North Admiral — the historic heart of West Seattle

"Have you been over there?"

Bob Kirkpatrick throws a thumb over his shoulder toward the Metropolitan Market, an upscale grocery.

"How about over to the Safeway? And Bartell's is right there."

Irrepressibly chipper, Kirkpatrick, 79, is standing tall in the full-service lane at Barnecut's Admiral Way Super Service station ( pumping gas since 1932). He'll fill the tank, check the oil and tires and, if you're new to the area, he'll give you the lay of the land. All for no extra charge.

"Oh, we've got it all here," he beams.

Kirkpatrick's enthusiasm seems contagious in the North Admiral area of West Seattle. Perched on a bluff, at roughly a mile and a half long and wide, the neighborhood is home to some of Seattle's oldest families as well as newcomers attracted by its convenience and cozy sense of community.

"What's great is that you can walk to everything," says Rocky Wright, 52, who moved from the Green Lake neighborhood to the West Seattle neighborhood last March.

At the physical core of the neighborhood is a mix of more than 100 shops and small businesses, including a PCC Natural Market, restaurants, bars and coffee shops, and the Art Deco-styled Admiral Theatre(showing movies since 1942).

Walk two blocks north from Southwest Admiral Way and California Avenue Southwest, and climb the steps to the red brick West Seattle Library at 42nd Avenue Southwest and Southwest College Street (checking out books since 1910), where certain paperbacks are loaned on the honor system.

The historic branch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was named a landmark building by Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board, according to the The Seattle Public Library Web site.

Walk two blocks south and you're at the sturdy two-story Hiawatha Community Center (built in 1911), considered the best shelter if or when the Big One hits.

Several parks and hiking trails grace the neighborhood, including Hamilton Viewpoint, with its unobstructed view of Elliott Bay and the Seattle skyline, and Schmitz Park (preserved since 1908), a 53-acre old-growth forest. And Alki Beach is just down the hill.

The houses in North Admiral district of West Seattle tend to be older and well-preserved or renovated. Tudors, Craftsman style, Dutch Colonials and Victorians outnumber the contemporary styles that have been strategically built on the edge of the bluff for maximum vistas.

The median price of a home in the North Admiral neighborhood is $537,000, up 14.4 percent over the past year, according to figures compiled by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Windermere Real Estate agent Alyson Sharron, who lives in North Admiral, says people seeing the neighborhood for the first time are impressed by "all the amenities we have at our fingertips."

"But what's really special about North Admiral," Sharron says, "is the sense of community. Everybody looks out for each other."

North Admiral is the kind of place where residents may welcome a new family to the neighborhood with gifts of organic tomatoes, vegan cookies, apple pie and Gerbera daisies.

"This is a great neighborhood. It's like the '50s here," says Philip Walling, as he watches his son, Jesse, 7, play under the golden leaves of a locust tree.

Walling hails from Fort Worth and lived in San Francisco for a decade before moving to this area of West Seattle in 1993.

"Have you been to Schmitz Park?" he asks. "It will blow you away."

The main intersection of the neighborhood is California Avenue Southwest at Southwest Admiral Way. The Admiral Theatre is nearby as well as restaurants, a bakery and a drugstore. (GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

North Admiral in West Seattle

Population: 12,000 (2006 estimate)

Distance to downtown Seattle: 5 miles

Schools: Served by the Seattle School District and includes West Seattle High School, originally opened in 1917 and recently renovated.

Parks and recreation: North Admiral is home to the 53-acre Schmitz PreservePark, which contains old-growth forest, hiking and walking trails. The 10-acre Hiawatha Community Center includes playfields, tennis courts, wading pool, running track and trails.

Fun facts: The Admiral Theatre opened up in 1919 and was originally called the Portola Theater. It was remodeled in 1942 by renowned theater designer B. Marcus Priteca and renamed the Admiral. Actress Dyan Cannon, who grew up in the neighborhood, was once employed as an usher in her youth.

Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk