Green Lake Geography

This report was originally written for Geography 490: Field Research - The Seattle Region and has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen. Check out the class site for other neighborhood reports. If anyone is a longtime Green Lake resident - I’d love to talk about your experience in the neighborhood as it changed.

This report examines the neighborhood bordering northeast Green Lake, which I will refer to as Green Lake throught this report. Additonally, the study area is bordered by East Green Lake Drive North, Latona Avenue Northeast, Woodlawn Avenue Northeast, and Ravenna Boulevard.

Through these neighborhood reports, I review Green Lake’s current landscape as well as a sample of its enviromental and developmental history. Green Lake’s geoengineering history is a substaintial example of the early 1900s changes made to the physical landscape to meet the Olmsted plan. With respect to more modern development, I believe the new “Green Lake Village” complex offers a preview of the impact future rezoning/upzoning changes may have on other Seattle neighborhoods. This report is by no means a comprehensive look at the neighorhood, it should not replace a visit but inspire one.

A Quick Look

Fig 1. Notes & Hand Drawn MapFig 1. Notes & Hand Drawn Map

On Janurary 31st I made my first pass through the area, as shown in Fig 1. I began on the corner of Latona Ave and Woodlawn Ave and walked southwest towards 4th Ave NE. This corner, depicted in Fig 2, shows the jump in housing from single family homes to the high/mid rises that would follow two blocks further down. Before that area, bordering between the single family homes and the rest of the neighborhood, is a preschool and the Green Lake branch of the Seattle Public Library. The library branch has its own parking lot and takes up the block. Parking lots are more frequent in this northern area, while bus stops are also plentiful. This area does not require paid parking, but the areas further south do. It was around 5pm, cold, and getting dark. The schools were either letting out or closed, many of the gyms full, and the restaurants preparing for dinner. Many of the local businesses are centered around services to the residents that live near the area (see Fig 3). Going into the area further south, is two more schools, two running stores, a bike store, two gyms, and several restaurants.

Fig 2. Corner of 4th and WoodlawnFig 2. Corner of 4th and Woodlawn Fig 3. Green Lake Village, Mixed Commerical + HousingFig 3. Green Lake Village, Mixed Commerical + Housing

Initial Research Questions:

  1. In what order this area develop? How and why did it develop this way?

    I would like to look at the zoning map for this area, since it’s clear that only a portion is zoned for high rise apartments and the bordering areas are zoned for single family homes or condos. I would also want to see when the zoning changes were made, since the apartment buildings all appear new.

  2. Why are there so many pre-schools in this area?

    There are two pre-schools, and a middle school in this area but the census data said this area had less children than average. Are the students residents of this area or neighboring areas?

  3. How is this area effected seasonally?

    Unfortunately, this question is too longitudal for this class project, but this area is next to Green Lake park, which sees an influx of visitors in the summer. This area has many restaurants which may see increased business in the summer months. There is also a running store and a cycling store; the park draws people for both activies. Interviewing the businesses, counting people in the area, and looking at sales numbers would all help paint the seasonal picture.

Fig 4. Green Lake Public Library, Built in 1920Fig 4. Green Lake Public Library, Built in 1920

Environmental Geography

Fig 5. 1894 TopographyFig 5. 1894 Topography

The 1894 topographical map (Fig 5) shows a waterway that flowed from Green Lake to Union Bay, roughly following what is today’s NE Ravenna Blvd, through Cowen park and into Ravenna park. At this peroid, Green Lake’s shoreline encompassed the area that is now part of Green Lake Park. There are very few roads in this map, but they will be shortly developed under the Olmstead plan.

Fig 6. 1910 Olmsted PlanFig 6. 1910 Olmsted Plan Fig 7. 1908 Grading PlanFig 7. 1908 Grading Plan

Fig 6 shows the 1910 preliminary Olmstead Brothers’ plan to redesign the lakefront and establish Ravenna Boulevard. This map shows two proposed lake boundaries, one much farther in with what I think is a road going through it, and a farther one with no road. Comments on the map say residents protested the original border, a slightly smaller lake with a road dividing the lake and the play field. Today’s shoreline is very close to that revised shore line, and the play field does not have a road going through it. A parking lot has since been added to the area. The roads along the lake, Latona Ave, 4th Ave, Maple Leaf Place, 72nd, 71st, and Ravenna E all remain there today and can be seen in my hand drawn map of the area.

It’s incredible that these planning maps look so similar to what we have today, even though the landscape at the time did not. Fig 7, from 1908, provides a look into the planning process of grading a nearby area (north of Woodlawn park). A note on the map says “plating areas indicated thus [symbol]. These areas should be covered with 18” good topsoil.” There are many trees and shrubs surrounding the lake today, and trees along the border of the park providing a barrier to the road. From both Fig 6 and Fig 8 it looks like Green Lake used to have more tiny islands and a rougher coastline. I believe that today the only permanent island within the lake is Duck Island.

Fig 8. 2009 USGS TopographyFig 8. 2009 USGS Topography

Looking at today’s USGS topographic information, as shown in Fig 8, we can still see the result of the landscape modifications. The Green Lake park was filled with ‘Landfill Debris’ and I-5 is listed as ‘Modified Land’. My study area is half covered by the alluvium layer, which is “sand, silt, gravel, and cobbles; deposited in stream valleys by running water” while the other half of the area is glacial till (Booth, et. al 2005). There is the muddy green way between Northeast Ravenna Boulevard that exposes ground which previously had flowing water. That area is a fraction of the size of the area in red. From my experience running in the area, on rainy days water can pool up and it gets quite muddy.

Fig 9. Latona Ave and East Green Lake DriveFig 9. Latona Ave and East Green Lake Drive

Fig 9 shows Latona Ave and East Green Lake Drive, across the street is the park area that was filled with landfill debris. There is a playground and an open field, behind that is Evan’s Pool one of Seattle’s public indoor pools. You can see the assortment of trees planted as a border between the park and road.

Shaping Modern Green Lake

Fig 10. 1958 Aerial PhotoFig 10. 1958 Aerial Photo

Green Lake’s post settler history is not long, with just over a hundred and fifty years of development. A timeline of every change would be too much for this project, instead I’ll look at snapshots of the area to uncover when substantial changes were made.

Fig 11. 1959 5th and 73rd, Typical HomeFig 11. 1959 5th and 73rd, Typical Home"

The Green Lake neighborhood was annexed into the City of Seattle in 1891 along with Magnolia, Wallingford, Fremont, and the University District (Lange 1999). In my previous report, we saw how the area’s landscape was modified to suit the residents. The Olmsted Brothers proposed one park option, and the residents fought back changing the proposed shoreline. Still, the lake was filled and the streets carved up. Another snapshot, the area in 1958 and 1959, shows the properties mostly filled with buildings and Ravenna Ave is lined with grown trees. Photos were taken of the area to for rezoning considerations and show a “typical house”.

Fig 12. 1972, 1980 and 2012 ZoningFig 12. 1972, 1980 and 2012 Zoning

Seattle’s Municipal Archives provide an excellent lens to study the history of the area. Beginning with the 1972 Zoning Map (Fig 12), we can see the buildings in the study area are mostly labeled “BC – Community Business” or “CG – General Commercial.” Using the definitions from the 1980 Seattle Municipal Code, CG zones were completely non-residential; in fact Section 24.52.100 says “When residential development will not usurp land which is needed for and better suited to commercial usage by virtue of special attributes such as railroad access and proximity of established commercial district.” Today, these areas (Fig 12) are zoned as “NC2P-65 Neighborhood Commercial, Pedestrian” with a height limit of 65ft.

Interestingly, the 1972 Zoning Map (Fig 12) does not have Interstate 5, even though the highway had been completed in 1969 (Dougherty 2010). The properties that would be covered by the highway are still shown. The 1980 Zoning Map (Fig 12) does show Interstate 5, or “The Seattle Freeway.” While outside the study area, the Interstate 5 project isolated the green lake neighborhood from the Roosevelt area to the east.

In an article from 1997’s Seattle PI, titled “Residents, Businesses Coexist in This Recreational Mecca” offers another view into the feeling of Green Lake’s residents before a spur of development. Residents seemed more concerned with the Green Lake’s algae bloom then they did the incoming up zone. The story highlights the neighborhood’s athletic character, which remains today, but could not know the extent of the incoming housing boom (Harell 1997).

Green Lake was a single family home community, with a distinct commercial area. Over a series of changes in the 1970, 1990s, and 2010s the area became consolidated, denser, and began to mix commercial and residential uses. In the next report I’ll go into the development that occurred after the VitaMilk Dairy left a hole in the neighborhood.

VitaMilk goes from Dairy to Developer

Fig 12. Building Construction Dates, Data: King County Tax AssessorFig 12. Building Construction Dates, Data: King County Tax Assessor

Past, Present, Future: 419 NE 71st St

On August 15th 2003, after more than six decades, the VitaMilk Dairy Inc stopped their dairy production operations in Green Lake (Frey 2003). VitaMilk landowners hired Lorig Associates and planned a residential complex. The project stalled in 2008, leaving a hole in the ground while struggling to find an anchor tenant (Eskenazi 2008). In 2013 PCC was announced as the anchor tenant for Green Lake Village, and residential/commercial mixed complex construction continued.

In 2014, the property at 419 71st NE Street (across 71st from Green Lake Village) submitted applications to turn the old site into a mixed apartment and store front area. Today, those construction projects have mostly finished and businesses have moved in. It’s hard to imagine the area before all the apartment buildings. (If anyone is a longtime Green Lake resident - I’d love to talk about your experience in the neighborhood as it changed.)

Before 419 71st NE Street was planned to become apartments, the developers had requested the area receive a prohibited use exception and turn the area into a parking lot for the residents of Green Lake Village. One nearby resident wrote in his strong opposition, stating that a parking lot would restrict the additional housing availability, and raise prices.

Fig 13. Public CommentsFig 13. Public Comments

Not everyone was excited for these changes. Fig 13. shows two comments about the development at 419 71st NE St. Interestingly, both of the comments are written from residents of a nearby apartment building of nearly the same size as the proposed building they are upset about, though their building was constructed in 2003 (Zillow 2018).

Fig 14. Meeting NotesFig 14. Meeting Notes

419 71st NE became anchored by Bartell Drugs. The final community meeting in April 2015 notes that the residents “felt the building will serve the needs of the community by providing a drug store and an enhanced look and feel of the neighborhood.” The neighborhood is expanding and, reflected by the unanimous vote from the Green Lake Chamber of Commerce, that is good for business. See Fig 14 for the curated public comments. After nearly 4 meetings in 8 months of design review, the building would pass another hurdle. 12 months after the first design review meeting, the master permit was issued (Fig 15). 419 71st Ave NE would become 130 residential units, 106 below ground parking spaces, and 14,609 square feet of retail space.

Fig 15. Final DecisionFig 15. Final Decision

Looking to the future, the proposed HALA plans provide a glance at what might change in the neighborhood (City of Seattle 2016). The Green Lake Village area will be upzoned from NC65 to NC75, and similar NC’s areas will gain 10-15’ in their changes. The LR2 and LR3 areas nearby will remain the same. The MHA requirement of ‘(M) 6% of homes must be affordable or a payment of $13.25 per sq ft.’ will be added to area, though much of the development has already occurred. Zoning targeting a spur of new buildings seem slated for the areas closer to the Roosevelt light rail station.


1894 USGS Map

Booth, Derek B., Troost, Kathy Goetz, and Schimel, Scott A., 2009, Geologic map of northeastern Seattle (part of the Seattle North 7.5’ x 15’ quadrangle), King County,Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3065, scale 1:12000 and database.

City of Seattle, 2016. Draft Zoning Changes to Implement Mandadtory Housing Affordability (MHA) [WWW Document]. URL

Dougherty, P., 2010. Interstate 5 is completed in Washington on May 14, 1969. - [WWW Document]. URL

Eskenazi, S., 2008. Stalled projects, scarred neighborhoods | The Seattle Times [WWW Document]. Seattle Times. URL

Frey, C., 2003. Got milk? After 6 decades, local dairy will be saying “no” [WWW Document]. URL

Harell, D., 1997. Document View | Access World News – Historical and Current | NewsBank [WWW Document]. Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Keeley, S., 2014. Green Lake’s Vitamilk Dairy Site Soon to be Mixed-Use Complex [WWW Document]. Curbed Seattle. URL

Lange, G., 1999. Seattle doubles in size by annexing north-of-downtown communities on May 3, 1891. - [WWW Document]. URL