SEATTLE’S MOST ELEVATED vista is not well-known Queen Anne, Magnolia or Capitol Hill. At 512 feet, it’s West Seattle’s High Point.
The name bespeaks lofty aspirations.
It surfaced in the April 11, 1926, Seattle Times: “High Point, so named because of the commanding position it occupies, will be the next fine residence addition to go on the market here … and will be one of the most sightly subdivisions in that part of West Seattle.”
Indeed, the potential was high for the midpeninsula plats just north of the “summit.” But ravages of the Great Depression soon intervened.
Prompted by late-1930s New Deal money, the state created the Seattle Housing Authority, which snapped up big parcels, including High Point, to aid the downtrodden. It wasn’t easy, as the agency’s charge drew flak from those viewing public housing and integration as “socialism.”
With war looming, however, the feds redirected funds to bolster defense, so the barracks-style housing built in 1942 at High Point became home to a surge of Boeing and shipyard workers.
High Point reverted to the original mission in 1953 and for the next 50 years served 15,000 low-income, racially diverse families.
By the 1990s, wracked by civic inattention and growing crime, the deteriorated units merited federal help aimed at “severely distressed” areas, and in 2004, razing began on the High Point of old.
Rising in its place over the past 15 years has been a novel neighborhood. Its kaleidoscope of green features includes a park; a bee garden; and a large pond to go with a new library branch, health clinic, senior complex and community center. Moreover, the project intersperses 854 market-rate dwellings with 675 low-income rentals.
The transformation was so profound that Tom Phillips wrote a book. Phillips, who spent his childhood in Mount Baker, shepherded the redevelopment for the housing authority — a “dream job” after Peace Corps and VISTA stints and work in urban planning and community organizing.
“I was given 120 acres — to plan it and build it,” he says. “It’s a lifetime opportunity that nobody ever gets, and it’s not out in the suburbs. It’s in the city I grew up in.”
His book, “High Point: The Inside Story of Seattle’s First Green, Mixed-Income Neighborhood,” reveals the project’s sometimes-bumpy ride to fruition, including missteps that cost the “food desert” of nearby 35th Avenue a supermarket. But it also celebrates renewed life and an invigorated reputation for a district whose name has proclaimed optimism for the past century.
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