Ramps To City's Past, Future

AS LYNNWOOD looks forward to finally getting its first full Interstate 5 interchange, interest is building in preserving city history.

LYNNWOOD - The problem with Lynnwood, its detractors delight to say, is that it's a city without a heart or a history. Perhaps, but this sprawling suburb may be on the verge of creating both, by of all things, building a full-diamond interchange on Interstate 5.

Such interchanges allow drivers to exit or enter the freeway from either direction. Lynnwood has never had one, which, for a city that owes much of its existence to the automobile, is as much an insult as an oversight.

Other suburban cities have plenty. Bellevue has five and plans for a sixth. Kirkland has three. Even Mountlake Terrace has one. For more than 30 years, though, Lynnwood has struggled along with only two half-interchanges, at 44th Avenue West and at 196th Street Southwest.

But now the city is creating new ramps at the 196th Street Southwest interchange, improving access to and from Alderwood Mall. It is also building something few would associate with Lynnwood: a heart and a history.

"It's interesting that until there was talk to do this interchange project, there wasn't much interest in the history of that area," said Mayor Tina Roberts.

There actually was, but few people cared much about it until Marie Little came along.

Little moved to the area in 1952, when it was mostly rural and residential. Then came I-5 and the bulldozers, along with the subdivisions and strip malls that define Lynnwood as much as anything.

"The whole landscape was changing, and it was hard to remember how things had been," Little said.

She recently presented a study by the city's Historical Recognition Committee to the City Council. Just acknowledging it has a history worth studying is a breakthrough for Lynnwood, a city that incorporated in 1959 around a highway business strip, five years before I-5 opened.

Unlike neighboring Edmonds, which has a waterfront and a quaint downtown with small shops, Lynnwood has transformed itself into a retail behemoth, with ringing cash registers, neon lights and voices over the drive-through speaker, asking: "May I take your order please?"

As a result, Lynnwood has one of the largest tax bases in the region for a suburban city - $96 million this year for a city of 32,420 residents - but not much historical charm.

There is hope for redemption, though, according to the 42-page study Little presented to the council two weeks ago. The study provides an inventory of potential historical landmarks, along with suggestions for preserving and highlighting them.

There is a hitch, Little pointed out.

"There really is no historic center (to Lynnwood)," she said. "So the question is, how do you create one?"

The interchange of history

A tanker truck rumbles east over the 196th Street Southwest overpass, heading for the northbound onramp to I-5. It's noon. Not even rush hour, but it's taken nearly 10 minutes for the truck to travel a few blocks from 44th Avenue West. A line of traffic from the north moves in fits and starts to exit the freeway into town.

The slow-moving drivers don't know it, but they are smack in the middle of the closest thing Lynnwood has to a true historic core, and by the looks of the piles of earth and construction equipment around the interchange, the city is ready to plow right over it.

And in times past, they probably would have. Now, with a new historical awakening going on in Lynnwood, the city is working with a group headed by Little to preserve several historic buildings in the path of the interchange project.

"I think we have the same interest in mind now," said city traffic engineer Jesse Perrault, assistant manager of the $71 million interchange project. Funding is coming from the city, the state, a special taxing district and developer fees.

The history of Lynnwood and the neighboring area of Alderwood Manor intertwine around the 196th Street interchange.

Alderwood Manor was founded in 1917 as a "pioneer planned community," after a timber company logged off the land near the old Interurban trolley stop, which is now the 196th Street interchange.

The company was left wondering what to do with the charred stumps when a California real-estate marketer named W.A. Irwin came up with an idea: sell it off in 5-acre "ranchettes" and lure people from around the nation by building a 30-acre demonstration farm to teach them the poultry business.

A hen known to the nation

The local hero in those days was a Whitehorn hen named Babe Ruth, who set the 1919 world egg-laying record (326), helping to make Alderwood Manor the second-largest egg producer in the nation.

Alderwood Manor's fame didn't last long. Highway 99 was built two miles to the west, and by the 1930s a business district that would later become Lynnwood was thriving.

As for Alderwood Manor, it was bypassed by Highway 99 and cut in half by I-5.

But its history will at least be preserved, thanks to the new construction at the interchange.

The full-diamond interchange, besides relieving congestion, will finally allow people direct access from I-5 to Alderwood Mall, one of the region's largest shopping centers.

The interchange "is something Lynnwood should have had years ago," said Roberts. "But at the time when the state was paying for them, there was no need for one."

Little formed the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association in 1991 after city officials allowed the oldest house in the city (built in 1917) to be demolished.

She has helped lead the effort to preserve several of the demonstration-farm buildings that would have been destroyed by the freeway project.

The city will move the old A-1 Appliance building, a two-story dwelling known by old-timers as the Wickers Store. The city has also saved an old water tower that was part of the demonstration farm. The Alderwood Manor Heritage Association has purchased the farm superintendent's cottage.

In time they will be on display, likely with an old Interurban trolley car, on a city-owned piece of land in the interchange area, but that's yet to be decided.

Progress has a price

Not everything in the way of the freeway project will be saved. Buildings that will be demolished include the Oak Barn furniture store, which was once a farmers co-op.

Still, for a city that seemed to have no heart or history, Lynnwood has come a long way toward cultural redemption, Little said.

"As our communities develop, we need to build them on the foundations of our past, not just tear everything down and build for today," Little said. "I think Lynnwood sees that now."