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Historic Homes and Buildings Can be Found in Ballard—One of Seattle’s Oldest Neighborhoods

While many urban neighborhood associations tout their districts’ “unique” mixture of historic charm and modern conveniences, few have the goods to back up these assertions. More often, new arrivals are treated to a functional but drab array of utilitarian residential and commercial buildings sprinkled with a few older Art-Deco structures. 

This isn’t the case in Ballard. In fact, the district is recognized as one of the most historically-significant parts of Seattle and boasts a thriving, multi-block central business district that provides most of the services that local residents need on a weekly basis. What’s more, the charming early 20th-century row-houses and Victorian structures of this gorgeous neighborhood are just a 15-minute drive from the heart of downtown Seattle. It’s no exaggeration to say that few American neighborhoods offer such an attractive balance of history, culture, convenience, modern amenities and affordability. 

Neighborhood History

Ballard began its existence as an independent city during the waning years of the 19th century. As the terminus of the Salmon Bay Railway spur and a popular place for the mom-and-pop mills that were sprouting up along the shores of the Puget Sound during that time, the city became an economic hub as well as a notorious saloon district. “Ballard City” was founded in 1890 and quickly grew into an important satellite city of Seattle. For a time, it seemed as if the city might overtake its southern neighbor: Ballard escaped the devastation of the 1889 Seattle Fire and grew rapidly in its aftermath thanks to the wholesale relocation of many important businesses.

Of course, this didn’t happen. However, plenty of Victorian and Beaux-Arts structures from Ballard’s early days as an independent city survive to the present. What’s more, Ballard’s extensive business district serves as a reminder of its origins. Although the district was eventually annexed by the rapidly-expanding city of Seattle in 1907, its independent streak has never died. 

Living in Ballard: Attractions for Residents

Today, the Ballard Historical Society and the Nordic Heritage Museum both celebrate the area’s northern European and Scandinavian roots. The nationally-recognized Ballard Avenue Historic District that stretches for several blocks along Ballard Avenue between Market Street and Dock Place features a variety of turn-of-the-20th-century commercial buildings. Many of these are built in the classic heavy-brick Scandinavian style. These days, the mixed-use neighborhood just inland from Ballard is popular with post-grads and professionals who wish to experience the charm of an old-school West Coast boomtown.

Amid all this historic charm, Ballard is a functioning residential and commercial center that provides its residents with a unique perspective on the city in which they live. Thanks to beloved local businesses like Lafferty’s Pharmacy, Portalis Wine Shop & Wine Bar and the Urban Family Public House, Ballard is vibrant even by Seattle’s high standards. Along the Salmon Bay waterfront, functional shipyards mingle with technology start-ups run by the neighborhood’s growing cadre of affluent young people. The area’s dynamism is infectious.

To house these new arrivals, the neighborhood has welcomed large-scale condo and apartment development on the outskirts of its historic district. In fact, Ballard is one of the “target neighborhoods” for Seattle’s sustainability-focused master plan and looks poised to add several thousand new residents in the coming years. Since 2005, around three-dozen significant residential construction projects have transformed the area’s look and feel without sidelining its essential character. 

Ballard’s attractiveness to new residents and business owners is matched only by the convenience that it offers for its inhabitants. Those who don’t work at the sprawling Swedish Medical Center complex in the center of the district can commute to downtown Seattle by way of 15th Avenue or Aurora Avenue in as little as 15 minutes.

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