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January 27, 2006

A History of Selling the Suburbs

"Making Headway: A Little Logic Along Life's Journey." That's the helpful title of an advertising brochure--circa 1930 or so--promoting what was then ex-urban development in north Seattle. I thought the ad copy was so intriguing that I just had to share some excerpts...

No one who is normal can be content to remained imprisoned within the four walls of the modern stuffy apartment, with its lack of yard, grass plot, flower beds and garden for the kiddies' play and the family food.

Life to you must mean more than that. It must have freedom of both air and area to fully develop.

These, too, without the penalty of city taxes and with less expenditure of travel time than is experienced in many massed and narrowed neighborhoods.

Get your feet off the hard, distressing pavement of the city for at least the evening period of the day.

Leave behind the unattractive canyons of trade and turmoil. Rest your nerves and your soul for the next day's problems.

Do this midst your own fragrant flowers--on your own clover meadows, surrounded by the fruits of your own handiwork. THIS IS REAL LIVING.

All through life the worth-while man and woman yearns for just these things: an acre of rich, fragrant, deep meadow soil--surely a scarce commodity in Western Washington--that responds gladly to the vigorous and intelligent touch of ambitious and loving hands.

Now is the logical time to acquire that "DREAM PLACE." Values have never been so reasonable, and with real soil as the basis, your investment is sure to increase in value.

In a very few years any productive soil ten miles from the busy center will be considered choice and in great demand. VALUES WILL INCREASE considerably.

Hard surfaced highways and automobiles have brought the outer fringes of the city close enough in to suit particular people.

These tracts are but a mile beyond the city limits... YOU ARE NOT TAXED TO THE BONE.

How often have you felt that craving for the larger opportunity, the greater area for expansion, the garden of your dreams, where the wife and kiddies could relax without that dress-parade attitude, secure from public gaze?

This is hardly possible when confined to a midget city lot, and certainly impossible in a stuffy, noisy flat.

Love, health, freedom of action; an environment of lawns, blossoming trees, trailing berry vines, roses, and the succulent vegetable bed--all are a part of that dream, that yearning for better and bigger things. THEY ARE YOURS TO COMMAND.

TWENTY MINUTES in your own car from Pike and Fourth, or not more than a half-hour by comfortable auto bus, over the paved Bothell Highway, will land you at A REAL HOME.

Whether a merchant, manufacturer or salaried worker, you can live, laugh, and "be one with nature" in these fields of growing things, while less than a half-hour away by auto to the busy marts... the "maddening throng" of the stuff and noisy city will have no evening charms for you.

I'm not intending to cast aspersions. One of my favorite things about my new house, is the small backyard. The allure of outdoor space and a connection to nature, however mediated by civilization, is a strong one for home buyers. Still, it's interesting to see how the new developments were sold with promises of restorative nature; while the certainty that those green places would disappear was used to sell the homes' future appreciation. Something of an irony, I think.

(Credit for finding the brochure to Todd Burley, outreach coordinator at Homewaters Project--and former NEW intern extraordinaire. He leads walks through the now fully urbanized Thornton Creek watershed where these homes were built.)

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...and they touted bus transportation [presumably before GM and Uniroyal came to town and stopped that nonsense].

But notice how they weren't afraid to frame things, even back then.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Jan 27, 2006 3:21:14 PM

...And they assumed that you would actually want to maintain a large yard and garden like that.

Personally, having lived within a variety of houses with both large and small garden spaces, I've come to the conclusion that urban living within a small apartment, with nice landscaping tended by the apartment owner, is the best lifestyle for me. And it must have easy access to a large public park or arboretum, which is also tended by professional landscapers, where I can "laugh and 'be one with nature' in those fields of growing things."

Posted by: Michelle Parker | Jan 27, 2006 4:06:14 PM

I wonder which neighborhhood; it could be mine. The Seattle City limits were at N.85th, up until the 50's if I remember correctly.

Posted by: David Sucher | Jan 27, 2006 8:07:56 PM

For those interested, the "choice suburban plats of north seattle" mentioned in the brochure from Carter, MacDonald & Miller, Inc. were the Fischer Farm and the Matthews Farm. These farms were the successors to nineteenth and early twentieth century logging along Lake Washington (increased after the canal was dug and the lake lowered in 1917).

You can find these former farms in the neighborhoods of Lake City, Matthews Beach, Northgate and Sand Point.

And a great resource for local history is History House, a local nonprofit located in Fremont. Also check out www.historylink.org for local histories.

Want a copy of the brochure yourself? Homewaters Project maintains a Thornton Creek Watershed Community Library with all sorts of info to check out. Just send an email to me or check out our website at www.homewatersproject.org.

Posted by: Todd Burley | Jan 30, 2006 8:45:41 AM

It is interesting that they cite as an advantage of living in suburbia is the ability to grow one's own food. After WWII the access to the supermarket and convenience foods made growning one's own food a quaint anacronism.

Posted by: Joseph Readdy | Feb 4, 2006 10:30:39 AM