McMicken Heights: A great place to raise a family | Tukwila’s neighborhoods

A public meeting isn’t planned for McMicken Heights because of the general satisfaction of residents. Issues that were raised, such as sidewalks, street repairs and localized flooding or speeding or the neighborhood’s “look,” were reported by only about a quarter of the respondents.

William Gorjance stands in the big toy at the Crystal Springs Park not far from his home in McMicken Heights. MIDDLE: Tukwila City Council member Dennis Robertson stands on his street in McMicken Heights

For 57 years Pat and William Gorjance have watched from their birds’ eye view on McMicken Heights – literally – as Tukwila and especially Southcenter have grown up.

In-laws asked William why the family decided to move to the country in the early 1950s. What’s out there? they asked.

“Well, right now, I say it’s so marvelous,” William said. “I can connect to I-5, 405, Southcenter. Anything I want, there it is.

“We’re isolated enough; even though I can hear the freeway noise. To me, the freeway noise is like the surf. I love it here.”

Apparently, so do a lot of other residents of Tukwila’s McMicken Heights, a broad geographic area west of Interstate 5 that Tukwila shares with SeaTac.

The results of the second neighborhood canvass in Tukwila show that most McMicken Heights residents are generally happy with their neighborhood.

“We got a lot of ‘things are fine,’” Rachel Bianchi, the City of Tukwila’s communications director, told the Tukwila City Council recently in presenting the canvass results.

Earlier this year, city workers surveyed Allentown, where a meeting with residents was held to talk about what community-based projects were needed to fix some of the problems residents reported.

Such a meeting isn’t planned for McMicken Heights because of the general satisfaction of residents. Issues that were raised, such as sidewalks, street repairs and localized flooding or speeding or the neighborhood’s “look,” were reported by only about a quarter of the respondents.

Some traffic problems

“With the exception of traffic on a couple streets, the neighborhood, and with the exception of one street, is satisfied,” said Dennis Robertson, who is one of two City Council members (the other is Allan Ekberg) who lives in McMicken Heights.

“We have great police protection. We get a response within three minutes for anything. You just don’t see that anywhere else. The fire department does a wonderful job, although normally the first fire trucks here come from SeaTac,” he said.

Safety concerns were raised about Crystal Springs and Crestview parks, especially at night and especially Crystal Springs, which Robertson said gained a “very very bad reputation within the neighborhood” several years ago. Crestview Park hosted this year’s National Night Out against Crime.

Crystal Springs still is not a busy park. “The neighborhood doesn’t consider this a neighborhood park. Look around. How many people do you see here?,” he asked. The park’s location near ramps from I-5 or I-405 make it a convenient spot for drug dealers to exchange their “product,” he said.

But it’s this mostly wooded hillside, now covered with grass, big toys and basketball and tennis courts, that helped McMicken Heights residents decide to annex to Tukwila in 1985. Robertson and other community activists led the annexation drive.

“It all started right here,” said Robertson, sitting at a picnic table at Crystal Springs.

A developer was working through the city process to build high-density apartments on the land nearly 40 years ago. Upset residents showed up at a public hearing, including Robertson, who at the time lived in unincorporated King County and was active in the McMicken Heights Community Club.

‘We need more time’

“We were all saying, ‘We need more time to think about this and everything else’, because we were upset with what we could look at across the big intersection and see over there,” Robertson, motioning toward the apartment complexes above City Hall in the distance.

A second meeting was planned for City Hall, then at what is now the Tukwila Heritage and Cultural Center on 59th Avenue South. So many people showed up, about 200, that the meeting was moved to a nearby grade school.

There were assurances that the neighborhood’s worst fears wouldn’t happen. Then a project architect spoke, describing the plans for three to five stories with not a bit of glass, as Robertson described. “An angry growl went through the crowd,” he said.

The city stepped back. The apartments weren’t built. Another fight occurred over another proposed apartment complex closer to I-5. It wasn’t built but the land-use battle is what Robertson said propelled him to run for the City Council.

Not listened to

But they also were ready to annex, after discovering how hard it was to work with King County, according to Robertson. Officers of the McMicken Heights Community Club would set up meetings with county officials, who would then reschedule.

“It didn’t take much to decide this wasn’t the way for us,” he said. “We weren’t getting listened to at all.”

Robertson has gone on to work closely on land-use issues and in recent years he’s worked with his neighbors to stop a marijuana-grow operation on their street, after a long process. They’re keeping an eye on another house, waiting to smell the pungent odor of growing marijuana so they can call police, who have said they will respond quickly.

“One of the reasons we are seeing this is house prices aren’t very high here. And for some reason the word was out you could do it and get away with it,” he said. “We hope the word is getting out that that’s not true.”

He expects that marijuana-grow houses will eventually disappear because of changes in state law. The City of Tukwila has also rewritten its ordinance regulating marijuana.

Robertson, who said he’s walked the city at least 10 times doorbelling, said his neighborhood is no different from the rest of Tukwila in the need for code enforcement or drug houses or the quality of housing. He said it’s maybe just serendipity that there were two grow houses on his street, which he said is on the mend.

Also on the mend is South 164th Street, where the City of Tukwila has ordered a property owner to secure a house against illegal entry and remove rubbish, garbage and debris and junk vehicles on the property by Oct. 2.

This is how Robertson would describe his neighborhood to a young family looking to buy a house:

“It’s a wonderfully peaceful quiet neighborhood where we generally respect each other’s rights. We help each other and stick together. But it’s not a neighborhood where we’re over for coffee every day.”

Neighbors did have coffee

William Gorjance remembers the day when neighbors did have coffee, hosted their neighbor’s children and knew everyone up and down the street. They bowled at the long-gone Lewis and Clark bowling alley on what was then known as Highway 99 or Pacific Highway South.

“It was one big family complex,” he said. Just a handful of the original homeowners remain.

The Gorjances have lived in McMicken Heights for 57 years. They bought one of 16 lots on 53rd Avenue South and hired an architect to design their first – and only – house.  It was featured as the House of the Month in The Seattle Times in April 1958, a feature that looked at what’s new in architecture in the Seattle area.

And these lots came with an expansive views – until all the trees grew up.

“Before all this growth, the Valley was visible. We could hear the announcements at Longacres. It was so quiet. No freeway. Nothing. Cows used to come from over this direction and trample the front yard,” Gorjance said. And there rose Mount Rainier.

Even though they couldn’t easily see it, they could hear what was happening around Southcenter.

“We listened to the pile drivers for two years – ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk,” Gorjance said as the big mall was being built in the mid-1960s. Now they hear the pilings being driven for the new 19-story Washington Place.

They miss the views, which were the reason for putting in the big picture windows. But Gorjance has turned his backyard into a private garden.

Gorjance, 89, worked for The Boeing Co. in the military division for 37 years. The Gorjances raised their four children, Bill, Mary, Theresa and Vincent, in the house, where three of whom were born. They attended Crestview Elementary School, then Kennedy High School.

Neighborhood diverse

Their street was part of Tukwila before the 1985 annexation.

Today, their neighborhood has become diverse, “without anything binding us together anymore. When we all had kids, we related that way,” he said. Like most others in McMicken Heights, he doesn’t have any complaints.

“It has remained a very pleasant neighborhood. We have no complaints,” he said. But it was also “really useful” to have a mayor (Ed Bauch) living across the street, which got sidewalks and underground utilities.

The city’s canvass showed that some McMicken Heights residents feel a tug toward SeaTac, probably because many of their children go to Highline schools. Robertson estimates that about 20 percent of what’s traditionally considered McMicken Heights is in Tukwila.

But Gorjance identifies with Tukwila, “for sure.” He served on the city’s arts commission for 29 years and has almost every Tukwila Days t-shirt.

“I hope to die here,” he said. “This is the only home I’ve ever owned.”


The canvas of neighborhood sentiment in McMicken Heights was conducted by volunteers from all city departments.

They surveyed 175 residents, which was a 36 percent response rate overall, according to Rachel Bianchi, a spokeswoman for the City of Tukwila.

In conducting the survey, she found many original homeowners in McMicken Heights, which she said is a “real testament to the neighborhood.”

The city will look at speeding issues on 51st Avenue South and other streets, she said.

Here’s what the canvas found out about those surveyed in McMicken Heights and their neighborhood.

• 19 years is the average residency

• 30 percent have lived in McMicken Heights for 25 years or more

• 90 percent own their homes

• 6 years is the average stay for renters

• 70 percent plan to live in the neighborhood in five years

• 59 percent are 50 or older

• 16 languages are spoken

• 81 percent are English speakers

• 26 percent have children in the home

• 88 percent find it easy to come and go in their neighborhood

• 76 percent find it easy to get to a bus or light rail but also complain about the lack of parking at the Link light-rail station

• 71 percent agree there is adequate street lighting

• 24 percent identify speeding on 160th, 164th, 42nd and 51st as a top concern

• 20 percent expressed concern about the look of the neighborhood, including specific homes, lack of home pride and junk cars

• 52 percent feel a sense of community; most know their immediate neighbors but not many others

The city is planning to survey two neighborhoods yearly, Bianchi said, as part of its ongoing efforts to reach out to residents to find out how to work with them to improve their quality of life.






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