Seattle's Missing Ghost Hill: Denny Hill Regrade

Real Estate Agent with Cooper Jacobs

Seattle City of Seven Hills:   In the late 1800's real estate developers decided to make Seattle be the city of seven hills similar to Rome and there have been varying theories through out the years ever since as to what are those seven hills?  The fact of the matter is Seattle is full of hills and slopes and steep bluffs, so picking just seven will always be a challenge. 

We can probably all agree that Queen Anne Hill, Capitol Hill, and First Hill surely qualify, but Magnolia is pretty high up there, too, and no one ever mentions Maple Leaf which to me is very high...  The debate will go on, but one of those hills is lost forever: Denny Hill.  Today the area is completely different than it was and Denny Triangle condos are among some of the finest and most desireable in the city.  The history of how this thriving neighborhood came to be is incredible!   In 1900, the city decided to basically eliminate a whole hill which covered 62 city blocks. They did it in two parts, but literally razed the hill. 

Denny HillThis can not be good environmentally, I am thinking and I have to wonder what the area North of Pine Street would look like with a big hill covering it.... Today it is part of Old Belltown and South of the Space Needle.  The landscape would be quite different if the hill was still around!  Here is a view towards Downtown from the South slope of Denny Hill in 1886 (photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives Item # 2869):

Denny Hill height:  Look how high that hill must have been!  The removed over 6 million cubic yards of earth to get rid of it!

According to NWDA:

"Before the regrade, Second Avenue rose 190 feet in the twelve blocks between Pioneer Square and Lenora Avenue, causing traffic and transportation problems in the area. The project began by flattening First Avenue between Pine Street and Denny Way. "

190 feet???? So Denny Park would have been pretty high and full of Puget Sound and mountain views back then, but instead is a flat park with huge sweeping views of nothing.  One man wants to change that:  Denny Park plan to restore the view given to Seattle's first park back to the citizens.  It is a little nuts, but he does have a point. 

Denny HillWhat the heck was the city of Seattle doing? It was apparently a infrastructure nightmare to have this beautiful hill smack dab in the middle of the city so they just got rid of it and dumped the dirt into Elliot Bay or used it to fill in the soggy streets of Downtown Seattle.  Wow.

Denny Hill would have sloped right down North practically to the Space Needle if it were still here and might not make the needle rise up so obviously although the space needle height is a little over 600 feet.

The Denny Hill regrade was done in two phases.  I found a really cool before and after shot from the second phase which then adds the Space Needle after that to give you an idea.  I am still amazed that they would knock Denny Hill down.  It was so beautiful! 

Besides the fact that the city's first park was basically lowered to flat acerage with no view, one of the truly most amazing things to me about the city's decision to raze Denny Hill was the loss of Denny Hotel (later called Washington Hotel).  Theodore Roosevelt slept in this hotel and they knocked it down to lower the hill.

 This picture shows what was left of Denny Hill at the beginning of the second phase of the regrade in 1928 then after the regrade in 1936 and then again after the addition of the Space Needle to Seattle's skyline in 1964 (Picture Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives item # 28958).

 So I went to the SDOT site and found a list of highest elevations in Seattle:

"NAVD88 stands for North American Vertical Datum

High Point above sea level, 6 parcels south of watertower at 35th Ave SW and SW Myrtle Street - 520 feet - NAVD88

Near Bitter Lake, on N 145th St just east of Greenwood Ave - 493 feet - NAVD88

NE 92nd ST and Roosevelt Way NE - 466 feet - NAVD88

Queen Anne Hill, at First Ave N and Lee Street - 456 feet - NAVD88

Highest point in Volunteer Park - 453 feet - NAVD88"

This list is interesting to me - Queen Anne and Capitol Hill seem to dominate here, but I was definitely  right about Maple Leaf - it is in there!  Let us know if you are interested in learning more about a particular Seattle neighborhood history!  Molly and I are Seattle Realtors and residents - we obviously love the history, too!   call/text 206-841-6800  or eamil for more info

Posted by



Courtney Cooper

Luxury Realtor | With Offices in Downtown, North Seattle, & Kirkland

Cooper Jacobs Luxury Real Estate 206-850-8841 

More About Me: 

Over two decades of real estate experience guarantees that you are in the best of hands, and I promise to always put your interests FIRST. I specialize in Seattle &  Eastside neighborhoods.  I am a natural waterbaby and love waterfront homes and Seattle houseboats and you can find me down on the docks of Lake Union and Portage Bay several times a week.   Other aspects of Seattle real estate that I adore include Queen Anne Real Estate,Wallingford Real EstateBallard Real EstateGreen Lake Real EstateLaurelhurst Real EstateMagnolia Real Estate, Medina Real Estate, and Seattle Waterfront Real Estate

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Comments (6)

Lane Midgett
1776 Real Estate Group Richmond, VA Local Expert - Richmond, VA

Very intersting and refreshing change of topic here on AR. Thanks

Nov 21, 2009 04:40 PM
Theodora Wu
TJ Investments - Burien, WA

Fascinating pictures of the Denny Hill regrade.  I had heard the expression before, but had no idea that there was a hill there before.  What a drastic change.

Nov 21, 2009 05:10 PM
Karen Kruschka
RE/MAX Executives - Woodbridge, VA
- "My Experience Isn't Expensive - It's PRICELESS"

Courtney  It's obvious you certainly spent a lot of time resarching Denny Hill.  Very well done

Nov 21, 2009 09:47 PM
Courtney Cooper
Cooper Jacobs - Seattle, WA

Hey you guys - The Denny Regrade is pretty common knowledge around here, but some of the details that went into it are a bit shocking.  You wouldn't know there was a hill there at all with out the historical pictures and records.

Nov 22, 2009 05:02 AM
Shirin Sarikhani
Seattle Staged To Sell - Seattle, WA

Courtney, I am from Seattle and I have to say, that i didn't know some of these details and it was very interesting and as you said, shocking, to read. Too bad about the hotel. Thanks for your blog.

Nov 22, 2009 11:03 AM
Courtney Cooper
Cooper Jacobs - Seattle, WA

Hi Shirin - Yes, it is pretty amazing some of the things the city of Seattle did 100 years ago.  This is just one on my personal list.

Nov 23, 2009 04:40 AM