By Greg Shaw, MHS Board member and Windermere Real Estate Agent and
Monica Wooton, MHS Board member
Magnolia is almost an island. Because of this, from the early settlement of Seattle to the present day this fact has affected the neighborhood, its growth and values. Access was difficult early on with timber, hills, tide flats and marsh separating it from the rest of Seattle. It took tons of fill to make most of the land mass where Smith Cove, the piers, Thorndyke on up to Interbay and Dravus now exist.
Many early homes by the water were vacation homes for some living “in town”. Wooden trestles helped some settle on Magnolia in the early years. And, the Magnolia Bridge built by 1930 also brought more here to live. But, it was not until the late 1940’s after the World War II (WWII) building boom that Magnolia really began to develop, e.g. Magnolia Boulevard was not even completed until the 1950’s. Late development, access with only three entrances and exit points has helped Magnolia remain as a destination rather than an integrated part of Seattle. Traffic never flows through Magnolia it only goes to or from Magnolia. Retail development in the Village has remained limited because of this.
Modern Home Builders came in the 1940’s and built hundreds of units for young families many with covenants which did not allow persons of color except household help or even song birds. Because of the Navy Piers and Fort part of the housing stock was military housing filled with families who would not make Magnolia a permanent home. This created some spots of density on Magnolia by Manor Place and on 34th as they were built-out or replaced.
Author Shaw’s parents’ first home was purchased in 1939 for $1,700. Located on 30th Avenue West between Tilden and Emerson, three adjoining 6,000 SF lots were available for $200 each but they could not afford to purchase them at that time. 30th Avenue West remained unpaved until the mid-50’s. In 1962, the Shaw’s moved east to a home on the other side of the alley on 29th Avenue West. The purchase price was $14,500.
Across the street from this home, a home purchased for $375,000 in 2012, was rented and 2 years later torn down to make room for a large newly built home which just sold for $1,549,000 approximately 2,000 square feet larger and approximately 100 times the original purchase price of Shaw’s parents home. The home Wooton grew up in, built by her father in 1957 on a corner lot, 2400 square feet, 5 bedrooms and 2 baths (the lot about $900 and building cost under $20,000) has appreciated (with some updating but without major renovations) to about $800,000.
There are no longer any vacant lots to build new homes in Magnolia, an existing home must be torn down. Approximately ten years ago a teardown could be purchased for around $300,000, currently (and, hard to find) a teardown now is closer to $600,000. Typically, a builder who pays $600,000 needs to be able to sell the finished home for approximately three times the purchase price just to cover all costs. The most expensive recent tear down was $1,295,000 on Magnolia Boulevard.
At one time different sections of Magnolia brought diverse prices. It used to be that homes on Magnolia were priced by location in the neighborhood: homes and lots on the lower part of the east hill were less than those by 28th Avenue West and those were more than those in the valley (Pleasant Valley – 32nd to 34th Avenue West that runs North to South.) Those on the west hill went for much more – those closer to the Boulevard and those with views for much, much more. To new buyers looking for a home in Magnolia it is more about the house, just being in Magnolia and not as much the location within Magnolia. Today, almost all parts of Magnolia support the sale of a new home at 1.5 million.
“Magnolia almost an island” has controlled destiny keeping Magnolia in some ways close to the way it was 50 years ago. But, for the first time city allowances for densifying are beginning to change the face and size of this single residence neighborhood as single lots are becoming places of two large homes replacing the small footprint of one small WWII home. Diverse architecture mixed with Tudors or mid-century, is also becoming a reality. On the fringes of the neighborhood single homes built on multi-unit zoned lots are being torn down and many small units with few to no parking spaces are being allowed. Where Gorman’s Automotive Shop and 3 old houses stood on Gilman Avenue West two years ago, 25 units are now being built. Speculation that this is just another housing bubble seems to be allayed by the fact that the economy is strong and experts like Windermere and WFG Title Company feel it will continue as is for some time.
Today, the proximity of Magnolia to downtown and the relative ease to get there, its mainly residential zoning and good public schools has made it a much sought after place to raise a family. And, much like New York, San Francisco and L.A. neighborhoods, close to the city with family amenities like great parks, good pedestrian ratings, and it’s mainly residential zoning only seem to increase in value. This makes it hard for older folks to keep up with taxes or downsize and stay in the neighborhood and community they have spent a lifetime contributing and enjoying.