Seattle Neighborhoods: Crown Hill — Thumbnail History
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The north Ballard suburb of Crown Hill sits on a gentle rise of land stretching from NW 75th Street to NW 100th Street and is bordered by the Loyal Heights neighborhood to the west and Greenwood to the east. [editorial note, these boundaries do not align with the boundaries of the current Crown Hill Neighborhood Association. Those boundaries are mapped here.] Although the Seattle community has no town center, its commercial crossroads meet at 15th Avenue NW and NW 85th Street and follow northeastward along Holman Road NW, named after realtor Axel Holman, who platted Sunset Hill area in the Loyal Heights neighborhood. When Ballard city residents voted to annex their town to Seattle in 1907, Crown Hill was still blanketed by Western red cedar, Douglas-fir, and Western hemlock conifers. Few settlers had ventured into the area, even though most of the land was now platted for residential development. Over the next nine decades growth in this quiet Ballard suburb was slow at first, then exploded during the World War II era. Today Crown Hill is home to more than 7,000 residents.
Shaped by Fire
In 1855 and 1859 surveyors walked the land that would eventually become the Crown Hill and Loyal Heights neighborhoods. They may have been the first Euro-Americans in the area. Surveying west along the future NW 85th Street, they described conifers up to four feet in diameter, as well as a mile-wide “burnt area” extending 20 blocks from about 12th Avenue NW. The still standing trees in this lightning struck area were “mostly dead,” and their failure to note undergrowth suggests that the fire may have been recent. The presence of large Douglas firs, which grow best in cleared areas, indicates that this lightning caused fire was only the most recent of many lightning fires that may have ravaged the area since the end of the last ice age.
By 1890 when Ballard became a municipality, much of the land above its business district as far north as Schooner Street (NW 80th Street) was platted. However, most of the hinterlands north of W 80th Street were not staked out for development until after the turn of the century.
In 1902, with the population of Ballard well over 10,000, city founder G. W Toop, and 59 other citizens, petitioned the city council for a 10-acre cemetery north of the city limits. The Crown Hill Cemetery was to be developed on a tract located at today’s NW 87th Street and 12th Avenue NW, in the heart of the neighborhood that eventually would take its name. At this time, little if any settlement had taken place in the area, and extension of a road from Ballard’s northern city limits to the entrance was still no more than a promise. Within a year, however, half the grounds of the cemetery had been cleared, and a handful of Ballard citizens interred.
The tombstones currently on the cemetery grounds date from its beginnings down to the present time. Some of the early burials were actually removals from the nearby Greenwood Cemetery, which closed in 1907 after nearly two decades of service. Many infant deaths and an over representation of burials in 1918, the year of the Spanish influenza pandemic, give pause to any romantic notions of returning to simpler times in the Pacific Northwest. Other weathered and almost illegible tombstones of war veterans remind visitors of the country’s bitter Civil War.
Treat and Stimson
As the cemetery plots slowly began to fill over the next decade, much of the still forested land surrounding the well-tended grounds was platted for residential development. At the same time, land speculator Harry W. Treat was promoting lots to the west in Loyal Heights, named after his youngest daughter, Loyal Graef Treat. One exception to land development in the Ballard northlands above W 85th Street was a tract along the cemetery’s western boundary belonging to timber and land mogul Charles W. Stimson (1879-1952). Stimson, president of the Ballard Mill and holder of extensive timber and real estate interests in Washington and Oregon representing a fraction of the vast family wealth in the region, let this tract stand patiently unattended until the 1920s, awaiting the most favorable opportunity for development.
Although population figures for Crown Hill over time are difficult to come by, the gradual addition of schools may be used as a broad measuring stick for the area’s growth. In 1907, with the annexation of Ballard (whose population now exceeded 18,000), West Seattle, and a portion of the Rainier Valley, 6,000 students were brought into the Seattle School District. The contract for construction of the new Whittier school in Crown Hill was awarded just prior to annexation. It was built to replace the North End School, which opened in 1905 in a private residence at 13th Avenue NW and W 75th Street.
When the Whittier school opened in 1908, students from the Salmon Bay school, more than a mile to the southwest, and the entire student body of the North End school moved into a new 12-room brick building. More than 150 students attended classes in the first year. With continued growth in the neighborhood over the next two decades, a neo-gothic brick addition was added in 1928.
Despite the presence of the new Whittier school, children living above W 85th Street had a long daily trek to get an education, creating a demand for yet a new elementary school farther north in that growing area. Thus, in 1919 the six-room Crown Hill elementary school opened at 14th Avenue NW and W 92nd Street, 17 blocks north of Whittier.
Golf Plus Guns
Although growth in Crown Hill was steady, Stimson continued to hold his tract as undeveloped timber land, until the mid-1920s when he leased it to developers of an 18-hole golf course. An avid golfer and member of the Seattle Golf and Country Club, Stimson chose recreational use for this land over residential development. The Olympic Golf Course, which opened in 1927, was an immediate hit, and two years later it grew into country club status. During World War II the War Department sub-leased a triangular piece of ground between the 5th and 6th fairways on which the Army set up a four-gun anti-aircraft battery. With no threat from the skies, only the fairways, themselves, provided action for the gunners.
Seattle’s population boom during World War II and afterward, brought on by the influx of defense workers seeking top wages and by returning soldiers on the GI Bill, forced open to development the lands north of W 80th Street. The golf course fell victim to hammers and nails when it proved more valuable as a residential development than as a golf course. In 1953, club members drove the last tee shot, and before the end of the year surveyors staked out the first of six plats for what soon became Olympic Manor.
Like the upscale Blue Ridge community platted on Puget Mill Company land 25 years earlier, the large tract permitted creative layouts of the lots, allowing the main roads to follow the contours of the land. The 1950 Builder home architecture, popular from the late 1940s until 1960, dominate the community with their Roman brick walls, hipped roofs with composition shingles, decorative, wrought iron railing porch supports, and corner windows. During the Christmas holidays many Seattleites make an annual pilgrimage to Olympic Manor to enjoy the bright lights and extensive Yuletide displays set up by homeowners who share a strong sense of community with their neighbors during this time of year.
Portions of the former golf course were held back from residential development, however. With annexation of eight square miles of the Greenwood District, north of W 85th Street, now extending the city limits to N 145th Street, and with the baby boomers now enrolled in the public schools, the Seattle School District was in need of additional tracts on which to build new schools. In 1949, a seven-classroom addition to the Crown Hill school had met the burden of the increasing population to the area.
But following annexation, enrollment now exceeded 900 students. The District purchased six acres of the golf course acreage to the immediate west of Olympic Manor and erected the North Beach Elementary School in 1958. School officials also purchased 15 acres adjacent to Olympic Manor’s eastern boundary, on 15th Avenue NW, where the Marcus Whitman Junior High School was built in 1959 to accommodate the baby boomers who were beginning their middle-school-age adolescence. Along the school’s southern boundary, also on part of Stimson’s original tract, Soundview Playfield was graded, which continues to exist today (2001). Whitman was immediately overcrowded, a problem alleviated only with construction of the R.H. Thomson Junior High school in 1963.
A Small Town Feel
With rising property values in many parts of Seattle due to the migration back to urban living after decades of “white flight,” and with an influx of high tech migrants with deep financial pockets, the bedroom Ballard communities of Loyal Heights and Crown Hill have undergone gentrification. The razing of aging homes in poor repair and replacement with apartment buildings and “skinny” homes have brought new and younger people to the area. Older homes are being restored and preserved. Crown Hill, once a wilderness suburb of the city of Ballard, whose few inhabitants resided six feet under, retains a small town feeling even as the city around it continues to grow.
Passport to Ballard: The Centennial Story, ed. by Kay F. Reinartz (Seattle: Ballard News Tribune, 1988); Lawrence Kreisman, The Stimson Legacy: Architecture in the Urban West, (Seattle: Willows Press), 1992; Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority, Seattle School Histories, 1869-1974, (Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 1990); Seattle City Directory (Seattle: Polk’s Seattle Directory Co), 1927, 1953; G.W. Baist, et al. Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Seattle, Washington, (Philadelphia: G.W. Baist), 1905, 1908; Kroll’s Atlas of Seattle, Washington, (Seattle: Kroll Map Company, Inc.),1912, 1920, 1928, 1966, 1987; Kroll’s Atlas of Seattle, Washington, North Supplement, (Seattle: Kroll Map Company, Inc., 1950, 1966); Official Recorded Plat, King County, Washington, (Seattle: Microfilm & Plat Service, Inc., Seattle), 1964; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 13, 1998.
By Louis Fiset, July 20, 2001