For thousands of years before Euro-American settlement, the area now called the Eastside was inhabited by Salish tribes such as the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Sammamish River people. The frontier settlement of Bellevue began in 1869, when Seattle pioneers and newly arrived immigrants established summer homes along the eastern shore of Lake Washington. Others established homesteads, and cleared areas of heavily forested land for farming. In the decades before World War II, Bellevue was farm country. Its fertile lands, in what is now downtown Bellevue, were ideal for fruit, vegetable, and bulb farming. Barns, family homesteads, wood-framed churches and schoolhouses, small-scale commercial buildings, and dirt roads dotted the landscape throughout Eastside towns.
Initially, ferry service and private boats connected residents of Eastside communities to Seattle. Development in the area was slow. However, when the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge opened in 1940, connecting Seattle to Mercer Island, new development opportunities opened, forever changing the landscape of the Eastside. Ferry ridership gradually decreased and, in 1950, the ferry made its final run.
In the late 1940s, downtown Bellevue was little more than a cluster of shops on Main Street. But a hint of things to come came in the form of the construction of one of the nation’s first planned suburban shopping centers—Bellevue Square in 1946. The new comprehensive plan called for a downtown that would cater more to automobiles than to pedestrian foot traffic. Superblocks that ran along a grid of four and six lane streets became the street pattern. Buildings were set back from the road and were fronted by landscaping or parking lots.
By the early 1950s, the population of Bellevue had increased significantly and control on community growth became necessary. The citizens voted to incorporate in 1953 and the new City of Bellevue quickly established a Planning Commission with architect Fred Herman appointed as the first Planning Director. By 1954, the City had passed its first comprehensive development plan and people across the county were beginning to talk about the new “gracious living” just east of Seattle. In 1955, Bellevue was named one of eleven “All America” cities.
Neighborhoods were characterized by massive subdivisions of ranch and contemporary homes. Curved streets, natural landscaping and wide lots gave the occupants of Surrey Downs, Vuecrest, and Norwood Village the feeling of being in a rural landscape, yet with the automobile, they were just minutes from downtown.
With the opening of the second floating bridge, the Evergreen Point Bridge in 1963, the Eastside became even more accessible to Seattlites who flocked away from the city. Gradually, other unincorporated areas on the Eastside were annexed to Bellevue.
Bellevue is a modern city that embraced the automobile and was, and still is, designed for it. The architecture reflects the era of growth and optimism. A contemporary style for modern living was the ideal for which Bellevue planned.