A Brief History of Ambaum Boulevard and Boulevard Park

“The Toonerville Trolley” by Ted Larson depicts an infamous chapter in the history of Lake Burien Railroad.

Two areas of Burien will be receiving special land-use subarea planning attention this year: the Ambaum corridor and Boulevard Park. The subarea plans will form the framework for future actions to revitalize these areas. Each neighborhood played an important role in the formation of modern-day Burien.

Historic Ambaum Route

In the early days of settlement, two communities–Sunnydale and Burien–vied to become the economic center of the area. Seahurst won when it became the southern terminus for the Highland Park & Lake Burien Railroad, a trolley service connecting Burien to Seattle and its markets and shipyards.

Jacob Ambaum, a homesteader with some experience in road construction, was enlisted to clear the route through the dense forest and lay the track. Rail service began in 1912. The unreliability of service and unexpected hazards, such as the notorious incident of caterpillars falling off trees and making the tracks too slick for the trolley to gain traction, earned the line the nicknames “Toonerville Trolley” and “Galloping Goose.”

A rutted, often muddy, graveled wagon trail ran along the tracks, and by 1916, Ambaum was tasked with improving the trail. By the time trolley service was discontinued in 1929, Ambaum Road had become a vital route to Seattle from the south end. As the years went by, and farms gave way to neighborhoods, Ambaum Road remained an important link to Seattle.

Boulevard Park: From Farms to Airplanes

Settled in the 1870s, the greater Boulevard Park area, once mostly truck farms serving Seattle, also changed with the times. The opening of the Boeing Airplane Company in 1917 and the dedication of Boeing Field as Seattle’s first municipal airport in 1928 provided impetus for professional and technical workers to move into the area. Over the years, as the population density increased, smaller neighborhoods such as Southern Heights and Beverly Park broke off from the original Boulevard Park.

From the 1940s through the 1970s, Boulevard Park had a thriving commercial center located around Des Moines Memorial Drive South and S 128th St. that included grocery stores, drug stores, cafes, lumber yards, and a variety of professional services.

Boulevard Park Library door.

In 1937, a group of civic-minded Boulevard Park women, the Wednesday Social Club, sponsored a new public library for the area. In 1943, that library became the first to join the King County Library System.

Photo Credit: King County Library System

The expansion of Seattle Tacoma International Airport over the years has severely impacted the area. One of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the city, many local residents say they would like to see more commercial growth and social amenities.

These planning studies are the first step in breathing new life into the Ambaum corridor and Boulevard Park neighborhoods. Planning will occur in 2021. City of Burien staff are reaching out to people who are interested in each neighborhood. Learn more about how to get involved.

Susan Coles
Former Community Development Department Assistant at City of Burien | More posts
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