The Seattle City Council created the Ballard Avenue Landmark District, located in the northwest corner of Seattle just north of Salmon Bay, in 1976. The district reflects the changing history of industrial growth in Seattle, as well as the city's Scandinavian heritage.
In the 1870s and 1880s, several visionary Seattle real-estate developers grasped at a golden juncture in time and purchased a large tract of land along Salmon Bay. They divided the land into three types of property: commercial, residential, and industrial, to optimize the potential for financial success. They launched a recruiting program for Eastern companies to establish industries in the new town of Ballard.
J. Sinclair built Ballard's first mill in 1888, which set a precedent for the city's future growth. A year later the Stimson Company, an affluent Michigan firm, built its first mill in the region — just in time to profit from The Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889. The Great Seattle Fire may have destroyed part of Seattle, but also it created excellent opportunities for profit in the instant and critical clamor for supplies.
By 1895, Ballard was the center of the shingle industry, producing an incredible three million shingles per day, by 1904. Establishing an ethnic influence that remains today, Scandinavian immigrants filled many of the mill jobs.
The area's affluence became the impetus for construction of a row of commercial buildings north of the shingle mills. Two- and three-story Italianate brick banks, retail stores, saloons, and hotels became the heart of today's historic district.
The population of Ballard, incorporated in 1890, increased more than 850 percent in just five years. The city supported a sizable foundry and fishing industry in addition to its colossal shingle industry. Ballard, annexed to Seattle in 1907, gained another improvement in 1916, when the Army Corps of Engineers' dredging of Salmon Bay supported the growth of a commercial fishing fleet.
The buildings of the Ballard Avenue Historic District span the length of Ballard Avenue NW. All of the commercial buildings within the district face Ballard Avenue. Buildings throughout the district embody the distinctive characteristics of commercial architecture from the 1890s through the 1940s.