pass alongside the city of Lake Forest Park every day, going to and from the towns and cities on the east side of Lake Washington back to Seattle on the west side. Few of them realize the care and effort that has gone into creating and preserving the community within the wooded hills above.