In this People's History, Dorothea (Pfister) Nordstrand (1916-2011), resident of Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood, remembers the neighborhood before and after Interstate 5 cut through it during the 1950s. Dorothea Nordstrand has lived in Seattle since the family moved here about 1920. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues in our community, including HistoryLink.org's People's History library.
The Coming of I-5
My family came to Seattle in 1919. I was here when the earth dam ran from Sunnyside Avenue on the north side of the lake [Green Lake] to Sunnyside on the south. My siblings and I walked the dike along the top of that dam to the old Green Lake School and, later, I attended John Marshall Jr. High and Roosevelt High School.
In 1934, when I finished at Roosevelt, I went to work at the Green Lake State Bank, which was on the corner of 72nd Street and Woodlawn Avenue, (now NE 72nd and Woodlawn Avenue NE). During that time (from 1919 to when the freeway was built in the late 1950s) Green Lake was a thriving community with a complete array of businesses to cover every need, except for a few things like hospital care and County and City business.
The core of our neighborhood extended from about 4th NE to 70th, along Woodlawn Avenue, and down to what was then E. Greenlake Way, thence along the boulevard for a couple of blocks and back up to Woodlawn. Within that area were two or three grocery stores, each with its own meat market and butcher shop (complete with butcher), the bank, barber shops, dentist, doctor's office, dry goods store, two drug stores, a bakery, a big hardware store, a theater, one or two cafes, a dress shop, some social clubs (IOOF [Odd Fellows], Woodmen of the World, etc.), a lawyer's office, gas stations, a repair shop for automobiles, a tavern or two, and some small, miscellaneous shops. Clinging to the perimeter was the Green Lake Library, more churches, more gas stations, etc. During the latter part of that period, Gregg's bicycle shop, a new and fancier theater, an ice cream parlor, and a dime store appeared.
I-5 took the life out of that neighborhood business core. Cutting through the residential neighborhood effectively diminished the area that had used those shops. Of course, Northgate helped to kill it, too. Anyone on the upper side of the freeway found it easier to go to Northgate than take the new, round-about way to Green Lake. One by one, most of the shops disappeared, and most of us who had been able to find what we wanted within walking distance, found it necessary to go farther afield.
On a personal level, one of my best friends lived on 80th and Latona, which had been a short walk from my home between Latona and Sunnyside facing the lake. Now, there was no easy way to get there, with the canyon which was the freeway, cutting between. Some of our friends left when their homes were taken, and even though they were paid, many of them really didn't want to move. For a while, my husband and I were very concerned that we might have to go, too, when the plan for the route was still in the planning, and one plan would have run right down lst Avenue NE and through our home. We breathed a sigh of relief when that didn't happen, but it sure did change our lives in many ways.