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Originally published Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 12:13 AM

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Neighborhood of the week

The sun also rises on Sunset Hill

The Sunset Hill neighborhood in Seattle is a popular place for homeowners and visitors.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sunset Hill

Population: About 7,300.

Distance to downtown Seattle: 7 miles

Recreation: Sunset Hill Park, 34th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 75th Street. A small neighborhood park that is a popular site to watch sunsets and gaze at Shilshole Bay.

Historic information: The Sunset Hill Community Association was founded in 1922, one of the oldest in Seattle.

Shilshole Bay is based on the Indian word: "Cil-col" translated as threading or inserting as a "thread through a bead." The reference was to the bay's narrow entrance into Salmon Bay Waterway.

— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf


It was morning in Sunset Hill. The windswept view of Shilshole Bay, Puget Sound and the Olympics appeared magnified. Sun-blasted old houses beamed with fresh paint. And ripe tomatoes, pumpkins and squash glistened in gardens throughout the neighborhood.

The combination of vivid sunshine with a crisp maritime breeze seemed to cast an enchanting spell on most everything and everyone.

Sandra Ostrand, drenched in sunlight, likened herself to Alice in Wonderland as she picked grapefruit-size apples from a short, stout tree in her front yard.

"This is called a one-apple pie tree," she said, holding out the tree's biggest apple. "You can make a whole pie with this one."

Sandra and her husband, Don Ostrand, both retired, also grow carrots, tomatoes, radishes, plums, zucchini and a variety of herbs in front of their midcentury rambler. That she and so many neighbors have begun growing their own food, said Ostrand, is the best development she's seen in her eight years in the neighborhood.

"Edible-food gardening is really taking off here," she said. "My neighbor grew eggplant last year — a Mediterranean vegetable. Everything seems to grow here."

Even the price of homes. While prices overall have dropped across the nation and in the Seattle area over the past few years, the median price of a home in the Sunset Hill neighborhood hasrebounded this past year, according to figures compiled by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. (NWMLS).

During a recent six-month period, 23 homes sold with a median price of $625,000. A year earlier, 29 homes sold with a median price of $585,000, down from $594,975 in 2007 (36 homes) and $645,000 (27 homes) in 2006, according to the NWMLS.

The Sunset Hill homes that have sold this year include a $378,000, three-bedroom,1.75-bath, 1,880-square-foot home built in 1946, which sold in 47 days for full price.

And a 3,930-square-foot home built in 1998 with Sound and mountain views and four bedrooms, 3.25 baths listed for $979,000. It sold in 148 days for $850,000, according to Courtney Cooper, a real-estate agent with Cooper Jacobs.

Most of the houses in Sunset Hill were built from the 1920s through the 1950s, a period spanning the classic brick Tudors to the more expansive contemporary homes with picture windows.

Recently, the neighborhood has seen a smattering of new condos, duplexes and triplexes go up, as well as lots of renovation.

Sandra Ostrand can clearly see the changes coming to the neighborhood.

"If you look out my second floor, you can see six houses that are being razed or have a new structure being added," she said.

And with more construction, she said, comes more people and more cars.

"But more people are growing food now, too, so I think it's a good thing," she said. "The No. 1 key thing about living here is it'swalkable. ... It's a very special place."

A couple of blocks east of Ostrands' house, on the neighborhood's main street (32nd Avenue Northwest), two women sipped from wide-brimmed latte cups while basking in Adirondack chairs outside an espresso cafe.

The tiny business district has, on one side of the street, an Italian-style restaurant with an attached cafe and pizzeria, as well as the Sunset Hill Green Market, run by a young nutritionist with a penchant for local products and organic produce (and offering schoolkids 5-cent bubble gum and licorice sticks).

On the other side of the street is a barber shop, a cafe/ice-cream shop and a video store specializing in hard-to-find films.

Sitting at the counter at Walter's Cafe (also known as The Scoop @ Walter's), Robert Drucker, president of the Sunset Hill Community Association, suggested the feeling of well-being in the air can be explained in two words.

"Negative ions," he said, referring to the concept that electrically charged atoms found in certain environments — like salt-tinged sea air — can increase the brain's serotonin level.

With his wife, Lydia Marshall, Drucker moved to Sunset Hill in 1999 after studying contour maps of Seattle. As residential architects and sailors, he said, they were very picky about where to live.

They bought a 1929 Tudor on a dead-end street with good southern and western exposure, and moored their 29-foot sailboat at the Shilshole Bay Marina down the hill.

"I love the maritime air — the negative ions, the temperature, the climate," Drucker said. "It's not as hot here during a heat wave, and we don't get as much snow."

Another resident, who formerly had a home east of 32nd Avenue where sunsets aren't visible, used to say the family lived "on the sunrise side of Sunset Hill."

Drucker described the neighborhood as a congenial place for families. Events at the neighborhood's clubhouse include Friday night movies for kids, dances, and wine tastings. But mostly, he said, Sunset Hill is quiet.

"As a friend of mine says, it's as far away from reality as you can get and still have sidewalks."

Situated high atop Ballard's northwest coast, like an acropolis, this area was originally home to many Scandinavian immigrants who worked in the fishing, shipping, and timber industries. Their cultural history is displayed at the Nordic Heritage Museum, a red brick rampart-like structure in Sunset Hill.

For Cooper, the walking factor in the neighborhood has sentimental value.

"I met my husband in Sunset Hill — he was my next-door neighbor," the real-estate agent said. "Almost our entire courtship involved walking around the neighborhood for hours daily.

"He actually proposed to me at Sunset Hill Park one evening many years ago, and our anniversary ritual, as boring as it sounds, is to go buy some crab cakes from Ray's [Boathouse Cafe & Bar] and sit at the park every year and watch sailboats."

"It is truly one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle. I love the fresh salty breezes and the care and attention that goes into the gardening and landscapes here."

At the end of a clear day, people from across Seattle have been known to drive to Sunset Hill Park to view the sunset and take in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood.

Sometimes they'll hear a barking sea lion in the bay below.

Curiously, of all the virtues of living in Sunset Hill, the most obvious one — its sunsets — was not mentioned by a single person interviewed.

"Oh, yeah, I never thought of that," said a bemused Ostrand. "And we've had some doozers in the last couple of weeks."

Just like her apples.

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