Downtowns across the United States are making a strong comeback, and Auburn’s is no different. Businesses in Auburn’s downtown offer an eclectic variety of retail, services, dining establishments and entertainment venues, all of which make living
in the area even more attractive. Downtown Auburn maintains a “Main Street USA” appearance. It’s a quaint historic district that has recently undergone an entire transformation while it retains much of its historic past and embraces the future with urban-renewal projects. These projects include more modern inspired residential units, such as Trek, which are breathing new life into downtown.
Downtown Auburn living is both accessible and attractive for millennials, professionals and even empty nesters. A variety of living options are available, from urban apartments to cool and funky lofts. Transportation, services, amenities and attractions are just steps from your front door. Property owners, businesses large and small and individuals have invested and succeeded in Downtown Auburn for 120 years. Since 2010, the City of Auburn has invested $10 million of federal and state funds in the South Division Street Promenade Project and other projects Downtown to make it easier and more attractive for private sector investment.
The City of Auburn has:
- Relocated public and private utilities out of alleyways to remove infrastructure barriers for redevelopment of adjacent properties.
- Upgraded water, sewer, storm and private utilities, so excess underground storm-water capacity exists for private new developments to use.
- Installed new street paving.
- Built 10- to 20-foot sidewalks and installed landscaping.
- Installed new LED streetlights throughout downtown and a new trafﬁc signal at Main Street and Division Street.
- Placed new street furniture and trash receptacles.
- Installed a new ornamental gateway arch.
- Built new and improved plazas in downtown.
- Installed an outdoor rotating sculpture garden and pedestrian way-ﬁnding.
- The City of Auburn eagerly works with businesses and developers that want to invest in downtown, and it offers several points of strength, starting with the right attitude, exempliﬁed by the city’s client focus and commitment to problem solving and meeting or beating expectations. That’s not just a claim, as others who’ve done business recently with the city can attest.
Auburn completed an environmental impact statement for downtown redevelopment that eliminates the need for further review. The Puget Sound Regional Council designation of Auburn’s downtown as a Regional Urban Center paves the way for more density and land use intensity. The Auburn City Council approved design standards for the Downtown Urban Center, providing both ﬂexibility and certainty to keep costs down.
Auburn offers reasonable development fees. The city hasn’t changed its building, engineering or land use fees since 2009. Fees can be paid when a certiﬁcate of occupancy is issued rather than when a building permit is issued. The city offers an eight-year exemption for qualifying market-rate multifamily housing, up to a $100,000 refund for eligible construction-related sales tax and up to a 50 percent reduction in land use, building permit and other fees. The city makes coming downtown easy because of its Comprehensive Downtown Parking Management Plan, which it implemented in early 2014. The plan anticipated evolving parking needs from increased investment in the area, redevelopment activity and better commuter train service. All told, the City of Auburn has made a signiﬁcant contribution to ensure downtown’s vibrancy and bright future. For additional information, visit www.auburnwa.gov.
The City of Auburn, Washington, has a rich history, which traces back to the mid-1850s. The city’s website (www.auburnwa.gov),
details Auburn’s history, citing Clarence B. Bagley’s “History of King County” and Josephine Emmons Vine’s “Auburn – A Look Down Main Street.” Auburn sits 20 miles south of Seattle and was home to some of the earliest settlers in King County, Washington. Auburn is nestled in a fertile river valley, and it has been a farm community and business and industrial center for more than 150 years. Auburn is near the original conﬂuence of the Green and White rivers, both of which contain runoff water from the Cascade Mountain range.
The valley was originally home to the Skopamish, Smalhkamish and Stkamish Indian tribes. The ﬁrst white men in the region were explorers and traders who arrived in the 1830s. The valley’s ﬁrst white settlers came in the 1850s. On Oct. 27, 1855, an Indian ambush killed nine people, including women and children. In November that year, a military unit led by Lt. William Slaughter camped near what is now Auburn.
On Dec. 4, 1855, a group of Indians attacked, killing Slaughter and two other men. A new treaty was written, which provided for the establishment of the Muckleshoot reservation, the only Indian reservation now within the boundaries of King County. The White River tribes collectively became known as the Muckleshoot tribe.
White settlers, the Neely and Ballard families, began returning to the area. In 1891, the town of Slaughter was incorporated. Many older citizens considered the town’s name a memorial, but many newer residents felt uncomfortable with it. Within two years, the town was renamed Auburn, taken from the ﬁrst line of the poem “The Deserted Village,” by Oliver Goldsmith: “Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain.”
Auburn had been a bustling center for hop farming until 1890, when aphids destroyed the crops. Afterward, the area had mostly dairy farms and berry farms. Flooding was a persistent problem until the Howard Hanson Dam was built in 1962. The railroad was a major impetus for Auburn’s growth. The Northern Paciﬁc Railroad put a rail line through town in 1883, but it was the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban line that allowed easy access to both cities starting in 1902. The Interurban enabled farmers to get their products to markets within hours after harvest. The railroad, along with better roads, prompted many new companies to set up business in Auburn, including the Borden Condensery (which made Borden’s Condensed Milk) and the Northern Clay Co. Like many other American towns, Auburn grew through the 20th century.
The 1920s were prosperous for citizens, but the Great Depression of the 1930s left many in need. World War II brought great hardship to many local Japanese farmers when they were moved to internment camps and their land was taken from them. At the same time, local boys were sent to ﬁght in the Paciﬁc, and some died in battle. The postwar era was prosperous for Auburn, bringing more businesses and a community college to the city. In 1963, The Boeing Co. built a large plant to mill sheet metal skin for jet airliners. As time went on, many farms disappeared as the land was converted to industrial use.
In the 1990s, a large mall was built in the valley, enticing consumers from all over the Puget Sound region. Auburn has made the transition from small farms to large industries, but much of the city’s history remains. A monument in memory of Lt. Slaughter, erected in 1918, still stands in a local park. The Neely Mansion, built by the son of a pioneer in 1891, has been refurbished and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Auburn’s downtown still maintains a “Main Street USA” appearance.
THE WHITE RIVER VALLEY MUSEUM
This fascinating museum provides an in-depth look at the rich history of Auburn. Visitors may view art pieces and historic artifacts. The museum is located in Les Gove Park. Hours are Wednesday-Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. and every ﬁrst Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children or seniors. Every ﬁrst Thursday and third Sunday, admission is FREE. For general information, call (253) 288-7433.
The department of Historic Preservation has designated several buildings in Auburn, Washington, as national and state treasures:
- Auburn Post Ofﬁce – 20 Auburn Ave. NE
- Auburn Carnegie Public Library – 306 Auburn Ave.
- Oscar Bloomeen House – 324 B St. NE
- Masonic Temple – Auburn – 10 Auburn Way S
- Neely Mansion – East Auburn, off Washington Highway 18
- Patton Bridge – Green Valley Road
Source: City of Auburn