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Now You See It, Now You Don't: Franklin High School and the Mount Baker Neighborhood

This photo of the just-completed Franklin High School was taken from somewhere half-way up Beacon Hill in about 1913. The Rainier Valley streetcar tracks run across the scene along what is now Rainier Avenue. A brand-new, markedly treeless Mt. Baker Blvd. goes from Rainier Ave toward Franklin and swoops around to the left of the school. Thirty-first Avenue cuts from Mt. Baker Blvd. over to McClellan Street, barely visible on the far left of the photo. The ragged stumps in the foreground are remnants of the forest that covered much of the Rainier Valley before the 1890s.

Franklin High School began in 1906 as an annex to the first Seattle High School, located on Broadway. The overflow high school program shared space with a primary school at what is now Washington Middle School, but quickly outgrew that building as well. By 1910 the school district had acquired land at the north end of the Rainier Valley for a new high school. When the beautiful new Franklin High opened in 1912, the architects claimed it was “as complete and modern as possible,” and it was hailed as the crown jewel of the Mount Baker neighborhood – community residents even lobbied unsuccessfully to name it “Mount Baker High School.”

As the photograph shows, at that time Mount Baker was just beginning to be developed as a carefully planned upper-income community. The Hunter Tract Improvement Company was largely responsible for the distinctive look of the neighborhood today. They hired prominent landscape architects to lay out gracefully curving streets, taking advantage of the topography of the neighborhood and allowing stunning views from many of the building sites. Restrictive covenants required that houses cost $2,000 at minimum ($5,000 for some lots) – a hefty sum in those days. Houses had to be single-family residences, set back at least 25 feet from the street. And, they could not be sold to non-whites. (Though this policy was successfully challenged in court by a valiant woman called Susie Stone in 1909, the Mount Baker neighborhood remained almost exclusively white until the 1960s.)

In this photo Mount Baker is in its infancy, with most of its magnificent homes yet to be built. Several of the buildings visible in the photo are still there today, including the square wooden apartment building just in front and to the right of Franklin (today Fire Station #30 is in front of it) and the two houses with M-shaped gables on 31st Avenue.

Malmo’s Nursery occupies the land in front of Franklin High School, with its low building in the center of the photo and cultivation grounds stretching to the left. Charles Malmo started the company in the mid-1890s. It was originally based on Capitol Hill at Broadway and Pike, with a nursery and showground opening at 31st and Rainier in 1906. The Polk City Directory of that year describes Malmo & Co. as “wholesale and retail nurserymen, florists and seedsmen and importing jobbers.” The business offices move to the Mount Baker location in 1908, followed shortly by the Malmo family, who lived on Mt. Baker Blvd. Malmo’s Nursery moved to Belltown in 1917, but the family remained in the neighborhood.


"Double Exposures" and Rainier Valley Historical Society

Photography by Kerry Zimmerman

The Double Exposures project was funded by King County 4Culture and by Rainier Rotary.


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