Photo: Homes on North 48th Street, Wallingford-Meridian Streetcar Historic District, Seattle. The Historic Distric was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2022, WA; photo from the National Register nomination document, accessed December, 2022.
Within the larger Wallingford neighborhood, the Wallingford-Meridian Streetcar neighborhood (aka Wallingford Historic District North) is a residential area located immediately north of Wallingford's primary commercial corridor, N and NE 45th Street. The oldest property in the district was constructed in 1901 and most of the buildings in the proposed district were constructed prior to 1923, when Seattle adopted a new and sweeping zoning ordinance codifying use rather than construction quality. Several architects, builders, and real estate developers not only developed property in the district but also lived in the greater Wallingford neighborhood, including Henry Bittman, W.J. Landon, Harry B. McKnight, Henry Nelson, P.E. Wentworth, and Jud Yoho. Development in the district can largely be divided into four periods: 1901-1941, 1942-1956, 1957-1985, and 1986-present. The period between 1900 and 1941 is the district's period of significance and represents the district's initial construction and establishment as a streetcar suburb in Seattle. The 1942-1956 period had limited development, but reflects key transportation changes affecting the neighborhood and the impacts of the automobile. Between 1957 and 1985, the Wallingford neighborhood's population decreased due to smaller family sizes, migration of young families to Seattle exurbs, the Boeing Bust which impacted the economy of the entire region, and the closure of the Lake Union gas plant in 1956, which resulted in the shuttering and/or reorganization of neighborhood schools. After significant rehabilitation efforts to key institutions in the neighborhood and changing attitudes toward urban living, the population decline was reversed, and today Wallingford continued as a thriving residential area in Seattle.
From Streetcar Suburb to Automobile Suburb, 1942-1955
Development around and within the historic district in the mid-1930s reflect the replacement of the once ubiquitous streetcar lines with bus lines and the predominance of the car with commercial development along N and NE 45th Street emphasizing parking lots. Residences featured street-facing garages (rather than garages set towards the back of the lots).
In the midst of these transportation efforts, World War II raged abroad with a number of implications on the home front, including a housing shortage as the city's population surged to support the local defense industry. Between 1940 and 1950, Seattle's population increased 27-percent, from approximately 368,000 to over 467,500. As a result the number of renters in the historic district continued to increase during the depression years according to census records. By 1940, 40-percent of the houses within the district were renter-occupied, up 7% from 1930. This increase aligns with the city-wide increases in renter tenancy. By 1940, over 55% of the city's housing units were renter-occupied.
The automobile increasingly shaped the physical character of the commercial core along the south edge of the historic district and the surrounding Wallingford neighborhood in the post World War II era. Businesses began to increasingly cater to auto-oriented rather than pedestrian-oriented shopping and traffic. Examples include Wald's Foodland which opened at Wallingford Avenue N and N 45th Street in 1950 (renamed Food Giant in 1953) adjacent the historic district. The store's main elevation was not only setback from the street further than adjacent commercial buildings to accommodate a parking lot but also a large rooftop sign to easily advertise to cars passing by. The status of N and NE 45th Street as an auto thoroughfare was cemented with the construction of the fast food hamburger stand Dick's Drive-in—the first stand in an expanding local chain of restaurants—in 1954.
Adapted from: Katie Pratt, co-founder; Spencer Howard, co-founder, Northwest Vernacular, Inc., Wallingford-Meridian Historic District, nomination document, 2022, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
45th Street North • 45th Street Northeast