Montlake Boulevard

Montlake Boulevard is located in the Montlake and University District neighborhoods and runs between the northern starting point of Lake Washington Boulevard immediately south of the SR 520 corridor and NE 45th Street.

Montlake Boulevard, originally called University Boulevard, was a key connection in John Charles Olmsted’s 1903 plan for Seattle’s parks and boulevards. As planned, the boulevard would connect Lake Washington Boulevard with the university campus, from there ascending through campus and eventually joining Ravenna Boulevard to the north.

The boulevard was to be the grand automobile entrance to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) connecting north from Lake Washington Boulevard. Olmsted had initially envisioned the boulevard continuing along the lake shore north of Washington Park to the edge of the canal (see East Montlake Park description), rather than bisecting the Montlake neighborhood. Olmsted had also hoped that the boulevard system would continue through the University grounds and connect north and then west to Green Lake. A connection through the University was never formalized, although for several decades after the AYPE one could enter the campus from the south and connect to the circuit drive of Steven’s Way Olmsted had laid out for the World’s Fair.

The boulevard made it possible for visitors to drive along the scenic route to the fair, while a new streetcar line provided access to the fair from downtown. In their 1909 annual report, the Board of Park commissioners wrote, “Special efforts were made and heavy expenditures were required in carrying out our plan to have our north and south chain of boulevards along or overlooking Lake Washington from the Mount Baker district, north to the Exposition grounds, open for traffic, so that our Eastern visitors might enjoy the beauties of our lake and mountain scenery.”

Olmsted’s design for Montlake Boulevard called for two feet of turf closest to the private property lines, 8 feet of cement sidewalks, and 14 feet of turf and trees between the sidewalk and street. Between the two 24-foot roadways, he laid out a 54-foot center strip with four rows of tulip trees and small shrubs, with vines running up the trolley and utility poles. The tracks for the trolley line that would run down the center strip were laid flush with the ground level so they would not intrude upon the visual effect of the design.

Olmsted’s system plan called for the boulevard to run through the university campus and connect with what is now 17th Avenue NE, and then continue from there to Ravenna Boulevard. After the AYPE, the University of Washington Board of Regents declined to allow the road to cross campus, so the boulevard followed a different route along the shore of Lake Washington on land owned by the state. Montlake Boulevard is now a segment of State Route 513. The landscaped center strip is owned and maintained by Seattle’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

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