Mercer Island provides pricey seclusion from urban bustle

Mercer Island may not have volcanoes, tropical weather or exotic beaches, but it does offer something typical to most islands: seclusion.

Driving on Mercer Way, which circumnavigates the island, you'll find that silence is rarely interrupted. If it is, it's only by chirping birds or by cars and bicycles traversing the winding course.

Yellow wildflowers grow along the side of the road, where children walk home from school. It's hard to believe a bustling urban area of 2.4 million is only miles away.

The island, 5 miles by 2 miles, sits in the middle of Lake Washington, minutes from Seattle and Bellevue.

In 1891, C.C. Calkins built a resort on the western side of the island, then called East Seattle. The first floating bridge from Mercer Island to Seattle, built in 1940, signaled the beginning of its boom.

It is a low-crime, community-oriented area with highly educated residents. But it may not be for everyone.

Elizabeth Tross-Deamer, who has lived on Mercer Island for about eight years, finds it a little too quiet. She was born and raised on Queen Anne and has also lived on Capitol Hill.

"I'm a city girl," she said.

At the other end of the spectrum are Robert and Joyce La Plant, who've lived on Mercer Island for nearly 40 years.

"Why should we move anywhere?" Robert La Plant said. "We've got paradise."

The La Plants enjoy the semirural feeling of Mercer Island, but they are also pleased with recent development there. "We're happy to be getting some new restaurants," La Plant said.

New development on Mercer Island is mostly concentrated in the downtown area, on the north end near Interstate 90.

Mercer Island has many draws — for those who can afford to live there.

The median home price on Mercer Island was $820,750 last month, according to figures compiled by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. That figure represents a 6.2 percent drop from the same period a year before.

Many residents move into the area for its well-regarded schools. One of the La Plant sons came back to raise his children on the island for that reason.

Another draw is the sense of community on the island.

"Everybody helps everybody else," Tross-Deamer said.

A countrylike atmosphere close to Seattle and Bellevue is the major reason for the attractiveness.

"There's much less of that suburban feeling. Instead of blocks and blocks of streets in a grid system, there are a lot of curvy streets and dead ends," said Deb Symmonds, deputy city manager of Mercer Island. "That's what appeals to people."

The Mercer Island shoreline is coveted real estate, with Lake Washington for a front yard and mountain views all around. (MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Population: 21,710

Schools: Mercer Island is served by the Mercer Island School District.

Distance to downtown Seattle: 7 miles

Recreation: Mercer Island has more than 35 parks and open-space areas boasting more than 400 acres, and trails in excess of 50 miles, maintained by the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department.

Fun fact: Mercer Island is connected to Seattle in the west by Interstate 90, carried by the fifth-longest floating bridge in the world, the Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge; and the second-longest floating bridge in the world, the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge.

— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf