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.

Yesler Way

This street is named after Henry Leiter Yesler (1810–1892). Originally from Leitersburg, Maryland, which was founded by his great-grandfather, and living in Massillon, Ohio, before coming west, he moved to Seattle from Portland, Oregon, in 1852. As John Caldbick writes for HistoryLink.org:

…[Yesler] quickly established himself as the most important resident of the rain-swept little spot that would soon become Seattle. He had the first steam-powered sawmill on Puget Sound up and running within months, and for several years he employed almost every male settler in Seattle and a considerable number of Native Americans. His mill was early Seattle’s only industry, and without it the town’s development would have been greatly delayed.

Carson Dobbins Boren and David Swinson “Doc” Maynard had already claimed land on Elliott Bay either side of what is today Pioneer Square, but they gave him part of their claims so he could access the water from the claim he made farther up First Hill. Yesler’s mill was built at the foot of what is now Yesler Way but was originally Mill Street, also known as Skid Road — and yes, Seattle may be where the term originated, referring to a neighborhood largely inhabited by the “down and out.”

Yesler was also King County auditor in 1852, and Seattle mayor from 1874 to 1875 and 1885 to 1886.

Yesler had two children: a son, Henry George Yesler (1845–1859), by his wife, Sarah Burgert Yesler (1822–1887); and a daughter, Julia Benson Intermela (1855–1907). Her mother wasn’t Sarah, who didn’t come to Seattle until 1858, but rather a Duwamish woman named Susan, daughter of Salmon Bay Curley (Su-quardle), who had worked at Yesler’s mill. When Sarah finally joined her husband, he sent Susan and Julia to live with Jeremiah S. Benson, a cook at the mill. In the 1870 territorial census, Julia is listed as living with the Bensons, but the next year she is listed as a HB (“half-breed”) house servant for the Yeslers. Unlike Rebecca Lena Graham, who successfully sued the relatives of Franklin Matthias to be recognized as his rightful heir, Julia inherited nothing when her father died in 1892. Even so,

…The settlement of Henry Yesler’s estate was an imbroglio of epic proportions. It pitted Minnie Gagle Yesler [a younger cousin whom he married a few years before his death] and her mother against James Lowman [his nephew] and municipal authorities, who believed that Yesler had made a will that left most of his fortune, by then worth more than $1,000,000, to the city, hoping thereby to cement his reputation as the “Father of Seattle.”

Yesler is also quoted as anticipating “Strange Fruit” by 55 years… though it’s by no means a sentiment Abel Meeropol or Billie Holiday would have shared. In January 1882, a mob lynched James Sullivan, William Howard, and Benjamin Paynes between two of his maple trees. Harper’s Weekly reported Yesler’s reaction: “That was the first fruit them trees ever bore, but it was the finest.”

Henry L. Yesler
Henry L. Yesler. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 12257

Yesler Way begins on the Elliott Bay waterfront at Alaskan Way and goes 2⅙ miles east to Leschi Park, just past 32nd Avenue. It also appears just west of Lake Washington Boulevard, where it goes about 200 feet west and essentially serves as a driveway for a couple of houses.

Yesler Way, which becomes E Yesler Way east of Broadway, also divides three of the city’s directional designation zones from each other. South of Yesler, east–west streets carry the S prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix S. North of Yesler, north–south avenues carry no suffix; east–west streets carry the E prefix east of Broadway and no prefix west of Broadway.

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.

Terrace Street

This street — named Pine Street in Terry’s Second Addition to the Town of Seattle, filed in 1872 — was renamed Terrace in 1876, presumably to avoid duplicating the Pine Street to the north. My assumption is it was given this name because of how steep First Hill is at this point — Paul Dorpat, writing for HistoryLink, says “Except at Terrace Street on the south and near Union Street on the north, the hill was readily negotiable first by hikers and later by street graders and trolley tracks.” One can see in the image below the long, steep stairway in the Terrace Street right-of-way “from 5th Avenue east to beyond 7th Avenue,” as Dorpat writes on his own blog.

Official from Seattle Weights and Measures Division with confiscated scales standing in Terrace Street
Seattle Weights and Measures Division officials standing with confiscated scales in Terrace Street, 1917. Note long stairway in upper-right corner. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 1210.

Today, Terrace Street begins at Yesler Way above 4th Avenue and goes a block and a half up the hill before being blocked by Interstate 5. It resumes just east of Harborview Medical Center and goes ⅓ of a mile east to 12th Avenue. There is another short stretch of E Terrace Street from 20th Avenue to 23rd Avenue by Garfield High School, and then a final ½ mile from 30th Avenue to Lake Washington Boulevard in Leschi, the portion between 36th Avenue and Randolph Avenue being a stairway.

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.

E Spruce Street

This street, like Alder Street and Fir Street — all, of course, named for trees — originates in the 1872 plat of Terry’s Second Addition to the Town of Seattle, filed by Arthur Armstrong Denny, Henry Leiter Yesler, Erasmus Smithers, and Franklin Matthias, the last two as executors of the estate of Charles Carroll Terry, who was part of the Denny Party of settlers in 1851, and died in 1867. However, it was originally named Cedar Street (duplicative of another in Belltown). It received its current name as part of the Great Renaming of 1895, when Cedar Street, Prince William Street, and Erie Street were all changed to Spruce.

Today, E Spruce Street begins at Broadway and goes nearly a mile east to 25th Avenue, only interrupted once, at Boren Avenue, which it connects to as a pair of stairways. It resumes at 28th Avenue and goes just over ¼ of a mile to Lake Dell Avenue (the portion from Peppi’s Playground through Peppi’s Woods as a stairway). Farther east, there is a couple-hundred-foot-long section at the west end of Euclid Avenue, and then a longer one — almost ⅒ of a mile — from near the east end of Euclid Avenue to E Alder Street. (Its complicated end is the result of platted streets not always matching up with topography, or with where people actually ended up building roads.)

Portion of King County Parcel Viewer showing E Spruce Street right-of-way from Lake Dell Avenue to E Alder Street along with Euclid Avenue
King County Parcel Viewer showing E Spruce Street right-of-way from Lake Dell Avenue in the west to E Alder Street in the east. Instead of the eastern portion of Spruce connecting directly to the western portion, there is a gap; instead, the western portion connects to Euclid Avenue by going through private property.

Fir Street

This street, like nearby Alder Street — both, obviously, named for trees — originates in the 1872 plat of Terry’s Second Addition to the Town of Seattle, filed by Arthur Armstrong Denny, Henry Leiter Yesler, Erasmus Smithers, and Franklin Matthias, the last two as executors of the estate of Charles Carroll Terry, who was part of the Denny Party of settlers in 1851, and died in 1867.

Today, Fir Street begins where 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue meet, a block south of Harborview Medical Center. From there to its end at Martin Luther King Jr. Way 1⅕ miles to the east, it is almost completely uninterrupted, except for the portion west of 11th Avenue being blocked by a retaining wall at Boren Avenue.

Alder Street

This street originates in the 1872 plat of Terry’s Second Addition to the Town of Seattle, filed by Arthur Armstrong Denny, Henry Leiter Yesler, Erasmus Smithers, and Franklin Matthias, the last two as executors of the estate of Charles Carroll Terry, who was part of the Denny Party of settlers in 1851, and died in 1867. (In 1857, Matthias was listed as being a carpenter, originally from Indiana, Pennsylvania; not too long thereafter, he apparently married and had a child with the daughter of Shilshole Curley [native name Saxkla’xid{?}], “head-man” of the shill-shohl-AHBSH village at šilšul on Salmon Bay. This child, Rebecca Lena Graham, later had to sue Matthias’s relatives to be recognized as his rightful heir. You can read more about her on the Yale University Press blog, at Fitz-Henry Family History, and in the Pacific Northwest Quarterly.)

Today, Alder Street begins at the south entrance to the Harborview Medical Center parking garage, its original first few blocks having been obliterated by Interstate 5, and goes ⅓ of a mile northeast and then east to the Children and Family Justice Center at 12th Avenue.* It resumes at 14th Avenue and goes just over a mile to 32nd Avenue. Finally, just west of 35th Avenue, the Lake Dell Avenue arterial becomes E Alder Street, which snakes ⅕ of a mile down the hill to end at Lake Washington Boulevard. It was originally part of a group of streets named after trees — Pine, Alder, Cedar, and Fir — though Pine and Cedar have since become Terrace and Spruce, since they duplicated street names in other parts of Downtown.

* The Alder Street right-of-way technically begins at Yesler Way just west of 6th Avenue, but is unimproved and indistinguishable from the adjacent open space, and the Interstate 5 right-of-way begins on the east side of 6th.

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

Canton Alley S

Canton Alley, twin to Maynard Alley a block to the west, is another one of the few named alleys in Seattle. It goes just under ⅕ of a mile from S King Street in the north to S Dearborn Street in the south, between 7th Avenue S and 8th Avenue S.

Similar to the one in Vancouver, British Columbia, it was named after the city and province of Canton in China, today known as Guangzhou in Guangdong province, from where the majority of Chinese immigrants to Seattle came.

As with Maynard Alley, even though Canton Alley had been called that for years, and was signed as such, its name was not officially made Canton Alley S until 2019, so that addresses from which 911 calls were coming could be more easily located and emergency vehicle response times could be reduced.

(The earliest reference I can find to Canton Alley in The Seattle Star, The Seattle Times, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is an article in the February 12, 1911, issue of the Times.)

Portion of Summary and Fiscal Note to Seattle Ordinance 125753 Regarding Canton Alley S
Portion of summary and fiscal note to ordinance 125753 regarding Canton Alley S

One major difference between Canton and Maynard Alleys is the house numbers, as mentioned in the excerpt from the summary and fiscal note to the ordinance above. House numbers on Maynard Alley S follow the standard pattern; the 500 block of Maynard Alley is the one south of S King Street, due west of the 500 block of 7th Avenue S, that of 8th Avenue S, etc. But house numbers on Canton Alley S follow the “European system” (also used in American cities like New York), so very low addresses such as 9 Canton Alley S exist — quite rare in Seattle — and were not changed by the ordinance.

Maynard Alley S

Maynard Alley, one of the few named alleys in Seattle, goes just under ¼ mile from S Jackson Street in the north to S Dearborn Street in the south between Maynard Avenue S and 7th Avenue S. Like Maynard Avenue, it was named for David Swinson “Doc” Maynard, who is generally credited with naming the town of Seattle, after his friend siʔaɫ, or Chief Seattle, and was its “first physician, merchant, Indian agent, and justice of the peace.”

Maynard Alley sign, Seattle, 2010
Maynard Alley sign in front of Washington State Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Center on S King Street, 2010. Photograph by Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

Even though it had been named that for years, and was signed as such, its name was not officially made Maynard Alley S until 2019, so that addresses from which 911 calls were coming could be more easily located and emergency vehicle response times could be reduced. (The same thing was done for Canton Alley S, a block to the east, as part of the same ordinance.)

(The earliest reference I can find to Maynard Alley in The Seattle Star, The Seattle Times, or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is an article in the March 30, 1910, issue of the P-I.)

Portion of Summary and Fiscal Note to Seattle Ordinance 125753 Regarding Maynard Alley S, from http://clerk.seattle.gov/search/ordinances/125753
Portion of summary and fiscal note to ordinance 125753 regarding Maynard Alley S

S Royal Brougham Way

This street begins at Colorado Avenue S in the west, at an onramp to the northbound lanes of the State Route 99 tunnel, and goes ⅔ of a mile east to Airport Way S. Originally S Connecticut Street, it was renamed in 1979 in honor of sportswriter Royal Brougham (1894–1978), who worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper from 1910 until his death. Such a name change was formally proposed by city councilman George Benson following a suggestion by P-I columnist Emmett Watson. Originally it was to be Occidental Avenue S whose name was to be changed, then the 2nd Avenue S Extension when objections were raised. Finally S Connecticut Street was settled upon; it was thought to be particularly appropriate because he “worked so hard to see the Kingdome built… and eventually spent his last day on earth there.”

Lumen Field, built on the former Kingdome site, is on the north side of Royal Brougham between 1st Avenue S and 4th Avenue S; and T-Mobile Park is on the south side between 1st Avenue S and 3rd Avenue S.

Royal Brougham's ID card for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, 1925
Royal Brougham’s Seattle P-I staff ID card, 1925