The Edge City

Contests and Conflict Surrounding the Development of the Eastside
History of Isolation

The reflexive answer for the overflow of people and resources across Lake Washington that defines development in the Bellevue-Redmond area would be to accredit it to the obvious growth of the main city of Seattle, as is the assumed cause of most suburbanization Such a mindset would be overlooking some main regional components of the area, most importantly the traditional division of the presently dubbed “Eastside” from the main city. The physical boundary that Lake Washington provided between Seattle and its present day edge cities fostered a strong isolation that was only indirectly connected by commercial endeavors. The Bellevue-Redmond area is nestled in the Lake Washington River Basin, thriving on the fertile soil, massive forests and fresh water that it provides. Logging, fishing and farming were the initial staples of both settlements, inevitably being grounds for a rail line around Lake Washington and a shipyard in the nearby city of Kirkland.

Suburban Connections and Conflict 

Because of its rich resources, the Eastside functioned quite separately from the big city across the lake, a way of life that was only broken with the proliferation of the automobile in the 1950s and the arrival of developers who once again sought to reinvent the landscape of the Eastside. 

As the local farming economy flourished, wealthy Seattleites began to see Bellevue as a desirable location for investment and even relocation. Miller Freeman, (grandfather of prominent Bellevue developer, Kemper Freeman Sr. and ironically president of the Anti-Japanese American League) relocated to Medina in 1925 and began buying large amounts of land. Seeing the potential of Eastside land for a prosperous community, he advocated for a bridge that would connect the quiet farming towns of the Eastside to bustling Seattle. 

Opening in 1940 and connecting Seattle with the attractive, spacious land on the east, the Lake Washington Floating Bridge is a landmark that embodies this new stage of development. It facilitated eastward development and allowed for a more holistic era of Seattle-suburb relations, as well-off families followed the popular sway and escaped the city for the idealized promises of the suburbs. The textbook suburban flow was created, thriving on this new mobility. 

However, as with all spaces, this new evolution of place in the Eastside was not without contestation or struggle. In fact, the beginnings of development of the bustling edge city that led to the current iteration of the Eastside we see today was inextricably tied to the struggle of the Japanese Americans. 

While the prosperity of the Japanese American farmers benefited the Eastside immensely by creating a thriving local economy, not all of Bellevue’s residents were accepting of the growing immigrant community. At the time, Japanese Americans were portrayed as competing with the local white population for employment and of staining the image of idyllic, white Bellevue. Racism was ever-present in the Eastside, although the local Japanese population maintained a certain level of protection due to the sheer success of their farms. Other communities in the region were not so lucky, as numerous lawsuits and racist campaigns dispossessed farmers of their land, driving them out of their community. However, the Japanese community in the Eastside would be destroyed as a result of Japanese internment during WWII. In May of 1942, Bellevue’s 300 Japanese residents were forcibly removed from their homes and imprisoned for almost three years. 

Despite their once vital contribution to the community, Bellevue residents were angered at the return of their Japanese neighbors. Local businessmen, including Miller Freeman, vehemently protested the return of the Japanese to the Eastside, forming a local group titled the Japanese Exclusion League. Simultaneously as the war was ending, Bellevue was displaying the beginnings of economic growth due to the installation of the floating bridge. Shifting from a small rural town to a prominent Seattle suburb, land value grew conspicuously. Thus, for land developers like Miller Freeman, the return of the Japanese American farmers meant a stalling of suburban growth and economic development. The new concept of space for white Bellevue residents—and thus a dominating vision—was one of urban growth and the return of the Japanese was a direct threat to this ideal. Even though some support for the Japanese American’s existed in Bellevue, this voice was largely drowned out by businessmen like Freeman and their followers[1]. 

The images below represent the progression of downtown Bellevue from 1958 to today. Bellevue rapidly changed and urbanized, following the collapse of the regional farming industry after World War II. Images courtesy Eastside Heritage Center