Swanson’s Alley

Officially, this alley off 34th Avenue E between E John Street and 35th Avenue E is unnamed. That proved inconvenient for Jack Sussman and Cathy Nunneley, who live at 184 and 128 33rd Avenue E, respectively. Yes, 33rd Avenue E, even though their house is accessed from 34th.

I don’t know how it works in other cities, but in Seattle, you can have an address on a nonexistent — or, more accurately, unimproved — street. This is the case with W Semple Street — the three residences with a Semple address are only accessible from 45th Avenue W. And this is the case here. Unlike Semple, 33rd Avenue E is improved… but not for the entire length of its right-of-way. From about 450 feet south of E Harrison Street to about 175 feet north of E Denny Way, 33rd Avenue E is unimproved and makes up part of the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt.

Swanson's Alley and surrounding streets as shown on King County Parcel Viewer
Swanson’s Alley and surrounding streets as shown on King County Parcel Viewer. Address points appear in green, except for 128 and 184 33rd Avenue E, which appear in purple.

Sussman writes in the July–August 2010 issue of The Valley View, the newsletter of the Madison Valley Community Council:

We have a problem because our address is one that people cannot find. Get a new mailperson and we won’t see any mail for a week!… How many Roto-Rooter men, phone line fixers, and Craigslist contacts have been lost trying to find us? GPS and MapQuest systems are useless for locating my house. How many times have I run out to the street vainly searching for the delivery truck going round and round the neighborhood?

He goes on to explain that “a fine article lamenting [the] neglect of city alleys” written by Knute Berger inspired him to put up a sign reading “Swanson’s Alley” underneath the city’s official sign directing people to his and Nunneley’s houses. He chose the name to honor “Swanson, a Swedish carpenter, [who] lived here in the 1930s,” and happily reports that giving the alley a name, albeit unofficial, did indeed help people find his residence.

Swanson's Alley sign, May 29, 2010
Hand-painted Swanson’s Alley sign, May 29, 2010. Photograph by Benjamin Lukoff. Copyright © 2010 Benjamin Lukoff. All rights reserved.

In the next issue of The Valley View, Sussman reports that he was able to locate a grandson of this Swanson, to give him the news and get further details on the alley’s namesake:

The grandfather who founded the family here was Elof Svenson [1881–1958]; the name later became Swanson in America. Elof was a teenage laborer, a Swedish immigrant who spoke little English. I had one detail wrong: he was not a carpenter but a landscape worker who specialized in rockeries. He put in all the bulkheads that hold the ground above the Harrison Greenbelt.

In general, I’m not a fan of unofficial signage (especially signs proclaiming public rights-of-way to be private, which I’ve come across in Blue Ridge, Montlake, and Wedgwood) but I have no problem with this one. It doesn’t imply private ownership and it’s meant to improve navigation. And it honors someone most people would otherwise never have heard of.

By the way — in case you’re wondering why Swanson’s Alley shows up in Google Maps and OpenStreetMap even though the name is unofficial, it’s because I added it. The name, that is — the alley was already present on both. (I’m trying to get it added to Apple Maps as well, but that may be a bit more difficult.)

Denny Way

This street is named for David Thomas Denny (1832–1903). He was one of the members of the Denny Party that landed at Alki Point in 1851, led by his older brother, Arthur Armstrong Denny (1822–1899). In 1853, he married his sister-in-law, Louisa Boren (1827–1916). (Louisa’s older sister, Mary Ann Boren [1822–1910], had married Arthur in 1843. She, Louisa, and their brother, Carson Dobbins Boren [1824–1912], were also part of the Denny Party).

The Dennys settled on land in what is now Lower Queen Anne, living in a series of houses in the area until they went bankrupt in the Panic of 1893 and had to leave their mansion for their summer cottage at Licton Springs, where they lived with their oldest child, Emily Inez Denny (1853–1918), until they died.

Denny Park is named for the couple, which had given the land to the city as its first cemetery in 1861; the bodies were moved to the Washelli Cemetery on Capitol Hill in the 1880s, at which time the original cemetery was converted to a park, likewise the city’s first. (Just a few years later, Washelli was also converted to a park, initially known as Lake View Park, then City Park, and finally, in 1901, Volunteer Park. The Dennys’ private burial ground near the no-longer-existent Oak Lake eventually became the Oaklake Cemetery, which, after being sold by their son Victor in 1914, was renamed Washelli after the original cemetery of that name; Evergreen Cemetery, across Aurora Avenue N from Washelli, bought the latter in 1922, and the combined cemetery took its current name, Evergreen Washelli, in 1962.)

David Denny was active in government. According to HistoryLink.org, he was:

…Probate judge, King County commissioner, Seattle City Council member, a director of the Seattle School District, and regent of the Territorial University of Washington.… Denny was an ardent advocate of woman suffrage and helped lead the movement that in the 1880s won Washington women the right to vote. He opposed the expulsion of Chinese immigrants in 1886, which antagonized local nativists.

Denny was also involved in the development of a number of Seattle neighborhoods; in addition to Queen Anne, he developed tracts in South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, and Ravenna, and founded the Rainier Power and Railway Company, which ran the first streetcar from Downtown (Pioneer Square) to the University District (Ravenna Park).

David T. Denny, 1890
David T. Denny, 1890. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 175313.

Denny Way — originally named Depot Street by Denny after a proposed train station that never materialized — begins as a shoreline street end on Elliott Bay, indistinguishable from the surrounding Myrtle Edwards Park. On the other side of the BNSF Railway tracks, W Denny Way begins as a pathway and stairway from Elliott Avenue to Western Avenue. From here, it is a major arterial, becoming Denny Way as it crosses Queen Anne Avenue N (originally named Temperance Street by Denny), and going 2½ miles east to E Madison Street and 22nd Avenue. (It becomes a neighborhood street on crossing E Olive Way, and the block between Broadway and 10th Avenue E was renamed E Barbara Bailey Way in 2019). E Denny Way begins again at E Madison Street and 23rd Avenue and goes ⅘ of a mile east to Madrona Place E and 38th Avenue, where it turns into Madrona Drive.

Denny Way, which becomes E Denny Way east of Eastlake Avenue E, also divides five of the city’s directional designation zones from each other, similarly to Yesler Way. North of Denny but west of Queen Anne Avenue N, east–west streets carry the W prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix W. North of Denny between Queen Anne Avenue N and Eastlake Avenue E, east–west streets carry no prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix N. North of Denny east of Eastlake Avenue E, east–west streets carry the E prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix E. South of Denny but west of a line that includes Melrose Avenue, Minor Avenue, E Union Street, and Broadway, neither east–west streets nor north–south avenues carry a prefix or suffix. And south of Denny but east of that line, east–west streets carry the E prefix and north–south avenues carry no suffix.

Signs at corner of 34th Avenue and E Denny Way, May 29, 2010
Signs at E Denny Way, where 34th Avenue becomes 34th Avenue E, May 29, 2010. Photograph by Benjamin Lukoff. Copyright © 2010 Benjamin Lukoff. All rights reserved.

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.

John Street

“A street of good intentions but easily thwarted,” as Sophie Frye Bass puts it in Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle, John Street is “named for two Johns,” she writes — “For John Denny [1793–1875], the father of Arthur and David, and John B. [1862–1913], the son of David.”

Today, W John Street begins at Western Avenue W and goes ⅓ of a mile east to 2nd Avenue N and the Pacific Science Center campus. John Street resumes just east of the Space Needle at Broad Street and goes ½ a mile to Terry Avenue N. Picking up half a block to the east, it makes it a further ⅓ of a mile before being blocked by Interstate 5 at Stewart Street and Eastlake Avenue E. Resuming at Melrose Avenue E, it goes ⅙ of a mile to E Olive Way, which itself becomes E John Street a few blocks to the east at Broadway E. From there, it’s ⅓ of a mile to the Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center at 15th Avenue E. After beginning again at 16th Avenue E, E John makes it nearly a mile before being stopped by the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt at 32nd Avenue E. Its final stretch is ⅓ of a mile from the 33rd Avenue E right-of-way to 39th Avenue E at Viretta Park.

E Denny Blaine Place

This short loop connects Lake Washington Boulevard E to 40th Avenue E and Denny Blaine Park on the Lake Washington waterfront. Street, park, and neighborhood — for the neighborhood is called Denny-Blaine too, though this time with a hyphen — are named for Charles Latimer Denny (1861–1919) and Elbert F. Blaine (1857–1942).

Denny was the youngest son of Arthur Armstrong Denny, leader of the Denny Party that landed at Alki Point in 1851; Blaine was a lawyer and parks commissioner from 1902 to 1908, and does not appear to be related to Catherine and David Blaine, after whom Blaine Street is named. Together, they operated the Denny-Blaine Land Company, and in 1901 filed the plat of Denny-Blaine-Lake Park to the City of Seattle (curiously, “Addition” seems to be missing before “to”). The street was originally named Whitman Place, and the park was unnamed; according to Seattle parks historian Don Sherwood, the street was renamed in 1918 to avoid confusion with Whitman Avenue N, and the park soon came to be known as Denny Blaine as well.

Incidentally, both portraits come from scans of newspapers; Blaine’s is from The Seattle Republican, September 27, 1912, and Denny’s is from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 14, 1919 (his obituary). The original caption reads, in part:

The above photograph of Charles L. Denny was the last one he ever had taken. It was taken in the early nineties… and shows Mr. Denny, in the crude photography of that time, as he appeared when starting out on his successful business career.

Republican Street

This street, platted in 1889 as part of D.T. Denny’s Home Addition to the City of Seattle, was named for the Republican Party, of which David Thomas Denny (1832–1903), a member of the Denny Party that landed at Alki Point in 1851, was a member. The plat was so named because Denny and his wife, Louisa Boren Denny (1827–1916), lived at what is now Dexter Avenue N and Republican Street from 1871 until 1890. (Adam S. Alsobrook considers it instead “a nod to [their earlier] homestead” of 1860–1871, located on what is now the Seattle Center campus, which is also plausible. [He gives a different date and location on his blog, but the Seattle Times article he cites gives the information above.])

E Republican Street Stairway, looking west, January 2008
E Republican Street Stairway, looking west from above Melrose Avenue E, January 2008. When built in 1910, it went all the way down to Eastlake Avenue E, but its lower two-thirds were removed in the 1960s to make way for Interstate 5. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Today, W Republican Street begins a block west of 4th Avenue W and goes ⅖ of a mile east to Warren Avenue N, where it becomes Seattle Center’s pedestrian August Wilson Way. On the east side of Seattle Center, there is a one-block segment of Republican Street between 4th Avenue N and 5th Avenue N; the street then resumes at Dexter Avenue N at the northbound exit from the State Route 99 Tunnel. From there, it runs ⅔ of a mile east to Eastlake Avenue E, where it is blocked by Interstate 5. Resuming east of I-5 as a stairway at Melrose Avenue E, it becomes a street again after half a block and goes another 1⅕ miles from Bellevue Avenue E to 23rd Avenue E, interrupted only once at 17th Avenue E, which can only be crossed by pedestrians and bicycles. After a substantial gap, E Republican Street begins again at 29th Avenue E and E Arthur Place in Madison Valley, and goes ⅖ east to its end at Lake Washington Boulevard E.

(From 33rd Avenue E to Lake Washington Boulevard E, it forms the northern boundary of the Bush School campus; when I went there in the 1980s and 1990s, people from out of town thought I was joking when I told them I went to Bush School on Republican Street. The school, of course, wasn’t named for a member of the Bush political dynasty, but rather for its founder, Helen Taylor Bush.)

Street sign at corner of Lake Washington Boulevard E and E Republican Street, July 30, 2010
Street sign at corner of Lake Washington Boulevard E and E Republican Street, just north of the Bush School campus. Photograph by Benjamin Lukoff, July 30, 2010. Copyright © 2010 Benjamin Lukoff. All rights reserved.

McGilvra Boulevard E

This street, which appears to have been established as part of the 1906 Replat of McGilvra’s Addition and Second Addition to the City of Seattle (an abbreviation of its much longer name), was named for John J. McGilvra (1827–1903). Born in Livingston County, New York, McGilvra moved to Illinois at the age of 17, and became a lawyer nine years later. In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln, who McGilvra reportedly knew as a fellow Illinois lawyer, appointed him United States Attorney for the Territory of Washington. In 1864, he moved to Seattle. That same year, he and his wife, Elizabeth, bought 420 acres of land in what is now Madison Park and became the area’s first settlers. McGilvra had Madison Street extended to the lakefront — it is still the only street to extend from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington without interruption — and later helped establish the Madison Street Cable Railway Company and Madison Park at its eastern terminus. In 1865 he relinquished the post of U.S. attorney. He was a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1866 and 1867, and Seattle city attorney in 1876 and 1877. He retired in 1890.

John J. McGilvra, circa 1890
John J. McGilvra, circa 1890

Today, McGilvra Boulevard E begins in the south at 39th Avenue E and Lake Washington Boulevard E and goes 1⅖ miles north to E McGilvra Street. Unlike most other boulevards in the city, it is not an Olmsted boulevard — McGilvra was reportedly opposed to the movement that resulted in the hiring of the Olmsted Brothers in 1903 (the year of his death) to design a system of parks and boulevards for Seattle, though there is no evidence the two are directly related.

Dorffel Drive E

This street runs just over ¼ of a mile from 37th Avenue E in the north, by Lakeview Park, to E Howell Street and 39th Avenue in the south. It was named for George and Otilde Dorffel, who might otherwise be best known for giving Ravenna its name.

In the original 1901 plat of Denny-Blaine-Lake Park, the Dorffel Drive name was given to what is now Madrona Place E, and what is now Dorffel Drive was then 37th Avenue. The change, which took place in 1906, would seem to have been done to eliminate the oddity of 39th Avenue becoming 37th Avenue as it crossed E Howell Street.

E Florence Court

This street runs around 650 feet from 34th Avenue E, just north of E Denny Way, to 37th Avenue East. It was established in 1903 as part of Waddell’s Madrona Park Addition to the City of Seattle by, among others, Albert and Florence M. Waddell.

Advertisement for Madrona Park Addition, The Seattle Times, April 7, 1903
Advertisement for Madrona Park Addition, The Seattle Times, April 7, 1903