By Richard McLeland-Wieser
Tukwila Historical Society
When a tanker overturned on Interstate 5 last month, the normal 20-minute commute from Seattle to Tukwila stretched into hours. It drew attention to the importance of the interstate to move people and freight in our region.
Prior to I-5, the routes from Seattle to Tukwila were either Airport Way, East Marginal Way or State Route 99. When I-5 plowed up Brummers Hill in the late 1960s, it enabled the explosive transformation of Southcenter from farmland to a regional shopping and business destination. It also tore apart a neighborhood – Upper Foster.
Tukwila was founded at what is now Interurban Avenue South and 58th Avenue South. The town grew west along South 144th Street. By 1910, homes were being built around the intersection of Macadam Road South, South 144th Street and 51st Avenue South. The area was known as Upper Foster. With homes came commerce: the Foster Community Club building followed by Brummers Store, Foster Presbyterian Church and Foster Fire Station. The next few years saw the addition of a gas station, grocery store, barber shop and, to the delight of children, an ice cream store. Dances, movies, parties and civic meetings took place at the Community Club building. Tukwila’s first library was housed there. It was an important centerpiece that held the community together. Upper Foster was growing into downtown Tukwila.
Bulldozers brought it to an end. Engineers aimed the new freeway straight toward Upper Foster. Houses and businesses surrendered to the bulldozer blade. The only building to survive was Foster Presbyterian Church. Not wanting their church destroyed, the congregation moved it. Today it sits on the corner of South 144th Street and 56th Avenue South. The Foster Community Club never recovered. The organization fizzled out a few years later.
Not only businesses suffered from I-5’s creation. Families were displaced as homes were condemned and hauled away to the landfill. During construction from 1960 to 1964, the South Central School District (now the Tukwila School District) saw a 16-percent drop in students. The freeway cut the school district in two leaving students east of the freeway with no access to Foster High School. The district won a battle when the state agreed to build an overpass at South 144th Street.
While I-5, Interstate 405 and State Route 509 transformed Tukwila, little remains of the business district of Upper Foster. Two businesses are housed in newer buildings at the corner of 144th and Macadam: Thrift It and Bonsai Northwest. Ironically, the school district prospered as a result of I-5. An easy commute resulted in a real estate boom of new homes. This was especially true east of I-5 as children attending Tukwila Elementary could walk the 144th St overpass to Showalter Middle School and Foster High School.
This story was excerpted from “Tukwila: Community at the Crossroads” by Kay. F. Reinartz. Copies available at the Tukwila Heritage and Cultural Center. For more information, visit tukwilahistory.org.
Richard McLeland-Wieser, lives in a 1908 home on the original Tukwila Main Street, now 58th Avenue South. He is president of the Tukwila Historical Society and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.