What was Soundway?

By Alan Robertson

Oxbow Bridge Feb 24, 1916 Seattle Municipal Archives

In 1953, a new 1st Ave S. bridge was being planned. This would replace an Oxbow swing bridge built in 1911 to replace a wood bridge built in the 1890’s (more info). In conjunction with the bridge, there was a desire to build freeways into what were then the suburban areas of Burien and SW Seattle. I509 was built as part of this, but “Sound Way” never was. The intent was not to connect to a bridge to Vashon, as is popularly repeated, but plans for that connection were to be considered in the design.

“Sound Way” would have traveled up through (a deep cut would be made) the hill, just South of SSCC. It would then wrap SW through where the Puget Ridge Cohousing is, at 17th and Myrtle, continuing down Orchard and cutting through the hill to Delridge. It would continue SW and eventually dump out at 23rd and Roxbury, about three blocks East of where Safeway is now. In a manner very similar to I509, it would just end there and feed into the arterials.

The plans were fairly uncertain.

The Department of Engineering (DOE), now Seattle Department of Transportation, was only authorized to buy vacant land. If you look at a satellite view of the area, you can see a combination a greenbelt and newer construction (where the land was sold) that is the path it would have taken.

Klinker Gravel Pit May 20, 1958 Seattle Municipal Archives

The property had been owned by Klinker Sand and Gravel which was mining the property with an eye for ending up with large flat areas for housing developments. The Department of Engineering city bought some of the property outright and then traded their own sand and gravel operations, located where South Seattle Community College is now, for the remainder.

The DOE then built a service road from the base of Highland Park Way up to 14th Ave SW and SW Holly St, with a specified 10% grade. This allowed the city to use this property as a Sand and Gravel pit to provide fill for the 1st Ave South bridge construction. Most of this road remains intact today.

1st Ave South Bridge May 1, 1916

New interest in bringing a freeway up the hill was introduced with the planning of SSCC. At the time, West Seattle had two primary access points from the rest of Seattle. One was the (single) 1st Avenue South Bridge and the dual draw bridges on Spokane Street. The school wanted an easier way for students to drive. This became worse in 1978 when Rolf Neslund rammed the Chavez into one of the Spokane Street bridges. Once the Jeanette Williams Memorial Bridge was completed in 1984, the consideration of another approach was dropped.


Soundway as Greenspace

In the 1980’s, a portion of the property purchased for Soundway was designated as greenbelt by a City Council that intended that the property was to remain green. This included Councilmember Jeanette Williams with her (then) legislative aide Tom Rasmussen. Apparently, this designation is not considered permanent, setting up a battle just a little more than a decade later.

Saving Soundway

In 2003, the City of Seattle Fleets and Facilities Department recommended that 7 acres of greenbelt north of SW Holly be sold to developers. The City estimated that 39 detached homes could be built amongst the Environmentally Critical Areas of the Soundway property. The mayor “generously” offered to designate the lower portion as an addition to the West Duwamish Greenbelt. It is important to note that the portion of property that was transferred for Greenbelt was the portion that had been scraped clean for its sand and gravel. The portion to be sold for development was the only relatively untouched portion of property remaining.

Many people in the neighborhood opposed this development and became actively involved in keeping Soundway as part of the greenbelt. This was taken on by the Riverview Neighborhood Council and Nature Consortium and included people from outside of the West Seattle area. This battle was exacerbated by poor economic times wreaking havoc on government budgets.

Many people contributed to this effort. It seemed like one person would burn out and another would pick up the torch. I do not believe that we would have been successful if not for Nancy Whitlock and Nature Consortium. Nancy was fearless in asking for money and assistance from the State Legislature. She ended up securing $500,000 during a time when budgets were already strained.

I was also inspired by Jeanette Williams. I had written a letter to the editor, which she had seen. This is back when the PI was a real newspaper and people had landlines listed in the phonebook. I came home one day to find I had a message on my answering machine. The voice of an elderly woman said that she had read my letter to the editor and wanted to help. She didn’t suggest any ability to do so, but left her name and number. My first thought was “how sweet”. Then I thought the name sounded familiar and did some research before calling her back.

Jeanette had been key in designating this property as greenbelt in the 1980’s and thought that it would stay that way. When told that some of the proceeds would go to the Wing Luke Museum, she let out a gasp and said “Wing Luke was my friend and he would never want greenbelt sold for a project in his name.” I met with her twice in her home and she was just a genuinely nice person that happened to have been a political powerhouse. She gave me great advice, contacted Tom Rasmussen to remind him of their earlier work on the property and pointed me in the direction of other people that could help.

Designated Greenbelt

West Duwamish Greenbelt 2015 Seattle Municipal Archives

After much negotiation, the Mayor’s office announced in 2005 that the property would be saved for green space. The Mayor and everyone on the City Council applauded this decision, whether they had supported our efforts or not.

Related News and Document Links

Cathy Kiyomura, October 28, 2004
Neighbors see red over plans to sell greenbelt

Seattle Times
Bob Young, November 3, 2004
Foes fighting mayor’s plan to sell land

Bob Young, November 13, 2004
“People first” budget OK’d: City Council adds $6 million to mayor’s plan

Seattle PI
John Iwasaki December 1, 2004
Group needs $1 million to save wildlife haven in West Seattle

Letter to the Editor: January 20th, 2005
Property not the city’s only item on budget 
Note: The letter referenced is the second one down. This letter brought support from former City Councilmember Jeanette Williams.

Susan Paynter, April 22, 2005
Going for the Green: Soundway Preservationists dig in to raise money

John Iwasaki, April 22, 2005
Tree-planting frenzy for Earth Day
Riverview Neighborhood Council
Resolution presented to the City Council during the 2005 Budget Hearings by the Riverview Neighborhood Council

Mayor’s Office press release, September 14, 2005
Nickels saves open space in West Seattle

West Seattle Blog
June 18, 2009
Preservation of West Seattle “Soundway” property moves forward