Seattle Now & Then: High Point in West Seattle, 1942

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: With the northern end of West Seattle and just a hint of downtown as a backdrop on a cloudy day, workers busily construct the High Point Defense Housing Project in March 1942. Visible at upper left are the Holy Rosary Church bell tower and Charlestown Street water tank. Be sure to double-click this photo to reveal a constellation of details. And see below for the makes and years of 15 vehicles depicted. (Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: From a vantage about a block north of our “Then” photo, the downtown skyline shines as the colorful dwellings of redeveloped High Point anchor this panorama. The fine details of both images can be best appreciated when enlarged online at seattletimes.com. For info on Tom Phillips’ book, click here. And same as with the “Then” photo, double-clicking this one will reveal incredible details. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on April 9, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on April 12, 2020)

Creating a new neighborhood with an old name: High Point
By Clay Eals

Seattle’s most elevated vista is not well-known Queen Anne, Magnolia or Capitol Hill. At 512 feet, it’s West Seattle’s High Point. The name bespeaks lofty aspirations.

It surfaced in the April 11, 1926, Seattle Times: “High Point, so named because of the commanding position it occupies, will be the next fine residence addition to go on the market here … and will be one of the most sightly subdivisions in that part of West Seattle.”

Indeed, the potential was high for the mid-peninsula plats just north of the “summit.” But ravages of the Great Depression soon intervened.

Prompted by late-1930s New Deal money, the state created the Seattle Housing Authority, which snapped up big parcels, including High Point, to aid the downtrodden. It wasn’t easy, as the agency’s charge drew flak from those viewing public housing and integration as “socialism.”

With war looming, however, the feds redirected funds to bolster defense, so the barracks-style housing built in 1942 at High Point became home to a surge of Boeing and shipyard workers.

High Point reverted to the original mission in 1953 and for the next 50 years served 15,000 racially diverse low-income families.

By the 1990s, wracked by civic inattention and growing crime, the deteriorated units merited federal help aimed at “severely distressed” areas, and in 2004 razing began on the High Point of old.

Rising in its place over the last 15 years has been a novel neighborhood. Its kaleidoscope of green features includes an unusual park, a bee garden and a large pond to go with a new library branch, health clinic, senior complex and community center. Moreover, the project intersperses 854 market-rate dwellings with 675 low-income rentals.

Tom Phillips, author of “High Point: The Inside Story of Seattle’s First Green Mixed-Income Neighborhood” To reach Tom, you can email him at tomjphillips@msn.com. (Clay Eals)

The transformation was so profound that Tom Phillips wrote a book. Phillips, who spent his childhood in Mount Baker, shepherded the redevelopment for the housing authority – a “dream job” after Peace Corps and VISTA stints and work in urban planning and community organizing,

“I was given 120 acres – to plan it and build it,” he says. “It’s a lifetime opportunity that nobody ever gets, and it’s not out in the suburbs. It’s in the city I grew up in.”

His book, “High Point: The Inside Story of Seattle’s First Green, Mixed-Income Neighborhood,” reveals the project’s sometimes bumpy ride to fruition, including missteps that cost the “food desert” of nearby 35th Avenue a supermarket. But it also celebrates renewed life and an invigorated reputation for a district whose name has proclaimed optimism for the past century.

WEB EXTRAS

Our automotive informant Bob Carney identifies 15 of the 21 vehicles in our “Then” photo: (from left) 1940 GMC panel truck, 1933-34 Plymouth, 1930-31 Ford Model A, 1937 Ford sedan, unknown, 1939 Chevrolet; in cluster of five: in back on right 1928-29 Ford Model A, in foreground 1941 Dodge sedan, the other three unknown; 1938-39 Ford pickup, 1936 Hudson, 1941 light-colored Ford coupe, 1928 Chevrolet, 1939 light-colored Plymouth sedan, the next three unknown, in foreground 1936-37 Hudson sedan.

Below are a book cover, an additional photo and two vintage maps, all relating to this week’s column.

Also, you will find 18 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.

The cover of Tom Phillips’ new book. Click here for more info.
Another view of High Point shortly after 1942. (Courtesy Tom Phillips)
A plat of the High Point housing development on Feb. 29, 1928, before it became a federally funded housing project. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
A fire-alarm plan for the High Point project from June 28, 1944. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
April 11, 1926, Seattle Times, page 77
Oct. 16, 1941, Seattle Times, page 37
Dec. 23, 1941, Seattle Times, page 16
Jan. 18, 1942, Seattle Times, page 9
Jan. 18, 1942, Seattle Times, page 20
March 20, 1942, Seattle Times, page 32
April 9, 1942, Seattle Times, page 2
May 28, 1942, Seattle Times, page 8
July 19, 1942, Seattle Times, page 10
Nov. 24, 1942, Seattle Times, page 4
May 11, 1943, Seattle Times, page 9
May 11, 1943, Seattle Times, page 16
Aug. 17, 1943, Seattle Times, page 4
Nov. 24, 1943, Seattle Times, page 7
Jan. 2, 1944, Seattle Times, page 9
Jan. 2, 1944, Seattle Times, page 10
June 14, 1944, Seattle Times, page 13
May 11, 1950, Seattle Times, page 15
March 25, 1979, Seattle Times, page 155
May 4, 1982, Seattle Times, page 56

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: High Point in West Seattle, 1942”

  1. I remember walking over to High Point as a young lad in the early 1950s from my house on 29th, between Holden and Webster, to visit the bookmobile parked at the community center. Part of the adventure was walking through the sand dunes just south of Sylvan Way and the cemetery. There were firm admonitions from parents NEVER to dig caves in the sand, because they would collapse and we would suffocate and die! Still vivid after all these years. Now that land is townhouses.

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