Alaskan Way

Alaskan Way was originally Railroad Avenue. Jennifer Ott writes for HistoryLink.org:

On the central waterfront a web of railroads grew out from the shore in the 1880s and 1890s as various railroads, including the Columbia & Puget Sound, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern, and the Northern Pacific jockeyed for space at the foot of the bluffs that ended at the beach, where Western Avenue is today. In January 1887 the City Council passed an ordinance establishing Railroad Avenue, a street created, according to historian Kurt Armbruster, to provide space for the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern franchise to the west of the Northern Pacific’s franchise along the shoreline.

Railroad Avenue looking south from between Madison and Marion Streets, circa 1898
Railroad Avenue looking south from between Madison and Marion Streets, circa 1898

When the tidelands were platted in 1895, Railroad Avenue extended to Harbor Island and West Seattle, but:

  • Sometime between 1912 and 1920 the Harbor Island portion was renamed W Florida Street (SW Florida Street today).
  • In 1907, the West Seattle portion was renamed Alki Avenue.
    • Sometime between 1912 and 1920 the West Seattle portion southeast of Duwamish Head was given its current name, Harbor Avenue.

In an article for Crosscut, Knute Berger explains why a new name was wanted for the remainder:

Seattle’s waterfront was unpaved — a beat-up plank road ran its length. There was no modern seawall — the street was built over the water. Train tracks were everywhere.… But the waterfront was undergoing a massive renovation. A seawall was being constructed, the shoreline filled in, the road made into a wide, paved boulevard.…

According to Berger and Ott’s articles, names that were proposed but were ultimately rejected included Anchors Way, Artery Way, Battery Way, Bois Boolong, Bread Street, Cargo Way, Chief Seattle Avenue, Cosmos Quay, Dock Street, Export Way, Fleet Way, Gateway Avenue, Golden West Way, Hiak Avenue, Klatawa Avenue, Maritime Avenue, Metropolis Avenue, Olympian Way, Pacific Way, Pier Avenue, Port Strand, Port Way, Port-Haven Drive, Potlatch Avenue, Puget Avenue, Puget Dyke, Puget Portal, Queen City Way, Roadstead Way, Salt Spray Way, Salt Water Avenue, Seawall Avenue, Seven Seas Road, Skookum Way, Steamship Way, Sunset Avenue, Terminal Avenue, Terrebampo Way, The Battery, The Esplanade, Transit Row, Voyage Way, Welcome Way, and Worldways Road. (Those in italics apparently came under serious consideration.)

So how did we end up with Alaskan Way? And why Alaskan instead of Alaska (the already existing S Alaska Street could have been renamed)?

Alaskan Way, July 1939
Alaskan Way between Marion and Madison Streets, Canadian National Dock at left, July 1939. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 77093

The May 19, 1932, issue of The Seattle Times reports that the Seattle Maritime Association had run a renaming contest which received “more than one thousand letters… some of them contained scores of suggestions.” 4,868 names (including duplications) were received, and the judges selected four finalists, in order of preference: Puget Portal (one submission), Klatawa Avenue (one submission, from Chinook Jargon word meaning ‘to go, to travel’), Hiak Avenue (one submission, from Chinook Jargon word meaning ‘lively, quick and fast’), and Maritime Avenue (49 submissions [Maritime Way received 99 submissions but was not chosen]). The next day, the Times reported that the judges had chosen Maritime Avenue, and awarded the $20 prize to a Mr. B.I. Schwartz, the first to have suggested the name.

Alaskan Way Viaduct, July 1952
Alaskan Way Viaduct, July 1952, the year before it opened. The double-decker freeway paralleled Alaskan Way as far north as Union Street, where it diverged from the alignment on its approach to Elliott Avenue and the Battery Street Tunnel. Bell Street Pier, with the large Port of Seattle sign, is at left. The Bell Street Overpass can be seen behind the ‘P’ in ‘Port’. The bridge at the southern end of the pier is the Lenora Street Viaduct. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 43586

However, that July, a George D. Root proposed the name Cosmos Quay. At first, it was met with indifference, and then it seems the entire renaming project was put on the back burner until construction progressed. Somehow, when he restarted his campaign in 1934, Cosmos Quay became a leading candidate, and it was approved unanimously by the city council on January 14, 1935. An ordinance began to be drafted. But, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted the next day, this was only because one councilmember, Frank J. Laube, had been absent… and he was adamantly opposed.

He wasn’t the only one. The Seattle Times published an editorial on January 20 headlined ‘City Locksmith Needed for Pronunciation Key’, which proclaimed that “to burden the waterfront stretch with a name that could be used and understood only through long courses in cosmogony, cosmology, etymology, and articulation would be a sad piece of nonsense for which there is no excuse.” The next day the Times reported that David Levine, city council president, said Cosmos Quay “no longer sounds so good to him. Many citizens have complained its meaning, as well as its pronunciation, mystifies them.” On February 4, according to the P-I, the council killed the ordinance and decided to leave Railroad Avenue as it was.

Alaskan Way Viaduct, February 2018
Alaskan Way Viaduct, February 2018. It closed permanently in January 2019; the replacement tunnel opened the next month. and demolition was complete by November of the same year. Photograph by Flickr user Washington State Department of Transportation, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

When the new street opened in 1936, the question of renaming came up again. Mayor John F. Dore appointed a committee that chose The Pierway, a suggestion that won a W.C. Denison, Jr., a prize of $50 from the mayor’s own pocket, but the final decision lay with the city council, which was not enthused. Pacific Way emerged as their favorite, according to a Seattle Times article on July 2, 1936, though a July 6 article in the same paper “the public apparently was not in accord with the idea.” On July 7, the Times reported that even though “at least seven votes [were] lined up in advance for the adoption of ‘Pacific Way’… with Council President Austin E. Griffiths contending for ‘Cosmos Quay’ or ‘Cosmos Way’,” an ordinance renaming Railroad Avenue “Alaskan Way” passed unanimously.

Alaska Way had been proposed in 1932 by the Puget Sound Travel Directors, according to an article in the April 13 issue of The Seattle Times. (As an aside, it was also proposed in 1931 by attorney John S. Robinson as an alternate name for Aurora Avenue N and the Aurora Bridge, according to a Times article on June 19.) It was also an entry in the Seattle Maritime Association’s aforementioned naming contest, submitted by Fred E. Pauli, manager of the Alaska Division of the Washington Creamery Company, according to a Times article on April 10, 1932. Then, in 1935, after Cosmos Quay had been rejected by the city council, the Alaska Yukon Pioneers endorsed Alaska Way (The Seattle Times, March 5), followed by the Whittier Heights Improvement Club (Times, March 7) and the Junior Alaska-Yukon Pioneers (Times, July 25). When renaming became a distinct possibility once again in 1936, as discussed above, the Alaska Yukon Pioneers passed a resolution in favor of Alaska Way (Times, July 4): “…It was here that the gold rush activity actually took place… put Seattle on the map and directly made possible the magnificent improvement now about completed.”

Alaskan Way south from Bell Street
Alaskan Way looking south from the Bell Street pedestrian bridge, August 2011. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is barely visible at center; the Seattle Aquarium is at center right. Photograph by Orange Suede Sofa, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

It came down to one councilmember, apparently. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on July 7 that, the previous day, Robert H. Harlin proposed that the already-prepared ordinance renaming Railroad Avenue “Pacific Way” be amended to read “Alaskan Way” instead:

Councilman Robert H. Harlin, who offered the motion for adoption of “Alaskan Way,” said he preferred it to “Alaska Way” because it “recognizes the human element, honoring the men and women who pioneered the territory.” Although a majority of the council had informally agreed to support the name “Pacific Way,” sentiment crystallized rapidly in favor of “Alaskan Way” after Harlin’s statement.

Alaskan Way, March 2021
Alaskan Way from the Pike Place Market’s MarketFront, March 2021. Construction of the street that supposedly will not be called Elliott Way is visible at center right. The Seattle Great Wheel can be seen above the Seattle Aquarium. Photograph by Flickr user Scott Smithson, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Today, Alaskan Way S begins at the north end of E Marginal Way S, at the entrance to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 30, and goes 2⅓ miles north, then northwest, to Broad Street, having become Alaskan Way on crossing Yesler Way. This is the Alaskan Way most people think of.

But, as they say, wait — there’s more! The right-of-way continues for another 1¾ miles, ending at W Garfield Street under the Magnolia Bridge, at the entrance to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 91. From the Olympic Sculpture Park, which begins at Broad Street, to Myrtle Edwards Park, the right-of-way is taken up by park land and the tracks of the BNSF Railway — successor to the Columbia & Puget Sound; the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern; and the Northern Pacific, the railroads for which Railroad Avenue was originally built. Northwest of Myrtle Edwards, it’s entirely taken up by the tracks that run alongside Centennial Park. It isn’t until W Galer Street that there’s a city street in the right-of-way again, and Alaskan Way W only goes about ⅙ of a mile northwest from there to W Garfield Street. Even less than that is signed Alaskan Way, as the city has put up a sign for Expedia Group Way W where the W Galer Street flyover “touches down.” However, even though southeast of Galer the roadway runs first on Expedia property, then Port of Seattle property, the city appears to still consider it Alaskan Way W between the Expedia campus entrance and the north end of Centennial Park — a distance of just over ⅓ of a mile.

Queen Anne Avenue N

Originally Temperance Street and Villard Avenue, Queen Anne Avenue N was given its current name in 1895 as part of the Great Renaming. It was named after Queen Anne Hill and the Queen Anne neighborhood. Originally called Eden Hill or Galer Hill, they were themselves renamed after the Queen Anne architectural style that became popular in the 1880s.

Looking up the Counterbalance (Queen Anne Avenue N), 1910
Looking north up the Counterbalance (Queen Anne Avenue N), 1910
Looking south down Queen Anne Avenue N, April 2012
Looking south down Queen Anne Avenue N, April 2012. Photograph by Flickr user Joe Wolf, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Queen Anne Avenue begins at Western Avenue, less than 100 feet south of Denny Way, and becomes Queen Anne Avenue N as it crosses Denny. From there it goes 2⅕ miles north to Bertona Street and the Ship Canal Trail.

Western Avenue

This street appears to originate in this 1871 plat made by Arthur A. Denny. Unlike with E North Street or Eastern Avenue N, no mystery here: originally named West Street, it was the first street west of Front Street (today’s 1st Avenue). Front Street ran along the waterfront, as its name implied, south of about Seneca Street, but north of there the Elliott Bay shoreline curved and the street grid didn’t curve with it (that would happen farther north, at Stewart Street). Hence West Street, which was changed to Western Avenue in 1895. (West Street would be extended farther south once they started filling in the tideflats; today, it begins at Yesler Way.)

Western Avenue in Pike Place Market, October 2008
Western Avenue in Pike Place Market, October 2008. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

Today, Western Avenue begins at Yesler Way and goes 1¾ miles northwest to Elliott Avenue W at 3rd Avenue W and W Thomas Street, having become Western Avenue W on crossing W Denny Way.

Howell Street

This street is said to have been named for Jefferson Davis Howell (1846–1875), the youngest of 11 children of William Burr Howell and Margaret Louisa Kemp. He was himself named after Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America, who married his older sister, Varina Anne Banks Howell, in 1845. He joined the Confederate Navy in 1862, having earlier been a midshipman at Annapolis, and served until being captured in 1865.

Howell was captain of the SS Pacific, en route from Victoria to San Francisco, when it sank off Cape Flattery the evening of November 4, 1875. Only one passenger and one crew member survived of nearly 275 aboard, making it the worst maritime disaster on the West Coast to date. As Daryl C. McClary writes for HistoryLink.org:

Although lost at sea, Jefferson Davis Howell was not forgotten by his many friends in Puget Sound. They had a 10-foot-tall sandstone obelisk erected in his memory at the Seattle Masonic Cemetery, established in 1872 and renamed the Lake View Cemetery in 1890. On the base of the monument is chiseled the simple epitaph: “Captain J. D. Howell, perished at sea on the steamship Pacific, November 4, 1875, aged 34 years.”

The Plat of the Second Addition to the Town of Seattle as Laid Off by the Heirs of Sarah A. Bell (Deceased), on which Howell Street was first laid out, was filed on December 14, 1875, so the timing certainly fits the story.

Howell Street begins at 8th Avenue and Olive Way and goes ⅓ of a mile northwest to Eastlake Avenue, just west of Interstate 5. On the other side of the freeway, it resumes at Bellevue Avenue as E Howell Street and goes ⅕ of a mile east to Harvard Avenue, where it is blocked by Seattle Central College. After a very short segment between Broadway and Nagle Place, it begins again east of Cal Anderson Park at 11th Avenue and goes ½ a mile east to 19th Avenue. E Howell Street resumes at Homer Harris Park at 24th Avenue and goes ¾ of a mile east to 38th Avenue, being a stairway and pathway between the alley east of 25th Avenue and 26th Avenue. It begins again at Madrona Drive and goes ⅒ of a mile east to 39th Avenue E and Evergreen Place. Its last segment is just over 100 feet long, from Lake Washington Boulevard to Howell Place and Howell Park beach.

Dexter Avenue N

This street is named for Dexter Horton (1825–1904). Born in Seneca Lake, New York, he was living in Princeton, Illinois before he came west in 1852 with, among others, Thomas Mercer and Daniel and Clarence Bagley. He and Mercer came to Seattle in 1853. In 1870, he founded the city’s first bank, the Dexter Horton Bank. (It later merged with Seattle National Bank and First National Bank to form the First Seattle Dexter Horton National Bank, which unwieldy name became First National Bank of Seattle, then Seattle-First National Bank, and eventually Seafirst, the name it used from 1974 until the brand was retired in favor of Bank of America in 1999. (Bank of America had bought Seafirst in 1983.)

Dexter Horton
Dexter Horton

Dexter Avenue begins just south of Denny Way at 7th Avenue and becomes Dexter Avenue N north of Denny. From there it goes 2 miles north, then northwest, to the intersection of Westlake Avenue N, 4th Avenue N, and Nickerson Street, just south of the Fremont Bridge.

Terry Avenue

This street is named after Charles Carroll Terry (1830–1867), one of the members, along with his older brother, Lee, of the Denny Party that landed at Alki Point in November 1851. Shortly after the landing, he opened the first store in King County. Lee had made a land claim in Alki a few months earlier, but went home to New York the next year; Charles remained, even after most of the other settlers left for what is now Pioneer Square. It seems he finally moved north in 1857, trading his Alki land for that of David Swinson “Doc” Maynard in Pioneer Square. He died 10 years later, according to this biography, of tuberculosis. (Whether or not he and his brother were responsible for naming the Alki Point settlement New York, which became New York–Alki [the latter word meaning ‘by and by’ or ‘someday’ in Chinook Jargon] and then just Alki, is unclear, although he did officially apply the Alki name to the town plat he filed in 1853.)

In 1855, he, along with Edward Lander, bought Carson Boren’s downtown land claim for $500; he and Lander donated two acres to form the first campus of the University of Washington, which opened in 1861. (He named one of his sons, born in 1862, Edward Lander Terry.) His name also appears on Terry Hall, a UW dormitory on NE Campus Parkway.

Charles C. Terry
Charles Carroll Terry

Terry Avenue begins at Alder Street on First Hill and goes ½ a mile to Spring Street, where it is blocked by Virginia Mason Hospital. Resuming at Seneca Street, it goes ⅕ of a mile to Pike Street. On the other side of Interstate 5 and the Washington State Convention Center, it begins again at Howell Street and goes ⅘ of a mile to Valley Street and Lake Union Park, becoming Terry Avenue N as it crosses Denny Way. Amazon.com’s headquarters are at 410 Terry Avenue N, between Harrison Street and Republican Street.

Minor Avenue

This street is named for Dr. Thomas Taylor Minor (1844–1889), who came to Seattle in 1883 from Port Townsend, where he had lived since 1868 and whose mayor he had been in 1880 and 1881. He was one of the founders of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway in 1885 and became mayor of Seattle from 1887 to 1889. He drowned off Whidbey Island while on a duck-hunting trip on December 2, 1889. The other fatalities were George Morris Haller, brother of Theodore Haller for whom Haller Lake is named, and his brother-in-law, Lewis Cox.

Thomas Taylor Minor
Dr. Thomas Taylor Minor

Minor Avenue begins at Broadway just north of Jefferson Street and goes ⅔ of a mile northwest to Pine Street. Resuming on the other side of Interstate 5 at Olive Way, it goes another ⅔ of a mile northwest, then north, to Mercer Street, having become Minor Avenue N north of Denny Way. After a two-block stretch from Roy Street to Aloha Street, it appears again as Minor Avenue E at E Newton Street, and goes nearly ½ a mile to its end at E Roanoke Street.

Boren Avenue

This street was named for Carson Dobbins Boren (1824–1912), a member of the Denny Party that landed at Alki Point in November 1851. His sisters Mary Ann (1822–1910) and Louisa (1827–1916) married brothers Arthur (1822–1899) and David Denny (1832–1903) in 1843 and 1853, respectively. These weren’t the only Boren–Denny connections, either: his mother, Sarah Latimer Boren (1805–1888), who had been widowed in 1827, married John Denny (1793–1875) — Arthur and David’s father — in 1848. (Their mother, also named Sarah, had died in 1841.)

Boren is said to have built the first cabin in Seattle, at what is now 2nd Avenue and Cherry Street, in April 1852. He was elected King County’s first sheriff the same year. Boren’s land claim of 320 acres covered what is today a rectangle approximately bounded by (going clockwise) Yesler Way, 15th Avenue, E Cherry Street and its projection west, and Western Avenue and its projection north, but he sold it for $500 to Charles Terry and Edward Lander in 1855.*

* “Its projection” is necessary here because of Boren and Arthur Denny’s decision to have their street grid follow the shoreline, while “Doc” Maynard preferred his to follow the cardinal directions; Maynard’s grid eventually extended through the entire city and, indeed, county. (See “Seattle’s first streets.”) The actual southern boundary is a bit north of Yesler Way since both Boren and Maynard adjusted their initial claims to give Henry Yesler land to build and supply his sawmill.

Why Boren sold his land isn’t entirely clear. Sophie Frye Bass writes in Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle that he sold it “early at a great sacrifice and became a roamer and, therefore, did not share in the up-building of the town”; her sister, Roberta Frye Watt, is indirectly quoted by Junius Rochester thus: “Carson had an unhappy home life. This compelled him to move deeper and deeper into the forest; to hunt and dream; and to shed most of his possessions.” Indeed, he and his wife, Mary Ann, divorced in 1861.

Carson Dobbins Boren, photographer and date unknown
Carson Dobbins Boren

Today, Boren Avenue S begins at 14th Avenue S, Rainier Avenue S, and S Jackson Street, and goes 2⅕ miles north to Valley Street and Lake Union Park, becoming Boren Avenue as it crosses Yesler Way and Boren Avenue N as it crosses Denny Way. It is one of the few north–south streets in Seattle to have three directional designations.

Bell Street

Bell Street originates in this 1870 plat filed by Arthur Armstrong Denny (1822–1899) and William Nathaniel Bell (1817–1887), both members of the Denny Party of settlers who arrived in what is now Seattle in 1851. Not only does Bell give his name to Bell Street and the Belltown neighborhood, but his daughters are honored by Olive Way and Virginia Street, and Olive’s husband by Stewart Street.

Today, Bell Street begins at Elliott Avenue and goes ⅗ of a mile northeast to Denny Way and 9th Avenue N.

William Nathaniel Bell
William Nathaniel Bell

Blanchard Street

For Blanchard Street, I can do no better than to quote Sophie Frye Bass, who in Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle writes:

The name of Blanchard Street had long been a puzzle to me, but when I looked over some records of 1872 and found where John M. Blanchard had been one of the witnesses when my grandfather, Arthur Denny, platted a tract of land, then I knew.

Blanchard Street was part of A.A. Denny’s 6th Addition to the City of Seattle, filed in 1873, and indeed John M. Blanchard is one of the witnesses, along with Duncan T. Wheeler. Blanchard appears to have been city treasurer in 1879, as well as an insurance agent. Wheeler is referred to in 1871 as being a merchant, and in 1874 he and Blanchard apparently attended a masquerade ball dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan(!), predating the establishment of an actual Klan chapter by half a century. (Their wives went as a “Canadian Squaw” and the “Queen of Chess,” respectively.)

Today, Blanchard Street begins at Elliott Avenue and goes just over half a mile to the northwest, where it ends at Westlake Avenue.

Westlake Avenue

Forming a trio with Eastlake Avenue and Northlake Way, Westlake Avenue is so named for running along the western shore of Lake Union. Beginning today at Stewart Street between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue, just north of McGraw Square, it runs 2½ miles north to 4th Avenue N between Nickerson Street and Florentia Street — the south end of the Fremont Bridge.

Westlake neighborhood and Mount Rainier from the Aurora Bridge, June 23, 2006
Westlake neighborhood and Mount Rainier from the Aurora Bridge, June 23, 2006. Photograph by Flickr user Steve Voght, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Westlake Avenue once started a couple of blocks to the south, at 4th Avenue and Pike Street, and based on the quarter section map, it appears that its former route through Westlake Park between Pike Street and Pine Street is still public right-of-way as opposed to park land. (The portion between Pine Street and Olive Way was vacated in 1986 to make way for the Westlake Center mall, which opened in 1988, and the portion between Olive Way and Stewart Street was closed in 2010 to allow for the expansion of McGraw Square.)

Monorail and streetcar, corner of Westlake Avenue and Olive Way, in 2008
Monorail and streetcar, corner of Westlake Avenue and Olive Way, in 2008. Photograph by Flickr user Oran Viriyincy, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Westlake was extended south to 4th and Pike from Denny Way in 1902 (one former mayor has called for that extension to be closed to cars); the original Westlake Avenue (now, properly, Westlake Avenue N) was created in 1895 as part of the Great Renaming ordinance, Section 5 of which reads

That the names of Rollin Street, Lake Union Boulevard and Lake Avenue from Depot Street [changed by the same ordinance to Denny Way] to Florentia Street, be and the same are hereby changed to Westlake Avenue.

Rollin Street, the southernmost portion, was named for Rolland Herschel Denny (1851–1939), the youngest member of the Denny Party at just six weeks old. In its honor, an apartment complex that opened at the corner of Westlake and Denny in 2008 is named Rollin Street Flats.

Rollin Street Flats, northeast corner of Westlake Avenue N and Denny Way, South Lake Union
Rollin Street Flats, northeast corner of Westlake Avenue N and Denny Way, South Lake Union, October 22, 2017. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Northlake, Eastlake, Westlake… why no Southlake?

Having covered Northlake, Eastlake, and Westlake so far, one might ask: why is there no Southlake?

There does appear to have been a Southlake Avenue for a time — 1909 to 1924 or so, based on the last mention of it I could find in Seattle newspapers, an article in the August 8, 1924, edition of The Seattle Times on a car crash that had taken place a number of weeks earlier. Now the northern section of Fairview Avenue N, it extended from the intersection of Valley Street northwest to E Galer Street and Eastlake Avenue E, “thus eliminating the present grade on Eastlake for University traffic” in the words of a real estate advertisement in the August 23, 1914, edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But why the Southlake name disappeared seems clear: once it was decided to extend the Fairview name along the shore lands, there was no other appropriate road to carry it. The northern and eastern shores of Lake Union are just shy of 2 miles long each, but since the lake is shaped like a ? (and, surprisingly, like a uterus if Portage Bay is included) there is hardly any southern shore to speak of — only about ¼ mile.

As for the neighborhood name, I’m not sure why South Lake Union came to be used instead of Southlake. Perhaps it’s as simple as the lack of a similarly named street to “anchor” the neighborhood.

Eastlake Avenue E

Like NE Northlake Way, Eastlake Avenue E is so named because it runs along the shore of Lake Union — in this case, obviously, the eastern one. It, too, was earlier named Lake Avenue (in part), but this was changed as part of the Great Renaming of 1895. Ordinance 4044, Section 6 reads

That the names of Albert Street, Waterton Street, Lake Avenue and Green Street from Depot Street [changed by the same ordinance to Denny Way] to the shore of Lake Union at the northerly point of the Denny–Fuhrman addition, be and the same are hereby changed to Eastlake Avenue.

Today, Eastlake, at 2⁹⁄₁₀ miles in length, extends slightly farther north and south than the roadway mentioned in the ordinance. It starts in the south at the intersection of Court Place and Howell Street as Eastlake Avenue, then becomes Eastlake Avenue E a block north as it crosses Denny Way. From here to just south of E Galer Street it divides the Avenue: E; Street: E section of town from the Avenue: N; Street section. Just north of Portage Bay Place E it crosses Lake Union as the University Bridge, then continues on as the one-way–northbound Eastlake Avenue NE to 11th Avenue NE just north of NE 41st Street. (Southbound, it is fed by Roosevelt Way NE at NE Campus Parkway.)

Eastlake, like Fairview and Boren Avenues, is one of the few north–south streets in Seattle to have three different directional designations.

Looking northeast at the University Bridge from the Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle, July 2018
Looking northeast at the University Bridge from the Ship Canal Bridge, July 2018. Photograph by SounderBruce, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Borealis Avenue

In 1948, when Aurora Avenue N (then U.S. Route 99) was being readied to connect to the under-construction Alaskan Way Viaduct, it was extended a block south of Denny Way to 6th Avenue and Battery Street, creating a short stretch of Aurora Avenue with no directional designation. This remained the case until 2019, when the replacement tunnel for the viaduct opened. At that time, Aurora south of Harrison Street reverted to its earlier name of 7th Avenue N, and since 7th Avenue south of Denny Way already existed, a new name was needed for the block-long Aurora Avenue.

According to The Urbanist, “Borealis,” referring to the aurora borealis, was a community favorite — but it was named after a nearby apartment building, not after the northern lights directly. As for why the names were changed in the first place, The Seattle Times reported that it was felt there were “negative connotations associated with [the name] Aurora Avenue” they wanted to avoid while reintegrating this stretch of the road into the neighborhood.

Lenora Street

This street is named for Margaret Lenora Denny (1847–1915), daughter of Arthur Armstrong Denny and Mary Ann Boren Denny. She, like Virginia Bell (namesake of Virginia Street) was just four years old when her family, as part of the Denny Party, settled at Alki Point in 1851. She was killed in a car crash that also took the life of Thomas W. Prosch (Prosch Avenue W); his wife, Virginia; and artist Harriet Foster Beecher.

Margaret Lenora Denny, circa 1900
Margaret Lenora Denny, circa 1900

Established as part of A.A. Denny’s 6th Addition to the City of Seattle in 1873, it begins at Alaskan Way as an (temporarily closed as of this writing) elevator and pedestrian bridge over the BNSF Railway tracks. The street proper begins just west of where Elliott Avenue ends at Western Avenue. From there it is just shy of ¾ of a mile to its end at Denny Way and Boren Avenue.

Virginia Street

This street is named for Mary Virginia Bell Hall (1847–1931), daughter of William Nathaniel Bell and Sarah Ann Peter Bell. Belltown and Bell Street were named for her father, Olive Way for her sister, and Stewart Street for her brother-in-law. She was just four years old when her family, as part of the Denny Party, settled at Alki Point in 1851.

Virginia Bell Hall, circa 1875
Virginia Bell, circa 1875

Established as part of the Plat of an Addition to the Town of Seattle, Washington Territory, Laid Off by the Heirs of Sarah A. Bell, Deceased in 1872, it begins at Western Avenue by Steinbrueck Park, at the northwest end of Pike Place Market, and goes ¾ of a mile northeast to Minor Avenue and Denny Way.

 

Stewart Street

This street is named for Joseph Stewart (1830–1889), husband of Olive Julia Bell Stewart (Olive Way). It was established in 1872 as part of the Plat of an Addition to the Town of Seattle, Washington Territory, Laid Off by the Heirs of Sarah A. Bell, Deceased.

Stewart Street begins at Pike Place and ends ⁹⁄₁₀ of a mile to the northwest at Eastlake Avenue E and John Street.

Olive Way

This street is named for Olive Julia Bell Stewart (1846–1921), daughter of William Nathaniel Bell and Sarah Ann Peter Bell. Belltown and Bell Street were named for her father, Virginia Street for her sister, and Stewart Street for her husband, Joseph. She was one of the younger members of the Denny Party, being five years old when they initially settled at Alki Point in 1851.

Olive Julia Bell Stewart, circa 1860
Olive Bell, circa 1860

Originally called Olive Street in the Plat of an Addition to the Town of Seattle, Washington Territory, Laid Off by the Heirs of Sarah A. Bell, Deceased in 1872, it begins at Stewart Street just east of 3rd Avenue and goes one mile northeast, then east, to Broadway E and E John Street.

On September 3, 1920, The Seattle Times reported that:

Extension of Olive Street, by the establishment of a diagonal thoroughfare to be known as Olive Way, running from the intersection of Olive Street in a northeasterly direction to Boylston Avenue North and East Denny Way, is provided in an ordinance completed yesterday afternoon by the city engineer’s office…. The purpose of the whole improvement is to afford an east and west arterial highway, leading from the business district into the residence section of the city, supplementary to Pike Street and Pine Street.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s June 24, 1923, issue, it “formally opened to traffic yesterday… a public improvement for which a fight extending over a period of fifteen years was waged,” so this 1920 ordinance was certainly not the first time an improved connection between Downtown and Capitol Hill was proposed. I’m not entirely sure what happened in 1908 the writer might have been referring to, but perhaps it was the Bogue Plan and he was off by a few years?

Route of Olive Way drawn on 1912 Baist Atlas plate of Capitol Hill
Portion of plate 7, Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Seattle (1912), planned route of E Olive Way drawn in pencil. The portion of E Olive St between Melrose and Bellevue Avenues is now E Olive Place.

It appears from the 1921 ordinance establishing the extension that the Olive Way name was originally only applied to the street east of Bellevue Avenue; it wasn’t until 1926 that it was extended west to the street’s origin.

One curiosity about E Olive Way addresses: the block numbers are out of sync with other east–west streets in the area. For example, the block east of Melrose Avenue is the 300 block, east of Bellevue Avenue the 400 block, east of Summit 500, east of Belmont 600, east of Boylston 700, etc. — for other streets. For E Olive Way, east of Melrose is 1300, east of Bellevue 1400 and 1500, east of Summit and Belmont 1600, east of Boylston 1700, etc. — essentially continuing on from Downtown, not starting over at what is now the route of Interstate 5, as the other streets do. 

Fairview Avenue N

Fairview Avenue is one of a handful in the city that changes directional designations twice along a continuous stretch. The street begins in the south at Virginia Street as Fairview Avenue, but becomes Fairview Avenue N a block and a half to the north as it crosses Denny Way, and a mile north and east of that becomes Fairview Avenue E at E Galer Street and Eastlake Avenue E. It continues to E Roanoke Street, two miles from its origin, where it is interrupted by the Mallard Cove houseboat community. Picking up a block to the north, it then runs half a mile from E Hamlin Street to Fuhrman Avenue E and Eastlake Avenue E, just south of the University Bridge.

Originally Lake Street in Rezin and Margaret Pontius’s 1875 plat of the Fairview Homestead Association for the Benefit of Mechanics and Laborers, it received its current name during the Great Renaming of 1895. (Before 1875, it had been known as Prohibition Street.)

The Fairview Homestead Association, according to Paul Dorpat, was intended to “help working families stop paying rents and start investing in their own homes. Innovative installment payments made the lots affordable and many of the homes were built by those who lived in them.”

I assume Fairview took its name from the view of Lake Union and what is now Wallingford that is still barely visible today from what is now the Cascade neighborhood.

1931 view looking north toward Lake Union along Fairview Avenue N, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 5265
1931 view looking north toward Lake Union along Fairview Avenue N, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 5265

Eagle Street

This 600-foot-long street, which runs from Western to 2nd Avenues a block south of Bay Street, was given that name by William Nathaniel Bell in 1881. In his plat, the large lot between Bay (then Grant) and Lake (now Broad) Streets west of Western Avenue (then West Street) was shown as occupied by the Eagle Manufacturing Co. On this 1884 Sanborn map, though, “Seattle Barrel M’f’y” appears instead. This historic survey says that the Seattle Barrel Manufacturing Company opened in 1880, but was located between Bell and Wall Streets, farther south.

At any rate, it would seem that Eagle Street was named after this Eagle Manufacturing Co., of which I could find no further trace; and that neither Eagle nor Seattle Barrel was there 30 years later, when the 1912 Baist atlas was produced, showing the land to be occupied by Union Oil Company of California (later known as Unocal).

Unocal — which, according to Historylink, had begun using the lot in 1910 — would continue to use it as a fuel depot and marketing terminal until 1975. Cleanup of the contaminated ground began in the 1980s, and the Seattle Art Museum purchased the site in 1999 with help from the Trust for Public Land. In 2007, the Olympic Sculpture Park opened, completing the area’s transformation from open space to industrial area to open space once again.

(Local historian Paul Dorpat points out that the cove that once existed here could be [though never was] called “Eagle Cove” — both for Eagle Street and for the fact that Alexander Calder’s Eagle sculpture now makes its home in the lower half of the park.)

Alexander Calder‘s sculpture ”Eagle”

Bay Street

This street, which runs for a little over a tenth of a mile from Elliott to 1st Avenues, was originally named Grant Street by William Nathaniel Bell in 1881. 14 years later, it was one of the many streets caught up in the Great Renaming of 1895. Per ordinance 4044, it was “ordained… that the name of Grant Street from Elliott Bay to Depot Street, be and the same are hereby changed to Bay Street.” I can’t imagine it took its name from anywhere other than Elliott Bay.