The first person to acquire property in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood area was David T Denny in the 1860’s. Denny’s imprint is found over much of Seattle including his gift of land in the South Lake Union / Downtown Seattle area to create the first Seattle Park in 1884: Denny Park. Denny later sold his holdings in the now Mt Baker neighborhood and it eventually landed in the hands of Hunter Tract Improvement Company. The company platted the area and named it “Mount Baker Park” because of the area’s view of the actual mountain, Mt. Baker, that lies about 100 miles north. They also named several streets after local mountains and the mountain range. Interesting enough they named McClellan Street in honor of the engineer who tried to find a railroad route through Snoqualmie Pass in 1852, who also happened to be the Commander of the Union Army prior to U.S. Grant. The area had previously been owned by a railroad company and may have been the reason for this honor.
The Mount Baker plat was filed in 1907. The Improvement Co. then created a trolley car line from town. Like many current Seattle neighborhoods, Mt. Baker was considered quite far from “town” in 1907. But unlike Madison Park, Madrona, and Leschi who tried to draw people with amusement parks, Mount Baker was designed to be a quiet neighborhood park. The plan was to be an exclusive residential area and exclusive beach.
The plan of the Hunter Improvement Co was the Seattle’s first attempt at city planning from street to sewers to exclusive covenants. To administrate and care for the community, the Mount Baker Improvement Club was organized in 1909 and incorporated in a holding company in 1914. One of their first actions must have been to build the Mount Baker Clubhouse located at 2811 Mt. Rainier Dr S (where Rainier Street and McClellan Street meet) since the building was finished in 1914. The Mount Baker Clubhouse is still active today available to be rented by anyone for weddings, fundraisers, etc.
Colman Park, located north of the original platted streets named after mountains, was originally the site of the pumping plant that supplied the city with water starting in the 1880’s. Mr. Colman was a Seattle engineer who fixed the plant in the 1880’s after engineers from the East (east meaning east coast of U.S.) were unable to fix it. In 1907 the area became a park with land being added over the next several years. The land leading down to the lake was named in Mr. Colman’s honor in 1910 after he passed away. In 1909, John Olmsted, one of the famous architects that designed some of the United States’ most well known parks, was asked about a pier at the end of Holgate Street where the pumping plant was. Olmsted recommend that it be just south at the bottom of Mount Baker Park. The pier and a boathouse were put there shortly after his recommendation.
In 1916 Lake Washington was lowered 9 feet when it was connected to Lake Union as part of the plan to connect Lake Washington to Puget Sound. This changed the beach’s landscape causing the seawall at the beach to become a retaining wall for the boulevard and the waves no longer washed against the beach steps.
Over the years, the pier and boathouse need repairs. In 1946 the Mt Baker boathouse was completely removed and replaced with new moorage for 32 craft and an on-shore boathouse. In 1950, Stan Sayres won the Gold Cup in Detroit and brought the hydroplane race event to Seattle – which today is known as Seafair. The Mount Baker boathouse became the headquarters until the Sayres Pits were built just south in 1957. By 1961, the boat moorage was unsafe and it was replaced with a fishing pier only – leaving Mount Baker residence with no place to keep their boats.
Today, one can still see the influences of the original developers. Franklin High School which moved in their building in 1912 and was refurbished in the past several years is still as impressive as when it was first built. The tree line streets in Mount Baker are still beautiful with fantastic views of Mt. Baker and Lake Washington from several streets including maybe the most desirable: Cascadia Avenue South. And the parks, beaches and clubhouse are still enjoyed by Mt. Baker residences and Seattle residences alike.