Finding Wallingford: Everyone knows where Wallingford is, but can they tell you what makes it tick?

To most Seattleites, the Wallingford neighborhood presents a colorful east-west corridor between Interstate 5 and highway 99.

A wide spectrum of internationally themed restaurants and small shops line North 45th and 50th streets and stand in reference to the Guild 45th movie theater, Dick's Drive-In or the QFC with its neon "Wallingford" sign.

Hemmed to the north by Green Lake and to the south by Lake Union, most commuters know the area even if they can't or won't stop to enjoy the diversity of the businesses here.

Called the "home center of the metropolis" in a 1925 Seattle Times article, Wallingford primarily provides urban housing for city dwellers.

Strolling its deliberately pedestrian-friendly streets reveals endless rows of well-cared for homes, mostly popular Craftsman bungalows, and small but plentiful gardens, often with eco-friendly, even organic, features.

Few visitors will explore beyond the shallow layer of retail, and many hold onto an outdated image of the district as "earthy" and "granola."

Wallingford is 'growing up'

John Wallingford purchased property here in 1888 to build houses for the growing population of Seattle, and today the neighborhood remains largely residential.

"It's a very safe neighborhood - very accessible, walkable," according to Lisa Taylor, a 12-year Walling-ford resident. "[It's a] good place to raise your kids."

When Taylor decided to buy in 2003, she "couldn't even afford to look" in Wallingford and bought elsewhere. Still, she loves the neighborhood and her work at Seattle Tilth, even with the subtle shift she's seen happen to an area previously untouched by dramatic change for more than 100 years.

Slow change does occur, and it appears as though, at the start of the 21st century, Wallingford may have grown up.

Cecilia Otto, a teacher at Roosevelt High School temporarily located at Lincoln High School in Wallingford, has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years. She's seen the neighborhood "getting younger, more affluent. It's changed and become more yuppie - everything more upscale, clean, hip...."

Otto describes Wallingford as a "neighborhood you can walk to. It's really easy-going: not slick - just relaxed, inner city. People pull their couches into the middle of the street around here" on the Fourth of July, she explained, to watch fireworks burst over Gas Works Park located down the hill.

Lynn Bader, who moved to Wallingford in 1986, feels the neighborhood has retained a friendly atmosphere where everyone knows everyone else, although such attachments can be superficial. Residents participate in their block-watch programs and know what their neighbor drives, but not the inside of one another's kitchen, she said.

Bader chose the area originally because she "liked the sidewalks," and she still enjoys a walk through the neighborhood where she's noticed a slow transformation in the streetscape. As older homes get torn down, replacement homes overwhelm their lots and leave no room for a garden.

Taylor remembers how the homes "used to be a lot of rentals." The owners and tenants "were a whole group of people who had lived there for 70 years," she recalled, "they had a great influence on how the yards looked. What was neat about Wallingford, it was a middle ground between funky Fremont and the University [District]," with its stolid appearance and wild kids.

Getting to know the people

Bob Quinn recently moved to Wallingford, but he already knows his neighbors. He never got involved in the other areas of the city where he lived. A neighbor pushed him to take an interest here: "I didn't run into neighbors like that before."

As for himself, he doesn't see the "earthy" label the neighborhood once carried. It "takes money to live" in Wallingford, he said, and he finds most Wallingfordians are professionals, artistic and sophisticated.

"It is a blend," he said, while Bader declared it, "very eclectic."

Many tout the diversity of ethnicities represented in the neighborhood. However, in 2004, Caucasian residents still made up 89 percent of the neighborhood. A slow integration may be occurring, but 2000 Census numbers reflect a similar but consistently smaller representation of racial diversity compared to Seattle as a whole.

The neighborhood remains largely liberal, votes Democrat and supporters proudly proclaim it "highly educated," with nearly 70 percent of the population having at least a bachelor's degree.

Demographics show an increase in citizens over age 45, while the number of those younger has slipped in the last 10 years.

Residents and business owners remark on the gradual shift of the makeup of the neighborhood, of a natural aging among the population.

Defining a neighborhood

Local bookstore owner Carol Santoro finds Wallingford defies easy categorization, where other areas like Capitol Hill or Fremont have invited it. And it might be due to the business district.

Taylor said she "never felt 45th had a nucleus character" in the past. The Wallingford Chamber of Commerce hopes to change that and has focused the last year on defining their neighborhood image.

Tracy Allinson, former president of the chamber, said, "We're hoping to influence future development" with their efforts.

The chamber hired consultants and gathered demographics to help them identify their business district, or Urban Village, rather than leave the opportunity to outside forces.

As they move into the implementation phase of image planning, the chamber identified five words as a vision platform for the future. "Character," "adventure," "green," "creative" and "intimate" were identified as characteristics of Wallingford, as it is or as it wants to be. The major theme, influential neighborhood activist and resident, Karen Buschow explained, became a "sensibility about stewardship."

Identity has become a pivotal point as the Wallingford chamber and the community council seek to control and direct change. Residents and business owners within the district agree, for the most part, with these assessments.

Or, perhaps, they're just being nice.

Wallingford is "capital of Seattle nice," said Wallingford resident Mike Ruby.

Finding consensus

The need for consensus and happy compromise isn't always possible - or speedy. The community council has spent four months -20 minutes at just one meeting - drafting a membership request letter.

Quinn sees the community making a reasonable effort to solicit every view. They try to be inclusive, he said, and he doesn't see that slow process interfere with the group's ability to be effective.

Wallingford wants to be all things to all people, especially all things positive and correct, he said.

Quinn serves as volunteer press liaison to "raise the visibility" of the community council and to create a broader-based constituency. Outside Wallingford, the community council has a strong reputation among community advocates. Inside, Quinn has gone door-to-door about issues affecting his neighbors and found many who don't know of the organization's existence.

Before moving here, Quinn thought of this area of Seattle as "gifted." "It has a lot of the goodies," he'd thought.

But in the year since he moved to his self-proclaimed "favorite part of the county," he's changed his mind. He's found they have to fight to get neighborhood needs addressed by city agencies and their own citizens.

Not 'earthy' anymore

No one who lives or works here these days admits to having Birkenstocks in their closet. "It's not that earthy anymore," Santoro mused.

Instead, more modern terms like "enviro-conscious," "eco-friendly" and "green" come up. People here do, sometimes, live by the rules of simplicity and grow strictly organic in their well-tended, much-loved home gardens. At Seattle Tilth, Taylor finds "people here are very receptive to our message."

The neighborhood has grown up and beyond the youthful flirtations of the '60s and '70s. As a cooperative neighbor of the larger city in which it fully participates, it asserts rights to carve out its own identity rather than have labels thrust upon it.

As Wallingford moves into the future, and granola gives way to green, the modern community carries on their namesake's dream while being true to a vision of their own.

Kirby Lindsay can be reached at

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