University District, Seattle

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University District
The U-District, looking northeast from Queen Anne. UW Tower is the tall building in the center, with the Hotel Deca (originally the Meany Hotel) to its left. The I-5 Ship Canal Bridge is in the foreground.
The U-District, looking northeast from Queen Anne. UW Tower is the tall building in the center, with the Hotel Deca (originally the Meany Hotel) to its left. The I-5 Ship Canal Bridge is in the foreground.
Map of the University District's location in Seattle
Map of the University District's location in Seattle

The University District (commonly, the U District) refers to a collective of neighborhoods in Seattle, Washington, so named because the main campus of the University of Washington (UW) is located there. The UW moved in two years after the area was annexed to Seattle, while much of the area was still clear cut forest or stump farmland. The district of neighborhoods grew with the university to become like a smaller version of urban American cities.[1][full citation needed]

Neighborhoods within the district include University Park (east from 15th to 25th Avenues N.E., north from N.E. 50th Street to N.E. Ravenna Boulevard), Greek Row (N.E. 45th to N.E. 50th Streets, 15th to 22nd Avenues N.E.), University Heights (north of N.E. 45th Street and west of 15th Avenue N.E.) and the Brooklyn Addition (residential and Bohemian area west of 15th Avenue N.E. and south of N.E. 45th Street); as well as the Main, West, and South campuses of the University of Washington.


Like all Seattle neighborhoods, the boundaries of the University District are informal; by common usage, the University District is bounded on the west by Interstate 5; on the east by 25th Avenue NE; on the south by the Lake Washington Ship Canal; and on the north by NE Ravenna Boulevard. It also includes, east of these boundaries, a small district on the north shore of Union Bay, bounded on the north by NE 45th Street and on the east by 35th Avenue NE. This extension consists mainly of the "east campus" and extensive parking lots of the University.[2] Its main commercial street, University Way NE, is known throughout the city as "The Ave" in the "U District".

Some parts of the University District have had names of their own. For example, today "University Heights" mainly designates a former school used as a community center, University Heights Center for the Community; a 1905 map shows the name as applying specifically to the area bounded by what are now NE 45th Street to the south, NE 55th Street to the north, Brooklyn Avenue NE to the west, and 15th Avenue NE to the east.[3]


This 1893 map shows the old street names of what was then the "Brooklyn" neighborhood. There is almost no development north of Franklin Street (now NE 45th Street). Brooklyn Avenue on this map is today's 12th Avenue NE; Broadway is today's Brooklyn NE; Columbus is University Way NE; Tremont is 15th NE.[4] The railway is now the Burke-Gilman Trail; several other streets have been rerouted, especially near the water.

What is now the University District has been inhabited since the end of the last glacial period (c. 8,000 BCE—10,000 years ago). Prominent Native American Duwamish villages of the Lushootseed (Skagit-Nisqually) Coast Salish nations were on a then-larger Portage Bay at what is now called Brooklyn Avenue, and the other on a larger Union Bay, near the present UW power plant (which is across from the UW IMA building), around the north shores a mile farther than today, and shores east of what is now the Union Bay Natural Area. (See also adjacent Ravenna neighborhood.) The Duwamish,[5] ("People of the Inside") tribe had the prominent village of SWAH-tsoo-gweel ("portage") on then-adjacent Union Bay, and what is now Ravenna was their backyard before the arrival of European settlers.[6] Villages were diffuse. In spring, people dispersed from their winter villages of longhouses to camps, gathering in summer for salmon. Gaps in the forest were maintained to encourage game and food supplies. Such "prairies" (anthrogenic grasslands) were cultivated in what is now the University District.[7] They were connected by a well-travelled path along what is now the Lake Washington Ship Canal (1883, 1916).

Surveyors noted several large Douglas-firs and western red cedars (given that large trees were not unusual back then, these must have been especially large). The U. District was first surveyed in 1855, and its first white settlers arrived 12 years later. In 1890, that part of the neighborhood due west of the present UW campus was laid out as the Brooklyn Addition. One year later much of the land north of the Ship Canal, including Brooklyn, was annexed to Seattle. The UW moved from Downtown in 1893, and the first university building was built in 1895.

An 1894 report describes a train wreck just west of the current University District. Latona has now been cut off from the University by Interstate 5.

August 20, 1894. Wreck on [the] Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern just west of Latone [now Latona Avenue]. Freight train from Gilman [now Snoqualmie] hit a cow. [Trainload was a] [m]ixer freight train, 10 co[a]l cars, logs and box cars. Train had slowed down at Brooklyn [Avenue] for cows. Engineer saw cows on a bank beyond Latona looking (?) one another[!]. One cow was tossed over [the] bank and hit the track just as [the] engine came by. [The] [e]ngine was raised off the track[,] and when it came down [the] wheels went off the rails. Engineer reversed but [it] was too late. [The] [c]oal tender shot ahead[,] tearing part of [the engine] car [(cab)] off and decapitating [the] fireman and killing [the] brakeman. Engineer and coal passer [were][8] unhurt. Steam and dust enveloped the derailed cars. Engineer ran to Fremont to telegraph to stop [the] evening passenger train[;] also [illegible] Engineer claimed train going 20 miles per hr.[9]

Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern train wreck in the University District, 20 August 1894.

The name "Brooklyn" began to fade soon thereafter. Electric trolley tracks had been laid up Columbus Avenue (later 14th Avenue) in 1892, and the neighborhood soon began to be called "University Station" after the heated waiting house at the corner of what is now NE 42nd Street (1895). The name Brooklyn is not lost, however, for Brooklyn Avenue NE runs parallel to University Way, one block west.[1] North and west of the campus, within the University District, the University Heights—a name now little used—was named for its elementary school (1903–c.1988; since 1990 the University Heights Center for the Community Association, hosts numerous activities small and large from the University District Community Clean Up to the University District Farmer's Market.[10]

But for the trolley, in early decades of the U. District Downtown was a trek, a boat, and a horsecart ride away. Given these early transportation difficulties, the U. District was largely self-sufficient, with area businesses for people with ties to the University. Construction of family homes increased in the early 1900s, as did churches, theaters, stores, and a YMCA. The district's first bank and the first local public library opened in 1906, the modest library organized by local merchants.[11]

As a result of a contest held by the University Commercial Club in 1919, 14th Avenue (by then already known as "The Avenue" or "The Ave") was renamed University Way, and the neighborhood was renamed the University District (1919).[1] The neighborhood's north-south arterials are (from west to east) Roosevelt Way NE (southbound)), 11th Avenue NE (northbound), Brooklyn Avenue NE, University Way NE, and 15th Avenue NE. NE Pacific, 45th, and part of 50th streets are principal east-west arterials, NE Campus Parkway is a minor east-west arterial, running only west of the campus.[12]


This 1980s sign painted on the side of the 1934 Blue Moon Tavern commemorates its association with the counterculture of the 1960s; the small street sign at upper right declares the alley to be "Roethke Mews" after poet Theodore Roethke, a regular at the tavern when he was a professor at the University in the 1950s and early 1960s.[13]

Every May, U District hosts an annual street fair, the first of its kind in 1971,[14] started by local merchant and dedicated peace activist Andy Shiga in 1970,[15] and the University District Farmers Market,[16] Seattle's first (1993) and largest local farmers-only neighborhood market.[17] Andy Shiga (1919–1993) of Shiga's Imports and local attorney Calmar McCune (1911–1996) long supported development of the alternative character of the U District.[18] The ASUW Experimental College,[19] founded in the college culture of 1968 by a group of UW students seeking education in areas not found in the traditional university environment, is now the largest nonprofit student-run program of its kind. Open to all, it has contributed to the cultural ambience of the U District ever since.[20] The Blue Moon Tavern has become an unofficial cultural landmark, since 1934.[21] Big Time is Seattle's original brewpub (1988).[22] Opened in 1966 Dante's Bar&Nightclub is another popular venue and is known as "a U-District tradition." Six theatres (including the Neptune built in 1921,[23] the Varsity since 1940;[24] the Grand Illusion Cinema (founded in a former dental lab in 1968 by Randy Finley,[25] now owned and run by dedicated volunteers);[26] and the (locally-owned) Scarecrow Video, the largest video store on the West Coast[27] further characterize the neighborhood.

The neighborhood's skyline landmarks (other than the UW campus) are its tallest buildings: UW Tower (formerly Safeco Plaza) and the Meany Hotel (which became the Best Western University Tower and is now known as the Graduate Seattle). The former, originally headquarters of Safeco Corporation, is located at the corner of Brooklyn Avenue NE and NE 45th Street. It was built in 1973, and at 22 stories high is the city's tallest building outside Downtown. The latter is Art Deco (1931, restored). The architect Robert Reamer gave every room a corner window.[28] A jewel of the neighborhood is the formal Neo-classical Carnegie Library (1910) on Roosevelt Way at 50th Street.[11]

Hotel Deca (formerly Meany Hotel)

In recent decades, the University District has suffered commercial decline, due at least in significant part to the more competitive planning, capital investment, and popularity of the University Village shopping center east of the campus, and Northgate Mall about 1-1/2 miles (2-1/2 km) north beside I-5. From 2002 to 2004, the city and the neighborhood have made some steps countering this trend by giving the Ave a repaving facelift including the addition of benches, bus bulbs, and period lighting.[29] The addition of benches represented the reversal of a decades-long neighborhood trend away from providing free places to sit.

The district is served by two Link light rail stations: University of Washington Station near Husky Stadium opened in 2016 as part of the University Link Extension;[30] and U District on Brooklyn Avenue near NE 45th Street which opened in October 2021 as part of the Northgate Link Extension. Light rail service connects the U District to Capitol Hill, Downtown Seattle, Rainier Valley, and Sea-Tac Airport.[31] The area around U District Station was upzoned to allow for taller buildings in 2017,[32] and 12 new high-rise buildings are planned to begin construction as of 2020.[33]

The local year-round and seasonal homeless population, referred to as "Ave Rats", is well-known around Seattle. (See The Ave.)

Fraternity and sorority members make up a sizeable portion of the local cafes' and bars' clientele, especially such establishments as Earl's and Fourno's, though well outnumbered by the Seattle campus student body of more than 39,250.[34] Other bars have a wider base of patrons, including the College Inn (built for the Alaska-Yukon Exposition in 1909)[35] and the Irish Emigrant. The University District is home to all of the UW's fraternity and sorority houses, most of them clustered along 17th Avenue NE between NE 45th and 50th Streets ("Frat Row" or "Greek Row").

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dorpat
  2. ^ "University District". Seattle City Clerk's Neighborhood Map Atlas. Office of the Seattle City Clerk. n.d., map.jpg 13 June 2002. Retrieved 2006-04-21. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Baist's Real Estate Atlas Surveys of Seattle, Wash. 1905, G. Wm. Baist, Philadelphia, 1905, plates 17 & 18.
  4. ^ Paul Dorpat, Seattle Neighborhoods: University District – Thumbnail History, HistoryLink, June 18, 2001. Accessed 4 December 2007.
  5. ^ Also spelled Dkhw'Duw'Absh, pronounced [dxʷdɐwʔabʃ].
  6. ^ Dailey, 26, ref. 2, 8
  7. ^ Similar remarks could be made about Belltown, South Lake Union, along the shores of Lake Washington (the present day route of Sand Point Way NE), and most likely Alki, Georgetown, and other locations in what is now Seattle. Sources: Anderson & Green; Dorpat; "Southern Coast Salish Territories" map Archived 2006-06-18 at the Wayback Machine in University of Washington Digital Collection. See also Duwamish tribe Lushootseed Coast Salish
  8. ^ "[illegible]"—likely "The engineer and coal passer were unhurt." Relatively.
  9. ^ (1) The mentioned streets at that time were rural, more tracks or plat lines than avenues. The run to Fremont Station was more than a mile (about 2 km). A small freight depot remains today at the foot of Stone Way N. Railroading before labor rights and worker safety was appallingly dangerous.
    (2) Photographer unknown (20 August 1894) [photo]. "Train wreck in University District, August 20, 1894" (description of photo). University of Washington Libraries. Special Collections Division. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012. Retrieved 2006-07-21. Quoted text is from the verso of the original paper print, verbatim but for grammar in square brackets.
  10. ^ Long; Eskenazi. Neighborhoods within some districts in Seattle are more or less no longer in common usage. See also Seattle neighborhoods#Public library branches, public schools, and public parks and Seattle neighborhoods#Informal districts.
  11. ^ a b Burrows
  12. ^ "Street Classification Maps". Seattle Department of Transportation. 2005. Archived from the original on 2006-06-14. Retrieved 2006-04-21.
    High-Resolution Version Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, PDF format, 16.1 MB
    Medium-Resolution Version Archived 2016-03-02 at the Wayback Machine, PDF format, 1.45 MB 12 January 2004.
    Low-Resolution Version Archived 2006-06-22 at the Wayback Machine, PDF format, 825 KB 12 January 2004.
    "Planned Arterials Map Legend Definitions" Archived 2006-01-17 at the Wayback Machine, PDF format. 12 January 2004.
    The high resolution version is good for printing, 11 x 17. The low and medium resolution versions are good for quicker online viewing. [Source: "Street Classification Maps, Note on Accessing These PDF Files" Archived 2006-06-14 at the Wayback Machine]
  13. ^ Walt Crowley, Blue Moon Tavern, An Unofficial Cultural Landmark, Essay 1001, April 1, 1999.
  14. ^ "U District Street Fair". Greater University Chamber of Commerce. 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-21. {{cite web}}: External link in |publisher= (help)
  15. ^ Crowley (revised 2004 and 9 May 2001, Essay 1126)
  16. ^ "University District Farmers' Market". Archived from the original on May 9, 2005. Retrieved 2006-04-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  17. ^ The U- District Farmers Market is Seattle's only Farmers Market that is open year-round (aside from Pike Place Market). "University District Farmers Market". Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance. 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-01-11. Retrieved 2006-04-21.
  18. ^ Crowley (19 March 2001)
  19. ^ Catalog – Experimental College. Retrieved on 2013-08-25.
  20. ^ "About the Experimental College". ASUW Experimental College (Associated Students of the University of Washington). 2002. Archived from the original on 2006-02-08. Retrieved 2006-04-21.
  21. ^ Crowley (1 April 1999)
  22. ^ Samson
  23. ^ "Neptune Theatre". Landmark Theatres. n.d. Archived from the original on January 2, 2010. Retrieved 2006-04-21.
  24. ^ "Varsity Theatre". Seattle Parks and Recreation. n.d. Archived from the original on 2006-04-22. Retrieved 2006-04-21.
  25. ^ Doug Merlino, Finley, Randy (b. 1942), HistoryLink, March 22, 2005. Accessed 1 December 2006.
  26. ^ Moe
  27. ^ D'Oh Inc.
  28. ^ University District Arts and Heritage Committee (Part 2 of 2, North Side)
  29. ^ Marmor; Dorpat; Kim
  30. ^ "University of Washington Station". Sound Transit. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  31. ^ "U District Station". Sound Transit. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
  32. ^ Stiles, Marc (March 2, 2017). "Seattle mayor sets the stage for University District high-rises". Puget Sound Business Journal. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  33. ^ Zacher, McKenna (February 19, 2020). "U-District scaling up with a dozen new towers in progress". The Daily. Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  34. ^ 3,600 instructional faculty, 27,600 faculty and staff, 39,251 student enrollment on Seattle campus (Autumn 2005), 26,444 extension enrollment (non-graded programs). "Quick Facts". UW Home > UWIN > About the UW > UW Profile. University of Washington. 18 April 2005. Archived from the original on 12 April 2006. Retrieved 2006-04-21.
  35. ^ University District Arts and Heritage Committee (Part 1 of 2, South Side)


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 47°39′18″N 122°18′12″W / 47.65500°N 122.30333°W / 47.65500; -122.30333