Sunday, July 22, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Once Out In The Country, View Ridge Celebrates Its Growth -- A Fine Development


When Ralph Jones announced plans to clear a hillside for housing in unincorporated King County, there was no community opposition.

The land had no roads, no sidewalks, no bus service, no sewer, water or electricity, and was a long commute from downtown Seattle. Yet no one complained of suburban sprawl and the loss of green space.

The year was 1935.

People worried about survival, not growth.

Today, attitudes toward growth are more complex, perhaps a luxury of good times. What Jones and others made by hacking and burning forest land is now View Ridge, a mature, affluent neighborhood in northeast Seattle, a quiet community of trimmed lawns and six-digit assessments.

The View Ridge Community Council recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The featured attraction was Jones himself, who lives with his wife, Grace, in the home he built in 1936, the development's fourth house. Several original buyers still live in their homes, whose values have soared from $5,000-$10,000 to $230,000-$600,000 today.

``You drive around and admire how it's turned out and how people have kept things up,'' says Jones, 87, who sits in his den and recalls a career in real-estate development and years of world travel. The room is filled with a mounted moose head, photographs of natives in exotic lands, a sword, and old Winchester rifle and a rotary-dial phone.

The Jones' home, today assessed at $418,000, overlooks the old Sand Point naval air station, which buzzed with air traffic during World War II and whose airfield was buried to help create Magnuson Park. Looking across Lake Washington, Jones has watched Eastside residential development crawl upward from the shoreline into the hills. There was no Bellevue when Jones conceived View Ridge, which Seattle annexed in 1942. The development was bounded by Northeast 65th Street on the south, 50th Avenue Northeast on the west, Northeast 70th Street on the north and 51th Avenue Northeast on the east. Over time, the development was expanded to close to 200 acres.

Like the Sequoia he planted in front of his home, Jones has put his roots deep in the neighborhood. The tree is 60-70 feet tall, a giant over his one-story home.

``It's a nice community to live in,'' Jones says. ``People don't want to move away. You buy a community as much as a house.''

Virginia Pellegrini is a longtimer. She came to View Ridge during its second wave, during World War II, when demand for housing was high. People had money but the war made construction materials scarce.

She and her husband, Angelo, bought a half-finished house for $6,000, less $500 for landscaping they agreed to do themselves. Angelo at the time was a teaching fellow at the University of Washington. Today, he is a professor emeritus and a celebrated author. Angelo in the early years spent hundreds of hours removing clay from their yard to build a vegetable garden that was featured in some of his books.

Virginia Pellegrini remembers a cloud of dust as she, at 32, pushed a baby buggy across the development's dirt roads. Later the residents pooled their money and had the dirt oiled, which meant black gunk was tracked into homes.

``In terms of urban living, it was fairly primitive,'' she says.

When Jones and partner Albert Balch filed their subdivision request with the King County Auditor in 1935, it made headlines as the county's first land development in 2 1/2 years. A United Press dispatch called it ``the first of its kind in Washington State and believed to be one of the first in the nation since the Depression.''

Jones and Balch, both of whom worked for radio stations owned by the Fisher family, had bought their 10 acres from Seattle physician Carl Neu who, Jones says, couldn't make the tax payment on the land. Jones does not recall what the sale price was, only that they needed $25 down and $1,000 cash in 30 days. (Balch, who separately went on to develop other North Seattle communities, remained in his View Ridge home until his death in 1976.)

Jones and Balch faced big risks. ``I had just gotten married and everybody thought I was crazy to get into real estate,'' Jones says.

Few people in Seattle had cash and the land was considered remote. Second-growth trees obscured views that would attract buyers. Dynamite, saws, bulldozers and horses would clear the land. To find young buyers willing to live in the countryside, Jones tapped into his University of Washington fraternity network.

The developers did have one significant advantage - they were hype masters whose newspaper friends made them celebrities. ``What a team that is at View Ridge,'' gushed the Post-Intelligencer. ``Al Balch the laughable one, and his partner, Ralph Jones, the silent one!''

Jones and Balch made View Ridge a continuing news story. First they grabbed attention by the audacity of their plans, then they drew crowds to watch the clearing of brush and trees, which went into huge bonfires. Every person who bought property earned an item in the papers. Editors loved the story.

There was always a new angle: ``Many educators planning homes in new addition,'' declared the University District Herald, noting that the former Seattle schools superintendent, Thomas Cole, and some professors and schoolteachers were buyers. That article was sent to other teachers and professors, who were invited to buy.

One article described View Ridge, with its ``scenic panorama,'' as ``one of the most active of the city's new residential districts.'' Another 1938 feature showed a picture of Mrs. V.J. Spinner bent over as she loaded a pie into the oven. The article said cooking and baking were pleasant household tasks in the cheerful kitchen decorated in ivory and red. Venetian blinds hung from the windows. The article noted that Spinner, who wore high heels and a brightly colored apron, was standing on a linoleum, ``which conceals soil to a work-saving degree.''

``Anything we sent in, they printed it,'' Jones says.

In an article Jones wrote in the late '30s or early '40s, he stressed the importance of having an architect design a home, a View Ridge requirement, and he described buyers' tastes:

``The modern house need not be of severe lines with a flat roof to be strictly modern. I have found a distinct dislike of the extreme or ultra-modern block house type by those who have visited our addition.''

A carefully planned home gives the owner satisfaction, Jones wrote:

``The feeling experienced at seeing a home being built as you planned it, on the site and in the district you selected, can bring as great satisfaction to you as the erection of a tepee in the back yard brought to the wrinkled old Indian woman of the frontier days.''

Jones told buyers that now was a good time to buy. Pent-up demand for housing would boost the value of homes, he argued.

Lots were 50 feet wide by 125 feet deep and priced at $450-$950. (The last vacant lot at View Ridge sold in 1988 for $100,000, Jones says.) Balch and Jones quickly covered their balloon payment. When competitors announced the Hawthorne Hills development, they had a better product but no salesmanship, Jones says. Hawthorne Hills had sewers, electricity, roads and was within city limits.

``They had everything. We had nothing,'' Jones says. The developers of Hawthorne eventually ran into financial problems and the project went into receivership. View Ridge beat them with ``just publicity and ballyhoo,'' Jones says.

To service View Ridge, Jones established his own utilities. He bought water from Seattle and ran pipes to the lots. (Some owners griped about rates and refused to pay, Jones says.) Septic tanks were built for sewage. Puget Sound Power & Light Co. and Seattle City Light, each scrambling for business, brought electricity to the homes.

Construction followed strict rules, administered by an architectural committee. Each home had to be set back to protect view corridors. No styles were specified, only that they ``conform'' with the rest of the neighborhood.

The development was advertised as being restricted: ``Your home and family are protected from undesirable encroachments.'' But Jones says that term only described architectural rules; the development had no racial or religious restrictions, he says. Jones recalls one black man, a Boeing worker, as being interested in seeing the development. Jones says he agreed to show some property but convinced the man the commute from Boeing was too long.

View Ridge today has virtually no blacks. The 1980 census showed a population that was 93.6 percent white.

The development made national news in 1938 when Life magazine selected three homes in the development as part of a 22-page spread on homes that could be built for average families of incomes of $2,000-$10,000.

One Life photo shows Jones, in double-breasted suit and hat, holding a model of a home as he stood on a wooded lot (his own, as it turns out) overlooking the lake, with the sequoia to his right. ``The Life Homes,'' as they came to be known, were the magazine's proof that homes could be built at affordable prices.

The basic look of homes at View Ridge was ``traditional,'' although there were innovations. Some houses came with two-car garages, at a time when hardly anyone had more than one car. Many came with large corner windows to take in the view. The Life homes came with an Oil-O-Matic for their furnaces (installed cost: $279.50).

The hype worked. Local spinoffs of the Life feature prompted many to take the 10-cent bus ride from the city. One Sunday drew 3,500 visitors to the development, Jones and Balch told the newspapers. If the number can be believed, that represented almost 10 percent of Seattle's population that year, 365,583 people.

Carl Pruzan came out, saw the view, and instantly wanted to buy. Pruzan bought his lot in 1940 and moved into a completed house in 1941. Outside the house, there was a dirt road and no sidewalks. Pruzan still lives there.

``It was considered way out in the sticks,'' says Pruzan, a lawyer. ``My friends thought I was nuts to live out that far because no one would visit.''

Pruzan paid $1,500 for a lot and a half. Construction of the house cost $6,500.

Charles Kaplan came later. He still lives in the View Ridge home he bought for $14,500 in 1947, as the second owner. The Kaplan children attended View Ridge Elementary School, which was newly built to handle the community's growing population. Kaplan, a physician, says many of the original residents remain at View Ridge and are good friends.

The Pellegrinis have made few changes to their house, where they raised three children. The house still has one bathroom. A third bedroom was created in the basement. After years of careful work, digging out clay and putting in mulch, the couple's garden is magnificent. This year's artichokes were great, she says.

The Pellegrinis never felt a need to move. And they have no regrets about where they chose to grow old together.

``We were very fortunate and we still feel that way,'' Virginia Pellegrini says.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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