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Molly Graham is a country girl at heart. So when she decided to live and work in the city, Graham looked for a neighborhood that would balance the best of city and country life.

She found the answer 17 years ago just off Interstate 90 in Bellevue’s Enatai neighborhood.

Situated on Lake Washington, residents have quick access to Interstate 90 as well as Interstate 405. They can be in downtown Bellevue in just a few minutes and downtown Seattle in less than 15 minutes.

While many Eastside neighborhoods enjoy proximity to freeways, Enatai feels a bit like a trip back in time. Towering trees and large shrubbery provide an escape that makes one feel as if the city’s amenities should be much more distant.

“It is close to Bellevue, but it feels miles away,” says Martha Lane, who grew up in the neighborhood and moved back five years ago.

She often sees eagles, blue herons and other wildlife that enjoy the woodsy waterfront neighborhood, officially designated a “wooded residential sub-area” of Bellevue.

It also surrounds on three sides the quaint, tiny lakefront municipality of Beaux Arts Village, which has about 300 residents and was founded in 1908.

While the majestic trees and rustic nature set Enatai apart from many suburbs, being on the lake also adds to the peaceful nature. The city of Bellevue has three waterfront parks in Enatai, and they are popular gathering spots in the summer.

Enatai Beach Park, which is under the I-90 bridge, has seasonal canoe rentals and is near an entrance to the Mercer Slough, a popular place for canoe adventures. Chism Park and Chesterfield Park also have beaches.

“It is sort of like living at a resort,” says Shannon Bergstedt, who frequents the beaches year round for walks with her dog.

Bergstedt’s backyard has been designated a “backyard wildlife sanctuary” by the state of Washington and her garden has been featured on a tour by the Northwest Perennial Alliance.

“Being by the water is something special. I love to go and sit by the water. It is so serene,” says Bergstedt, who has lived in Enatai for 27 years.

Adding to the serenity of the neighborhood is the 56-year-old St. Mary-on-the-Lake private convent, a secluded 11-acre waterfront campus for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

Range of prices

The price of homes recently put up for sale in Enatai range from $399,900 for a 1,200-square-foot rambler to a $5.2 million waterfront estate, according to Jody Blohm, a real-estate agent with TEC Real Estate who also has lived in Enatai for 15 years.

“Enatai is very family friendly and commuter friendly. It is like a small town where neighbors look out for one another,” Blohm says.

The neighborhood is in southwest Bellevue. Across the city, the median sale price of a single-family house was $561,200 in March, up 8.8 percent from a year earlier, according to data from Seattle-based But according to the Zillow Home Value Index, the median value of all single-family houses in Bellevue — not just homes recently sold — was $493,600, down 7.6 percent during that one-year period, Zillow said.

The median price of a condo that sold in Bellevue was $315,000 in March, down 18.6 percent from a year ago, according to Zillow, while the Zillow Home Value Index put the median value for all condos at $274,800, down 9.9 percent.

Variety of styles

The majority of houses in Enatai were built in the 1950s and 1960s, but there are a few older homes that are from the early 1900s.

Enatai was built with a variety of housing styles and lot sizes, designed with very few cul-de-sacs and with narrower winding streets to accommodate the landscape and avoid having it become a common shortcut through Bellevue.

Change has been occurring in Enatai, though, as new residents move in and tear down the older homes. The majority of the new homes are in the Craftsman style, befitting the traditional-looking lakeside community.

Along with the demolition of the older houses, has come the cutting of trees. It is easy to drive through the neighborhood and go from a heavily wooded sanctuary to a street that has been clear cut and replaced with new homes. Some residents have started a committee to limit the number of trees that can be cut down on one lot.

“We want people to see the value of trees,” says Lane. “They are a habitat for all the wildlife here. They provide stabilization for the soil, privacy and protection for the houses, and they cut down on the noise from the freeway. They provide shade, beauty and they are good for the air.”

Historically, this area of lakefront was a part of a ferry system that linked the Eastside, Mercer Island and Seattle before the I-90 and 520 bridges were built. One of the ferries was called the Enatai, a Native American term meaning “beyond” or “across the water.”

Heavy logging cleared the path for development in the late 1800s, but trees were quickly replanted and many of the trees people see now are more than 100 years old. In the early 1900s, Enatai and the surrounding area was also used for farmland, including a large holly farm, which was the largest supplier of holly in the United States at the time.

Deep roots

The community ties run deep in Enatai. Many residents grew up in the neighborhood and decided to come back, including Lane, who says she regularly sees friends from high school who have returned to the area.

The neighborhood also has a number of activities, typically organized by people on various streets of Enatai. One area has an annual Octoberfest, while another has a back-to-school ice-cream social and Halloween events. There are many annual block parties.

The Triangle Pool is a community pool in Enatai that serves as a gathering place for neighbors. The land for the pool was donated by the Buck family of Enatai in 1960, and funds to build the pool were raised by a combination of a bank loan and donations by 150 community residents who became the founding members.

Enatai has been called a “quiet town within the city,” and is a unique area deeply loved by many of its residents.

“It’s a very social neighborhood, and people take pride in their property and take care of it,” says Amy Hart, who is president of the Triangle Pool Association and purchased a home in Enatai in 1999. “I love the sunny days when all the kids are outside playing.”