In 1903, the Seattle Parks Commissioners hired the famed Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm to design a comprehensive system of parks and boulevards for the city. West 55th Street was once part of the city wide boulevard system created by the Olmstead Brothers. Creation of the boulevard was intended as the western approach to the Woodland Park Zoo.
The western approach to the zoo was never fully realized, and as the NW corner of Seattle continued to grow there was a very real need for a direct route into downtown. Remember, the trolley tracks had been pulled up for the war effort, and public transportation meant locals were taking the bus. Seattleites were buying cars at a record rate; easy to finance and gas was cheap. People wanted roads.
An east-west highway between Ballard and the University District was studied as early as the 1920s (see map below), but in the mid-1940s discussion was heating up again and the City was preparing to proceed with construction. Neighbors along the route sent petitions of protest against the project. One asserted that the highway “is not whatever needed, since we have our streets and avenues all in sufficient for anybody who wants to travel through that District. If any improvement should respectably seem necessary, such could be established at a trifle of the cost in comparison with this proposed plan with all its burdensome expenses and destruction.”
Another petition claimed that the initial plans for the highway decades earlier “was opposed by the people of the District. The Merchants Improvement Club then was brought to shame for such an unreasonable plan, and promised never to bother us again.” The petition went on to list existing streets that provided a good route up the hill from Ballard to Phinney Avenue, insisting that this project “is really not needed.”
City Engineer C.L. Wartelle responded to the protests with the following:
The protestants appear to be mainly owners of properties which will be affected by the new route and their immediate neighbors. The protest is based upon the assertion that the connection is not needed, existing streets being sufficient, and that hundreds of families will be required to find new homes.
We believe the necessity of this route is obvious to all those who have studied the problem. Some twenty years ago the matter was before the City Council, and the only reason it did not proceed at that time was because no way could be found to finance it. The petitioners state the hundreds of families will lose their homes. There are 36 houses and 3 garages that will have to be taken. Most of the houses can be moved to new sites. It is regrettable that these 36 home owners will be inconvenienced, but there does not seem to be any other recourse.
We would therefore recommend that the condemnation proceed, and the petitioners be so informed.
Construction went forward in 1949 despite the neighbors’ complaints, although current residents might argue with not-so-speedy Market Street being designated a “highway.”
The completion of the Market Street widening project in 1955 allowed for direct access from Ballard into Fremont, Wallingford and beyond. Market Street became a critical commercial thoroughfare and to this day, goods and service continue to travel on this stretch of roadway.
Map of proposed surface and tunnel routes for proposed Ballard-University highway, dated 1929, courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives.
Before & After Aerial of Ballard-University Extension:
The left photo was taken in 1936 and the right photo in 2012. Both are courtesy King County Department of Assessment. When comparing the photos you can see the Market Street spur that now runs diagonal through the neighborhood. Many of the homes that were impacted by this roadways construction were moved to nearby vacant lots, including lots in the West Woodland neighborhood. In a future post I will highlight some of those homes. (Update: See photos here).
Photos of progress – Market Street Spur Construction
The Seattle Engineering Department has an official name for the Market Street spur – the Ballard and University Extension. This east leg of Market Street was completed in 1949 and connected the West Woodland neighborhood to Fremont, Wallingford and beyond. The rest of the Market Street widening project wouldn’t be completed until 1955, but for neighbors using the newly created spur, it made the trip into downtown Seattle fast and efficient.
The photos below are courtesy the Seattle Municipal Archives and show the very west end of the spur from the start of construction until completion in December 1949.
Approximate modern day view HERE.