University Street

University Street was established as part of the Plat of an Addition to the Town of Seattle as Laid Out by A.A. Denny on November 16, 1861. It was named for the Territorial University of Washington, which had opened 12 days earlier on a 10-acre site atop “Denny’s Knoll.”

Plat of an Addition to the Town of Seattle as Laid Out by A.A. Denny, November 16, 1861
Plat of an Addition to the Town of Seattle as Laid Out by A.A. Denny, November 16, 1861
Territorial University on opening day, showing south and west sides of main building, November 4, 1861
Territorial University of Washington on opening day, November 4, 1861

Even though the University of Washington moved to its current location on Portage and Union Bays in 1895, the name was not changed. Nor did the university relinquish the land, though not for lack of trying. This turns out to have been fortunate. The UW owns the Metropolitan Tract to this day, and it earned $25 million in rent on the property during fiscal year 2020 alone.

The street, which originally ran from Front Street (now 1st Avenue) to the university campus, just northeast of 3rd Avenue, today begins at Alaskan Way on the Elliott Bay waterfront, and makes it just one block, to Western Avenue, before it becomes the Harbor Steps. From 1st Avenue, it’s about a third of a mile to 7th Avenue, where University Street is blocked by Interstate 5. It resumes at 9th Avenue and goes for another third of a mile to Boylston Avenue.

Portion of King County quarter section maps covering Metropolitan Tract
Portion of King County quarter section maps covering Metropolitan Tract

Incidentally, you’ll notice in the map above that 4th and 5th Avenues between Seneca and Union Streets, as well as University Street between 4th and 5th Avenues, plus half a block on either end, are marked private way subject to public use — long term grant of use for street purposes. This fact — that the University of Washington still owns all the land within the Metropolitan Tract and never formally dedicated those streets to the public — was something I never knew until I started taking close looks at King County’s quarter section maps as part of my local history research. It might seem an academic distinction, but as The Seattle Times reported in 2015, there are very real financial consequences.

In 2008… the UW wanted the city to interpret the tract as one undivided lot, streets and all. That novel argument would benefit the UW in calculating the development footprint, or base.… The bigger the base, the logic went, the more square footage a developer could build before triggering affordable-housing fees under the city’s formula.… The university held a heavy hammer in negotiations. Because the UW owned development rights for the land under Fifth Avenue and University Street, it could make the city compensate it, one way or another, for using those streets.

W Briarcliff Lane

W Briarcliff Lane runs about 400 feet west from 39th Avenue W before it makes a 90° turn to the north and becomes Briarcliff Lane W. That segment runs about 200 feet north to W Dravus Street. A private road, it is part of the Briarcliff development on what was once Briarcliff School (1949–1984, demolished 2003). You can read more about the history of Briarcliff at HistoryLink.com and on the website of the Magnolia Historical Society.

As for the school’s name? In an article published August 21, 1948, The Seattle Times noted that “on recommendation of district residents, the board named the new school being built in the Magnolia area the Briarcliff School.”

Post Avenue

Counting Post Avenue and Post Alley as one street, and ignoring a couple of block-long gaps, this street runs about ¾ of a mile from Yesler Way in the southeast to Virginia Street in the northwest. (Post Avenue becomes Post Alley northwest of Seneca Street.) According to local historian Jean Sherrard, writing at PaulDorpat.com, it was named for the offices of the Seattle Post, predecessor of today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, which was built at the corner of Yesler and Post in 1881.

Seattle Post Building, by Asahel Curtis
Seattle Post Building, by Asahel Curtis

W Marina Place

This street, established in 1991 as part of the development of the Elliott Bay Marina at the southern foot of Magnolia Bluff, runs ⅖ of a mile west from 23rd Avenue W to just shy of the 30th Avenue W street end beach.

While the origin of its name may not be interesting, the story of its establishment is a bit more so:

  • The marina itself began the permitting process in 1983, but lawsuits delayed its creation for nearly a decade. The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and Suquamish Tribe sued to block its construction on the basis that “construction of the Marina would eliminate a portion of one of their usual and accustomed fishing areas in Elliott Bay and thus would interfere with their treaty right to fish at the Marina site.” Homeowners on the bluff above intervened on the side of the developers, as “the area has had numerous major landslides that have left several homes at the crest of the bluff at risk and have repeatedly caused breaks in a trunk sewer line located at the base of the bluff.… The Marina construction includes the placement of 500,000 cubic yards of fill at the toe of the bluff, which would stabilize the area.” Eventually, a settlement was reached, which “calls for ongoing fisheries-related expenses paid to the tribe, which will be funded by a percentage of the moorage income.… [the] ‘Indian Treaty Surcharge.’”
  • I believe this was the last major fill operation within Seattle city limits. Such a development would be all but unthinkable today.
  • The marina was built on tidelands where W Lee Street and Puget Avenue W were platted but never built. They were vacated and W Marina Place was established. When it came to naming the access road, the developers originally proposed W Marina Boulevard, contending that as the road fell between the W Oakes Street right-of-way and the former W Lee Street right-of-way, it wasn’t a violation of the city’s principle of maintaining street grid names as much as possible. This was initially rejected by the city, which preferred W Lee Street, but after further discussion, W Marina Place was settled on. An interesting point the developers made was that as W Lee Street had never physically existed in Magnolia, though it had been platted there, calling the access road W Lee Street could actually be confusing, as “people familiar with Seattle streets know that there is no W Lee Street on Magnolia. Rather, they know W Lee Street as being on Queen Anne Hill.” Still, though, I have to believe they were more interested in their own vanity — Marina Boulevard? — than any particular concern for folks’ ability to navigate.
  • For some reason, the public street ends just feet from the 30th Avenue W street end beach. I’m not entirely sure why that is; I don’t think the marina is opposed to public access to the beach; otherwise, they wouldn’t be in favor of the Magnolia Trail project, which would connect W Marina Place to W Galer Street, 32nd Avenue W, and thence to Magnolia Village.
Aerial photograph of Elliott Bay Marina area in the 1930sAerial photograph of Elliott Bay Marina area, present day

University Way NE

This street runs 1¼ mile from NE Pacific Street in the south to NE Ravenna Boulevard and Cowen Park in the north. Until 2001, it was a block longer, starting farther south at NE Boat Street, but that portion was vacated as part of the development of the University of Washington campus.

Originally Columbus Avenue and then 14th Avenue NE, it was renamed University Way in 1920 after the University of Washington, which had moved to the neighborhood from its original home downtown in 1895. As local historian Paul Dorpat explains in this HistoryLink essay,

[In 1919] the University Commercial Club… ran [a contest] to rename 14th Avenue…. Club member Arthur Quigley’s “University Way” won the street name contest easily. To deflect any charges that the contest was fixed, Quigley donated the prize money to charity.

Even though it’s been a “way” for 101 years now, to locals University Way has always been, and always will be, “The Ave.” And that in itself will always cause some confusion, as this street sign demonstrates.

Street sign incorrectly reading University Ave NE instead of University Way NE
Even the city gets street names wrong sometimes.

Occidental Avenue S

Occidental Avenue S, which begins at Yesler Way in Pioneer Square, is one of those Seattle streets whose names extend into the suburbs. It makes its southernmost appearance at S 197th Street in Des Moines.

It received its name in 1895 as part of the Great Renaming — it had originally been S Second Street. It once had a partner, Oriental Avenue, to the east (originally S Fourth Street), which is today 3rd Avenue S. “Oriental,” of course, means “Eastern,” as “Occidental” means “Western.” (I haven’t been able to determine just when Oriental Avenue became 3rd, but it was last mentioned in The Seattle Times on October 17, 1920.)

And why this particular pairing? The Occidental Hotel, which once overlooked the beginning of Occidental Avenue, is almost certainly the reason, but it’s not spelled out in the ordinance.

W Armory Way

This Interbay street, established in 1910 as Lawton Way, runs ¼ mile northwest from 15th Avenue W to the BNSF Railway’s Balmer Yard. Its right-of-way runs about 800 feet beyond that, across the railroad tracks, to 20th Avenue W, as it was once the location of a bridge to Magnolia.

W Lawton Way was changed to W Armory Way in 1973, presumably in anticipation of the construction in 1974 of an armory for the Washington Army National Guard. Will its name be changed again once the National Guard moves — or if it becomes the location of a new Magnolia Bridge?

(Another Armory Way near Pike Place Market existed on paper for many years — from 1936 to 2019 — but was never built. Something similar is currently under construction.)

Canterbury Lane E

This stub of a street in Madison Park serves mostly as a driveway to the Canterbury Shores Condominiums, although it is public right-of-way. It appears to have been dedicated to the public in 1965, and its name was changed from 40th Avenue E the next year.

My assumption is the street was named for the condominiums, and that the condominiums were named for the Canterbury subdivision to the south, which was laid out in 1951. According to Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, John L. Scott’s Canterbury Land Company purchased the land in 1938.