Magnolia has small-town feeling in middle of big city

Magnolia comprises two large hills with panoramic views of Seattle, Elliott Bay, Mount Rainier and the Olympic and Cascade Mountains.

Its proximity to downtown Seattle and strong sense of community are hallmarks of the neighborhood.

Access is limited because Magnolia is a peninsula, and this unique geography is part of the appeal for its residents.

Since it is not a shortcut or thoroughfare like its neighboring hill Queen Anne, Magnolia tends to have less traffic and be more tranquil.

"It is somewhat unique from a lot of in-city or suburban neighborhoods because it has a quaint European village feeling. It has its own identity and sense of community," says real-estate agent Corey Hays, with Coldwell Banker Danforth.

"The community is made up of families, professionals, students and people who have raised their kids here. There is a real cross-section of a little bit of everybody," says Hays.

The Magnolia village, on and around West McGraw Street, is the center of Magnolia's commercial district.

With groceries, restaurants, coffee shops and retail shops, residents can find most of their necessities without leaving the neighborhood.

"It is like living in a small town in the middle of a big city. The village is like a town center where neighbors and friends often run into each other," says Jon Pook, a real-estate agent with John L. Scott Real Estate who lives in Magnolia.

At the south end of Magnolia at Elliott Bay Marina is Palisade restaurant, while at the north end are Fishermen's Terminal and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.

Discovery Park is another attraction. Seattle's largest park is a natural retreat with walking trails, beaches, a lighthouse built in 1881, the DayBreak Star Cultural Center and the remains of the military post Fort Lawton.

Pook, who also grew up in Magnolia and is now raising four children there, loves the area because of its proximity to downtown, yet secluded neighborhood feeling.

He also says it is the kind of community where people tend to stay, noting that clients hoping to downsize are often willing to wait a long time for a condominium to become available.

These neighborhood benefits lead to higher prices, though. One-third of homes currently on the market are priced over a million dollars.

The median price of a home in the area that includes Magnolia and Queen Anne Hill was $588,500 in September, up 15 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to figures compiled by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

While some homes were built around 1900, most were built in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Greg Vammen, owner of Artisan Remodeling and Restoration in Magnolia, says people see a lot of construction because many homeowners are updating their homes.

"There is a lot of reconfiguring of floor plans and there are a lot of additions, especially kitchens and master bedrooms. Most people are trying to make their homes more energy efficient, spacious and user friendly as well as bring them up to current code compliance," says Vammen, who is also a Magnolia resident.

The Magnolia neighborhood got its name from Capt. Vancouver, who mistakenly identified the huge madrona trees along the top of the bluff as magnolias and noted them as such in his log. (AMANDA SMITH / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Population: 29,153 (2006 est.)

Schools: Magnolia is served by the Seattle School District.

Distance from downtown: 5 miles

Recreation: Discovery Park — 3801 W. Government Way. Seattle's largest park at 534 acres including seven miles of trails. Provides visitors with a wilderness experience and views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Parts of Fort Lawton, such as the officer's homes and other historic buildings, remain in the park. Adjacent to Discovery Park is West Point Lighthouse. It was built in 1881 and is the oldest lighthouse in the area. Walking trails descend from the park to two miles of beach and the lighthouse.

Fun fact: It should be called Madrona. From the sound, Captain Vancouver saw the huge madrona trees atop the peninsula's southern bluffs but mistook them for magnolias and noted this in the ship's log.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf