The borders of Eastlake: East

Before I-5 came into existence, the eastern border of Eastlake was a bit of blur. It could have gone as far as 10th Avenue as Ma Bell extended her EA phone prefix for Eastlake about that far and sometimes farther. But once I-5 was built, the 12-lane freeway effectively cut off Eastlake from Capitol Hill.

As a project for the Eastlake News, the Eastlake Community Council newsletter, Matt Maberry is photographing the borders of Eastlake. Photos from the winter newsletter, which covers the eastern border, as well as additional photos and Matt’s essay are featured above and below: 

The eastern border of Eastlake is clearly defined by the Interstate 5 corridor, which runs the entire length of the neighborhood. Prior to the start of I-5 construction in 1962, the edge of Eastlake was less distinct, as it mingled with Capitol Hill. Installation of the highway was a controversial issue as soon as it was proposed in April of 1957, and the subject remains a sore spot with Seattleites and others alike.

Bitterness on the part of Eastlake residents may be attributed to a number of factors from increased noise and pollution, to major traffic influx. However, the principal complaint is likely the physical split of the community and the destruction of historic properties to pave the way for the interstate route.

Today the effect is clear when noting the proximity of many remaining homes to the colonnade and the severing of once-continuous roads. One such example of a property is the L’Amourita apartment building at 2915 Franklin Avenue East, whose unique Spanish-Colonial architecture has graced the hillside since 1909. Although the residents have had to tolerate the presence of the Ship Canal Bridge, a mere stone’s throw away, the building was spared destruction. Many buildings were not so fortunate.

Eastlake residents were some of the first in Seattle to feel the effect of the project when work on the Ship Canal Bridge commenced in August of 1958, which was the first portion. Plans for a highway through Seattle date back to as early as 1946 but were eventually integrated with the Washington State plans for I-5 in general. Final approval and land management began in 1958, setting off the use of $75,000,000 in bonds approved by the state legislature to be paid to homeowners in the right-of-way. Acquisition began in Eastlake and moved southward along the route ahead of construction. After appraisal, residents were given an offer by the Highway Department. Approximately 10 percent of the homeowners refused the offers outright, which required condemning the property. Once the homes were in the state’s possession they were auctioned, with most houses either being moved or stripped. Moving of homes from the area became so common that the height of the utility lines on 5th Avenue NE was increased for clearance.

Although the presence of the highway remains a nuisance to many, the community has made efforts to mitigate the burden by utilizing the structure in other ways. Plans to make the freeway a covered trench never fully materialized; however, today it acts as a roof for the I-5 Colonnade Park. This public park is roughly 7.5 acres between East Howe Street and East Garfield Street, and contains an off-leash dog area, and several mountain bike trails. Construction of the trails was performed by volunteers and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance starting in 2005, with many of the funds originating from neighborhood donors.

The ability of the community to adapt to the evolving face of the neighborhood is assuring in the face of contemporary zoning changes and construction projects.

 – Matt Maberry