Lenny Wilkens Way

I’m not sure how I missed the news, but in December 2021 the block of Thomas Street between 1st Avenue N and 2nd Avenue N, just south of Climate Pledge Arena, was officially renamed Lenny Wilkens Way, after the Seattle basketball legend.

Leonard Randolph Wilkens (born 1937), who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, played basketball for the Seattle SuperSonics from 1968–1972, also serving as head coach from 1969–1972. He returned to coach the Sonics in 1977 and stayed until 1986, when he went to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He led the Sonics to two consecutive NBA championship games, in 1978 and 1979, the latter of which the Sonics won, giving Seattle its first national title since the Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917, and its last until 2004, when the Storm won the WNBA Championship. Wilkens finished his career as head coach of the New York Knicks in 2005. Through the Lenny Wilkens Foundation, which recently wound up operations, he also raised millions of dollars for Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.

As far as I know, and please correct me if I’m wrong, this makes Lenny Wilkens only the second Black person to have a street named after him in Seattle, the first being Martin Luther King Jr.

Elliott Avenue

Elliott Avenue, which originated as Water Street in A.A. Denny’s 6th Addition to the City of Seattle, filed in 1873, received its current name in 1895 as part of the Great Renaming. It was named for Elliott Bay, which was itself named for Midshipman Samuel Bonnyman Elliott (1822–1876), part of the United States Exploring Expedition, otherwise known as the Wilkes Expedition. (Even though for years people thought the bay had been named for Chaplain J.L. Elliott, Howard Hanson makes a convincing argument in “The Naming of Elliott Bay: Shall We Honor the Chaplain or the Midshipman?”, an article in the January 1954 issue of The Pacific Northwest Quarterly, that the honor belongs to the midshipman.)

Elliott Avenue begins at Western Avenue and Lenora Street and goes 2⅕ miles northwest to halfway between W Galer Street and W Garfield Street, where it becomes 15th Avenue W.

Looking south down Elliott Avenue W at W Mercer Place, August 1921, from http://archives.seattle.gov/digital-collections/index.php/Detail/objects/25558
Looking south down Elliott Avenue W at W Mercer Place, August 1921. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 1862
Looking northwest up Elliott Avenue W from the W Thomas Street pedestrian bridge, August 2015. From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elliott_Ave,_at_3rd_Ave_and_Thomas_Street,_Seattle.JPG
Looking northwest up Elliott Avenue W from the W Thomas Street pedestrian bridge, August 2015. Photograph by Dllu, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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.

Signs at corner of Comstock Street and Queen Anne Avenue N, June 17, 2011
Signs at corner of Comstock Street and Queen Anne Avenue N, June 17, 2011. Photograph by Benjamin Lukoff. Copyright © 2011 Benjamin Lukoff. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

W Kinnear Place

This street was named in 1895 for George Kinnear (1836–1912), the namesake of nearby Kinnear Park. Born in Ohio, he grew up first in Indiana, then Illinois. He fought for the Union during the Civil War and came to Seattle in 1878, his brother, John, following a few years later. During the time of anti-Chinese agitation, he was captain of the Home Guard that enforced the rule of law and prevented those who wished to expel Chinese laborers from doing so violently. His account of the events of February 1886 was published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1911 as “Anti-Chinese Riots at Seattle, Wn., February 8th, 1886.”

W Kinnear Place begins at 1st Avenue W and goes ⅖ of a mile west to W Prospect Street between Willard Avenue W and 7th Avenue W.

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.

Mercer Street

This street is named for Thomas Dickerson Mercer (1813–1898), who came to Seattle in 1853 and homesteaded 160 acres in what is now Lower Queen Anne, living at what is now Roy Street and Taylor Avenue N. He became a King County commissioner and probate judge, and named Lake Washington and Lake Union, whose Lushootseed names are x̌ačuʔ and xáx̌əʔčuʔ (‘lake’ and its diminutive, respectively). Mercer Island is named for him, as are three of its main streets, W Mercer Way, N Mercer Way, and E Mercer Way. Mercer Slough in Bellevue is named for his brother Aaron (1826-1902), and his brother Asa (1839–1917) is known for being the first instructor at, and first president of, the Territorial University of Washington (being the only college graduate in Seattle in 1861); and for bringing the “Mercer Girls” to Seattle to address the settlement’s severe gender imbalance (thereby inspiring the 1960s TV show Here Come the Brides).

Thomas Mercer
Thomas Dickerson Mercer

Today, W Mercer Street begins at Elliott Avenue W and goes a block east to 6th Avenue W, where it becomes a stairway. At the top of the stairway, the street becomes a major arterial (connecting directly to Elliott via W Mercer Place) and goes 1⅔ miles east to Eastlake Avenue E and Lakeview Boulevard E, where it is blocked by Interstate 5. (It is, incidentally, laid out on the boundary between the donation land claims of Mercer and David Thomas Denny. Mercer’s claim is today bounded by Queen Anne Avenue N on the west, Lake Union on the east, Highland Drive on the north, and Mercer Street on the south.) Connecting Interbay, Lower Queen Anne, Seattle Center, State Route 99, South Lake Union, Interstate 5, and Capitol Hill, Mercer Street is a linchpin of Seattle’s transportation system — but not a beloved one, having earned the name “Mercer Mess” decades ago.

East of Interstate 5, E Mercer Street begins again at Melrose Avenue E and goes nearly 1½ miles to 28th Avenue E, interrupted only once, at 17th Avenue E, where it is pedestrian-only for half a block. Mercer resumes briefly at Dewey Place E but after a couple hundred feet becomes a stairway connecting to Lake Washington Boulevard E and 31st Avenue E. A block east of that, at 32nd Avenue E, E Mercer Street resumes as another stairway, and becomes a street again just west of 33rd Avenue E. This segment goes about ⅛ of a mile to 36th Avenue E. There is one final 200-foot-long segment of E Mercer Street east of 39th Avenue E. Platted into Lake Washington, this is a shoreline street end, but not, unfortunately, one open to the public. (It was this particular street end that first got me involved with Friends of Street Ends, as I grew up just ¼ of a mile up the hill.)

Street sign at corner of Lake Washington Boulevard E, 31st Avenue E, and E Mercer Street, October 11, 2009
Street sign at corner of Lake Washington Boulevard E, 31st Avenue E, and E Mercer Street. Both 31st and Mercer are pathways leading to stairways here, as noted by the🚶 icon. Photograph by Benjamin Lukoff, October 11, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Benjamin Lukoff. All rights reserved.

Ward Street

This street is named for Dillis B. Ward (1838-1922). In Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle, Sophie Frye Bass writes:

Dillis Ward, when a young man, did his part in building the old University for he drove a team that hauled stone and lime for the foundation. After the building was finished, he entered as a pupil into the first class. He taught school later on, and many an old-timer can recall the genial, kindly school teacher.

According to this biography, Ward, who came to Seattle in 1859, also had a hand in founding both The Post (a predecessor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) and The Seattle Daily Chronicle (a predecessor of The Seattle Times). However, his name does not appear in Professor Edmond S. Meany’s Newspapers of Washington Territory, in this article on the Post Building from the Pacific Coast Architecture Database, or in this HistoryLink article on the history of the P-I. All of them do mention brothers Kirk C. and Mark Ward, but Dillis’s entry at FamilySearch mentions no siblings, and Mark and Kirk’s entries do not mention Dillis. However, they do appear to have the same father, Jesse Ward. It looks as if Dillis was Jesse’s son from his first marriage, to Elizabeth Raley. As she died the same year Dillis was born, it may have been in childbirth. Kirk and Mark appear to be Jesse’s sons from his subsequent marriage to Exeline Cason. Exactly what part he may have played in the founding of the papers, and why this is missing from the articles above (and, incidentally, from Pig-Tail Days, which one would think might have mentioned this fact) is unclear.

Ward Street begins at Queen Anne Avenue N and goes ⅗ of a mile east to Aurora Avenue N. There is a short segment of E Ward Street on Capitol Hill between 14th Avenue E and 15th Avenue E, followed by another one, ⅓ of a mile long, from 23rd Avenue E and Turner Way E down the hill to 29th Avenue E and E Aloha Street, at the west end of Washington Park Playfield. There follows another one-block segment on the other side of the park, between 31st Avenue E and 32nd Avenue E, and a final segment from 34th Avenue E to 37th Avenue E.

Dillis B. Ward
Dillis B. Ward

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.

Aurora Avenue N

What is now Aurora Avenue N began in 1888 as Aurora Street in Denny & Hoyt’s Addition to the City of Seattle, Washington Territory, previously discussed in our post on Dravus Street. Edward Blewett and his wife, Carrie, of Fremont, Nebraska, were the landowners, and Edward Corliss Kilbourne (1856–1959) filed the plat as attorney-in-fact for the Blewetts. Dr. Kilbourne (a dentist), was from Aurora, Illinois, and it seems to be generally accepted (The Fremocentrist, Wedgwood in Seattle History, Fremont Neighborhood Council, Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle) that he named the street after his hometown.

(I have seen elsewhere [HistoryLinkWashington’s Pacific Highway], that Aurora was given its name sometime in the early 20th century by George F. Cotterill, mayor of Seattle from 1912–1914, because it was “the highway to the north, toward the aurora borealis,” but they have the century wrong, and Aurora Street was no highway in 1888. In addition, those two pages call him “city engineer, later mayor,” but he was never city engineer — although he was assistant city engineer from 1892–1900. The Licton Springs Community Council mentions both theories.)

At any rate, Ordinance 6947, filed on June 6, 1901, refers to the street as Aurora Street, and Ordinance 7942, filed on November 5 of that year, refers to it as Aurora Avenue. I can find no specific record of the name change, but Ordinance 6864, filed on May 8, has to do with “altering, defining and establishing the names of streets in the City of Seattle in the portion thereof lying north of Lake Union, Salmon Bay and the route of the Lake Washington Canal,” and is likely responsible. (No text is available online for the ordinance, and the drafters of Ordinance 6947 must have neglected to take the change into account.)

Aurora Avenue N might have remained just another North Seattle street were it not for the decision to route the Pacific Highway, U.S. Route 99, across the Lake Washington Ship Canal there instead of Stone Way N, Albion Place N, Whitman Avenue N, or Linden Avenue N. As it happened, Aurora was chosen as the location for the crossing (known today as the Aurora Bridge), and the name was officially extended through Queen Anne to Downtown Seattle in 1930 in preparation for the bridge’s opening in 1932.

Lake Union, Lake Washington Ship Canal, the Fremont Bridge, and the George Washington Memorial Bridge (Aurora Bridge), Seattle, Washington, circa 1932, from https://flickr.com/photos/uw_digital_images/4860576629/
Postcard of Lake Union, Lake Washington Ship Canal, the Fremont Bridge, and the George Washington Memorial Bridge (Aurora Bridge), circa 1932. View looks southeast, with Fremont in foreground. Public domain image from University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.
Aurora Bridge, 2011, from https://flickr.com/photos/mlinksva/5996553637/, public domain
Aurora Bridge, 2011. View looks east, with Gas Works Park and Wallingford neighborhood at center, Lake Union and Capitol Hill at right. Public domain photo by Flickr user Mike Linksvayer.

Today, Aurora Avenue N begins at 7th Avenue N and Harrison Street by the north portal of the State Route 99 Tunnel and goes 7⅘ miles north to the city limits; the name continues 3 further miles to the King–Snohomish county line, and the highway another 12 miles beyond that to Broadway in Everett. A block-long segment from 6th Avenue and Battery Street to Denny Way has been renamed Borealis Avenue, and Aurora between Denny Way and Harrison Street is once again 7th Avenue N. A two-block-long segment underneath the north approach to the Aurora Bridge has also been changed to Troll Avenue N.