Seattle's Portage Bay-Roanoke-North Capitol Hill neighborhood is located at the far northern end of the north-south ridge that forms Seattle's Capitol, Renton, First, and Beacon hills. For the purposes of this essay, the distinct but closely related Portage Bay, Roanoke Park, and North Capitol Hill neighborhoods have been combined and their boundary is defined as the area east of Interstate 5, west of Portage Bay, and north of Volunteer Park. Development during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was spurred by the area's convenient location: close enough -- but not too close -- to downtown Seattle. Initially somewhat challenging to access, by 1906 the area had streetcar service. The neighborhood encompasses Interlaken Park, Roanoke Park, and Boren Park. It has been challenged by -- and in many ways defined by -- the incursion of the Seattle Freeway (later I-5) beginning in the late 1950s and by SR 520 in the early 1960s.
Dense Urban Neighborhoods
These neighborhoods were developed for the most part during the very early twentieth century, and -- like most such fully realized city neighborhoods -- are densely situated, making it virtually impossible to know from visual clues where one neighborhood ends and others begin. This densely populated urban area comprises single-family and multi-family residences, with small pockets of commercial businesses located along main arterial streets. Houseboats moored near Boyer Avenue E, the members-only Queen City Yacht Club (founded in 1916 and moved to its current location in 1934) at 2608 Boyer Avenue E, and the nearby Portage Bayshore Condominiums underline the neighborhood's rich maritime flavor. The Queen City Yacht Club features moorage space for 229 powerboats and sailboats.
Most homes in this area are single family dwellings, except for apartment buildings (largely built from the 1920s to the 1940s) along arterial streets. The neighborhood includes two mansions, the Eliza Ferry Leary (1851-1935) mansion (now headquarters for the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia) at 1551 10th Avenue E and the mansion next door at 1531 10th Avenue E, which belonged to her brother Pierre P. Ferry (1869-1932).
Vehicular traffic is a major factor in, and has great impact on, the Portage Bay-Roanoke-North Capitol Hill neighborhoods. Two bridges carry traffic into and out of the area. The University Bridge (constructed 1919) is the feeder route for Roosevelt Way NE (southbound traffic) and 11th Avenue NE (northbound traffic) to the north of the bridge in the University District, and Eastlake Avenue E southwest of the bridge. One block south of the University Bridge, traffic bound for the Portage Bay-Roanoke-North Capitol Hill neighborhood veers onto Harvard Avenue E, which parallels I-5, truncating at E Roanoke Street.
An overpass one block east then carries 10th Avenue E over the multi-lane Roanoke Interchange, where SR 520 meets Interstate 5. Del Mar Drive E, which intersects Roanoke a few blocks farther east, also carries traffic over the Roanoke Interchange. The towering Ship Canal Bridge, whose construction began in 1958, carries traffic on Interstate 5 over the Lake Washington Ship Canal and directly through the neighborhood, defining its western border.
Early Native Presence
Until the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1916, Lake Union and Lake Washington were separated by land, necessitating portage trails so that watercraft could be carried from one body of water to the other. One such trail was indicated on the 1856 Cadastral Survey (a federal land survey). That trail traversed the narrowest portion of land separating Union Bay from Portage Bay in the (now) Montlake neighborhood, following the path of the future SR 520.
The first people to whom this area was home were the hah-choo-AHBSH, or "people of the lake," usually described as a band of Lakes Duwamish. The marshlands on the southern shore of Portage Bay probably served as a location for hunting waterfowl. This marsh was called spaLxad (using T. T. Waterman's orthography). Located directly across the northernmost portion of Portage Bay from what is now designated the Portage Bay-Roanoke Park neighborhood near the (now) north end of the Interstate 5 Ship Canal Bridge was baqWab (prairie), an area maintained as open ground for cultivating and gathering roots and other foods important to the diets of this area's indigenous people.
Platting and Neighborhood Development
The area was logged during the 1880s. By 1890, filed property plats included Wirth's, Eastlake, Edgewood, and Portage. Lake View Cemetery, located on part of David (1808-1873) and Catherine Broshears (1816-1906) Maynard's original donation land claim, was established in 1872. The first wagon road to penetrate the area was cleared to allow mourners to reach the cemetery from downtown. That road is now 14th Avenue E and dead-ends into Volunteer Park, which did not exist until 1887. The original entrance to Lake View Cemetery faced south and was accessed via this road.
The peninsula of land between Lake Union and Portage Bay is hilly, crisscrossed with wooded canyons and ravines. Over time, rustic bridges were constructed to allow passage over these geographic barriers. Still later, better bridges and formal street improvements further eased transportation in the area.
Properties situated along the steep eastern slope of the ridge have historically been vulnerable to earth slides. Earth slides involving homes built on fill have resulted in the destruction of several homes and at least one death.
David T. Denny (1832-1903) and Henry Fuhrman (1844-1907) platted the Roanoke Park neighborhood as part of their Denny-Fuhrman Addition and Supplemental Addition to the City of Seattle in 1890. It included the land north of Roanoke Street to Lake Union, and numerous grand homes in the area were constructed between 1908 and 1912. Many offered a view of the University of Washington campus across Portage Bay, and -- from June 1 to October 16, 1909 -- the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held on the university grounds. The city acquired the land that is now Roanoke Park (the park itself, not the neighborhood) in 1908. Streetcars connected downtown Seattle with nascent neighborhoods that were otherwise difficult to reach, encouraging property development and so-called streetcar suburbs (including small businesses such as groceries) near stops and particularly at the terminus.
Roanoke Park, developed as a streetcar suburb, exemplifies Seattle's early twentieth century residential architecture. In 2009, part of the neighborhood was designated as a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places. The Roanoke Park Historic District is roughly bounded by E Shelby Street on the north, E Roanoke Street on the south, Harvard Avenue E on the west, and 10th Avenue E on the east. It features examples of early twentieth century architectural styles, such as Colonial Revival, Neo-classical Revival, Tudor Revival, Mission/Spanish Revival, English Arts and Crafts, Craftsman, American Foursquare, French Norman Revival, and Italian Renaissance. Some of the houses represent subtypes and combinations of these styles.
Local architects who designed houses in the district include Bebb & Gould, Beezer Bros., Huntington & Gould, Edwin J. Ivey (1883-1940), Lawton & Moldenhour, Frederick A. Sexton (1852-1930), Bertram Dudley Stuart (1885-1977), Victor W. Voorhees (1876-1970), Arthur Wheatley (d. 1948), Walter Ross Baumes Willcox (1847-1947), Andrew Willatsen (1876-1974), and John I. Mattson (1894-1980). Some of the landscape design in the district is attributed to Elizabeth Ayer (1897-1987).
By 1906, streetcar service operated by the Union Trunk Line had been extended from E Lynn Street to the Roanoke Park neighborhood. The Union Trunk Line was widely criticized for poor roadbed maintenance and antiquated cars. The line was sold to the Seattle Electric Company on January 18, 1900. In 1912, Seattle Electric Company transferred its lines to Puget Sound Traction, Light, & Power Company. In 1919, the City of Seattle bought Puget Sound Traction.
The line (as described in the 1930 Seattle Polk Directory) ran from 3rd Avenue and Union Street downtown north to Pine Street, then east to Broadway, north to Roy Street, northeast to 10th Avenue N (now E), north to E Roanoke Street, West to Harvard Avenue N (now E), north to Eastlake Avenue N (now E), north to E (now NE) 40th Street, east to University Way, north to N (now NE) 43rd Street, west to Brooklyn Avenue, north to E (now NE) 45th Street, and finally east to University Way for the return trip, which was identical until the trolley reached downtown.
By 1938, the municipally owned streetcar system was $11,700,000 in debt and the city decided that rather than replace the aging streetcars, they would junk the system and shift service to trackless trolleys and motor coaches. The route along Broadway and 10th Avenue E route was abandoned on May 12, 1940, and replaced with trackless trolley service.
Two other streetcar lines provided service from downtown to E Galer Street, one running on 15th Avenue N (now E) and the other on 19th Avenue N (now E). Both would have met the needs of residents in the eastern portion of the Portage Bay-Roanoke-North Capitol Hill neighborhood, and also carried visitors to Lake View Cemetery and nearby Volunteer Park.
The main businesses in this mostly residential neighborhood clustered along 10th Avenue E and E Miller Street. This was both on the streetcar route and later the main traffic arterial route and close to Seattle Preparatory School. Businesses in the strip have included practical necessities such as bakeries, drug stores, groceries and meat markets, beauty shops, barber shops, and appliance shops. As of 2012, there are two pizza parlors, a cafe, an espresso shop, a real estate office, a hair salon, a watch repair, a dog grooming parlor, a nail spa, drycleaners, an exercise studio, bike shop, and a pub.
Examined through many decades, several locations in the small business district can be seen to evolve as the neighborhood did. The storefront at 2351 10th Avenue E, for example, was a Safeway store in 1938, Ten Mile Food Store and Clark's Meat Market in 1958, Don's Fine Foods in 1978, and a Pilates exercise studio in 2012. Laundry or dry cleaning establishments have called 2405 10th Avenue E home since at least 1938, when Woo You Hong Laundry operated there. Woo You was followed by Tenth Avenue Cleaners by 1958 until at least 1978, and Downtown Cleaners by 2012. There has been a tavern at 2409 10th Avenue E since at least 1938, when Dutch Tavern and Beer Parlor hung up its sign and settled in for a multi-decade run. By 1978, the venue housed Sergeant Pepper's Tavern. In 2012, the Roanoke Park Tavern continues the neighborhood tradition.
Another small group of businesses clusters near Portage Bay on Fuhrman Avenue E. The Volunteer Park Cafe at 1501 17th Avenue E utilizes the historic Volunteer Park Grocery building.
Seattle Preparatory School (Seattle Prep) was founded in 1891 as Seattle College High School. The school moved to its current location at 2400 11th Avenue E in 1919. At that time the school's property extended to the Portage Bay waterfront. Between 1885 and 1905, a 2.75-acre portion of the land between what is now 11th Avenue E, 13th Avenue E, E Lynn Street, and E Roanoke Street served as Holy Cross Cemetery. Burials in Holy Cross were relocated to Calvary Cemetery. A group of Swedish Baptists then acquired the land and built and operated Adelphi College, a school and seminary. Seattle College High School used the Adelphi College building (as of 2012, slated for demolition), adding further buildings and developing the campus over time. In 1933, the high school changed its name to Seattle Preparatory and in 1948, Seattle College (which had relocated in 1931) became Seattle University. Construction of SR 520 in the early 1960s reduced the size of the school's parcel.
Bertschi School, founded in 1975, is a private school serving pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The school initially occupied one building on 10th Avenue E, and has steadily acquired nearby homes as they became available, expanding the physical footprint to span (as of 2012) the entire east-facing block of 10th Avenue E between E Lynn and E Boston Streets -- making it a major educational presence in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood.
Forest Ridge School was constructed at 1617 Interlaken Drive E in 1909 to educate young women, and was part of Convent of the Sacred Heart. The school relocated to Bellevue in 1971, and the grand building now houses Hebrew Academy. The building was designated a City of Seattle landmark in 1979.
The nearest public school is the former elementary school, known at its opening as Denny-Fuhrman School then, after 1905, as Seward Elementary. It has been a Kindergarten through 8th grade school known as the Options Program (TOPS) at Seward since 1999.
Roanoke Park is the focal point of the Roanoke Park neighborhood. Surrounded on three sides by gracious homes and bordered on the south by 10th Avenue E, the park provides respite from the busy I-5 freeway located two blocks west and from the western culmination of SR 520, which passes the park in a hectic canyon just to the south. An overpass above this canyon carries 10th Avenue E (which transfers its arterial street function to Broadway Avenue E) farther south and into central Capitol Hill. The park, like the neighborhood surrounding it, was named to honor the Roanoke Colony, England's first settlement in what became the United States. The City of Seattle acquired the land in 1908 as a picnic, resting, and turnaround spot for hikers and bicyclists using the looping trail through Interlaken Park.
The densely wooded Interlaken Park and its single road, Interlaken Boulevard, wind southeast from the southern edge of SR 520 in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Washington Park Arboretum. Developed in the 1890s by Seattle Assistant City Engineer (and later mayor) George F. Cotterill (1865-1958) as part of a 25-mile system of bicycle trails, Interlaken Boulevard was a popular route for early adventurous aficionados. It was also the main bicycle, buggy, and motorcar route between Capitol Hill and Lake Washington Boulevard.
Interlaken was included in the Olmsted Brothers' 1903 park plan for Seattle. Assembling Interlaken Park for the Olmsted plan required the city to acquire land by donation, purchase, and condemnation. Louisa Boren Overlook, a pocket park overlooking Lake Washington and Interlaken Park (of which it was originally a part) honors Louisa Boren Denny (1827-1916), one of Seattle's founders, and is part of the larger Louisa Boren Park. Louisa Boren Park was set aside from the rest of Interlaken Park in 1913.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church is located at 2702 Broadway Avenue E in the Roanoke Park neighborhood. The parish was established in 1918, and was initially housed in a small structure. In 1923, the parish built a larger brick building at Harvard Avenue N and E Lynn Street to house both church and a parish school. Parishioners celebrated mass for the last time in that building in 1959: it lay directly in the path of Interstate 5 construction. The freeway cut through the St. Patrick parish, costing some 200 parishioners their homes. The church rebuilt, and the new building was dedicated on July 23, 1961. St. Patrick's offers a popular weekly mass featuring sign language interpretation and is committed to social justice.
The Vedanta Society of Western Washington, the regional branch of a Hindu society established in 1938, operates an ashram at 2716 Broadway E. The facility offers weekly lectures and classes, devotional singing, and other activities.
St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral at 1245 10th Avenue E, dedicated in 1931, is the cathedral of the Diocese of Olympia. It was intended to be finished in a more traditional Gothic style, but the stock market crash of 1931 so curtailed building funds that only the bare minimum -- an enormous spare-but-breathtakingly dramatic concrete box -- could be constructed. Known fondly by the St. Mark's community as the Holy Box, the church serves Capitol Hill's diverse community and has long advocated for social justice. Easily visible from I-5, St. Mark's is a major geographic landmark for the city of Seattle.
In 2003, St. Mark's purchased the building directly north of the cathedral. Originally constructed as St. Nicholas School, a private school for girls that merged with Lakeside School in 1971, the building was then owned by Cornish College of the Arts. St. Mark's leases space in the building to Bright Water Waldorf School and Gage Academy of Art. (Technically St. Mark's Cathedral is just out of this neighborhood as designated, but with the St. Nicholas property can be included.)
Lake View Cemetery was incorporated as a Masonic cemetery in 1872. In 1890, the name was changed to Lake View. Lake View is the cemetery most centrally located to Seattle's downtown, and it has been the final resting place of many of the city's founders and subsequent movers and shakers, along with common folks. Lake View's entrance was originally south-facing at 14th Avenue N (now E). Horse-drawn hearses or wagons conveyed the deceased until the automobile era dawned. Lake View is situated at Capitol Hill's highest natural point and, as the name implies, affords breathtaking territorial views.
Located on E Howe Street just north of Lake View Cemetery, the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) Cemetery was platted in 1896 by five G.A.R. posts. It contains 526 graves, mainly Civil War Union soldiers and their wives. In 1924, the Seattle Parks Department took over caring for the cemetery, which it continues in 2012 with help from the volunteer Friends of the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery Park.
The Challenge of the Freeway
Construction of the Seattle Freeway, which would become part of I-5, began in 1958 and impacted the Portage Bay-Roanoke-North Capitol Hill neighborhoods immediately. Freeway work commenced with the construction of the Ship Canal Bridge and continued northward and southward from the bridge approaches.
Since the neighborhood lies immediately south of the bridge, it was among the very first in Seattle to experience route clearing: purchase or condemnation of private property by the State Highway Department (now WSDOT), front yard auctions of homes (that winning bidders then either moved to locations out of the freeway's path or else demolished), grading, and -- finally -- freeway construction. Nearby neighbors lived through the violent truncation of city streets, prodigious loss of housing stock, a multi-year multi-mile construction site, and -- when the freeway was completed through the area in 1963 -- road noise, street congestion, and pollution that increased decade by decade.
Large gracious homes that had faced similar neighbors across peaceful streets were now survivors, their residents peering through front windows at freeway traffic or, later, towering concrete abatement walls. The freeway utterly and permanently altered the organic landform of ridge sloping down to water, slicing the narrow Eastlake neighborhood -- the western third of the ridge -- away from the rest.
SR 520 construction cut away at the land comprising the North Capitol Hill, Roanoke, and Montlake neighborhoods in an east-west path during this same period. As a result, the eastern two thirds of the peninsula -- already partitioned off by I-5 -- is further divided by SR 520 from the southern portion of the neighborhood. Construction of ramps and wider roadways connecting SR 520 to I-5 were particularly devastating to both the natural and the built environment in Roanoke Park and North Capitol Hill, requiring an even larger freeway right-of-way footprint. Cutting earth out resulted in fill material, which was dumped into former lagoon areas near the Arboretum, into the Cowen Park ravine in the Roosevelt-Ravenna neighborhood, and elsewhere.
Despite disruptions and intrusions from transportation projects, the Portage Bay/Roanoke/North Capitol Hill neighborhoods retain their popularity and real estate values. Charming older housing stock, parks and open space, access to water, proximity to the freeway and to both the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood and downtown, and good bus service attract residents seeking a dense and busy, but still charming, intensely urban environment.