Cultures come together in Crossroads area of Bellevue

A little more than 50 years ago, what's now the Crossroads neighborhood of Bellevue was the undeveloped end of a dirt road. Today it's a multiethnic neighborhood in Microsoft's back yard.

Racial minorities make up 40 percent of the neighborhood's population, and the area has a number of foreign-born residents, including many from Russia. Microsoft's international recruiting has accelerated the diversity in the neighborhood and on the Eastside as a whole.

The neighborhood is one where people walk to do errands and where Crossroads Shopping Center has become a sort of public square, a gathering place for people from different countries and different stages of life.

"I absolutely love walking through Crossroads on a Friday night," City Councilwoman Claudia Balducci said. "You will see families with kids, seniors, disabled people and people of every ethnicity you can imagine."

Inside the shopping center is a mini-City Hall, where volunteers offer translations in nine languages and a satellite library holds multilingual story hours.

People talk about the neighborhood and the shopping center almost interchangeably. When Ron Sher bought the shopping center in 1986, he saw it as an opportunity to try something different.

"We want this to be a living room for people," said Lynn Terpstra, who has worked at the center for the past 18 years. "None of the tables or chairs are screwed down. People rearrange the furniture all the time."

Microsoft's headquarters in nearby Redmond has influenced the neighborhood in many ways. It has brought younger people to the neighborhood, Terpstra said.

"First they move into the apartments then into homes as they start families," she said.

Many shop and restaurant owners count on the daily lunchtime influx of Microsoft employees, Balducci said, and some company workers have moved to Crossroads so they can bike to work.

The neighborhood's growing popularity and rising housing costs are having an impact, said Barb Tuiniga, the coordinator for the mini-City Hall in the shopping center.

"For some, the prices going up in the apartment complexes and condos is difficult, but they work hard to stay, take on an extra job," Tuiniga said.

Chantel Allen, a real-estate agent with Remax, said the neighborhood is a place to look for nice starter homes.

While the average home price on the Eastside is $400,000, Crossroads houses tend to run between $300,000 and $400,000, she said, and condos average $250,000 to $300,000.

The shopping center and several apartment complexes were built in the 1960s and '70s, but many weren't kept up. By most accounts, the 1980s marked a low point for the neighborhood. Crime was higher there than in other parts of Bellevue.

It was a neighborhood in distress and disrepair, Terpstra said, and the shopping center was "such an ugly place."

The idea of Crossroads being a run-down, dangerous area hung around for a long time, but in 1995, the neighborhood police station opened.

"It became safer and was perceived as safer," said Terpstra, who moved to the neighborhood eight years ago.

Now, she said, she is comfortable walking home alone, even late at night.


Population: 10,378 in 2000 census

Schools: Bellevue School District

Housing: There are 4,390 residential units in Crossroads. Of those, 1,183 (27 percent) are single-family detached homes. The remaining 3,207 (73 percent) consist of condominiums, town houses and apartments.

Nearby medical facilities:

• Group Health Eastside Hospital, 2700 152nd Ave. N.E., Redmond

• Overlake Hospital Medical Center, 1035 116th Ave. N.E., Bellevue

• Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, 12040 N.E. 128th St., Kirkland

Shopping: Crossroads Shopping Center

Public facilities:

• Crossroads Community Center

• Crossroads Park, 16000 N.E. 10th St.; includes a par-3 golf course

Seattle Times staff researcher Miyoko Wolf