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Originally published September 14, 2012 at 11:48 AM | Page modified September 16, 2012 at 8:34 AM

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NW Neighborhood: The Highlands, a grand community amid the tall trees

Featuring tall trees and grand estates, The Highlands neighborhood just north of Seattle is steeped in history and a sense of community.

Special to The Seattle Times

The Highlands

Size: About 500 acres, and there are about 100 homes on lot sizes ranging from 0.9 to 9.8 acres.

Distance to downtown Seattle: About 11 miles

Schools: ][The Highlands is served by the Shoreline School District.

-- Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf

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The Highlands neighborhood just north of the Seattle city limits sits on a wide swath of land overlooking Puget Sound.

Despite the potential for grand views from its 100 or so households, the most salient features of this neighborhood are its abundant and towering trees.

Influential landscape architects the Olmsted Brothers designed The Highlands in the early 1900s. The brothers' vision for the neighborhood, according to The Highlands website (, was for the homes to be "surrounded by trees."

Now, more than 100 years later, that vision continues with well-to-do homes hidden in the woods.

Privacy is a certainly a key feature of this gated community.

Homes not only sit among the trees, barely visible from one another or from the neighborhood's winding roads, but some people don't even know the neighborhood exists or confuse it with the much newer Issaquah Highlands or the East Renton Highlands.

With a security guard on duty at the entrance gate 24 hours a day, residents of The Highlands cite safety as another important element of their community.

Many neighborhood kids are allowed to wander unaccompanied to friends' houses or to the communal tennis courts and swimming pool.

"Our children and [other] Highlands children walk everywhere," said resident Helen Day. "It's why my husband and I picked to live here."

Day and her family moved to The Highlands from Portland in 2008 and said they appreciate the sense of community.

Neighbors, Day said, invite kids to take shortcuts through their yards, sometimes insisting children stop in for a cookie.

"[Our kids] know their neighbors of every age, and people know who they are," she said. "It's very dear."

Living in The Highlands requires membership in the private homeowners' association. New members pay an initiation fee, and all members pay ongoing dues assessed on the size of their lot.

Membership dues go toward providing an array of services.

In addition to the community pool, tennis courts, an office and a private beach, The Highlands employs 15 workers, including a general manager, security guards, lifeguards and groundskeepers. The neighborhood also maintains a network of walking trails within its borders.

The private Seattle Golf Club sits adjacent to The Highlands, but it's not part of the neighborhood, as some believe.

Spafford Robbins, a real-estate agent with Gerrard Beattie & Knapp, spent time in The Highlands in his youth visiting friends and has sold homes there.

Robbins called the neighborhood a wonderful place to live and "a great value," considering what buyers get for their money in terms of quality of homes, space and serenity.

Architecture, price and age of homes vary substantially in The Highlands.

A midcentury modern-style house in The Highlands was designed by noted Northwest architect Roland Terry and built in 1967. Though recently taken off the market, it was listed for months at $1.195 million. It has three bedrooms and 31/2 baths in about 4,300 square feet and sits on a 2.7-acre lot. It also features light fixtures by Northwest designer Irene McGowan.

Another Highlands home recently for sale was built in 1924. Though extensively remodeled, it retains its traditional Tudor style. The house has seven bedrooms and eight bathrooms in more than 9,000 square-feet of living space. Its notable features include garage parking for six cars, a waterfall, a glassed-in pool and Olympic Mountain and Puget Sound views, all on 4.5 acres. Its recent listing price was $6.8 million.

The median value of all single-family houses (not just those recently sold) in the 98177 ZIP code, which includes The Highlands was $420,900 in July, up 4.0 percent year-over-year, according to the Zillow Home Value Index.

The median rent for single-family houses was $2,085 in July, up 3.9 percent over the past year, according to the Zillow Rent Index.

When it comes to overall walkability, The Highlands (which is in the city of Shoreline) is considered "car-dependent" and got a walkability rating of 26 (out of 100) from Walk Score, a Seattle company that provides automated walkability ratings.

In addition to the central tennis courts and swimming pool, several neighborhood features provide gathering places and reinforce the sense of community in The Highlands.

Among them is a nondenominational community church, the Florence Henry Memorial Chapel.

Seattle businessman Horace Henry had the Scottish-style chapel built in the early 1900s, dedicated to his daughter who died of illness while away at school, according to The Highlands' website.

Today the chapel serves as a home for community events and contains many stained-glass windows, donated as memorials by various families, as well as other works of art.

Down the road from the chapel sits the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden, a nonprofit organization.

Miller was a prominent figure in Northwest horticultural and gardening communities, as well as a patron and promoter of numerous horticultural organizations.

When she died in 1994, she donated her home and gardens in The Highlands which became the Miller Garden.

Curator Richie Steffen described Miller's enthusiasm for plants and horticulture, and said that the staff at the Garden "work to bring that enthusiasm to others through garden tours, lectures and our educational program Great Plant Picks."

For Highlands families with young children, the neighborhood operates a preschool within its borders. While Highlands members have priority enrollment, there is often additional space open to the public.

Highlands resident Cecile Delafield, whose children attended the preschool a few years ago, praised its quality and affordability, along with accessibility to families outside The Highlands. "It's the best-kept secret in Seattle," she said.

Residents might say the same of the neighborhood itself.