The Mount Baker Park Addition: A Historic Intersection of People and Place

The Friends of Mt Baker Town Center is excited to have the opportunity to document the historic background of the Mount Baker Park Addition, with the generous support of 4Culture and our knowledgeable consultants at Northwest Vernacular (nwVernacular), Spencer Daniels and Katie Pratt.   Their tremendous work product forms much of the basis for this article.   The project documents the Mount Baker Park Addition’s continuing role as a unique and important intersection of people and place, woven into the fabric of Seattle’s history with the connecting community landmarks of the Olmsted Boulevard system, Franklin High School, the Mount Baker Community Club, and the Mount Baker Park Presbyterian Church.

In June of this year, an initial public meeting for nomination of the district to the National Register of Historic Places was hosted by the Mount Baker Park Presbyterian Church, which was itself recently designated a historic landmark by the Seattle City Council.   After that meeting, a dedicated group of volunteers conducted field work on each parcel within the Addition.  A second public meeting was hosted at Franklin High School, another historic landmark, on October 23, 2017.   The meeting was well attended, and Northwest Vernacular outlined its findings and draft report.   Now, the nomination will go before the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.   The meeting is set for March 8, 2018 at the Seattle Center Armory.   The time and location will be available from the Council closer to the meeting date.

Franklin High HistoricAs a result of this project, and with community support, Northwest Vernacular has prepared a carefully researched nomination of the Mount Baker Park Addition for the National Register of Historic Places.  They have relied on multiple sources, including archival material from the Mount Baker Community Club, the Mount Baker Historic Context Statement (Caroline Tobin / City of Seattle 2004), and the Mount Baker Inventory of Buildings and Urban Design Resources [and page 2] (Nyberg & Steinbrueck / Historic Seattle 1976).  In addition to documenting important architectural and landscape design features, the nomination report includes inspiring background on the area’s cultural heritage through 1968, including the neighborhood’s important role in Seattle’s civil rights movement.

An interactive google map was created, allowing viewers to zoom in to specific parcels, and filter layers of information by clicking in the left hand column:   Interactive Mt Baker Park Addition.

Integrated in the nomination report are stories of the neighborhood’s people and place, and the powerful strides towards diversity and equity.   The period of study culminates with the pivotal developments at Franklin High School in the late 1960’s.

The Fight Against Exclusivity.  The 4Culture supported project encompassed a dark past of open racial injustice, and exclusivity in the neighborhood, as well as inspiring legal victories by early pioneers in the Mount Baker civil rights movement through 1968.   During the 1910s, the neighborhood experienced the first cracks in its rigid stance on exclusivity.  In addition to the restrictive covenants attached to the deeds, there was also an assumption that the developer, Hunter Tract Improvement Company, would not approve sales to “undesirable” races. Two lawsuits were filed in 1910 which challenged these racist actions.

First, the Hunter Tract Improvement Company filed a lawsuit against Samuel and Susie Stone and Marguerite Foy. In 1909, Foy, a white woman, had sold a parcel of land within the Mount Baker Park Addition to Samuel and Susie Stone, a black couple. The Stones owned a catering business based in Capitol Hill—S.H. Stone Catering and Party Supply Company, which later became Stone’s Silver Catering Service and Confectionary. The Stones were also founding members of the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which organized on October 23, 1913. The company sued after the Stones were mid-construction on their new house (3125 34th Avenue S), contesting that Foy and the Stones had intentionally concealed the Stones’ race. Prominent black attorney Andrew Black defended the Stones and persuaded Judge John F. Main of the King County Superior Court to side with the Stones and Foy. The Hunter Tract Improvement Company appealed, but the Washington State Supreme Court upheld Main’s decision. Andrew Black represented a similar case the same year; David Cole, a black railroad porter for the Northern Pacific, sued the Hunter Tract Improvement Company for withholding the deed to a lot in the Mount Baker Park Addition for which he had already paid. Like the Stone case, the court upheld Cole’s right to purchase property in the neighborhood.

Documentation produced during the project included a report with reference material gathered by Meg Cary.  Ms. Cary was a Mt Baker resident and high school junior when she completed her report in May, 1994.   Ms. Cary’s report recites the triumphs in design and architecture that shaped the landscape and its connection to surrounding areas.  But the report also unflinchingly covers the decades of ethnic exclusivity as well as environmental degradation in the area.   For instance, strong anti-Japanese sentiments are documented in the regular meeting minutes of the Mt Baker Park Improvement Club, which on November 5, 1919, resolved to address the “Anti-Japanese Question” with a series of actions, including the “rigorous exclusion of Japanese as immigrants.”   Another shameful exhibit is a letter from the Seattle Real Estate Board to the Mount Baker Park Improvement Club’s “Restrictions Committee”, in which Lon Forbush responds to a complaint about an alleged “member of the colored race” in the residence on 30th Avenue South.  In his response, Mr. Forbush apologized that on various occasions the real estate brokers were not honoring the restrictions, and explained that his particular complaint was complicated, as the purchasers were said to be “not colored but Brazilians”.  Seattle Real Estate Board (April 5, 1950).

The Mount Baker Neighborhood and the Civil Rights Movement.  Racial FranklinHighSchoolSitIn (002)tension, occurring in the neighborhood and throughout the city and nation, extended to the nearby schools, like Franklin High School. By 1967, black students comprised 19% of Franklin High School’s enrollment. In late March 1968, an altercation broke out in the halls of the school between three students – one white and two black students. The school’s principal, Loren Ralph, suspended the two black students, cousins Charles Oliver and Trolice Flavors. Flavors’ attempts to negotiate his suspension were rebuffed so he contacted his mentor, Carl Miller, a member of the Blake Student Union (BSU) at the University of Washington. Miller, along with other members of the BSU, Aaron Dixon and Larry Gossett, tried to meet with Ralph to negotiate peacefully. When those efforts were denied, the BSU students organized a gathering to peacefully protest. One hundred students, around 40 of which were non-Franklin students, marched into Ralph’s office on campus demanding Oliver and Flavors be reinstated, that a black administrator be hired at the high school level in the Seattle Public School system, that an African American history class be taught at Franklin, and that black heroes be included in the American historical figures featured on the walls of the school. This sit-in at Franklin High School was the first high-school sit-in held in Seattle. Five of the organizers—Miller, Dixon, Gossett, Gossett’s brother Richard Gossett, and Flavors—were charged with unlawful assembly. The three UW and BSU students—Miller, Dixon, and Gossett—were tried and found guilty in July 1968. Their case was appealed before the Washington State in January 1971; a retrial was ordered by the court but the prosecutor declined to prosecute. The three were instrumental in forming the Seattle chapter of the Black Panthers with Aaron Dixon serving as the first captain of the chapter. In the aftermath of the sit-in, the Mount Baker Improvement Club’s Franklin High School Committee pushed for a discrimination complaint to be brought against principal Loren Ralph. Significant staff turnover occurred in the fall of 1968 and a new principal and vice-principal were hired.

While the period of study ends in 1968, we also gathered information of more recent vintage, beyond the field of study.   In 1988, Helen Anschell and Marsha Malkin published “Recipes & People of a Northwest Neighborhood”.  This cultural time capsule blends popular recipes with anecdotes on events, profiles of a diverse spectrum of residents, as well as architectural and landscape design references.   The introductory “Ingredients of this Book” summarizes the amazing progress made in overcoming the sad era of exclusivity.   Ms. Anschell reports she had “consulted Bureau of the Census Neighborhood Statistics Program Narrative Profiles of Neighborhoods in Seattle, Wash. 67 Mt. Baker, and it said as of 1980 there were 7,543 people here, or 1.5% of Seattle’s population.  There were 3,168 Whites, 3,048 Blacks, 70 American Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos, 802 Asian and Pacific Islanders and 203 persons of Spanish origin. ….”   See also Demographic Study, North Rainier Hub Urban Village Baseline Report (City of Seattle, 2009).   Ms. Anschell concludes, “What’s so great about this neighborhood?  It’s our neighborhood!”    What follows is an interesting blend of culinary and cultural history.   For instance, a recipe for Cheese Pie from residents Sophia and Bill Giles is followed by Bill’s reflection on the 1960’s, when as a graduate student, they were picketing Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus for segregationist policies.

Later, on page 44, after a recipe for Mexican Lasagna, starts an interview with an important community leader Glover Barnes, entitled “We Stayed On Their Asses”.   Glover recounts the revolt waged at Franklin High in the 1960’s, as well as his influential time as President of the Mount

Recipes and People, Glover Profile

Glover Barnes, Recipes and People (1980)

Baker Community Club in the early 1970’s when he organized the community against the banks who were refusing to lend to the residents.  “We weren’t nice about it.  We stayed on their asses!  So they started a Housing Rehabilitation Office in the basement of the clubhouse.  We brought the houses up to code.  We turned the whole thing around!”   Commenting on “The Future”, Glover emphasized the need for sustained long-term effort for societal problems:  “We need to guard against nice-nice times in America.  We need to insist on democratic process.”   Words from a local Mount Baker leader that could hardly be more true today. While the study period extends to 1968, the foundation of advocacy and education continues at Franklin High School, which remains one of Seattle’s great institutions of learning for a bright and diverse student body.

Informative Maps.  In addition to the compelling stories of people, Northwest Vernacular’s work product includes a set of informative maps illustrating the neighborhood’s compelling architectural qualities, including many of the homes preserved through the Housing Rehabilitation Office.   See Interactive Mt Baker Park Addition.   The 2017.08.07 Mt Baker ArchitectsArchitect Map identifies notable architects throughout the Mount Baker Park Addition.   This resource has been of great interest to residents throughout the neighborhood.  The updated version of the Architect Map, with new and improved colors for easier reference, is below!

Architectural Styles.   Other maps document the architectural styles of each home within the tract.   When the Hunter Tract Company established the Mount Baker Park Addition, the developers insisted upon its status as an exclusively single-family residential neighborhood. The size and style of these residences vary within the district, with the larger estate-like houses on the ridge overlooking Lake Washington to the east and smaller-scale one to two story residences throughout the rest of the neighborhood. Eclectic, yet well-designed residences are a hallmark of the 2017.09.18 Mt Baker Arch Stylesneighborhood. The neighborhood predominantly features architecture from the revival periods and American movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a smattering of designs from the modern movement. Styles present throughout the neighborhood include: American Foursquare, Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Minimal Traditional, Neoclassical, Ranch, Tudor Revival, Swiss Chalet, Mission Revival, and Spanish Eclectic. Colonial Revival and Craftsman are the predominant architectural styles in the neighborhood.

Victor Steinbrueck and Folke Nyberg noted that the Mt. Baker district is “one of Seattle’s earliest planned residential communities, and as such, was an experiment in residential development, its present physical character is largely a result of that effort.”  This unique example of early planning “successfully integrated street and residential developments into the natural amenities of the area.  It is one of the best local examples of the English or ‘picturesque’ type of landscape planning.”  Mount Baker: An Inventory of Buildings and Urban Design Resources (Folke Nyberg / Victor Steinbrueck).

Olmsted and Schwageral.  The project has also clarified how the neighborhood connects to the Olmsted Brother’s system of parks and parkways.  Although the Olmsted Brothers are often mistakenly identified as the landscape architects of Mount Baker Park and the Mount Baker Park Addition, the Hunter Tract Improvement Company hired landscape architect and former Seattle Parks Superintendent Edward O. Schwagerl (1842-1910).   The historic report documents how the Olmsteds’ work and comments directly influenced Schwagerl’s work on the neighborhood design, including the elegant sweep of Mount Baker Boulevard adjacent to Franklin High School.

Schwagerl trained as a landscape architect, and spent a portion of his career working with public parks. He served as Parks Superintendent for the City of Tacoma between 1890 and 1892 and for the City of Seattle between 1892 and 1895. While working for the City of Tacoma, Schwagerl was responsible for the design of Wright Park and worked on the city’s massive Point Defiance Park. In Seattle, he completed design work on Kinnear Park and Denny Park. He also prepared a comprehensive plan for Seattle Parks, influenced by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, often considered the father of American landscape architecture. With his plan for Seattle parks, Schwagerl called for the development of four parks connected by scenic, park-like boulevards. Timing and resources were not on Schwagerl’s side; the financial depression of 1893 tabled his idea and Schwagerl left his position as Parks Superintendent in 1895. He worked in Tacoma, then Seattle, in private practice for the next several years designing residential landscapes and real estate subdivisions. During this time, Schwagerl worked for Puget Sound University and the University Land Company to design the university campus and surrounding subdivisions, plans which never reached fruition.

Surprisingly, Schwagerl’s concept was not abandoned. The Klondike Gold Rush MTBkc_aerial1932turned Seattle’s fortunes around and the city was soon booming. The City of Seattle hired the Olmsted Brothers—Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and John C. Olmsted, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted—to design a comprehensive plan for Seattle parks. Completed in 1903, this plan also proposed a series of park-like boulevards to run throughout the city, connecting its parks. When the Hunter Tract Company hired Schwagerl to work with Cotterill & Whitworth to design the Mount Baker Park Addition in Seattle, he received the opportunity to design a portion of his earlier vision. As part of the subdivision, Schwagerl and Cotterill & Whitworth designed Mount Baker Park, S Mount Baker Boulevard, and Hunter Boulevard S, elements which beautify the neighborhood and enhance its character.   The Olmsted Brothers provided detailed comments on both landscape and architectural design of the neighborhood, and many of those comments are reflected in the neighborhood today.  For instance, on October 15, 1906, J.C. Olmsted and Cotterill got off the rail line at Rainier Heights and then walked south, following the route of 31st Avenue South into the undeveloped areas of the Addition.   During this walking survey, Olmsted noted areas where Cotterill was in the process of clearing the land, “leaving plenty of the best trees by way of furnishing the lots”.   They also traversed along the steeper slopes into Rainier Valley, looking for the best routes of access.   Ultimately, J.C. Olmsted called for the elegant curving sweep of Mount Baker Boulevard near Franklin High School as the preferred approach to the recently rezoned Mount Baker Town Center.   Today, this sweep of Boulevard provides an important historic node for the neighborhood, bounded by historic homes on both sides, with the impressive Franklin High School embedded in the middle.  A walk up the Boulevard provides an inspiring reflection on the collaborative aesthetic brilliance in neighborhood design that was achieved between Cotterill, Schwagerl and the Olmsted Brothers.

The connecting function of our Boulevard System will soon be enhanced with the City’s Accessible Mount Baker Project, which will calm traffic and reconnect Franklin High School and the western edge of the historic neighborhood to the emerging Mount Baker Town Center with a dedicated route for both bicycles and pedestrians.  This route will connect with the Mount Baker Link station, and also with Beacon Hill via Cheasty Boulevard.   The anticipated re-connection of the Mount Baker Park Addition to the recently upzoned and emerging Mount Baker Town Center represents a unique opportunity in urban planning.  Rather than dividing a community, the Boulevard re-connection provides an opportunity to harmonize a new dense Hub Urban Village on the relatively undeveloped blocks surrounding the Link station area with an existing and historically remarkable community that has retained amazing architectural integrity for a century.  North Rainier Neighborhood Plan Vision During the extensive outreach leading to the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan, a broad range of stakeholders came together and called on the City to recognize the area north and east of Franklin High School  as an important resource, while promoting high-density residential and transit-oriented development in the vacant spaces surrounding the station area.   Consistent with this plan, the Friends of Mount Baker Town Center has advocated in support of amenities to reclaim the Olmsted legacy by reconnecting Mount Baker and Cheasty Boulevard in a pedestrian friendly manner, and bridging Southeast Seattle’s worst open space gap — in the heart of a Town Center where high density is being focused.   These community values in livability and equity are now reflected in the Accessible Mount Baker plan and the City’s proposed acquisition of land for the missing North Rainier Town Center Park and neighborhood playground.

We appreciate the continuing interest and support receive as we document the neighborhood’s historic and cultural values.   The nomination process focuses on the neighborhood, prior to 1968.   If you have specific information related to the architecture, culture, and/or history of our community up through 1968, please pass it on to towncenterfriends@gmail.com and we will share it with our consultant team.

 

 

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