From quaint Sunday strolls through the farmers market to bar hopping down Ballard Avenue, the popular and historically landmarked district of Ballard has been a Seattle go-to for tourists and locals alike. A couple weekends ago we found ourselves strolling these historic streets on the Ballard’s Maritime Metamorphosis Tour led by the Seattle Architecture Foundation.
Ballard, before settlers arrived in 1853, was once a region known as Shilshole and it was inhabited by the Duwamish tribe. A few Scandinavian settlers started to inhabit the region and in 1888 a railway that connected to Seattle proper had been built by the West Coast Improvement Company. Some partners in the West Coast Improvement Company were Captain William Rankin Ballard, Judge Thomas Burke, and railroader Daniel H. Gilman and in 1887, the company was dissolved, and it was decided divvy up their assets via a coin toss. Shilshole the area was considered undesirable by many and Capt. Ballard was said to have “lost” the coin toss to and ended up with the 160-acre area we all know as Ballard today (AMLI Residential).
From 1890-1907, Ballard grew significantly with about 1,636 residents living between Salmon Bay and, what we now know as, Northwest 65th Street. Developers began to build brick-style baroque and Romanesque revival buildings around the original wooden taverns and barber shops. The new developments gave Ballard an air of elegance and attracted more people to call the city of Ballard home. Eventually, it could no longer independently sustain the growth. In 1906, the city of Ballard was voted to be annexed and absorbed by Seattle. It officially became a district of Seattle in 1907 (Walt Crowley, 1999).
Ballard has gone through many changes as the population has grown throughout the years. Through its transformation from a once humble beginnings as a hub for fisherman, lumberjacks and Scandinavian settlers to a popular Seattle attraction—you can still see parts of its history in the architecture, the public art and even in the culture that the residents emanate. From the top of Ballard Avenue (before it turns into Market Street) to Dock Street, there are still remnants of early Ballard in the sidewalks: the tiled street names you can find at the corners of each street or the glass tiled skylights that were used as markers for an underground lying beneath the streets (SAF, 2018).
Vernacular architecture is a style of architecture that “is designed based on local needs, availability of construction materials and reflecting local traditions” (Sarah Edwards, 2011). Old Ballard utilized the vernacular style by combining taverns with hotels, brothels and/or barber shops because these were, apparently, what was most in need by residents in the early 20th century. Today, contemporary developers and architects have been strategic in their building plans to follow their predecessors’ style and to listen to local residents about their wants and needs for new buildings. For example, the Seattle Public Library – Ballard Branch opened in 2005 is adjacent to the Ballard Commons Park and wwas designed by Bohlin Cywinski and built by PCL Construction Services Inc. Together designer and builder worked to create a building while keeping in mind the community who would be using it. The library is eco-friendly and if seen at a distance, looks similar to a boat—which pays homage to the Scandinavian and fishing beginnings Ballard is well-known for (Seattle Public Library, 2010).
Future developments will also keep the vernacular style in mind, and if you’re a resident and want to have a say or want to be informed about what’s being developed in your community—make sure to attend Planning & Community Development hearings that are hosted for free by the city of Seattle.
Thank you to the Seattle Architecture Foundation for hosting 360modern on their recent Ballard’s Maritime Metamorphosis Tour in October. To learn more about the history and the changes that are happening around the city, go on an in-depth and inexpensive walking tour hosted by the Seattle Architecture Foundation. SAF hosts a series of events throughout the year featuring the history of Seattle’s iconic neighborhoods and icons. To see upcoming events, visit the SAF Facebook page, maybe we’ll see you there!
Get Tickets to the Upcoming Ballard’s Maritime Metamorphosis Tour on November 3rd!
Featured Image courtesy of Seattle Public Library.