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The Guy Who Single-Handedly Made Phinney Ridge

Posted by Johnine Larsen on July 10, 2014
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Before Guy Carleton Phinney (1851-1893) came to Seattle, the land west of Green Lake was wilderness. You might have found a few homesteaders there, but the rest was dense forest and wild animals. Hinterlands. In 1879, the entire 4 square miles around Green Lake could claim only a few hundred residents.

5415Now, the neighborhood of Phinney Ridge is a bedroom community known for Woodland Park and, even more famously, Woodland Park Zoo. The reason for all of it: Guy Phinney.

Guy Phinney made his fortune in Canadian real estate, lumber, and insurance. He was English by birth, and he fancied himself an aristocrat—and he had the money to back it up.

Guy Phinney moved across the continent in 1881, taking his money from Nova Scotia to the fledging city of Seattle, where he bought a chunk of land west of Green Lake. That purchase shaped the area for the next century, and by the looks of it, it will still be just as influential another century hence.


Ariel view of Woodland Park Zoo (photo from Seattle Municipal Archives)

Building a Bedroom Community

Guy Phinney settled in style. He constructed an English-style manor with a formal rose garden, and he built a pump house to nurture his gardens with water from Green Lake. On the rest of his property, he established a menagerie populated with deer and other animals (aristocratic tradition, after all), and he built a grandiose stone entrance on 50th Ave.

It all cost $40,000. A huge investment, back then.

Phinney was not content to live alone, though. He wanted neighbors, so he built an electric trolley line to Fremont Avenue, and he paid for a private streetcar. The streetcar provided easy access to civilization, so people began to move north, and by 1900, 1,500 people lived west of Green Lake.

Phinney had planted the seeds of today’s bedroom community.

Woodland Park and Zoo

Phinney’s estate consisted of 179 acres, and those were an attractive 179 acres. Riding on the success of the streetcar, Guy Phinney built a hotel, bandstands, and a ballpark on his property. And he still had that a menagerie in the northwest corner of his property, where, by 1893, he had established a small herd of deer. The estate was as popular as it was beautiful.

But in 1893, Guy Phinney died suddenly at the age of 42.

Phinney’s widow could not keep up the estate by herself, so, instead of letting the place slide into decay, the city bought it for $500/acre. We know that estate today as Woodland Park. The menagerie? Woodland Park Zoo.


Phinney family plot (photo by Joe Mabel)