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What's in a (street) name?

Lots of history, if we care to notice. And there are lots more unnamed spaces waiting to get a little local flavor.
August Wilson Way, a new "street" at Seattle Center

August Wilson Way, a new "street" at Seattle Center

Your resident address nerd wishes he had thought of writing Mossback's recent call for the naming of Seattle's unnamed spaces. Having been asked to provide input, however, is the next best thing.

Starting with our over 260 miles of mostly nameless alleys is a good move. Name changes, unless they run through property controlled by one entity (such as the University of Washington for Mary Gates Memorial Drive N.E., or Safeco Field for Edgar Martinez Drive S.), tend to be more expensive, contentious, and drawn out than new christenings. (This may be the reason the last such general call, made by Jean Godden in 1997, failed to make much headway.) Given all this, we're unlikely to rearrange our street grid to eliminate numerals and flowers until it's rearranged for us. But here are some other places through which our heritage could be brought to life:

  • Bridges. The ones over the Ship Canal are already named, but most of the others — nearly 150 of them — are not. Think of 20th Avenue N.E. over Ravenna Creek, or Queen Anne Drive over Wolf Creek, both city landmarks.
  • Major intersections. The closest thing we have to an Oxford Circus is Pioneer Square, which already has a name. But why not officially sign the intersection of S.W. Alaska Street and California Avenue S.W. as The Junction? The red-light camera trap sometimes referred to as Five Corners, at N.E. 45th Street, N.E. 45th Place, Union Bay Place N.E., and Mary Gates Drive, is another candidate.
  • Pedestrian stairways and paths. Because of our topography, 463 stairways and a handful of pedestrian paths are incorporated into our street grid. There are already the (private) Harbor Steps — let's follow their lead, perhaps beginning in Queen Anne.
  • Park drives and paths. Google Maps already thinks the Arboretum's Azalea Way is a city street. Why not make it official? The Volunteer Park and Green Lake loops are unnamed, as are the roads — open to traffic or only to foot — in the eastern portion of Magnuson Park. (Those running by the old Naval barracks have been integrated into the numerical street grid.) If it's paved or otherwise maintained, it should be fair game (think the pedestrian lanes on the University of Washington campus). This especially applies to Seattle Center, where August Wilson Way is waiting for company.
  • Privately owned public spaces. POPOS, as they're known, are made open to the public in exchange for greater development rights. As of this writing, they are all downtown. We'd need to take care that names could not arbitrarily be changed, and that we didn't end up with the equivalent of "Free Checking Square."
  • Underground passageways. Think of all the Pioneer Square sidewalks doomed to darkness by post–Great Fire reconstruction until Bill Speidel opened up a few of them in 1965. Let's open up some more. If London can have highwalks (also the result of involuntary urban renewal), we can have our low ones.
  • Public waterways. From No. 1 in Laurelhurst to No. 23 in Fremont, they include old ferry docks, "one of the few remaining natural shorelines of Lake Union," and other such joys. But they're barely known. Would names and signs help?
  • Shoreline street ends. We have 149 of them, and talk about contention! I have mixed feelings about these — leave the name of the already-existing right-of-way and you help drive home the point that these are, and have been since their platting, public property. Give them new names, however, and perhaps they'll feel more park-like. Either way, I submit we should do a better job of signing them.
  • Springs and creek branches. A few of the latter remain unnamed, such as the stream that runs into Ravenna Creek near the sulfur spring. Yet I am told by Caleb Maki, executive secretary of the Washington State Board on Geographic Names, that "if Nature made it, the BGN has authority over it; if it is man-made, then man-made laws apply," which means that these changes could take longer than any other.

This could also be an opportunity to expand our use of street-type designations. Mossback already mentioned the University District's Roethke Mews: how about some walks, closes, and rows in addition to our handful of lanes, courts, and terraces? (Please, though, no stravenues.)


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Mar 23, 6:06 p.m. Inappropriate

I think we need to have an active interest in naming things, and then like you said, wait to see what names are created organically.

It would be a great UW anthropology or geography project to interview parties to see what the name of a place should be. Or for neighborhood journalism/blogging.

Here's my first idea: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tigerzombie/4457991989/

Rob K

Posted Tue, Mar 23, 8:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Rob K: That's a wonderful find. Keep your eyes out for other examples. It will help begin to develop a priority list. Another suggestion is to name alleys as they are adopted or reclaimed by neighbors. I especially like the idea of naming ones that have important, unacknowledged functions, like bike or pedestrian routes or shortcuts. Thanks for weighing in.

Posted Wed, Mar 24, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks Knute!

If you don't mind, I'll provide a case study from another place which can give us ideas on how to get naming right.

I was interested at seeing "intersections" in Benjamin's list. You know, in Japan they rarely name streets. Instead, every signalized intersection is named in Tokyo, and they even get a little stop light icon on maps. There seems to be a split between a generic variation of our "6th & Main" address-derived name, "in front of xyz" where xyz is the name of a school or other community asset, and some historic name of the neighborhood or nearby landmark that is long gone (think "castle gate" or bridge name for a filled-in canal). Because they're non-linear, intersection names are more representative of communities.

I can't names in Tokyo like we're used to seeing in European cities where a famous person or date or event is commemorated. I mean, the ones I can think of are people who lived 300 years ago and have been forgotten except that a village was named after them. Instead, the place names are truly location-based, talking about geography or local industry or something unique about that spot. In the 1960s there was an unfortunate effort to standardize addresses and place names including train stations and intersections. But it wasn't completely successful.

Another location type I would add to the list is bus stop names. Tokyo seems to have had named streetcar stops, and that legacy has been passed on to bus stops. It's odd that the 1920s article I quote on my flickr page has a difficult time describing what streetcar stop for people to get off at -- why didn't they have names? There are spots in Tokyo with very interesting, colorful history where only the nearby bus stop retains any hint of what was once there.

There are streets with names, of course. Highways bear centuries-old names of the cities they lead to. Neighborhood shopping streets always have names, sometimes charming but often address-derived and almost always the result of a post-WWII branding exercise to establish identity. But I've noticed the streets that need to be described by local residences pick up names naturally. I put together the history of street names of the neighborhood I was working in, you can check it out here: http://www.zombiezodiac.com/rob/ped/akasakarise.html . I recommend starting (and ending?) with the first link, "On Seattle Rises".

Rob K

Posted Wed, Mar 24, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Bleh I wish there were an "edit" feature. :) "I can't think of any names in Tokyo..."

And I meant "residents" at the end, not "residences".

Rob K

Posted Wed, Mar 24, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I think the location notion is important and should be part of the mix. I think the names have to be rooted locally, if not after a local person certainly a landmark, physical feature, or even activity (Sailmaker's Alley). I've been struck that in a lifetime of navigating around Seattle, I still find my way not by names as much as landmarks. "It's near the Elephant Car wash Sign" or "It's just South of Franklin High" mean more than Dexter or Horton. I remember where places are, if not their numbers or names. Anyway, even though my suggested emphasized people names, the effort should be much broader. And naming bus stops is an intriguing idea.

Posted Wed, Mar 24, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

By the way, there is a very practical, important reason to name alleys. Public safety.

I used to live in a neighborhood of Seattle whose name will to unmentioned to protect the innocent. There was a club in the alley behind our place which, on occasion, had brawls, riots and stabbings. Woken up at 2am by screaming and/or yelling, I would call 911 and try to describe where the fight was happening. "In the alley mid-block between w and x streets that connects y and z streets. The club is at the south end of the alley at x street". It always took a few tries for the operator to understand.

Rob K

Posted Thu, Mar 25, 3:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Are the POPOS really all downtown, or are only the downtown ones cataloged? I know there's at least one signed new one at 2201 Westlake (at Denny), and I thought UW Tower plaza (now public of course, but formerly Safeco) was one too.

I'd never heard of Godden's proposal. Fairview Ave just north of Denny was originally platted as "Lake St" which you can see on Koch's 1891 Bird-Eye
http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshuadf/4400527334/
The small cottage houses clustered along it at that time were part of the Fairview Homestead Association for the Benefit of Mechanics and Laborers, tying into Seattle's forgotten early labor history. It's ironic that she wanted to replace Fairview with anti-labor Col. Blethen's name. I guess to make the connection more clear we should rename the street to the full "Fairview Homestead Association for the Benefit of Mechanics and Laborers Avenue North" or FHABML Ave N for short.
Or maybe Dave Beck Ave N would be close enough. :)

And, "Japanese Addresses and Other Opposites:"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1zh49J5rsg

joshuadf

Posted Thu, Mar 25, 4:04 p.m. Inappropriate

For the purposes of this article, I considered anything south of Denny as downtown, and 2201 Westlake is just south.

As for the UW Tower, I don't know if it's an official POPOS, though many people do treat the plaza as public space.

Any idea where the FHABML got the "Fairview" name?

Posted Thu, Mar 25, 4:51 p.m. Inappropriate

No idea... but I assume from the pretty fair view from Lake St. I'd actually like to dig more up; assuming they kept any records, I wonder they still exist anywhere.

We could also name the Heritage Trees:
http://www.eastlakeave.com/2010/03/24/three-trees-on-roanoke-named-to-citys-heritage-program

joshuadf

Posted Sat, Apr 24, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps Waterway 1 in Laurelhurst deserves to be called "No. 1" since on October 30, 1906, McLaughlin Realty made Waterway 1 the hub of their new development, called Laurelhurst. It could also be called Laurel Waterway or Cove Place Park from the streets at this historic location. I will past a short history of Waterway 1, below, which is part of its current nomination to the Washington State Heritage Register.

1. On October 30, 1906, McLaughlin Realty made Waterway 1 the hub of their new development, called Laurelhurst. McLaughlin provided a substantial public area for a pier and public small-boat launching at Waterway 1. The platted properties were laid out in a fan-shape around the waterway. The developers surveyed locations from a Marker Stone at the center of the waterway, which stone is still at the waterway.

2. In June, 1909, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition leased the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Boat Landing on Union Bay to the Laurelhurst Launch and Interlaken Steamship Companies, which were granted joint privileges to provide passenger transportation to and from the fair. The Passenger and Row Boat Company also provided launch service and boat rentals for visitors to Waterway 1. In 1909, the Laurelhurst Launch steamships provided service between Madison Park, the AYP Boat Landing, and two sites on the west side of Laurelhurst—Waterway 1 and Hazel Landing. Later, the Laurelhurst Launch added a third stop on the east side of Laurelhurst Point.

3. In 1916, the level of Lake Washington fell approximately 8 to 9 feet, leaving the original pier high and dry.

4. In 1916, the first one-room Laurelhurst school house was constructed adjoining Waterway 1, where families could deliver and collect their children by boat.

5. In 1919, when the Laurelhurst School moved, the building became the site of the Laurelhurst Mission, or, later, Laurelhurst Sunday School.

6. In 1922, Laurelhurst Community Club, (LCC) held their meetings at the “old Laurelhurst School,” paying $2 per month rent. In 1920, Club President Arthur Eldridge moored his yacht, Alarwee, on Laurelhurst Point. He owned several Buick dealerships in the growing city.

7. Beginning in 1920, the Seattle Yacht Club held their Opening Day Parade from the Montlake Cut to the Laurelhurst Point light. After the parade, small boats launched at Waterway 1 joined the moored yachts to fill Union Bay. A 1929-32 era photo by Vern Gorst shows children at the beach sailing toy sailboats in the cove.

8. During the depression years in the 1930s, neighbors supplemented the family budgets by fishing from Waterway 1. A 1929 photo by Gorst shows Union Bay filled with small rowboats, fishing. A 1937 aerial photo shows a row of small boats moored to a log boom at Waterway 1.

9. January 21, 1946, the LCC Committee on Zoning and Building Restrictions was instructed to take immediate action to notify the State of Washington and the Port of Seattle of encroachments by the southeast property owner, Carroll Martin, into Waterway 1.

10. January 19, 1948, the LCC Waterfront and Recreation Committee proposed the basic plan for construction of a waterfront park at Waterway 1. In 1949, with approval from the Port of Seattle, LCC hired Dr. John Hanley, Horticultural Consultant, to design the waterway park. They paid $110 for roto-tilling, grading, raking, and seeding the park with clover. When Carroll Martin extended his hedges and sprinklers into the waterway, the correspondence indicates that the executive committee of LCC sent letters and had a conference with him insisting that he remove his hedges and sprinklers. Shrubs were retained along the public waterway, but the public was to have access to the public land.

11. October 21, 1950, Harlan Edwards, President of LCC wrote to the Mayor and Seattle City Council as follows: “Rowing is a year-round recreation that is open to anyone. North of the canal there are few, if any, public areas where the ordinary guy can get to the shore to launch, moor and sore his rowboat, for street-ends are now for the most part taken over by adjoining property. As you may recall, for several years, the LCC has been active in trying to maintain adequate access to Lake Washington for the launching and mooring of rowboats. At their substantial expense they recently cleared, graded and planted Waterway No. 1…on Union Bay when adjoining property had moved to close and appropriate it to their own use, and with the cooperation of the Boy Scout troops they are maintaining it for the use of the Laurelhurst citizens who are not fortunate enough to own waterfront property.”

12. In 1952, Elmer White, supported by a group of neighbors, offered to construct the basketball court at his own expense. With permission from the Port of Seattle, LCC authorized the improvement and the park was widely used for both recreation and boat launching after that.

Pre-European Cultural Resources

In the summer of 2000, a neighbor living across from the waterway found a mahogany red chert blade, or biface, in her garden, on the same lot that later became the location of the old Laurelhurst school. A Burke museum representative and two UW archeologists visited the waterway, noted the fresh-water mussel beds, and identified the waterway cove as a probable Duwamish fishing camp. Since then, they have provided neighbors and volunteers at the waterway with information brochures on the identification of archeological artifacts and protection of archeological sites. Maurice Major, Aquatics Archeologist for Department of Natural Resources is scheduled to meet with volunteers this spring to provide education on the protection of archeological resources at Waterway 1.

thornj

Posted Tue, Apr 27, 2:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for this! And to think most Seattleites don't even know of the waterway's existence.

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