A couple of weeks ago one of our readers wrote in to ask why new brown street signs had been installed along parts 6th Ave W on the top of the hill. Always the curious type, I hopped in my car and drove to the intersection of 6th Ave W and Blaine St to investigate.
Baffled by the signs that were obviously brand new, I began following the road, chasing down every suspect street sign I could all over the top of the hill. I found that there was very little rhyme or reason. 6th Ave W was peppered with these new brown signs from Blaine St. to W McGraw, but were otherwise the traditional green. The brown signs popped up along McGraw, Smith, and a few other streets in Upper Queen Anne, but are rarely consistent.
Determined to find an explanation, I began to call the city, stumping several Department of Transportation employees who suggested the signs indicated trails, one of Queen Anne’s many hidden stairways, or bike paths. “All the street signs in the city are green,” one said.
Scanning the Seattle Parks and Recreation website, I came across a list of Seattle’s Olmsted Boulevards, a number of historic streets throughout the city, named after the Olmsted brothers, who laid the original groundwork for Seattle’s public parks back in 1903 (their father designed New York’s Central Park!). On that list was the “Queen Anne Parkway.”
I finally got a confirmation that these new brown signs did in fact represent the city’s oldest roadways at the SDOT blog. SDOT wrote,
“The brown street name signs highlight the historic Olmsted boulevards that exist throughout Seattle. Responding to a request from the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks and Seattle Parks and Recreation, brown signs are used when old signs are replaced on Olmsted boulevards. The cross street signs, and other street name signs throughout the city, are being replaced using the standard green style. SDOT is replacing aging street signs through the voter-approved Bridging the Gap levy. We have installed new, larger signs at 3,645 intersections since beginning levy work in 2007.”
So there you have it, the new brown street signs around town indicate Seattle’s historic boulevards. You can read more about the Olmsted parks and boulevards here. To read a great article about the changing street signs throughout the city, see Benjamin Lukoff‘s piece “Fall is in the air, and on Seattle’s street signs,” in Crosscut last week. And the replacing of old green signs with new brown ones, means more worn and torn signs will be available as decorative keepsakes.
(Thanks to Kristie for the tip!)