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.
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?
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.
In the original plat, Pike Street (as well as Union and Pine Streets) begins at Front Street — today’s 1st Avenue — but today it begins on the Elliott Bay waterfront at Alaskan Way as the Pike Street Hillclimb. Pike Street proper begins at Pike Place (home of the eponymous market) and Post Alley (underneath the Market Theater sign), both shown below, and makes it a full 1⅔ miles to just past 18th Avenue in the Central District before being interrupted. It then resurfaces at 23rd Avenue and goes another ⅘ of a mile to Grand Avenue in Madrona, a few blocks east of Lake Washington.
Even though the University of Washington moved to its current location on Portage and Union Bays in 1895, the name was not changed. Nor did the university relinquish the land, though not for lack of trying. This turns out to have been fortunate. The UW owns the Metropolitan Tract to this day, and it earned $25 million in rent on the property during fiscal year 2020 alone.
The street, which originally ran from Front Street (now 1st Avenue) to the university campus, just northeast of 3rd Avenue, today begins at Alaskan Way on the Elliott Bay waterfront, and makes it just one block, to Western Avenue, before it becomes the Harbor Steps. From 1st Avenue, it’s about a third of a mile to 7th Avenue, where University Street is blocked by Interstate 5. It resumes at 9th Avenue and goes for another third of a mile to Boylston Avenue.
Incidentally, you’ll notice in the map above that 4th and 5th Avenues between Seneca and Union Streets, as well as University Street between 4th and 5th Avenues, plus half a block on either end, are marked private way subject to public use — long term grant of use for street purposes. This fact — that the University of Washington still owns all the land within the Metropolitan Tract and never formally dedicated those streets to the public — was something I never knew until I started taking close looks at King County’s quarter section maps as part of my local history research. It might seem an academic distinction, but as The Seattle Timesreported in 2015, there are very real financial consequences.
In 2008… the UW wanted the city to interpret the tract as one undivided lot, streets and all. That novel argument would benefit the UW in calculating the development footprint, or base.… The bigger the base, the logic went, the more square footage a developer could build before triggering affordable-housing fees under the city’s formula.… The university held a heavy hammer in negotiations. Because the UW owned development rights for the land under Fifth Avenue and University Street, it could make the city compensate it, one way or another, for using those streets.
Madison Street — another of Seattle’s “first streets” — was named for James Madison, president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. It is the only street in town that stretches, uninterrupted, from the salt water of Elliott Bay and Puget Sound to the fresh water of Lake Washington.
Madison Street begins on the Elliott Bay waterfront at Alaskan Way and ends 3¾ miles northeast of there at a small fishing pier, just east of 43rd Avenue E and north of Madison Park Beach. Apart from a slight bend to the northeast at 22nd Avenue, it is as straight as an arrow from beginning to end.
Spring Street was another of Seattle’s “first streets.” Sophie Frye Bass writes in Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle:
Where springs of clear water bubbled from the earth and the beach was sandy and free from rocks, there the Indians camped. Such a choice spot was Tzee-tzee-lal-litch [dzidzəlalič], which Arthur Denny called Spring Street.
Spring Street begins at Alaskan Way and runs nearly a mile, to Harvard Avenue, before it is interrupted. A few more segments run through the Central District and Madrona. The last is from 38th Avenue to Grand Avenue, at which point it continues to Lake Washington Boulevard as a footpath and stairway.
In 2006, Hunter Brown wrote a People’s History essay for HistoryLink, “Finding Cherry Grove,” detailing his efforts to locate Cherry Grove, whose name was later changed to Cedar Township. The nearest town today is called Abingdon.
Bass began her Pig-Tail Days piece on Cherry Street by calling it “another up-and-up street… with no interferences. It begins at First Avenue, goes east and ends at Thirty-seventh avenue.” This is no longer quite the case because of a very small gap at the south end of the Seattle University campus. Today, Cherry begins at 1st Avenue and ends a block east of Broadway. It starts up again a couple hundred feet to the east as a continuation of the James Street/E James Way arterial, and then does go on to 37th Avenue in Madrona. All told it is 2⅓ miles long.
Marion Street runs ⅖ of a mile from Alaskan Way to 6th Avenue, where it is interrupted by Interstate 5. It picks up again at 7th Avenue and runs about the same distance to Broadway, where the Seattle University campus begins. East of there it runs in sections of varying lengths until it ends for good at 38th Avenue and Madrona Park.
Mill Street, which divided the two plats, was renamed Yesler Avenue in 1888, and Yesler Way — its current name — seven years later. Front Street became 1st Avenue and Commercial Street became 1st Avenue S as part of that same “Great Renaming” ordinance of 1895. Streets that were named in these first plats that have kept their names till today include:
Boren and Denny
James Street — after James Marion Denny, younger brother of A.A. Denny
Cherry Street — after Cherry Grove, Illinois, where the Denny Party’s journey to Seattle began