Take a couple of hours before a Seattle Mariners or Sounders game and discover Upper Queen Anne Hill, with its 120 stairways and a history that includes the Wobblies, Buffalo Bill and The Counterbalance.
The tallest of Seattle’s seven hills, Queen Anne is known for its wealthier residents, expensive homes, Queen Anne-style architecture and views.
Although well-off families started moving here as early as 1884, geography impeded growth.
The 18 percent grade up Queen Anne Avenue discouraged potential residents and horses and wagons.
The electric streetcar took over in 1902 and the Queen Anne population increased.
But the streetcar needed an assist from a counterbalancing railroad car filled with 16 tons of concrete in a tunnel underneath the streetcar’s tracks.
Today, that steep section of Queen Anne Avenue is still called The Counterbalance, and the tunnel and tracks still are there. Some of the former metal rails of the trolley tracks were recycled into handrails that are part of several stairways.
Buy the Map of the Pedestrian Public Stairs of Queen Anne Hill (see accompanying box) or you’ll be aimlessly wandering. Start anywhere. We’ll focus on Highland Drive and a few other sights.
We started on the corner of West Garfield Street and Seventh Avenue West and walked toward the stub end of Galer for our first descent, walking through old cedars and holly trees onto Eight Avenue West.
Cross the street and turn left on the sidewalk along the Wilcox Wall, a retaining wall up to 50 feet high that makes a graceful sweep along Eighth Place West, offering stellar views of the city and Elliott Bay.
WEST HIGHLAND DRIVE
Stop at tiny Marshall Park with the Betty Bowden viewpoint. The den mother of Seattle arts, Bowden befriended many Northwest art icons, including Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. A memorial of unsigned sketches was created by Graves, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan and others and cast in concrete.
Across the street is the 16,500-square-foot Parsons Memorial Gardens, started in 1905. The oasis of quiet includes paths, benches, ornamental trees, flower beds, cypress and holly.
Continue east on West Highland Drive, splitting your attention between historic homes and city views. The McFee/Klockzien House (524 West Highland Drive) was featured in the 1913 “Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast.” The Ballard/Howe House (22 West Highland Drive) is in the Colonial/Georgian Revival style complete with four white columns.
When real-estate developer Harry Whitney Treat arrived in Seattle about 1903, he was rumored to have been the richest man in town. Apparently with more money than he knew what to do with, Treat built a 64-room, 17,000-square-foot in-city retreat at 1 West Highland Drive. In 1915, Buffalo Bill arrived to do a birthday show for Treat’s daughter, Loyal.
The Treat home was converted into apartments in 1923, brick replaced the wood siding in 1948, and luxury apartments were created in 1975.
The star of the affluent Highland area, though, is a park, not a house. Kerry Park at Second and West Highland Drive is a narrow strip with one of the best views in town, including Elliott Bay, the Space Needle, Bainbridge Island and, on a clear day, Mount Rainier.
It’s also home to the 15-foot-tall steel sculpture “Changing Form” of stacked geometric shapes featuring cutouts that encourage photographic framing of the Space Needle. The showpiece was sculpted by part-time Seattle resident Doris Chase, known for her pioneering work in video art that won honors at 21 festivals, and her large sculptures that helped puncture the Northwest sculpture community’s gender barrier.
Cross Queen Anne Avenue North. More modern buildings rise on your left as you go uphill to the 1905 Chappell home (21 Highland Drive), once the Northwest’s architectural masterpiece. A tall wrought-iron gate is at the entrance to the half-timbered gothic-style home built by William Chappell, who struck it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush. Past owners included the president of the Bon Marche department store (now consumed by Macy’s) and the owner of Hansen Baking Co.
IF YOU KEEP GOING
Bhy Kracke Park (1215 Fifth Ave. N.). Tom Sawyer’s phrase “by-cracky, Huck” was so enjoyed by Werner H. Kracke that it became his slightly-adjusted nickname (Bhy Kracke). He wanted his garden and future park to be a miniature Butchart Garden, but he died on a cruise ship before the pocket park was created, gracefully tucked into a steep hillside with views of Lake Union, Capitol Hill and central Seattle.
Queen Anne High School Condominiums (201 Galer St.). The Beaux Arts-style school is now home to condominiums. Now you can sleep in class and not get your knuckles cracked.
High point. About three blocks west of the condos is the highest point of Queen Anne Hill – 456 feet above sea level.
Food and fun. The hill’s main commercial district along Queen Anne Avenue is full of choices that range from five-star dining to decent pub grub as well as interesting shops.
The iconic Five Spot, which “seceded” from Seattle in 2008 to become the Coffee Pot Republic, sits at the top of The Counterbalance. Customers often wait in line on the sidewalk.
How to Cook a Wolf has upscale cuisine. The name comes from the title of M.F.K. Fisher’s culinary novel that spoke of hunger (the wolf) and the joy of eating.
Several blocks from the main drag is Macrina Bakery, loved by the hill’s residents. Warning: You might become addicted to their pastries and bread but try the apple tartelettes anyway.
Laid to rest. West Raye Street borders the south side of the 40-acre Mount Pleasant Cemetery, former home to an anti-aircraft gun in World War II.
Since this was a bit off of our route, we drove the van.
Walking loops, 60,000 graves and history are here. Many religions and cultures have sections. The Muslim section’s graves are oriented toward Mecca.
Among those buried here are 1851 pioneers William and Sarah Bell; Bertha Campbell, African-American activist and founder of a black sorority; mayors, generals and governors; unclaimed victims of the 1910 Wellington avalanche-and-train disaster; some of the ashes of International Workers of the World’s activist and songwriter Joe Hill; and three of the five members of the IWW (also known as the Wobblies) men killed in the Everett Massacre of 1916.