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.

Surber Drive NE

This street is named after William Harvey “Uncle Joe” Surber (1834–1923), who came to Seattle from Indiana in 1859, having spent time in Missouri, California, and British Columbia along the way. Valarie Bunn tells his story in “From Yesler to Wedgwood,” and his Find a Grave page reproduces his biography from Clarence Bagley’s History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. In 1861, he established a homestead in what is now Laurelhurst, on what was then the east shore of Union Bay but is now Yesler Swamp. He was appointed the first sheriff of King County in 1866.

Originally 39th Avenue NE in the plat of Belvoir, an Addition to the City of Seattle, filed by his executor in 1926, it and E 37th Street became Surber Drive in 1939. Today, Surber Drive NE begins at NE 41st Street and goes around 700 feet to NE 38th Street, where it becomes NE Surber Drive and goes nearly 1,000 feet to 42nd Avenue NE.

NE Pacific Street

What is now Pacific Street was Harrison Avenue in the 1889 Latona Addition and Railroad Avenue in the 1890 Brooklyn Addition, corresponding to the eastern part of Northlake and to the University District, respectively. The road was built on either side of railroad tracks that were originally part of the independent Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway, but which were soon thereafter taken over by the Northern Pacific Railway. (The route of the SLS&E through and east of Seattle is now the Burke–Gilman Trail, the Sammamish River Trail, and the East Lake Sammamish Trail.)

In 1906, Harrison Avenue became Pacific Place and Railroad Avenue became Brintnall Place. (Why the opportunity wasn’t taken to match the names is unclear. Brintnall Place may have been named for Burgess W. Brintnall, who, according to the September 1912 issue of the Northwest Journal of Education, had been school superintendent for Olympia and Thurston County, founded the journal itself, and, after moving to Seattle in 1899, founded the Pacific Teachers Agency. He was murdered on July 3, 1912.)

At some point both streets became Pacific Street. Brintnall Place appears for the last time in The Seattle Times in October 1920, and Pacific Street for the first time in July 1921. The 1920 Kroll atlas shows all three names, including Pacific Place, indicating the change must have been planned at the time of its publication.

I haven’t seen any indication of why the Pacific name was chosen. Seattle got an Atlantic Street in 1895 — maybe it was thought the other major ocean deserved a street as well. But I wonder if it wasn’t named for the Northern Pacific, whose tracks the street ran along?

Street sign where NE Pacific Street becomes N Pacific Street on crossing 1st Avenue NE, August 2011. Photograph by Flickr user Panegyrics of Granovetter (Sarah C. Murray), licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Street sign where NE Pacific Street becomes N Pacific Street on crossing 1st Avenue NE, August 2011. Photograph by Flickr user Panegyrics of Granovetter (Sarah C. Murray), licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Today, NE Pacific Street begins at Montlake Boulevard NE, at the north end of the Montlake Bridge and the southeastern corner of the University of Washington campus, and goes ¾ of a mile to Eastlake Place NE, underneath the University Bridge, where it becomes NE Northlake Way. It begins again at NE 40th Street just west of the Ship Canal Bridge and goes another ¾ of a mile to N 34th Street just east of Meridian Avenue N.

Pacific Street’s current configuration is the result of a realignment that took place in the 1970s; originally, instead of turning west at University Way NE, it kept going northwest, cutting through what is now the University of Washington’s West Campus, and there was no interruption between the University and Ship Canal Bridges. The Burke–Gilman Trail follows the original railroad alignment, though, as does, for a few blocks, the campus road Cowlitz Road NE.

W Blewett Way

This street is named for Edward Blewett (1848–1929), one of the developers of the Fremont neighborhood (named after his hometown, Fremont, Nebraska).

“But,” you might say, “if he developed Fremont, why is W Blewett Way in Queen Anne?”

As you can see in the map below, and in this plat he filed in 1888 of what is now Fremont and North Queen Anne before the Fremont Cut was dug, Ewing and Blewett Streets used to be part of both neighborhods. When they became separated, the names were left alone on the Queen Anne side; in Fremont, they were changed as follows: Kilbourne to N 36th Street, Blewett to N 35th Street, and Ewing to N 34th Street.

Portion of 1912 Baist Atlas Showing Fremont Cut
Portion of 1912 Baist Atlas showing Fremont Cut

It’s not quite that simple, though — Blewett never reached quite as far as 13th Avenue W. What appears to have happened is that a name was needed when what is now W Blewett Way was created in 1907, and because the street to the south was still Ewing, Blewett presented itself as a natural choice. The rest of Blewett south of the canal was vacated over the years, so this is all that’s left of the name.

Today, W Blewett Way begins at the north end of 13th Avenue W and goes east just about ⅒ of a mile before it becomes a private driveway.

Brooklyn Avenue NE

This street was named after the Brooklyn Addition to Seattle, platted by James Alexander Moore (1861–1929) in 1890. The addition itself was named for Brooklyn, New York (see the history of the University District Paul Dorpat wrote for HistoryLink and this article on his own blog):

[Moore] chose the name because his addition “looked across the water” to Seattle proper like the New York borough of the same name that looks across the East River to Manhattan.

I haven’t been able to find an online source for this assertion, but Dorpat may have been referring to a passage in Roy G. Nielsen’s UniverCity: The Story of the University District in Seattle (1986), which quotes an article in the August 31, 1928, issue of the University Herald in which George F. Cotterill (mayor from 1912–1914) says:

[In 1885], there was no thought of a university and section sixteen was still untouched. J.A. Moore, one of the greatest Seattle real estate promoters of the time, started Brooklyn between 10th Ave. N.E. and the campus. This addition was intended by Mr. Moore to be to Seattle what Brooklyn is to New York.

Today’s Brooklyn Avenue is a block west of Moore’s. Again quoting Paul Dorpat:

None of James Moore’s street names survive. His Tremont Avenue became 15th Avenue. One block west he named University Way — the District’s future “Main Street” — Columbus Avenue. He called the future Brooklyn Avenue, “Broadway,” ­ and this was Moore’s intended “Main Street.” He called 12th Avenue “Brooklyn.”

Brooklyn Avenue NE begins at NE Boat Street just north of Fritz Hedges Waterway Park and goes 1¾ miles north through the University District and Roosevelt neighborhood to NE 66th Street at Roosevelt High School. It resumes at NE 70th Street and goes just short of 300 feet to Froula Playground and the Roosevelt Reservoir. There is another segment between NE 75th Street and NE 77th Street and a final one between NE 80th Street and NE 82nd Street by Maple Leaf Reservoir Park.

Diagonal Avenue S

This street in the Industrial District is so named because it cuts diagonally across the street grid, going northeast–southwest rather than east–west or north–south. But why is it there in the first place?

In a sense, Diagonal Avenue has been around since the 1850s. As Sophie Frye Bass writes in Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle,

The Beach or River Road… skirted the shore of the bay at the foot of the high Beacon Hill bluff, east of what is now Airport Way, and ran south along the Duwamish.… Built in the early fifties, [it] was a hard road to keep in good condition.… In 1886, a road was built on piling over the mud flats a little west of the Beach Road to avoid the slides and floods. This street became known as the Grant Street Bridge.

Essentially, there were a series of roads following the semicircular curve of Elliott Bay from Downtown to the Duwamish River before the tideflats were filled in: first Beach Road (or River Road), then the Grant Street Bridge, which in turn became Seattle Boulevard once the fill was complete. Sometime before 1918 (the first mention I could find of the name in The Seattle Times), the portion of Seattle Boulevard that ran northeast–southwest (the southern third of the semicircle) was renamed Diagonal Avenue. (In 1931, the rest of Seattle Boulevard was renamed Airport Way.)

Today, Diagonal Avenue S begins at Airport Way S and goes just about 400 feet to S Spokane Street. There is a slightly shorter segment west of 4th Avenue S which is blocked by railroad tracks, and one even shorter west of 2nd Avenue S blocked by the Union Pacific Railroad’s Argo Yard. It resumes for the last time at S Oregon Street, Colorado Avenue S, and Denver Avenue S, and goes ⅓ of a mile to sbəq̓ʷaʔ Park and Shoreline Habitat on the east bank of the Duwamish Waterway, which the Port of Seattle says “is probably the best small boat take-out launch site on the Lower Duwamish Waterway.”

N Canal Street

This street appears to have been built sometime between 1908 and 1912. (It was established by ordinance in 1906, but that was legislation, not construction. [It was also originally named Ewing Street, the original name of N 34th Street, which still exists on the Queen Anne side of the Ship Canal.]) When the plat of Denny & Hoyt’s Addition to the City of Seattle, W.T., was filed in 1888, no such street was needed, because there was no canal. Instead, Ross Creek connected Lake Union to Salmon Bay. However, as work on the Lake Washington Ship Canal progressed, the Fremont Cut came into being, and it must have been felt a street paralleling the canal to the north was needed, since the original plat took no notice of the creek or any future canal route. (One to the south was needed, too, which is why Nickerson Street was extended from 3rd Avenue W to 4th Avenue N, at the southern end of the Fremont Bridge.)

Why, then, is Canal Street so short — not quite ⅓ of a mile from N 34th Street and Phinney Avenue N in the east to 2nd Avenue NW in the west?

As it turns out, even though Canal Street was to run to what was then the boundary between the cities of Seattle and Ballard at 8th Avenue NW, shortly after Seattle annexed Ballard in 1907 another street was laid out parallel to the canal connecting Fremont to the new neighborhood of Ballard: Leary Way NW (then simply Leary Avenue, all the way from Market Street to Fremont Avenue). Leary became the main arterial, and in 1951 NW Canal Street was vacated between 3rd Avenue NW and 8th Avenue NW, reducing it to its present length. (Until 2016, there was a slight discontinuity in the vicinity of 1st Avenue NW and N 35th Street where the built street deviated from its right-of-way, making it even shorter.)

So this isn’t quite the same as our trio of S Front Street, S River Street, and S Riverside Drive literally being cut short by the rechanneling of the Duwamish River into the Duwamish Waterway — more one of Canal Street being supplanted by Leary Way and becoming more valuable to the city as industrial land than as roadway.

S Riverside Drive

As you might expect, this street is so named because it runs along the west bank of the Duwamish Waterway. However, it only does so for about ⅖ of a mile, from S Webster Street east of 5th Avenue S to a dead end on the river just north of a path to t̓ałt̓ałucid Park and Shoreline Habitat (formerly the 8th Avenue S street end, just north of S Portland Street). It is by no means a prominent street, contrary to what such a name usually implies (Los Angeles, Manhattan, Ottawa, Spokane). In this way it is similar to Seattle’s S Front Street and S River Street. Why is this?

Also as you might expect, it’s for the same reason Front and River Streets are relatively unimportant: the rechanneling of the Duwamish River that started in 1913. Originally Duwamish Avenue in the 1891 plat of River Park, as seen in the image below, Riverside Drive used to curve around a bend in the river. When the river was straightened, the road was cut off right in the middle and became a Riverside Drive to nowhere.

Portion of River Park addition showing Duwamish Avenue (now Riverside Drive)
Portion of River Park addition showing Duwamish Avenue (now Riverside Drive)

Fremont Avenue N

This street is named for Fremont, Nebraska, hometown of two of the developers of the Fremont neighborhood: Edward Blewett (1848–1929) and Luther Henry Griffith (1861–1925). The city itself was named after John Charles Frémont (1813–1890).

Fremont Bridge in open position, April 2006
Fremont Bridge in open position, April 2006. Opened in 1917, it has a clearance of only 30 feet over the Fremont Cut, which has caused it to become the most frequently opened drawbridge in the country. Photograph by Flickr user Mahalie Stackpole, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Fremont Avenue N begins at the north end of the Fremont Bridge (making it a continuation, in a sense, of both Dexter Avenue N and Westlake Avenue N) and goes 1⅙ miles north to N 50th Street and Woodland Park Zoo. It resumes north of the zoo at N 59th Street and goes 3½ miles to N 130th Street and Bitter Lake Playfield, a short portion of the block between N 61st Street and N 62nd Street being stairway. North of the lake, there are two short stretches: one going a couple blocks south from N 143rd Street, adjoining the Bitter Lake Reservoir, and another going a block south from the city limits at N 145th Street.

As with many North Seattle avenues, the Fremont name continues on into Shoreline. Its northernmost appearance is at the King–Snohomish county line at N 205th Street.

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.

Eastern Avenue N

Just as with E North Street, one question that should spring to mind with a street name like this is Eastern side of what? — especially considering that it’s not too far from being equidistant from Lake Washington and Salmon Bay, measured along the east–west axis of 50th Street.

Local historian Rob Ketcherside explains in his blog post on “Renaming streets of Seattle’s Fremont to the U District”:

It was originally named East Street in the 1883 Lake Union Addition plat.… it was the street most east in the addition. That plat… [was] annexed into Seattle in 1891. Sometime apparently after 1893 and before 1895 East Street was renamed Eastern Avenue.… The streets running perpendicular to Eastern Avenue are labeled North until one block east. Then they are labeled Northeast. The first avenue east of Eastern is First Avenue Northeast. So the streets east of First Avenue Northeast are Northeast as well. Eastern Avenue and the avenues west are North.… Say that ten times fast.

So — Eastern Avenue is the easternmost avenue in the section of town where east–west streets carry the N prefix and north–south avenues carry the suffix N, though the actual dividing line is a block east at 1st Avenue NE.

Eastern Avenue N begins on Lake Union at Waterway 17, just south of N Northlake Way, where it essentially functions as a parking lot for the restaurant Westward (much like 5th Avenue NE, a few blocks to the east, does for Ivar’s Salmon House). It begins in earnest on the other side of the Burke–Gilman Trail at N Pacific Street and goes ⅞ of a mile north to N 50th Street.

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.

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.

Goodwin Way NE

This street, originally named Columbian Way in the 1920 plat of Victory Heights, was given its current name sometime during or before 1936, the first time I find it mentioned in the archives of The Seattle Times. I presume this was to avoid confusion with the Columbian Way in South Seattle, even though Victory Heights wasn’t annexed to Seattle until 1953.

The plat was filed by the Goodwin Real Estate Company and the Squire Investment Company. The Goodwin Real Estate Company at that time had Ervin Shirley Goodwin (1869–1937) as its president and his nephew, Arthur Eliot Goodwin (1887–1960), as its secretary. (Ervin and his brothers were instrumental in the development of Pike Place Market.) I presume the renaming was to honor Erwin rather than Arthur, though explicit explanations are rarely given for street naming. It may very well have been to honor the company. (Incidentally, Erwin’s wife, Eda, was a founder of the Seattle Fruit and Flower Mission in 1907; this organization became the Seattle Milk Fund in 1935 and Goodwin Connections in 2019.)

E.S. Goodwin
Ervin Shirley Goodwin

Unfortunately, in addition to being major developers (in addition to Victory Heights, they were behind Lakeridge, Hawthorne Hills, and subdivisions in Northgate, Lake City, and Windermere), the Goodwin Real Estate Company were pioneers in imposing racial restrictive covenants on their developments. As the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project writes,

Seattle’s first known racial restrictive covenant was written in 1924 by the Goodwin Company and applied to three tracts of land and one block of the company’s development in the Victory Heights neighborhood in north Seattle.

It read:

Said tract shall not be sold, leased, or rented to any person or persons other than of Caucasian race nor shall any person or persons other than of Caucasian race use or occupy said tract.

Goodwin Way NE begins at 19th Avenue NE just north of NE Northgate Way and goes ¼ mile northwest to 15th Avenue NE between NE 113th Street and NE 115th 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.

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.

Klallam-language names on Port Angeles street signs

My good friend and former Amazon Music colleague Thomas May — a freelance arts and theatre writer and proprietor of Memeteria.com — was in Port Angeles, Washington, the other day. Knowing, of course, of my address nerdery, he sent me these photos he took of street signs at the corner of W Front Street and N Oak Street:

I was delighted and asked if I could use his photos on Writes of Way. He agreed, and this is the resulting post.

It seems that these Klallam-language signs were installed in 2016 at the N Oak Street/W Front Street and N Oak Street/W Railroad Avenue intersections as part of the redevelopment of the Port Angeles waterfront and as a way to honor the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, whose traditional land this is. (The village of č̕ixʷícən was located where downtown Port Angeles is now.) There are similar street signs on the Lower Elwha and Port Gamble S’Klallam reservations, but these are the only ones I am aware of in the middle of a city.

I would love to see something like this in Seattle, whether that be bilingual street signs or signs giving the Lushootseed names of various locations around town — or both. Perhaps someday.

Pontius Avenue N

This street — originally known as Lincoln when platted in 1875 by Rezin and Margaret Pontius (see Fairview Avenue N) — took the Pontius name as part of the Great Renaming of 1895, when the original Pontius (platted in 1880 by Margaret) became Melrose.

Margaret and Rezin W. Pontius and their children, Frank A., Lincoln H., Albert M., Mary, and Emma
This photograph is undated, but must have been taken before Rezin left the family around 1880. Margaret sued Rezin for divorce that year and he “fled to California,” not to return for many years.

Pontius Avenue N runs ⅓ of a mile from John Street north to just past Mercer Street, where it dead-ends at the Interstate 5–Mercer Street interchange (originally constructed in 1962–1963 as part of the planned Bay Freeway, which was cancelled 10 years later with little more progress having been made. Its original northern end was Roy Street.) Pontius originally began one block further south, at Denny Way, but this portion was vacated as part of the construction of the Denny Substation.*

* Or was it? The clerk file indicates the vacation was granted, but I can find no related ordinance, and the King County Parcel Viewer and quarter section map show the Pontius right-of-way still existing between Denny and John. Something for me to look into… sometime.

Lanham Place SW

Like SW Bataan Street, Lanham Place SW is part of High Point, originally developed by the Seattle Housing Authority in 1942 as defense housing and redeveloped in 2004. The name was originally applied to SW Lanham Way, and was preserved while some other names, including SW Snow Court, Cycle Lane SW, and MacArthur Court SW, were eliminated. It was named for Fritz G. Lanham, Texas congressman, who sponsored the Lanham Act that created the Defense Homes Corporation.

Today, Lanham Place SW begins at 32nd Avenue SW and SW Raymond Street and goes ¼ mile southeast to 31st Avenue SW, Sylvan Way SW, and SW Morgan Street.