A trip to Hooverville

A little over a year ago, I had a series of phone conversations with Vern Vellat, West Woodland Elementary class of 1941.  During those calls, Vern shared stories about growing up in the West Woodland Neighborhood during the Great Depression.  One of those stories is detailed below.  

WWE class of 1941

West Woodland Elementary School, Class of 1941.  Vern can be found in the last row, second student from the right.  

The stock market crash in October 1929 helped trigger a devastating depression that dominated the Northwest for nearly a decade. The economic downturn gradually affected more and more people.  By the time President Hoover left office in 1933, 13 million people in the United States were unemployed.  Some unemployed became transients, searching for jobs and food.  In Seattle, unemployment was 11% in April 1930, rising to 26% by January 1935. 

shack 1939 seattle municiple archives

Photo of 6th Ave shacks, dated 1939, courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, item #39279

Vern’s family lived at 508 NW 62nd Street in a modest two bedroom home.  During the Depression his sister, her husband, and her children moved in, as well as a neighbor friend who’s father had to leave Seattle in order to find work.  At any given time 12+ people might be calling this address home.  Money was tight, but Vern’s Dad slowly enhanced the home in order to relieve the population pressure.  Vern’s family was not unique in this regard, many families in the neighborhood would “double up” in order to guarantee a roof over their children’s heads during this period.

Verns Family

Photo of Vern Vellat’s Family, date unknown, outside his home at 508 NW 62nd Street.  

On a Sunday in 1933, Vern’s eyes were opened to the extent of unemployment in Seattle. His Dad drove him to ‘Hooverville’, located on the waterfront near the former location of Seattle’s Skinner & Eddy Shipyards (SODO Neighborhood).  Hooverville was littered with shanties, shacks, and shipping crates.  Any reusable building product was conscripted to help make homes for the unemployed.  Trip intent?   Hire a former fellow machinist for two days at $3.00 per diem.  This was considered a bonus rate only given to friends and family.

hooverville king county archives

Photo of Hooverville, dated 1932, courtesy King County Archives, Photo ID: 90.2.1794

Vern shared with me that there were six classmates’ families that had started their own businesses during the Depression.  Hiring was slow and business was slower. Finding a job to pay rent, buy food, and care for your family was paramount.  Several of Vern’s older friends graduated from Ballard High School and immediately signed up for Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  The CCC provided jobs working in National Parks, road construction, and much more.  

Also, three West Woodland Neighborhood Dad’s went to work for Work Progress Administration (WPA).   The WPA work-relief program employed more than 8.5 million people, with an average salary of $41.57 a month, building bridges, roads, public buildings, public parks and airports.  The Seattle WPA was housed in the old Irving School building, located at 14th Ave NW & NW 52nd Street, near Gilman Playground.  The original school building is long gone, this location is now home to the Seattle Gymnastics Academy.  More information about this school can be found HERE.  

East side school - 14th and 52nd street

Photo of Irving School, dated 1938, Courtesy MOHAI, Image No. 24411.  

Businesses on NW 65th came together to help the neighborhood as well. They organized themselves into a group known as the ‘West Woodland Commercial Club’ and would hold monthly meetings at 416 NW 65th Street (now part of the 418 Public House). The club hosted Saturday matinees at the Woodland Theater, two movies would be shown, and during intermission the businesses would give away prizes of food, clothing and coupons for other services. Vern said that each Saturday there would be a long line of people waiting to get into the theater for this event.

Woodland Theater - 1937

Photo of the Woodland Theater, dated 1937, courtesy of the Puget Sound Archives

Stay tuned for future stories from Vern Vellat.  More information about Seattle’s Hooverville can be found HERE.

Then & Now: The Woodland Theater

The Woodland Theater, built in 1926, was one of the last silent movie theaters built in Seattle. “Talkies” were already growing in popularity and by the 1930’s many theaters in the US were showing movies that no longer needed subtitles or a house organ for entertainment. When this 600 seat theater was built a Kimball Pipe Organ was also installed. The organ was the “special effects” for the Woodland Theater and provided accompaniment during the movies and concerts between showings.

While shops have come and gone along NW 65th and buildings have been razed, the old Woodland Theater continues to live on.  The theater building is currently in use as a concert venue called The Josephine, and as a print shop, storage & practice space. The old Kimball pipe organ continues to live on as well and is currently in use at the Everett Theater (2911 Colby Ave, Everett).

About the photos below:

When comparing the two photos, you can see that the entrance façade has undergone several cosmetic changes. The “Now” photos shows a stone façade that was added in the mid 1950’s. The entrance was closed in at a later date, but the roof line has stayed the same. In the wide view “Now” photo, you can see that the theater seating area, or the “house”, is behind a row of store fronts which have all been converted into one business, Advanced Sign Design.

There were two movies showing the day the “Then” photo was taken in 1932, Ladies of the Jury and Broken Wing. The “Then” photo also shows a confectionery to the west of the theater, which is now home to Molly Maguire’s.

The Woodland Theater has survived on NW 65th now for 84 years. During this time the building has been used as a movie theater, an indoor ski park, a medical device maker, print shop and concert venue. The building survived water damage in the 1960’s and a fire in the 1970’s. More on these events in a later post.

Woodland Theater - 1926

Woodland Theater - then and now

The black & white photo of the Woodland Theater, circa 1926, courtesy Cinema Treasures.

Then & Now: Peggy’s Bakery

Peggy’s Bakery opened at 6258 5th Ave NW in the 1930s after Safeway moved across the street into the building once occupied by West Woodland Pharmacy. The pharmacy moved just a short walk up the street, to 618 NW 65th Street.

The owner of Peggy’s Bakery was Karl Fickeisen and he named the bakery in honor of his wife Peggy. Vern Vellat, former neighbor and West Woodland School Alumni class of 1941, told me that the aroma coming from Peggy’s was “heavenly”, more than any other bakery he has ever known. Vern’s classmate, Marilyn Sherman, grew up in the house just south of Peggy’s Bakery and would often remark that “heaven couldn’t smell better” than Peggy’s Bakery.

Peggy’s Bakery drew customers from all over NW Seattle. Many would pass by their local bakery to pick up their bread, cakes and other treats at Peggy’s. In 1959 Bill Fickeisen, son of Karl and Peggy, closed Peggy’s Bakery because he was hired by Safeway Corporation to help create the in-store bakeries that we see today.

This building is now home to Seattle Floor Service.  Check out the barber’s pole on the left side of the picture.  This location is now home to the soon-to-open “The Partakery”, Ballard’s newest recreational marijuana shop.  (Author’s Note:  The Partakery opened on 04/17/2016.  The delay was caused by city permit issues.)

Safeway 1 - Peggys Bakery - 5th Ave - Then

Then & Now - SE corner of 5th & 65th

The black and white photo of Peggy’s Bakery is dated 1937, and comes to us courtesy of the Puget Sound Archives.

Ballard Tide Flats and the 11th Ave Street End Park

On Thursday, June 11, 2015 Ballard celebrated the opening of the 11th Ave NW Street End Park. Neighbors gathered for the park’s dedication and celebrated with a potluck dinner. Photos of the event are available here.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) worked in partnership with the University of Washington to improve 11th Ave NW Street End.  The project is part of the Shoreline Street End Program, which works to preserve and improve public waterway access. Shoreline access projects are important for Seattle residents, as many residents don’t live right on the water and desire access.  This program is an effort to reclaim those spaces.

A landscape architecture studio, comprised of 25 undergraduate and graduate students, designed and then construct public access and habitat improvements over the span of two quarters (from January 5th – June 5th).

Historic Look at the 11th Ave NW Street End:

The photo below, item 51954 courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, is dated December 30, 1915.  Description provided states, “Ballard Tide Lands. Taken at a point on the hydraulic fill about 100′ NE of bulkhead on the N side of the Lake Washington Canal and about 200′ E of 11th Ave. NW, looking N 60 W, showing pools of water standing on top of fill.”

Today, this location is better known at the Ballard Fred Meyer’s parking lot.  Approximate modern view available HERE.


The next photo, item 51953 courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, is dated December 30, 1915.  Description provided states, “Gilman Park Addition. Taken at the SE corner of 11th Ave. NW and W 45th St. Boys skating.”

A modern view from this location would include the Fred Meyer’s parking lot and Albert Lee warehouse. Approximate modern view available HERE.


Bonus photo:

The final photo, item 51950 courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, is dated December 30, 1915. Description provided states, “Gilman Park Addition. Taken at the NW corner of 11th Ave., NW and W 47th St., looking N 60 W, showing portion of Block 168.”

Today, this location is a parking lot and future home of New Seasons Market.  Approximate modern view available HERE.


More about the Shoreline Street End Program:  

Lake Washington, Lake Union, Puget Sound, and other waterways offer Seattle residents more than 200 miles of magnificent shoreline.  While much of it is private or park land, 149 public streets in Seattle end on waterfronts.  These “shoreline street ends” are precious community assets designated by the City of Seattle (City Resolution 29370, adopted in September 1996) as special rights-of-way that should be preserved and improved for public use.  View map of shoreline street ends.

Though some street ends have been improved for public use, nearly two-thirds are unmarked, overgrown, or have private encroachments. Partnering with local residents and community groups, SDOT intends to improve these hidden spots so as to provide the public with increased waterfront access and enjoyment.

Guided by the policy that public access allows the highest and best use of these sites, SDOT’s Shoreline Street Ends Program manages the process for improving a shoreline street end and, in some cases, permitting of private uses.  SDOT Director’s Rule #00-1 lays out city guidelines for this program.

Happy Annexation Day West Woodland Neighbors!

Welcome to Seattle – West Woodland Neighborhood annexed on May 3, 1891

With the approval of City Ordinance 1695, the frontier district known as “West of Woodland Park” became part of the new and growing City of Seattle. It was 1891 and Washington had just become a state two years prior.  Ballard was still the ‘City of Ballard’ and would be for another 16 years, when they too would join the City of Seattle in 1907.

A Brief History of Seattle Annexations

Seattle was incorporated in 1869, eighteen years after the first white settlers arrived. From these beginnings, Seattle’s population grew to over 80,000 by 1900, tripled in the following decade, and expanded to about 550,000 people by 1960, a number that has remained relatively stable to the present.

Seattle also expanded geographically, from its original territory around Downtown and the Central Area, through a wave of annexations in the early 1900’s that included the suburban towns of Ballard, West Seattle, Columbia, South Park, and Georgetown. Finally with several annexations in the 1940’s and 1950’s that brought in Arbor Heights and areas north of 85th and 65th Streets up to the current city limits at 145th Street.  The full list of annexations is available HERE.

The Original West Woodland Neighbor

While Guy C. Phinney was busy building on Phinney Ridge, Rasmus Peter Jensen was making a name for himself right here in the West Woodland District.

Jensen immigrated to Seattle in 1889, the year Washington became a state, and homesteaded in the West of Woodland Park District.  He built a farm house located near today’s SW corner of NW 60th and 7th Ave NW and opened a general store, Woodland Grocery, Flour & Feed, at the SE corner of NW 60th & 4th Ave NW.  Jensen was also a carpenter by trade and owned a construction business.  He built several homes in the area, including 404 NW 60th Street, which was built about 1891 making it one of the oldest homes in the neighborhood.  Jensen lived in this home until his death on January 9, 1943 at the age of 80.

Jensen married his sweetheart Marie in 1892. In their wedding photo, Jensen wears a formal coat and trousers and Marie wears a dark dress with a shaped bodice and puffed sleeves. At the time, many women still followed the custom of choosing a wedding dress that they could also wear at other times.

Location, Location, Location

The original West of Woodland Park District included the frontier territory north of the old Ross neighborhood (West Fremont/ North Queen Anne), the west-side of Phinney Ridge and, to the west, was bordered by the City of Ballard at today’s 8th Ave NW, formerly Division Avenue.

Until 1907, Division Avenue (8th Ave NW) was the boundary between Ballard and Seattle. As a result, today’s West Woodland neighborhood is part old Seattle and part old Ballard.

McKee’s Correct Road Map of Seattle (1894), courtesy The Seattle Public Library, shows the few roads that were available in the West of Woodland Park District at that time. The city limits (dashed line) include NW 85th Street to the north and Division Avenue (today’s 8th Ave NW) to the west. Access the map HERE.Ballard West Woodland McKees Correct Road map 1894

Interesting sidebar about Greenwood Cemetery, seen at the top of the map. From Diana Wurn (special to the Seattle Times, October 28, 2007), “The commercial center of the (Greenwood) neighborhood is at Greenwood Avenue North and North 85th Street. But more than a century ago, it was a cemetery, known as Woodland Cemetery… The bodies were moved to Crown Hill Cemetery in 1907.”

A Seattle Times story covered the cemetery closure and relocation of the deceased:  ST – Woodland Cemetery – April 11 1907

West Woodland Today:

Today’s neighborhood map looks a bit different.  Reviewing old voting logs, Seattle Times articles, and city maps shows that our neighborhood boundaries have been fluid over the last 100+ years, and included parts of today’s Whittier Heights, Greenwood, and Phinney Ridge.  Check out the current neighborhood map HERE.

Happy Annexation Day Neighbors!  


This aerial photo above of the West Woodland Neighborhood is dated April 25, 1947 and comes to us courtesy Ron Edge.  16MB file available here.  

Post updated 04/11/2018

Then & Now: Gilman Playground, 923 NW 54th Street

The history of Gilman Playground, or Gilman Park as it is commonly referred to, takes us back to 1927 when the Gilman Park Community Club led a petition drive to acquire property for a neighborhood playground.  Through years of hard work and community persistence the neighborhood celebrated the opening of a beautiful new park in 1932.

The park is 3.9 acres and when first opened was considered an oasis of fun for the neighborhood, and included a play field, tennis courts, a wading pool, children’s play area, and a shelter house.  A history side note… during the planning stage, the park was called “West Woodland Playground”, but changed at the request of the Gilman Park Community Club.  (see: http://clerk.seattle.gov/~F_archives/sherwood/GilmanPG.pdf )


This shelter house was designed in a simplified Tudor Revival style, and was one of eight similar buildings constructed in Seattle parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These buildings housed large rooms for organized recreation activities and public restroom facilities. Office space for recreation instructors was also provided.

Construction of these shelter houses followed a policy to build only structures that would be pleasing in design and permanent in nature. The Gilman Park Shelter House, renovated in 1973, is significant for its design and for its association with the development of Ballard and Gilman Playfield.  As a result, this building has been designated as a historic building by the City of Seattle.

For additional information about the buildings historic designation, please visit:   http://web6.seattle.gov/DPD/HistoricalSite/QueryResult.aspx?ID=1224922301

Then & Now - Gilman Park House - 1935

Warm Memories of Gilman Park

If you grew up in the NW corner of Seattle, you probably spent many lazy Saturday afternoons at Gilman Park, playing on the swings, in the wading pool, or participating in a baseball game.  Two Ballard High School graduates, who practiced their swing at the park as children, found themselves in the Majors as adults.  Southpaw Earl Johnson made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox in 1940 and his brother Chet Johnson played for the Tacoma Tigers before joining the Majors in 1946.

One Gilman Park adventure made the front page of the Seattle Times in January 1953.  Jimmy Wright was enjoying a snow covered day at the park when he decided to climb to the top of the shelter house.  Once on top, he showed his friends that he could indeed fit in the chimney opening…. and swoosh!  Just like Santa Clause, Jimmy went right down the shelter house chimney.   Unfortunately for Jimmy, the shelter house was locked from the outside and the only one with a key was park superintendent Ben Evans.  After finally being released, he ran to his step-father, soot faced tears streaming down his cheeks, and proclaimed, “Never again!”  One trip down the chimney was enough for Jimmy.

Finally, in 1973 the park department developed the first Adventure Playground in Seattle at Gilman Park.  Inside the see-through fencing of the playground, children 5 – 13 could build whatever they desired using the available donated supplies of wood, hammers, nails, saws, etc.  As long as they didn’t hit each other with the supplies or intentionally get in each other’s way, the supervisor stayed out of the mix.  The Adventure Playground required continuous staffing and supervision while open and this may have contributed to the playgrounds demise.

Then & Now - Gilman Park Pool - 1950

New Memories in the Making

Today when you visit Gilman Park, you are likely to see a T-ball game and little legs running the same bases that the Johnson brothers once ran.   Which one of those little league stars will one day be the next big name in baseball?  Only time will tell.  If you look up at the shelter house the chimney is still there, but the 1973 renovation ensured there will not be another Jimmy sliding down.   And if you are looking for adventure, there is still plenty available at Gilman Park.  With a large children’s play area, well maintained tennis courts and gigantic grassy green fields, it will continue to be a favorite lazy Saturday destination for years to come.

Then & Now: Grading the 900 block of NW 57th Street

The black & white photo was taken in between 1900 – 1909 and is courtesy The Seattle Public Library.

Looking west, the photo provides a unique panoramic view of the old West Woodland neighborhood, which once stretched the west side today’s Phinney Ridge.

The hillside had not yet been clear cut, and roads were not much more than dirt trails. This photo really illustrates how difficult it was to travel through the area. The automobile first arrived in Seattle in 1900, but most residents relied on their own two-feet or horse and wagon when available.

The description provided states, “Grading in 900 Block on W. 57th. Ballard”. I walked this stretch of roadway, and with the help of King County Parcel Viewer, was able to create this approximate view.

There is one house documented as having been built in 1900, 901 NW 57th Street, and it is included on the right side of the “Now” photo. This may be the same house in the background of the “Then” photo. The facade looks the same, but more research is needed to confirm. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy The Seattle Public Library


Then & Now - 9th and 57th

Rasmus Peter Jensen – The original West Woodland Neighbor

While Guy C. Phinney was busy building on Phinney Ridge, Rasmus Peter Jensen was making a name for himself right here in the West Woodland neighborhood.

Rasmus Peter Jensen, also known as Robert later in life, was born on June 14, 1862 in Skjod, Viborg, Denmark.  At the time of his birth his father, Jens, was 38 and his mother, Sidsel, was 39. Jensen immigrated to Seattle in 1889, the year Washington became a state, and homesteaded in the West of Woodland Park district, today’s West Woodland neighborhood. His original farm house was built in 1889 near the corner of 7th Ave NW and NW 60th Street.  The picture below of the Jensen Homestead was taken in 1891 and is courtesy MOHAI.


Jensen was a carpenter by trade and owned a construction business and a general store, Woodland Grocery, Flour & Feed, which was located on the corner of NW 60th & 4th Ave (photo at bottom of page). The photo of Jensen and his crew, below, was taken sometime between 1900 and 1910.  Jensen (far right) takes a lunch break with his construction crew at a house they are building. The men have carried their food to the site in lunchboxes. Photo courtesy of the Seattle MOHAI.


Jensen married his sweetheart Marie E.D. Hansen in 1892. They had two children during their marriage – Anna & Nathalia.  In their wedding photo below, Jensen wears a formal coat and trousers and Marie wears a dark dress with a shaped bodice and puffed sleeves. At the time, many women still followed the older custom of choosing a wedding dress that they could also wear at other times.

Jensen’s great-nephew, Dennis Jensen, told me that Rasmus died on January 9, 1943 in his home at 404 NW 60th Street at the age of 80.

Jensen_wedding_portrait_1892                 woodland flour and seed

For those of you who live to the south of NW 60th & 7th Ave NW, while working in your yards be on the lookout for rusted horse shoes, broken spades or other farm tools. The homes in the area are built on the old Jensen homestead. You all may have a piece of Seattle history right under your feet.

If you have old photos of the neighborhood, please share them with your West Woodland Neighbors by posting on this site, or emailing a JPEG copy to westwoodlandneighbors@gmail.com.

Photos and historical data courtesy the MOHAI – Seattle.

Your home has history!

Discovering the history of a house, who lived in it and when it was built, can be a challenging and rewarding experience. This information can also be very useful. Knowing your homes history, can tell you what’s important about it – its significance to the community. It can also tell you how your house was constructed, if there were later additions or alterations. This sort of information can help when you’re thinking about making changes to your homes internal or external structure.

There are a wide range of resources available to you as you start researching the history of your home, including the Seattle Public Library. The libraries online resource center includes an array of tools and articles to support your research. One of those tools, “Researching the History of Seattle Buildings” is a 50-page guide with links to online resources, a directory of local agencies, worksheets and checklists.

Guide is available here:

As you begin to uncover your homes history, please share with us by posting on this page. I would love to find out what you have learned about your home.


Meet John Nick

Over the 2013 holiday I had the pleasure of visiting with John Nick at my home. John is a West Woodland School Alumni, back when the school was K-8. He grew up at 824 NW 65th Street, just blocks from his family’s business on NW 65th.

During his visit, John shared photos and stories with me of his time living and working in the West Woodland neighborhood. John also gave me a booklet of memories that his friend Vern Vellat had put together and shared with his peers from West Woodland’s class of 1941. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of those stories with you.

The black and white picture below was taken on the west side of “DeJardine’s Garage” (today, J&J Collision at 517 NW 65th St). In this 1931 picture, John is sitting on a pony, with his brother Charles standing next to him. Both boys are dressed in western wear and it is believed that this photo was taken during “Klondike Days”, an annual West Woodland celebration that included a parade with bands and floats travelling down NW 65th.

The color photo is from John’s visit at my home. Thank you for your contribution John!

John Nick