Magnolia Boulevard and the homes that reside along the exceptional strip of 12.1 acres of view property on Magnolia’s west edge have had a rich and long local history attached to them.
In 1903, three years after it became part of the city’s 25-mile bike path, the Olmsteds suggested it be one of the prominent boulevards in their City of Seattle Park Plan. The promenade had lengthy negotiations between developers, residents and the city. Many twists and turns of local politics gave us the road we see today and the homes that stand beside it. The Olmsteads did not, in the end, design the boulevard; that task was done by Samuel C. Lancaster, the engineer behind the Columbia River Gorge scenic drive (see Queen Anne &Magnolia News’ “Snapshot in Time,” March 28, 2012).
The property has been a tussle between the city and residents as to proper and appropriate maintenance of view corridors, especially care or removal of the madrona trees, which have long been an icon of the boulevard.
Street racing on the boulevard in the ‘40s and ‘60s was serious business for the young males of Seattle. The (passion) “Pits,” an informal place to watch the “submarine races” and favorite make-out spot for teens, has turned into the formal Magnolia Boulevard lookout. Tour companies visit it on a regular basis to get a good view of Mount Rainier, West Seattle, Washington State Ferries, the islands across the sound and the city skyline.
The road remains unlit at night because residents did not want the glare disturbing evening and night views.
In “Magnolia: Making More Memories,” Claudia Isquith laid out the history of the street and its houses: “Magnolia Boulevard’s homes consist of an interesting array of architectural styles, sizes and exterior finishes. There are houses featuring English Country, Tudor, Colonial, Spanish, Mediterranean, Dutch Colonial, Federal and contemporary styles. They are built with brick, stucco, wood and stone, and their look exhibits the varied tastes of the original owners.
“Very few of these houses were built prior to 1920. The late 1920s and 1930s saw a flurry of construction, and many of those homes were designed by prestigious architects for well-known Seattle business people.
“As early as 1903, the Olmsted Brothers proposed that a boulevard…referred to in the 1903 report was to be placed 125 to 130 feet above the low-water mark and would then gradually descend 20 or 30 feet, winding around the area of land above and north of the cove and forming the far end of Magnolia Bluff.
“Magnolia Boulevard was to be created through a condemnation ordinance, acquiring the land from property owners. In October 1909, prior to this ordinance, the Seattle parks department offered James W. Clise $50,000 for a strip of land from Wolfe (Wolf) Creek ravine upland for a boulevard right-of-way. Clise turned down the offer, and that was the beginning for Clise of years of dealing with the city and the parks department over this land.”
And from such beginnings, the long and winding road we now know as Magnolia Boulevard came to be.
Many longstanding houses are undergoing massive renovations and remodels. The once-most-recognized and iconic, white California Spanish-style stucco home on the upper curve of the road has been refashioned into a large, modern bungalow. Stories have been added to homes, and views have been in contention in recent years.
Today, madronas are succumbing to blight due to viruses/fungus and the loss of forest around them and the groves of trees that once dotted that drive.
And, after some neglect and long discussions and battles over view rights and madrona tree health, Magnolia Boulevard is being revived as a prominent and well-landscaped promenade, with more grass, neatened-up swaths of controlled weeds and brush, more park benches and view corridors.
The majestic madrona trees are failing, and how long they will be a part of the landscape is unknown, but city arborist Mark Mead says their days are most likely numbered. To longtime Magnolians, the loss of the madronas is heartbreaking; to others, it becomes an opportunity to maximize views and property values (see Queen Anne & Magnolia News’ “City, Community Work to Save Magnolia Blvd. Landscape,” Dec. 3, 2013).
The Magnolia Historical Society will present “The Not-So-Secret and Secret History of the Boulevard” at its annual meeting. The public is invited to a presentation of historic information and archival photos. Writer Claudia Isquith will discuss her research on the street, and local historian Mimi Sheridan will talk about the architecture and history of the homes.
Join us Feb. 13, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Magnolia Lutheran Church’s Fireside Room (2414 31st Ave. W.), for an interesting meeting. Bring your tales, pictures and insights as we discover and discuss what went on and continues today to make this great boulevard.
MONICA WOOTON is co-president of the Magnolia Historical Society (www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org).
To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.