HistoryLink: Mountlake Terrace incorporates on November 29, 1954

Monday, November 30, 2020

New Mountlake Terrace councilmembers H. Scott Wilson,
Harley McFarland, Gilbert Geiser, Lester Steele, Patricia Neibel,
November 1954. Photo courtesy City of Mountlake Terrace
Mountlake Terrace incorporates on November 29, 1954

By Phil Dougherty
Posted 3/18/2008
HistoryLink.org Essay 8531

On November 29, 1954, Mountlake Terrace, located in south Snohomish County, formally incorporates, after a close vote approving incorporation the preceding week.

The fledgling city has mushroomed from a few scattered homes in 1949 to a tightly packed community with more than 5,000 residents in just five years.

A newly elected five-member city council names Gilbert "Gil" Geiser (1919-1987) acting mayor of the new city.

A Terrace, A Lake, and A Mountain

Mountlake Terrace can trace its beginnings to 1949, when the development team of Peterson-LaPierre, Inc., bought an abandoned airport just north of present-day 244th Street SW, between 60th and 61st avenues W (just east of today’s I-5). They found that the flat airport runway looked like a terrace, and that some parts of the property had views of both Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier. Thus Mountlake Terrace seemed like a natural name for what started out as a housing development.

Then the housing development grew in leaps and bounds. The economy was booming, and with World War II veterans starting families and settling down, there was a huge need for housing. Within five years the housing development had grown into a community that encompassed about one square mile covering an area between present-day 216th and 244th avenues SW and 48th and 68th avenues W.

Growing Pains

But although the number of houses and families in the new community boomed, the infrastructure needed to support them did not. People moving to Mountlake Terrace had to wait for a year to get a telephone -- and when they did they were on a 10-party line. There were no paved streets, and storm drains were open ditches. Police protection was provided by the sheriff’s office in Everett, 15 miles away.

Things finally came to a head one night in the summer of 1953 when someone tried to break into the home of Patrick McMahan (1930-2013), a Seattle firefighter who lived in Mountlake Terrace. The culprit was evidently scared off when he realized that McMahan’s wife, Beverly, was home. Beverly McMahan called the sheriff’s office. The sheriff did not respond until late the next afternoon. Patrick McMahan decided there had to be a better way.

McMahan approached the Edmonds city council and inquired if Edmonds was interested in annexing Mountlake Terrace, but the council turned him down. He then organized the Mountlake Terrace Study Committee to determine the feasibility of incorporating the small community. McMahan and another Mountlake Terrace resident, Fred Smethurst, were named co-chairmen of the committee; Levy Johnston and Bill Hennessey, two local attorneys, were also early and active leaders on the committee. They prepared a petition for incorporation as a third-class city, which was approved by the Board of Snohomish County Commissioners. On August 24, 1954, the commissioners set the vote on incorporation for November 23.


There was considerable give-and-take between local residents over whether to incorporate during the autumn of 1954. This finally culminated in a meeting on November 16 at the Mountlake Terrace Elementary School, where council candidates spoke and issues were discussed. On Election Day, precisely 1,000 people voted. The incorporation measure passed, though by a fairly close vote of 517 to 483. The measure was defeated in several precincts, mostly notably the precincts that voted at the Mountlake Terrace Elementary School.

The election ballot actually had two questions. The first was on the issue of incorporation, and the second was to name five residents to serve on the city council if incorporation was approved. Twenty people ran for the five positions. Elected were Gilbert “Gil” Geiser, 35 (Geiser received 540 votes, more than the total vote to incorporate), Harley McFarland, 36, Patricia Neibel, 26, Lester Steele, 31, and H. Scott Wilson, 32. Neibel had actively opposed incorporation but ran for a council spot, saying that if it passed, someone who had questioned the need for a city should be on the city council.

The new council had its first meeting on the evening of November 24 and named Geiser the first city mayor. The next Monday, November 29, 1954, Mountlake Terrace’s incorporation became official under a council-manager form of government, and the council appointed Evan Peterson as the first city manager.

County officials estimated the city’s population at 5,104 in 1954; the 2000 U.S. Census pegged the population at 20,362, with a population density of 5,036 people per square mile, making Mountlake Terrace one of the most densely populated communities in Washington state.

This essay made possible by: Henry M. Jackson Foundation


David A. Cameron, Charles LeWarne, M. Allan May, Jack C. O’Donnell, Lawrence O’Donnell, Snohomish County: An Illustrated History (Index, WA: Kelcema Books LLC, 2005), 298-302; “Mountlake Will Become City,” The Seattle Times, November 24, 1954, p. 4; Charles Russell, “Mountlake Terrace Is Newest City,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 25, 1954, p. 26; “Census 2000 Data for the State of Washington”, U.S. Census Bureau, website accessed March 12, 2008, (http://www.census.gov); "History," The City of Mountlake Terrace, Washington, website accessed March 12, 2008 (http://www.ci.mountlake-terrace.wa.us).

Note: This essay was updated on September 24, 2013.


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