Eastlake History


Eastlake is one of Seattle’s oldest and best-defined neighborhoods. It is east of Lake Union (hence the name “Eastlake”), south of University bridge, west if Interstate 5, and north of Mercer Street. With about 4,000 residents and 4000 people who work here, Eastlake is a pleasant jumble of houseboats, single family homes, apartments, condos and large and small businesses.

Eastlake became identifiable as a neighborhood in the 1890’s. With the opening of the University bridge in 1919, travel through Eastlake was encouraged. Eastlake became a streetcar neighborhood of small homes and apartments,houseboats, and small businesses. Along the Lake, industrial uses grew up. Boeing’s first factory was located at the foot of Roanoke street. In 1962 the I-5 freeway came roaring through the neighborhood, defining Eastlake’s eastern edge and changing the neighborhood forever.

In the early 1970’s, Eastlake was rediscovered and residents set about conserving it through the 1977 City Council adoption of Eastlake Goals and Policies, and in 1999 by City Council adoption of the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan, prepared by committees of local residents, businesess, and property owners,and other local stakeholders, under contract to the City of Seattle.

A Neighborhood History


First a forest, then farmland, Eastlake for the last century has been a vital but precarious balance of homes, businesses, boats, and public facilities. This is the story of the forces that have shaped Eastlake, and have kept it the kind of place that it is.

Eastlake became identifiable as a residential neighborhood in the 1890s. The 1893 opening of Seward School and the 1907 addition to it of Rogers Playfield (soon to become a part of the Olmsteds’ 1910 parks plan) made Eastlake attractive as a place to raise a family. The streetcar line that opened in 1893 along Eastlake Avenue from downtown (and another line that came down from Capitol Hill onto Harvard Avenue) created further demand for housing. Motor vehicle travel to and through Eastlake was facilitated by the 1919 construction of the University Bridge. As the name plate on the southwest corner of the bridge still indicates, it was christened the Eastlake Avenue Bridge in April of that year. Three months later, the City adopted the present name.

Eastlake’s excellent streetcar service encouraged the building of apartment houses, all lacking much on-site parking, as most of their tenants did not own a car. The apartments dating from 1900 to 1930 are generally of high quality inside and out, proportioned and landscaped not to overwhelm the neighboring homes or the streetscape. When the City’s first zoning code was adopted in 1923, it recognized Eastlake’s large number of apartments by allowing them on all of the neighborhood’s residential land. Over the years, many smaller houses have been replaced by apartments, and many larger houses have been remodeled to include additional living units.

To serve the new residents and the streetcar passengers and drivers passing through, local businesses arose, some housed inthe Hines Public Market (a mini version of the Pike Place Market), and others including a drug store, a laundry, a lumber yard, gas stations, and the restaurants that remain so typical of Eastlake Avenue. Although the streetcars were dropped in 1941, they were replaced by electric trolley buses up Eastlake. The electric lines were removed in the 1960s, giving way to diesel buses.

The working lake. The Army Corps of Engineers’ opening of a ship channel in 1918 west to Puget Sound and east to Lake Washington made Lake Union a “working lake.”Eastlake gained industrial businesses such as shipyards, fishing boat moorages, a ship’s propeller factory (1924), a concrete mill, and the City Light Steam Plant (1917). A paper mill was founded at Eastlake and Fairview Avenues (the concrete remains are still visible beside the Washington State Employees Credit Union parking lot); records do not indicate whether it went into production prior to a disastrous fire.

In 1916, William Boeing established his first permanent assembly plant and hangar on Lake Union at the foot of Roanoke Street. On July 29, Boeing piloted the maiden flight of his first aircraft, a float plane known as the B & W. Upon returning to the hangar, Boeing told his workers that they were at last in the airplane business. Less than three weeks later, Boeing incorporated the airplane company that still bears his name. It was not until the following year that the Boeing Airplane Company refocused its manufacturing activities to the Duwamish area and built the “Red Barn,” which today is erroneously referred to as the company’s first factory and headquarters. The Lake Union site remained active, serving in 1919 as departure point for the world’s first air mail flight, to Vancouver by test pilot Eddie Hubbard. Sometime in the 1920s, the company sold the building, and after many years further use as a seaplane base and a covered marina it was demolished in the early 1970s.

Marinas for a growing number of recreational boats and liveaboards allowed Eastlakers to work and play near home. Many workers in fact lived in houseboats, whose low cost was particularly helpful during the depression of the 1930s. Some land residents resented the houseboaters, whose struggle for security gained ground when they began to receive property tax assessments and sewer connections.

Interstate 5. The old North Broadway-Eastlake Community Club had ceased to operate in the 1950s when it might have influenced the planning of Interstate 5 (opened in 1962). The freeway destroyed hundreds of Eastlake homes and businesses and caused the relocation of St. Patrick’s Catholic church away from the neighborhood. The remaining businesses lost not only the customers that had been displaced, but also those who no longer could conveniently drop in to shop. The freeway also proved to be a barrier for Eastlakers to upland parks and friends, and it added polluting runoff into Lake Union and Portage Bay.

The bridges across Lake Washington (1941 and 1961) fed the traffic on Interstate 5, making its segment through Eastlake the most heavily traveled road west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. This traffic–and the additional traffic generatedalong Eastlake and Boylston Avenues and Roanoke and Lynn Streets, among others–created growing noise, vibration, and pollution for the remaining residents and businesses and for Seward School. Neither at the time of construction nor subsequently has the Washington State Department of Transportation provided any mitigation for the impacts to the school or the homes and businesses along the freeway.

By noisily walling off Eastlake, Interstate 5 made the neighborhood perhaps be best-defined in Seattle. Whereas Eastlakers formerly saw their neighborhood as a part of Capitol Hill and the area of north Broadway, they now forever would see it as Eastlake alone.

Forgotten and rediscovered. By the 1960s Eastlake had a sometimes tattered and overgrown look, but its many elderly, working class, and young residents knew the neighborhood as a wonderful place to live. The lake with its related businesses and recreational craft provided atmosphere, yet protected the neighborhood from notice by the rest of the city. Public transit service was still among the best in the state, with buses to downtown and the University district passing through almost every ten minutes all day. Sometime in the 1970s, some of these buses became expresses, excluding Eastlakers for the first time.

It was inevitable that developers would see Eastlake’s appeal and try to serve a new market for office dwellers and upscale renters and condominium purchasers. The first wave of new apartments came in time to house visitors to the 1962 World’s Fair. These and the apartments and condominiums that followed them into the 1970s were generally larger, more cheaply constructed, and less attractively designed than their predecessors.

When a 45 unit project was built over the water near Fairview Ave. E. and E. Lynn (displacing a marina) and the City issued a permit for a block-long, five story, 112 unit project on the old Boeing site at the foot of Roanoke Street, it seemed only a matter of time before the neighborhood lost its houseboats and public access to the shoreline. The state Shoreline Management Act was passed in part out of concern for Lake Union, and a landmark state Supreme Court case brought by the newly formed Eastlake Community Council established the public interest in keeping the shoreline free. ECC and Floating Homes Association volunteers, aided by local businesses, began to create shoreline parks where streetends met the lake. Eastlake now has more streetend parks than any other neighborhood of its size, with more in preparation.

The 1977 Goals and Policies. In 1975, the Eastlake Community Council embarked on an ambitious effort at neighborhood planning. Opinion surveys and countless meetings produced a 1977 Goals and Policies report, calling for enhancement of public access to the shorelines, and for continuing the small scale residential feel of the neighborhood. It urged affordable rents and other measures to preserve the neighborhood’s economic diversity, and called on the City to stem parking and traffic problems and improve pedestrian and bicycle conditions. Although acknowledged by a 1979 resolution of the Seattle City Council, the Goals and Policies were unevenly heeded by City agencies and by the Council itself in the ensuing years.

Apartment and condominium zoning. In 1983, a Citywide redesignation of multifamily zones nearly produced a dramatic increase in the heights allowable; the heights allowable in Eastlake were kept somewhat within existing limits through strenuous efforts by Eastlake citizens. The “performance” zoning adopted at that time weakened traditional restraints on building bulk, allowing some apartment and condominium projects that could overwhelm the apartment houses of earlier eras. Some of Eastlake’s bulkiest and least distinguished apartment and condominium buildings were built during that era. One not built was the “Shelter Ventures” project which would have towered over the houseboats of Fairview Avenue. ECC and the Floating Homes Association fought this project to the City Council, to court, and eventually to a settlement. Eventually the land was sold to developers who, under an agreement with ECC and FHA, built a smaller project, the architecturally distinguished Siena del Lago.

Multifamily projects the size of the proposed Shelter Ventures project were virtually prohibited by changes in the definition of the multifamily zones. Under the 1989 revision–in which Eastlakers played a major role–the height and bulk possible in each type of apartment zone were reduced.

Office buildings. New office construction was a particular Eastlake concern in the 1980s and 1990s. In the mid 1980s, the City was considering a rezoning of neighborhood commercial land that would have allowed large or even larger office buildings along Eastlake Avenue. The Eastlake Community Council was successful in 1985 in achieving the opposite result–a substantial reduction in allowable heights along parts of Eastlake Avenue.

Office buildings totaling more than 500,000 square feet were proposed before the 1985 downzoning, and some were built. The Eastlake Community Council mounted a successful petition campaign that yielded a City Council resolution allowing the new neighborhood commercial policies to be considered and applied even to projects that had been applied for under the old zoning. Several proposed office buildings were never built (in one case being replaced by a retail project via agreement with ECC); the largest was dropped when, acting in response to an ECC appeal, the City Council ordered the elimination of a story.

The City imposed on some of the new office buildings a permit condition for a residential parking zone to protect residents from overflowing parking demand. Although a lengthy and sometimes bitter debate preceded adoption of the residential parking zone 1994, the program seems to have been successful in addressing many of the residents’ concerns about commuter parking, while preserving shorter term parking for customers of retailers. Eastlake’s residential parking zone is the City’s most favorable to retailers in that most parking places are available for a two or even four hour period without any permit at all.

Eastlake Tomorrow and the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan. In the 1990s, Eastlake residents and businesses alike became convinced of the need to be more proactive and work together to improve the neighborhood. With the help of the City Neighborhood Matching Fund, the Eastlake Community Council embarked on the Eastlake Tomorrow neighborhood planning effort. A 1991 survey questioned residents, businesses, and property owners about neighborhood needs, and a 1992 community conversation involved interviews, a town meeting, workshops, and a widely distributed vision plan. A similar process produced the 1994 Eastlake Transportation Plan.

Also in 1994, a new citywide Comprehensive Plan was adopted citywide; a major feature of the plan was promotion of neighborhood planning in “urban villages” like Eastlake. Eastlake’s approach to neighborhood planning was one of the City’s models, and the neighborhood was encouraged to move ahead on the existing planning recommendations while working to revalidate and supplement them. Eastlake’s City contract (the first phase contract, for $10,000, was signed May 13, 1996; the second phase contract, for $70,000, was signed March 19, 1997) recognized the accomplishments of recent planning. While these funds were essential in furthering the planning process, their value was far outweighed by the donated time of hundreds of volunteers and dozens of participating businesses.

Although the City funds were administered by the Eastlake Community Council (with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center serving as fiscal agent), a broad based Steering Committee led neighborhood planning, its independence guaranteed by a signed agreement with ECC. The Steering Committee included one seat each for apartment owners, homeowners, renters, office owners, social services, six topical planning teams (community design, diversity, north gateway, open space, main street, and transportation), and the following organizations: Eastlake Business Association, Eastlake Community Council, Floating Homes Association, the Options Program at Seward (TOPS), and Friends of Lake Union/Olmsted Fairview Park Commission (shared seat).

During three years, the neighborhood planning process conducted hundreds of meetings; distributed four newsletters, an options guide and a validation mailer; maintained Eastlake’s first ever web site; administered several questionnaires; and circulated several drafts of the recommendations and plan. The September 28, 1998 Executive branch report to the City Council observed: “It would be hard to find a community that has made greater efforts to engage people in the planning effort.” The Eastlake Neighborhood Plan was published in September 1998; it has drawn much praise as the most thorough among the City’s 37 neighborhood plans. The plan was subject to a City Council public hearing on October 19, held at the Pocock Rowing Center. City Councilmembers were impressed that not one of the many who testified opposed any of the plan’s recommendations.

On December 14, 1998 the City Council passed, and on December 21 the Mayor signed Ordinance 119322 (amending the City’s Comprehensive Plan to incorporate various changes from the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan), and Resolution 29838 (recognizing the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan and adopting the Eastlake Neighborhood Approval and Adoption Matrix as the City’ s work program in response to the plan). The resolution also requested that Eastlake Tomorrow work with the Executive branch in finalizing priorities. The Steering Committee took final action on these priorities on January 26, 1999; they were adopted by City Council Resolution 29932 on April 12.

The same wide range of stakeholders that achieved such success in the neighborhood planning process also is working together to ensure that the neighborhood plan is carried out. This widespread involvement of Eastlakers is a good indication that this neighborhood will surmount future challenges as it has the past ones.