Our Lady of Mount Virgin Catholic Church is significant due to its association with the Italian American community in South Seattle and was characteristic of the social and ethnic diversity that would eventually characterize Mount Baker.
This religious structure is located on the western edge of Mount Baker. The congregation is associated with early Italian immigrants and was established around 1911 when local residents in the Italian community performed mass at a nearby church called St. Boniface, which was built by the German community in 1910. The Italians named their new congregation Our Lady of Monte Virgin. They built their own church by 1915, which still stands today. In 1918, they opened a parish school behind the church, which closed in 1978. The congregation is still meeting and maintains an active presence in the Italian American community in South Seattle.
Early Italian migrants moved to the Pacific Northwest in order to work at the coal mines in Renton, Newcastle, and Black Diamond. Once settled, Italian Americans began operating farms, including Fred Marino and Joe Desimone, who were involved in organizing the Pike Place Market. During the growth period from 1900 to 1910, additional Italian migrants moved to Seattle for jobs in building and road construction, as well as the city’s re-grading activities. During this period, the Italian American population grew, and the 1910 census documented approximately 45 percent of Italian Seattleites who lived in south downtown and north Rainer Valley. North Rainer Valley and north Beacon Hill became known as “Garlic Gulch,” and the community was centered on Rainier Avenue, between Massachusetts and Atlantic Streets. This block was the principal commercial area while residences and institutional buildings, such as Colman School, Mount Virgin Roman Catholic Church, and St. Peter’s Catholic Church, were located southward on Rainier Avenue, as well as in the nearby Beacon Hill and Mount Baker neighborhoods.
The Mount Baker neighborhood comprises two north-south tending ridges located southeast of downtown Seattle along Lake Washington. Initial development of the area occurred early in the twentieth century, relatively later than the Rainier Valley and Downtown Seattle areas. Development was initially impeded by Mount Baker’s geography during the mid-nineteenth century and was then stimulated by the construction of the Rainier Avenue Electric Street Railway along the Rainier Valley in the 1890s. The streetcar was paramount in facilitating travel to downtown Seattle.
The platting of Mount Baker occurred in three phases or additions: the York Addition in 1903 by George M. and Martha Taggart, the Dose Addition in 1906 by Charles P. Dose, and the Mount Baker Park Addition in 1907 by the Hunter Tract Improvement Company. The Mount Baker Park Addition represents the core of the neighborhood and is its primary, character-defining feature. Mount Baker Park is one of Seattle’s earliest planned subdivisions, and most residences were built between 1905 and 1929. The houses reflect a variety of eclectic and Northwest-based architectural styles and include designs by many prominent local architects. Mount Baker was established as a residential neighborhood for upper-income White families; however, the Garlic Gulch area, the center of the Italian American community, was just to the west. The Hunter Tract development company targeted upper-income families by adopting deed restrictions and setting minimum size and price standards for each house. The careful design of the Mount Baker Park Addition’s lots, streets, boulevards, and parks reinforced its exclusivity. However, the platting and landscape plans of George F. Cotterill and Edward O. Schwagerl were significant as they integrated the hill’s natural topography into their design. In doing so, they honored the ideals of Seattle’s Olmsted System and the local government’s city planning efforts. Today, the neighborhood is home to a more ethnically diverse population than in the past. This middle- to upper-income neighborhood remains predominantly residential, and it retains much of its planned character.