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Originally published June 17, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified June 20, 2011 at 7:07 PM

Neighborhood of the week

Neighborhood of the week: Allentown (Tukwila)

Allentown is a Tukwila neighborhood composed of mostly single-family homes, notable for having both a major trucking route and a river running through it.

Special to The Seattle Times

Allentown

Population: 2,094

Distance to downtown Seattle: About 11 miles.

Schools: The Allentown neighborhood is served by the Tukwila School District.

Recreation: Codiga Park, 12535 50th Place S. Dedicated in 2010 and recognized by the Washington Recreation and Parks Association with a Spotlight Award for "Best Park."

History book: "Tukwila, Community at the Crossroads" (1991) by Dr. Kay F. Reinartz is available at Tukwila City Hall for $10.

— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf, and Stacey Solie

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Allentown is a Tukwila neighborhood composed of mostly single-family homes, notable for having both a major trucking route and a river running through it.

It is a residential island in a sea of commercial enterprise, not to be confused with "Allentown" in Seattle (the South Lake Union neighborhood being transformed by Paul Allen's development company, Vulcan).

The Tukwila enclave is named for Joseph Allen, a British settler who arrived in the Pacific Northwest in 1879 and bought, then subdivided the land there.

Bordering either side of the once-bucolic neighborhood are Interstate 5 and Highway 599, which converge just past a sprawling office park to the south.

Big-rig trucks rumble through town en route to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Distribution Center. Light-rail trains glide past on elevated tracks, and the neighborhood is sandwiched between Boeing Field to the north and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport not far away to the south.

Bordering either side of the neighborhood are Interstate 5 and Highway 599, which converge just past a sprawling office park to the south.

Residents joke about low-flying planes leaving wheel marks on their roofs, and with all the surrounding hustle and bustle, Allentown can hardly be described as sleepy.

But despite encroaching industry, the neighborhood offers plenty of recreation and natural vistas, is a hotbed of community activism, and retains a close-knit community feel.

For those who only know the Duwamish River at its dredged, developed Superfund site mouth, you wouldn't recognize it here, meandering and shaded by trees and scrub.

A quaint wooden footbridge allows people on the eastern bank to bike across and connect to the paved, 19-mile Green River Trail (farther upstream the Duwamish becomes the Green River).

Those on the western shore stroll across the bridge on their way to the Allentown Grocery, which, aside from the usual sundries also sells used paperbacks, T-shirts promoting '80s rock bands, gardening supplies and wine starting at $3.99 a bottle.

All manner of wildlife swim up the river, said Allentown resident Laurie Watson, who purchased a home along its banks 10 years ago and lives there with her husband and two dogs.

Watson sees otters and beavers chugging upstream before she heads to work in the morning and again heading back down when she returns home. A bald eagle often perches on a tree in her yard.

"Sometimes, it's just alive," Watson said. "What I enjoy is sitting on the deck in the summertime."

The noise from the freeways and the light rail is something to which she has grown accustomed. When speaking on the phone to her brother, who lives nearby, they both pause without comment when a plane passes overhead, and resume seamlessly when the airwaves are clear.

Lots of variety

The character of Allentown homes varies from plot to plot. Restored turn-of-the century houses are interspersed with more abundant midcentury models and recently built prefabricated houses.

Overgrown empty lots and cottages with peeling paint sit across from manufactured homes with elaborate trellises and sculpted yards.

Allentown's residential market has been shaped in part by the Burien-based Doak Homes, which has constructed about 50 homes in the neighborhood over the past 15 years, said Telly Doak, vice president of the business, co-owned by her husband, Darryl Doak Sr.

"We chose (Allentown) 15 years ago because there were opportunities to expand the neighborhood," Telly Doak said. "We bought dilapidated houses that people were willing to abandon," she said. "Some were demolished."

"It was an old neighborhood, and we thought that maybe we could contribute to its growth."

Sale prices in Allentown over the last two years have ranged from $149,500 for a cute 860-square-foot, one-bath, two-bedroom bungalow with a white picket fence to $350,000 for a five-bedroom, 2.5 bath, tri-level built in 2008 with vaulted ceilings and a three-car garage, according to figures compiled by Redfin.

The median value of all single-family houses in Tukwila, not just those that recently sold, was $194,600 in March, down 20.8 percent year-over-year, the Zillow Home Value Index shows.

A clinic administrator at Swedish Hospital, Andrea Tackett, moved a year ago into a new four-bedroom Doak-built home which she rents for $1,600 per month.

She relocated to Allentown from nearby Skyway where her rent was slightly cheaper, because she could get more space, and because she feels comfortable letting her three children play outside.

"Before, my kids didn't get out much," Tackett said. "Here, they ride their bikes around."

The family also frequents the new 48,000 square-foot Tukwila Community Center, where Tackett takes a Zumba exercise class. The center also offers karate and ballet instruction for kids and a gathering place for seniors.

Then, there's the skatepark. After school, Dennis Nguyen, 16, is often there to grind the rails along with fellow skaters Chris Tapuro, 22, and Drew Lo, 21.

Observer Patrick Machenheimer, 26, was part of an initial group of teens to advocate for the park before it was established in 2002.

"Pretty smooth!" Machenheimer said on a recent weekday as Nguyen did a back noseblunt off the quarter-pipe. Machenheimer gave up skating after an injury, he said. Nguyen has placed first, second and third in the annual competition at the Summer Kick-Off festival at the park.

Tradition of activism

A history of spirited activism has helped keep the neighborhood intact all these years, most recently manifest in the creation of the Duwamish Hill Preserve.

In 2000, a developer proposed leveling Duwamish Hill to put in a storage facility, even though it also serves as a sacred and storied site for the Duwamish and Muckleshoot tribes, contains rare geological formations and is a beloved overlook.

Community volunteers, with the aid of Cascade Land Conservancy and the city of Tukwila, raised enough money to purchase the property and have since worked to restore it.

Allentown also boasts important salmon habitat at Codiga Park. Formerly farmland, it has been partially excavated and planted with native foliage, creating a shaded, side-channel resting area for juvenile salmon. Trout and steelhead also make pilgrimages up the Green River to spawn.

Community activism is a neighborhood tradition in Allentown, and kept going by such longtime residents as Lanny Vickers, who said he is fond of "bucking" local leaders "when they get out of line."

Now 72, Vickers is retired both from the Navy and the medical-supply business, but is still known for helping local seniors with home-repair projects. His wife, Linda Vickers, is a nurse at Highline Community Hospital. In 1971 the couple purchased two adjacent lots and an 1,800-square foot manufactured three-bedroom home. Their two boys spent the summers jumping off the footbridge into the cool river, their father constantly reminding them to check first for submerged debris.

But around the time that Allentown was annexed into Tukwila, in 1989, there was a push to turn most of the community into industrial, Vickers said. He served on an Allentown committee for more than six years and collected hundreds of signatures on a petition that helped keep the area residential.

The Tukwila City Council has always treated Allentown with fairness, he said.

Community attention turned to BNSF recently as the company has proposed expanding its South Seattle Intermodal Facility, which could lead to heavier truck traffic through Allentown.

The city of Tukwila has proposed rerouting truck traffic so it bypasses the neighborhood, but has no money to pay for upgrading the roads.

"I know the people that live along there are quite concerned about it," Vickers said.

But this hasn't stopped homes from selling and new families from moving in, he said. "The way it is now, they (truckers) work 24-hours a day, bringing in those containers ... People seem to be tolerating it."

That feeling of tolerance also is an Allentown tradition.

Forty years ago Vickers and his wife were attracted to the community's laid-back ambience, which continues to this day, he said.

"You can pull your shirttail out and not feel like everyone's watching you."

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