The Seattle street named for two Roosevelts
In the 1920s, before Interstate 5, State Route 99 and the Aurora Bridge, traffic in Seattle was all about surface streets. The road known as 10th Avenue NE was the main north-south route north of downtown Seattle. Drivers of all those Model-Ts and other early cars got to 10th Avenue NE by heading north on Eastlake Avenue and then crossing the University Bridge, which had opened to great fanfare in 1919.
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The year 1919 was also when popular former president Theodore Roosevelt died in January. Local tributes to Teddy began almost immediately. Ravenna Park was renamed Roosevelt Park in April 1919. The big new high school in the works on NE 65th was named for him sometime that summer.
By the mid 1920s, with the park and especially the school in its midst, the neighborhood came to be informally known as the Roosevelt district. But local merchants wanted to make it more official, and in November 1927 they launched a campaign to rename busy 10th Avenue NE after Teddy. At a late autumn festival, the community celebrated the installation of a new street lighting system, and crafted a simple slogan to promote the renaming effort: “Welcome ‘Roosevelt Way’ Lights.”
The lights were a bright spot in the neighborhood, but for some reason, the street renaming efforts dimmed. And then Teddy took a hit in 1931 when the name of Roosevelt Park was changed back to Ravenna Park.
But politics has a way of serving up unexpected developments.
Fast-forward to May 1933, and the main drag through the Roosevelt district had been bypassed by the Aurora Bridge. But, another Roosevelt – Franklin Delano, Republican Teddy’s Democrat cousin – was in the White House. The local merchants’ association relaunched their campaign to rename 10th Avenue NE.
This time, they collected signatures on a petition asking that the street be renamed for both Roosevelts. It was the darkest years of the Great Depression, and Franklin had defeated Herbert Hoover in the 1932 election. FDR was a pretty popular guy in liberal 1930s Seattle.
In June 1933, the Roosevelt boosters presented their petition to the city’s Board of Public Works. It was signed by 300 people and asked that the street be renamed Roosevelt Way in honor of both presidents. The Seattle Times reported that there was “fairly voluminous protest” against the rechristening, but mainly from business owners along the northern portion of the road. The board sided with the pro-Roosevelt group and forwarded their recommendation to the Seattle City Council.
Later that year, on October 30, 1933, the Seattle City Council voted to make the change. Roosevelt Way, named for a deceased former president and a living, sitting president, was official.
A few weeks later, The Seattle Times weighed in on their editorial pages. The paper in those years was not a big supporter of the 32nd president.
“This change, we assume, must be pleasing to local Democrats of all sorts and shades. At the same time, due to the incidence of somewhat tenuous family ties, it cannot be at all displeasing to Republicans,” the editorial read. “The name of Roosevelt has high standing in both political parties, as indeed it has throughout the world.”
“Even now it is quite certain that those who may traverse our Roosevelt Way in years to come will neither know nor particularly care whether it was named for Teddy or for Frank.”