Benjamin Lukoff
Latest posts by Benjamin Lukoff (see all)

This Magnolia street boasts one of the best views in all of Seattle — a completely unobstructed vista of Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, the Kitsap Peninsula, and the Olympic Mountains — if you’re fortunate enough to own property there. The view from the street itself is mostly of houses to the west, forested slope to the east. Notable Seattleites such as developer Martin Selig, broadcaster Kathi Goertzen, musician Ryan Lewis, and co-founder of Starbucks and Redhook Ale Brewery Gordon Bowker have called the winding lane — and it truly is a winding lane, hugging the bluff with barely enough room for two cars to pass each other — home.

View of Perkins Lane, Elliott Bay, and West Seattle from Discovery Park
View of Perkins Lane houses from Discovery Park, with Elliott Bay and West Seattle in background, January 2021. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

The street was created as part of Carleton Beach Tracts, an Addition to the City of Seattle, Washington, on New Year’s Eve, 1920. The owners were Arthur Alexander Phinney (1885–1941), son of Guy Carleton Phinney, after whom Phinney Ridge and Phinney Avenue N are named; his wife, Daisy Euphemia Phinney (1884–1950); the Phinney Realty and Investment Company; and Oscar E. Jensen & Co., Inc. It begins at W Emerson Street in the north, just south of Discovery Park, and goes 1⅖ miles southeast to a roadblock a few feet beyond the bottom of the Montavista Stairs (more on that later). The roadway continues about 250 feet past the roadblock — all the buildings and lots on the west side belong to Martin Selig — and the right-of-way continues a little over 800 feet beyond that (see below for why).

The lane’s namesake had been a mystery to me for a long time, until I came across the Phinneys’ wedding announcement in the May 11, 1913, issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Formal announcement made yesterday of the marriage at Victoria, B.C., May 2, of Miss Daisy E. Perkins, of Portland, to Mr. Arthur A. Phinney, of Seattle, contained the first intimation to local friends of Mr. Phinney of the nuptial event. The bride and groom had laid their plans in secret and protected this secret against all inquiring friends.

It seems, then, that we have a case similar to that of Thorndyke Avenue W — naming a prominent street after the wife’s maiden name.

For all its advantages, though — view, privacy (though it’s a public street, there are only a couple of ways to drive there from the rest of the city, plus two rickety staircases down from Magnolia Boulevard) — Perkins Lane has its faults, as the headline ‘Perkins Lane: Seattle’s Poster Child for Landslide Risk’ implies. A major landslide at the end of 1996 took out five or six houses, depending on whom you ask, at the southeast end of the street, and the adjoining roadway — hence the aforementioned roadblock. A lawsuit against the city, of course, was filed, but was dismissed at summary judgment. Slides had been a problem for the seven decades of Perkins Lane’s existence before that, as the images below attest. (The statute of limitations for false advertising has long elapsed, alas…)

Perkins Lane Slide at W. Ray St. (displacement of utility poles), March 22 1925, from http://archives.seattle.gov/digital-collections/index.php/Detail/objects/77613, Seattle Municipal Archives Identifier 38072
Landslide at W Raye Street, with tilting utility pole, March 22, 1925. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 38072
Sign reading "For sale by owner — best buy, best view on Perkins Lane — No slides — Civil engineer says "Good condition to build on" — ME. 3843, MA. 8847 — 150 ft. frontage — will divide" at 2461 Perkins Lane W
Land for sale! Who was that civil engineer, I wonder…
“No slides — Civil engineer says ‘Good condition to build on,’” 2461 Perkins Lane W, April 14, 1938. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 12194
Landslide at 2445 Perkins Lane W
Landslide at 2445 Perkins Lane W, January 27, 1954. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 44997
Ruins of house destroyed in Perkins Lane landslide on Magnolia beach in front of Magnolia bluff
Ruins of house destroyed in Perkins Lane landslide on Magnolia beach in front of Magnolia bluff, Photograph by Flickr user Whitney H, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

In fact, as the map below shows, there have been numerous slides over the years along the entire length of the road.

Perkins Lane W is also home to six of Seattle’s shoreline street ends — at W Bertona, Dravus, Barrett, Armour, Raye, and McGraw Streets, though McGraw is the only one currently accessible from land. The project to improve it back in 2013 and 2014 was not without opposition, but ultimately the threats never materialized (nor did the opponents’s fears). It’s well worth a visit.

View looking south from the W McGraw street end: Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, and West Seattle
View looking southeast from the W McGraw street end: Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, and West Seattle, November 5, 2014. Photograph by Flickr user Seattle Parks and Recreation, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
Fourmile Rock by Wikimedia Commons user Dennis Bratland, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fourmile_Rock,_Magnolia_at_low_tide,_with_yardstick.JPG, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en, April 6, 2015
Fourmile Rock (native name reportedly LE’plEpL, La’pub, or Tc!ě’tla), northwest of the W McGraw street end, April 6, 2015. Photograph by Dennis Bratland, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.