Ballard is a neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. Incorporated as an independent city in 1890, it was annexed by Seattle in 1907, but has retained much of its old Scandinavian flavor. Its major landmarks include the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (usually referred to as the "Ballard Locks" locally), the Nordic Heritage Museum, and Golden Gardens Park. It is bounded by Crown Hill, north of N.W. 85th Street; Phinney Ridge and Fremont, east of 8th Avenue N.W.; Salmon Bay (part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal to the south); and Shilshole Bay (part of Puget Sound) to the west.
The first homesteader in the area was one Ira Wilcox Utter, who filed his claim in 1852. Thirty-six years later, John Leary, Judge Thomas Burke, and railroader Daniel H. Gilman formed the West Coast Improvement Company to develop Burke's land holdings in the area in anticipation of the coming of the Great Northern Railway, whose tracks would be laid along the Salmon Bay coastline on their way to Interbay and points south. They also had a spur built off the main line of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad from Fremont. Three miles (5 km) of this line are now operated as the Ballard Terminal Railroad, which runs along Salmon Bay from N.W. 40th Street to the BNSF Railway mainline at N.W. 67th.
William Rankin Ballard, owner of land adjoining Judge Burke's holdings, subsequently joined Burke, Leary, and Gilman, and took over management of the development, then called Gilman Park. Upon incorporation in 1890, the settlement took Ballard's name, and operated as an independent city for 17 years.
The neighborhood's main thoroughfares are Seaview, 32nd, 24th, Leary, 15th, and 8th Avenues N.W. (north- and southbound), and N.W. Leary Way and N.W. 85th, 80th, 65th, and Market Streets (east- and westbound). The Ballard Bridge carries 15th Avenue over Salmon Bay to Interbay, and the Salmon Bay Bridge carries the BNSF Railway tracks over the bay, west of the locks.
Ballard is the traditional center of Seattle's ethnically Scandinavian seafaring community, although in recent years the decline of the fishing industry and gentrification have both made inroads into the actual demographics. For years, Ballard remained a cliché in local humor, especially its reputation for overly cautious, elderly drivers.
Ballard also contains Ballard High School, soon to be the largest in the district.
Ballard Avenue N.W. between N.W. Market Street and N.W. Dock Place was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
A Neighborhood in Transition
In the first decade of the 21st century, Ballard emerged as one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Seattle. Its live music scene expanded, with leading venues like the Tractor Tavern (founded 1994) and Mr. Spot's Chai House; the Second Saturday artwalk became a popular and established tradition (although off the radar of local critics and curators); and the restaurant, boutique, and cafe scene exploded. Part of this resurgence of activity was attributable to the rediscovery of in-town neighborhoods that was occurring elsewhere at the same time, part to the growing affluence of Seattle and the region, and part to the attractiveness of Ballard as a community, with its historic district and "the road ends here" geography. The remodel of the historic Bay Theater – the oldest continuously operating movie house west of the Mississippi – from a failing single-screen theater to a well-appointed triplex catalyzed the gentrification of the downtown district, attracting people to Ballard from outside of the area. In 2005, a new library building, designed by architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, was opened as part of the Seattle Public Libraries' "Libraries for All" initiative.
The retail and artistic activity has been accompanied by a real estate boom. As of early 2006, ten major condominium/retail projects were underway within a five-block radius of the downtown Ballard core. This growing density is looked at with ambivalence by most of the community, but is inevitable as it had been written into the neighborhood plan created under the administration of Mayor Norm Rice which aimed to reduce suburban sprawl by targeting certain Seattle areas for high-density development. The influx of new residents will undoubtedly create further traffic congestion in the community; the relative lack of mass transit linking Ballard to other Seattle neighborhoods, and scarcity of parking in central Ballard are issues that have not been resolved. Transit and growth remain the two most contentious issues regionwide, with little strong leadership from local politicians.
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