This street was named for Daniel Hunt Gilman (1845–1913), who among other things was one of the founders of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway (SLS&E) in 1885. The SLS&E is now part of the BNSF Railway, and its old right-of-way along the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Lake Washington is now the Burke–Gilman Trail.
The street was created in 1890 as part of Gilman’s Addition to the City of Seattle by Dr. Henry A. Smith (Smith Cove) and Franklin M. Jones and his wife, Carrie B. Jones. Franklin was a member of the New York banking firm Jameson, Smith and Cotting, financiers of Gilman’s business ventures.
Today, Gilman Avenue W begins at 20th Avenue W and W Bertona Street and goes ⁹⁄₁₀ of a mile northwest to 28th Place W, where it becomes W Government Way. The right-of-way continues on from there, though, and there is a 120-foot-long segment between 32nd Avenue W and Gay Avenue W and then, on the other side of Kiwanis Memorial Preserve Park, another 120-foot-long segment at the end of 34th Avenue W.
Originally, Gilman Avenue W existed east of the railroad tracks as well, but that section, between 15th Avenue W and 11th Avenue W, was changed to Gilman Drive W in 1961.