This week on Valarie’s history blog is the first installment of the story of Albert Balch, 1903-1976. Balch was a developer who built hundreds of houses in View Ridge and Wedgwood. He did not set out to name the whole neighborhood “Wedgwood” but the use of the name spread and gave the community a sense of identity.
Balch grew up in small towns and yet the topic of his high school valedictory address was, “How to Build a City.” He attended the University of Washington and like many people, after college graduation he struggled to get established in a career. Balch did not have training in real estate or construction, but he found his career calling in his thirties after he and business partner Ralph Jones developed the View Ridge neighborhood. After five years’ experience in View Ridge, Balch was ready to “build a city,” the original Wedgwood plat from NE 80th to 85th Streets, 30th to 35th Avenues NE.
Dairy Queen circa 1963 on Safeway parking lot nearest to NE 75th Street.
In 1960 Wedgwood had NO banks, which seems hard to believe today. Wedgwood did have a number of small shops and cafes which were locally-owned. There was a drugstore with a real soda fountain, and a hardware store which also sold specialty food items and rented out ski equipment. The Wedgwood Community Club which was active in the 1950′s and 1960′s was successful in preventing a hamburger drive-in from being built at the corner of NE 84th Street. But those who really wanted a hamburger could head on down to Dairy Queen which was on the Safeway parking lot at NE 75th Street. Read all about it this week on Valarie’s history blog.
Seattle’s community gardening program which spread nationwide is featured this weekend on Seattle Sketcher, a feature of the Seattle Times newspaper. ”You can’t spell P-Patch without Picardo” because the Picardo family’s farm became the first P-Patch in 1973. The P-Patch program is still going strong all over the city of Seattle, with new sites being added each year.
This fortieth-anniversary year of the P-Patch will be full of events and commemorations, and volunteers are invited to get involved. More on how the Picardo family came to have a farm in Wedgwood is on Valarie’s history blog.
March 16, 1903 was the birthdate of Albert Balch, the developer who built Wedgwood. Balch was primarily a residential builder but he wanted the neighborhood to have services such as businesses, restaurants and medical offices, so he made provision for those. Balch’s office was in the present Seattle Audubon Nature Shop at 8050 35th Ave NE, and he built offices for doctors and dentists next door to that. Balch leased property for a grocery store, Tradewell, which today is occupied by QFC. For lack of other restaurants in the neighborhood, Balch helped start one which he named the Sir Wedgwood. Today’s Wedgwood Broiler was founded on Balch’s hunger for steaks and hamburgers. This week on Valarie’s history blog, read how the old Community Club repelled drive-in hamburger joints but Balch found a way around it. (Disclaimer: Valarie is a vegetarian.)
Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889 caused a rebirth of the city in rebuilding and expanding. There was general optimism that Seattle would become greater than ever, but some people got over-extended into real estate speculation. Real estate promoters first came to the Wedgwood area in 1890 and laid out development sites with names like Oneida, Pontiac, and Manhattan Heights. This week on Valarie’s history blog, read how the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad opened up the Sand Point area to businesses but Manhattan Heights in Wedgwood didn’t sell.
Where did the names Decatur, Thornton Creek School, and Wedgwood come from? The history of school names in Wedgwood is given this week on Valarie’s history blog, Wedgwood in Seattle History. The name “Decatur” refers to a significant event in Seattle history in 1856, but is now a name not well-known. A forlorn-looking plaque on a rock at Third & Jefferson, on the south side of the King County Courthouse, was placed to commemorate the Battle of Seattle which was won by the sloop-of-war USS Decatur.
With the passage of the school levy in February, it is possible that monies may be used to build a second school building at NE 77th Street & 40th Ave NE, present site of Thornton Creek School at Decatur. With two separate schools operating side-by-side, there will be a need to name the new school to give it a unique identity. What might be some appropriate names for a new school in “eastern” Wedgwood? Valarie gives her name ideas in the blog article.
The Wedgwood neighborhood name “caught on” after developer Albert Balch built his first group of Wedgwood houses in the 1940′s. By the time the neighborhood finally got its own elementary school in 1953, “Wedgwood” was chosen for the school, as well. Other neighborhoods of northeast Seattle went through the “identity crisis” of name changes. Often the school in each community was the determining factor in a neighborhood name because the schools were the heart of their communities. This week, Valarie’s history blog tells of a school just to the north of Wedgwood which was founded in the 1890′s, but whose name is no longer in usage. Wedgwood’s neighbor to the north is now called Meadowbrook.
In 1888 Joe Surber lived in what later became Laurelhurst.
It is hard to believe that Wedgwood’s main commercial intersection at NE 85th Street could ever have been vacant land. The present QFC grocery store, built in 1959 as a Tradewell, was the first building ever to be built on the site. That corner had a long history of ownership by people who did not live in Wedgwood. One early owner of the site only came through Wedgwood on hunting expeditions in the company of Joe Surber who was the original resident of what became Laurelhurst. This week on Valarie’s history blog, read the story of the ownership of the QFC site and how Albert Balch, developer of Wedgwood, finally acquired the property in 1942.
You can find out more about the Yesler Swamp Trail on their webpage which tells of this wonderful natural area on Union Bay in what is now Laurelhurst – formerly Town of Yesler.
Fremont and Wedgwood are two neighborhoods of Seattle which have completely different histories. Fremont developed along with the earliest years of the City of Seattle beginning in the 1850s; Wedgwood did not really get going until the 1940s. What are the features that Fremont has, which Wedgwood doesn’t? This week on Valarie’s history blog we explore reasons why Fremont became a neighborhood so early. But one thing the two very different neighborhoods have in common, though, is the Burke-Gilman Trail.