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Maple Leaf History
There are a few different ways you can learn about the history of the Maple Leaf Community.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

A history prepared by UW Urban Planning/Architecture students
(coming soon)

A Bit of History in Leaps and Bounds
Seattle as we know it really did not exist prior to the 1890's. Although the forests closest to the downtown area (Beacon Hill, Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Queen Anne) had been largely logged off, the Green Lake Mill was a thriving business as late as 1907, operating in a small forest clearing near the present site of Northgate Shopping Center.

By this time Seattleites had already developed their obsessive focus on a "downtown" that remains a fundamental character of its planning and land-use policies today. Far more than most American cities, Seattle has continued to define itself as a commercial core surrounded by residential neighborhoods. In fact, the growth of Seattle has always been based on and radiated from the "single downtown area" idea. This has not only dominated most, if not all, economic activity, but also most Seattleites' image of their city as well. Neighborhoods like Maple Leaf find themselves in "push-for-growth" crises partly due to this very development pattern.

Growth in Maple Leaf, as in Seattle in general, had been gradual and steady over the years until about 1950. In 1911, when the city lowered Green Lake, they also built the Maple Leaf Reservoir with its attendant park space to the South. The original Fairview School came on the scene in 1908, followed by Olympic View Elementary in 1921. Waldo Hospital was built in 1924's. People continued to gradually and gently settle in this very rural setting. A growth slow down in the depressed 1930's was compensated for, and then some, during the war and the post-war period of the 1940's. St. Catherine's School was added to Maple Leaf in 1940, and several of the older schools were upgraded to accommodate increasing numbers of students.

Beginning in the 1950's, the whole north end - Maple Leaf included - began to be somewhat restless. Ballard, Greenwood, and the University District were approaching their saturation points. The population increase began to accelerate. Pre-fabbed homes were beginning to obstruct views of Puget Sound. Friendly corner groceries in all neighborhoods were being replaced by flashy supermarkets, and once vacant lots were being transformed into parking lots. 1950 was the year history-making Northgate Shopping Center opened, and this brought increasing numbers of people to and through Maple Leaf. The City boundary at that time was at NE 92nd, but in 1954 the City annexed all the land to N 145th street -- promsing north-end residents sidewalks and other improvement was are still waiting for over 50 years later. Maple Leaf continued to hold its own, managing to grow, yet not uncontrollably, and still largely favoring bungalows, "classic Seattle boxes", and Tudoresque-type houses.

A new era of economic growth hit Seattle like a whirlwind in the 1960's. In addition to generating a whole wave of skyscrapers downtown, it also ushered in I-5 and a near freeway access for Maple Leaf. Traffic - and noise - in the area increased dramatically, and business burgeoned all around Northgate, Lake City Way, and to a lesser degree along Roosevelt. Escalating population pressures hit virtually every neighborhood, and Maple Leaf began seeing some of its first apartment buildings appear near the shopping areas.

Differing responses to the new boom times breached a long-standing if tacit understanding between downtown business interests and spokesmen for the neighborhoods. Since 1912 the idea had been that the downtown would contain and handle the economic sector while the neighborhoods, already studded with parks, would center on amenities. Now, however, all this commercial and industrial expansion was becoming too difficult to contain.

As previously mentiond, the belief in Seattle as downtown core/residential periphery worked for many years, but only as long as:

  • Traditional city boundaries gave plenty of room for commercial growth, and
  • The city limits expanded often enough to give room for residential growth.

Today this is no longer possible, and Maple Leaf is among the communities feeling the pressure to grow according to the wishes of others, not just in response to the needs of their own community. Northgate wants more room, businesses want to move in, and developers want to build apartment complexes and townhomes.

The present seems very fragile. Business intersts have a point when they argue that "vision" requires accomodation to economic growth. But others have an equally valid point when they insist that growth becomes meaningless, even vicious, when it destroys the best things we have -- whether landmark buildings or livable neighborhoods.

Growth that destroys the amenities of Seattle would be disastrous; preservation of amenities without economic vitality would be impossible. The Maple Leaf community is making great efforts to tread this thin line in an effort to move responsibly and humanely into our future.

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