Beacon Hill: Seattle, Washington
Spend some time on Seattle's Beacon Hill and you'll find a dynamic and engaged community where your neighbors are just as likely to be Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese as they are to be black, white, or Hispanic. This diversity is exemplified by North Beacon Hill, a neighborhood-scaled commercial node with stores providing goods for many cultures and restaurants serving Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnic foods and where nearly three-fourths of residents are people of color, almost half are foreign born, and 60 percent speak a language other than English at home, according to 2000 census data. Modest housing, nearby jobs, a streetcar to downtown Seattle, and restrictive covenants in other parts of the city all helped to draw immigrants and people of color, especially Asian-Americans, to Beacon Hill in the 1950s.
The Beacon Hill area consists of four neighborhoods bounded by South Dearborn Street to the north; Rainier Avenue South, Cheasty Boulevard, and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South to the east; U.S. Interstate 5 and Airport Way South to the west; and South Boeing Access Road to the south.
Located on a ridge 350 feet above sea level between the Duwamish Manufacturing and Industrial Center to the west and Rainier Valley to the east, the area comprises four neighborhoods: North Beacon Hill, Mid Beacon Hill, South Beacon Hill and New Holly. The north-south ridge provides residents with commanding views and scenic vistas not only of Seattle's downtown skyline and Mount Rainer, but — on clear days — Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east.
Beacon Hill boasts the largest Olmsted-planned and designed green space in Seattle — Jefferson Park, which is marking its 100th anniversary in 2012. The Art Deco–styled Pacific Medical Center is also located here.
Residents and businesses value Beacon Hill's quality of life and are involved in neighborhood, public safety, transportation, parks, and other planning efforts. Representative groups and organizations include El Centro de la Raza, a human rights and service organization formed in the early 1970s and occupying a historic school building. Other active groups are the North Beacon Hill Council, Beacon Rocks, Jefferson Park Alliance, the Beacon Hill Merchants Association, the South Beacon Neighborhood Council, South Beacon Neighborhood Association, Lockmore Neighborhood group, and Beacon Pedestrian and Bikes.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Tal-tal-kus Village originally built by the Duwamish tribe at foot of Beacon Hill
- Around the time Arthur Denny arrived at Alki (West Seattle) in 1851, the first white settler along Beacon Hill was Henry Van Asselt (1817-1902), who staked a 360-acre claim on the south end of the Duwamish Valley including land that now is home to Boeing Field. Jacob Maple (or Mapel) (1798-1884) and Samuel Maple (or Mapel) (1827-1880) filed claims to the north. The hill was originally named "Maple Hill" after the brothers.
- In 1860, Van Asselt donated land in area where King County's first school was built.
- The building was replaced in 1950 (Van Asselt Elementary School).
- Streetcar line (1889) connects neighborhood to downtown; Union Army veteran, investor, and easterner M. Harwood Young renames area "Beacon Hill" after Boston's historic Beacon Hill.
- Cleveland High School, completed 1927 and renovated 2007; now a Science Technology Engineering Mathematics school overlooking Georgetown and the Duwamish Valley.
- Holly Park, completed April 1943, was Seattle's second-largest housing project with 900 units. Its first residents were war workers who flooded Seattle, creating a critical housing shortage. The transformation of Holly Park to a mixed-use and mixed-income neighborhood connected to the surrounding community began in 1995; today the result is New Holly.
- Boeing employees move to Beacon Hill during 1950s–1960s given proximity to Boeing Field.
- Interstate 5 cut into western slope of Beacon Hill during 1960s.
- El Centro de la Raza formed in 1972 after occupation of the abandoned Beacon Hill School to protest defunding of the Chicano adult education program at South Seattle Community College; the social service and human rights organization purchased the building and property in 1999 for a permanent "Center for the People of All Races."
- Residential architectural styles represented by every decade from 1890s through the 1960s including Craftsman bungalows and the vernacular "Seattle Box Houses."
- Judge E.A. Turner's Italian Villa built in 1883 (near Jefferson Park); moved to current location in 1906 and remodeled in Queen Anne style; National Register of Historic Places (1976).
- Tudor Revival styled-Beacon Hill First Baptist Church, a historic landmark, designed by Ellsworth Storey (1910).
- Liberty Courts Housing built on Beacon Avenue at 14th Avenue South for shipyard workers during World War I.
- Pacific Medical Center built 1930s in Art Deco style as U.S. Marine hospital; eventually closed and reused as Amazon.com headquarters until 2011; National Register of Historic Places (1979).
- Beacon Hill Library of contemporary design completed in 2004 as part of the City of Seattle's "Libraries for All" program.
- Around 1860, Charles Plummer platted Beacon Hill but the area remained largely undeveloped for the next 40 years.
- Temporary worker housing built in Holly Park during World War II; becomes low-income housing after war and then Hope VI mixed-income development (New Holly, 2006).
- Pedestrian and bicycle friendly greenway path (2.8 miles) proposed for North Beacon Hill to improve access to Mountain to Sound (I-90) Trail, Beacon Hill Station, Beacon Hill Library, Jefferson Park, neighborhood schools; construction pending funds
- Two core elements of 1999 North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan: creating a well-defined urban village and rejuvenating Jefferson Park; 2011 update focuses on creating a town center with a mix of commercial and residential uses around Beacon Hill light rail station.
- To engage historically underrepresented communities, city uses variety of tools to involve citizens including translation and interpretation in 10 languages at community workshops; city's Public Outreach and Engagement Liaisons work with immigrant and other communities.
- Phase One planning for Beacon Food Forest, a community effort funded by City's Neighborhood Matching Fund, in 2012 to bring a diverse community together in a Permaculture Tree Guild approach to urban farming and land stewardship. Seven-acre site next to Jefferson Park provides opportunities for cultural exchange, education, and recreation.
Parks, Light Rail
- Olmsted Brothers commissioned to study Seattle's park possibilities and draft plan of city's park system and network of boulevards (1903); Jefferson Park in neighborhood is part of this system.
- Cheasty Boulevard, planned and designed by Olmsteds in 1903 as part of their park system, is now a designated historic landmark.
- Jefferson Park master plan written (2002); 43 acres added to Jefferson Park including tennis courts (2010); U.S. National Lawn Bowling championships at park (2011); Other parks in Beacon Hill: Dr. Jose Rizal, Daejeon, Dearborn, Benefit, Lewis, John C. Little, Sturgus. Playgrounds: Beacon Hill, Maplewood, Van Asselt.
- Jefferson Park celebrates its centennial jubilee and completion of several improvements, including a skatepark, July 14, 2012.
- Beacon Hill, Mt. Baker, Columbia City, and Othello light rail stations connect neighborhood to downtown, Sea-Tac Airport, and other points.