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OF MEANING AND SCARE TACTICS
Feb 11th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

I’d mentioned that the Capitol Hill Times, the weekly neighborhood paper for which I’d worked in a couple of stints, is now owned by a legal services entrepreneur as a vehicle for legal notice ads.

The new-look CHT has now appeared.

It looks clean and modern.

And it looks like the new management is truly interested in providing space (if not much money) toward neighborhood news coverage.

And it’s got a locally based editor, Stephen Miller, who seems to really want intelligent discussion of the issues of the day.

That’s certainly what he says in his column for the Feb. 8 issue.

It’s about Seattle University’s Search for Meaning Book Festival, held the previous Saturday. Besides book sales and signings, the festival included speeches and panels by authors representing myriad flavors of religion in America.

Miller talks about the need for good questions instead of easy answers.

And he talks briefly about some search-for-meaning related trends in the news, as discussed by speakers at the festival. Among them:

The threat of Sharia law. A Mormon nearing the White House. Federal funds paying for abortions. A redefinition of marriage.

Except that trends 1 and 3 do not really exist.

Nobody’s trying to impose Sharia law in any part of the U.S.

There is no federal funding for abortions, and nobody’s proposing to start any.

These are merely right-wing scare campaigns.

They’re just as fake as the right-wing-only cable channel’s annual hype over a nonexistent “war on Christmas.”

If Miller did not want to address this complicating factor in his limited print space, he could have described these “trends” more accurately as allegations, promoted by some of the festival’s speakers.

Miller’s column asks us to pursue “intelligent discussion.”

A big part of that is distinguishing what’s really going on in the world from the spin and the bluster.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 2/6/12
Feb 6th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

treasurenet.com

  • Remember, folks: “Rural estates” are not farmland. (And in my mind, vineyards only technically count.)
  • Rumblings about a new SoDo basketball/hockey area heat up with revelations of high-level discussions between would-be developers/team owners and city bigwigs. The object: a development deal that wouldn’t need the city funds it legally can’t get. Also, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings could be moved, as early as next season.
  • A tangible, physical Amazon store in Seattle? Believe it when you see it.
  • A Seattle (and specifically Capitol Hill) institution, Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz, is being sold. The new owners plan to consolidate operations at the dealership’s newish Airport Way site, abandoning the East Pike Street HQ it’s held all these past 52 years. The Smart family will continue to own that property, one of the last remnants of the old Pike/Pine Auto Row.
  • The Capitol Hill Times, a neighborhood paper for which I worked, off and on, in mostly part-time capacities between 1984 and 2011, has been sold to a foreclosure-services entrepreneur. His apparent business model for the paper is as a forum for legal notices, including his own.
  • A tiny piece of the old Washington Mutual is left standing. It’s a mortgage reinsurance unit, and it could become profitable as early as, say, 2019.
  • A few months back, we mentioned how the kind of artisanal video that used to be made for cable access is now made for YouTube. The latest example is a new online comedy series. It’s called Local Brew. The titular “brew” is Rainier Beer—which has not been a local product for more than a decade.
  • Can today’s China be rightfully described as a fascist state? And if so, what kind of light does that shine on the “progressive” western corporations (from Redmond, WA as well as Cupertino, CA) who have all their stuff made there?
  • I don’t always agree with Chris Hedges, but he’s spot on when he calls out violent “anarchists” as a “cancer” within the Occupy movement.
  • Super Bowl SPQR: An actual exciting game, which went down to the final play. The commercials: the same old misanthropic “hip” violence. The halftime show: more “global superstar” over-the-top-osity, this time with Centurions. At least Madonna didn’t do the fake-English-accent thing this time.
  • The folks at KCPQ would really like a Seattle Super Bowl. That is to say, a Super Bowl held in Seattle, not one in which the Seahawks would play (which seems even more remote these days). What would hosting the big game mean locally? Think of it as a big convention. Sixty thousand people (mostly people who can afford $16,000 tickets) descending here for perhaps a week. Oh, and some for-the-locals “fan fest” in the parking lot a couple days before.
BOOZE NOOZE
Dec 11th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times)

Starting in June, liquor sales in this state move to private retailers.

But only at establishments of at least 10,000 square feet, as per terms of the Costco-written and -sponsored initiative.

This means most of the new liquor outlets will be run by big retail chains, not by independent merchants.

Washingtonians will continue to be spared the garish storefronts and signage associated with commercial liquor stores in other states.

But, for the most part, we also won’t get the careful selection and knowledgeable advice an independent merchant can provide.

In and near the Capitol Hill Times‘ distribution area, three independently owned food-beverage outlets have enough square footage to qualify as liquor sellers. They’re the Montlake Deli Market, the Madison Market Co-op, and the Jackson Street Red Apple Market.

The Madison Park Red Apple and Pete’s Wines on Fairview aren’t big enough. To get booze, they’d have to convince the state that their respective neighborhoods qualify as “trade areas.” You see, there’s a provision in the new law that says the state can license smaller stores to sell the hard stuff if there aren’t other liquor sellers in their respective “trade areas.” The initiative’s text doesn’t define those areas.

However, Area 51 Furniture on East Pine and City People’s Garden in Madison Valley ARE big enough to sell liquor. And the new law doesn’t say a store has to make most of its income from food/beverage sales, since Costco doesn’t.

Most of the new places for the hard stuff on the Hill will be the chains. Two Safeways, two Walgreens, one Trader Joe’s, and three QFCs (but not the too-small Broadway and Madison Rite Aid stores). All of these companies, including QFC’s parent Kroger, sell liquor at their stores in other states.

The Washington-only Bartell Drug chain (with large stores on Madison and in the Harvard Market complex) hasn’t said if it will add liquor. Bartell just added beer and wine to its stores last year.

The state’s budding “microdistillery” movement, including Capitol Hill’s Sun Liquor, will also be affected by I-1138. How it will be affected isn’t certain yet.

Hard liquor had not been commercially made in Washington since Prohibition, until a few years ago. That’s when a few entrepreneurs, with some regulatory easings from the state, started producing and releasing artisanal vodkas and gins. Whiskey, with its longer lead time, took longer to show up.

With the State Liquor Board as their only retail/wholesale customer, these fledgling producers could make one sales pitch and have their product in every liquor store in Washington, and available to every cocktail lounge in Washington.

The new system will be more complex.

Restaurants and bars will have multiple, competing distributors from which to get their spirits.

The big chains (mostly based out of state) that will dominate retail liquor sales will get to buy direct from producers, with no wholesale middlemen. And their offerings may be much more limited than the variety in today’s state stores. (They might even take shelf space away from local wine brands, and give it to national spirits brands.)

Will a Kroger corporate booze buyer in Cincinatti, or a Trader Joe’s booze buyer in suburban L.A., bother to even receive a proposal from a small Seattle distillery (or a small Yakima winery)?

Already, the Liquor Board has stopped adding new products to its inventory, as it prepares to shut down its stores. That’s put a crimp in local distillers’ new-product launches.

The changes to the booze biz in Washington are vast and complex. And various business interests will immediately ask the Legislature to make changes to the changes.

It will take a sober head to figure it all out.

RANDOM LINKS FOR 11/3/11
Nov 2nd, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

jiyoung-s.blogspot.com/

  • The Bruce Lee family is talking about establishing a museum in Seattle honoring the late martial arts star, who lived here for much of his youth. A shame this wasn’t in the works while half the town was trying to put something at the old Fun Forest site that wouldn’t be a friggin’ glass art gallery.
  • What happens when a big Wall St. bank CEO (specifically, the CEO of the big bank that devoured our own once-beloved Wash. Mutual) comes to town to give a speech during the height of the Occupy ____ protests? Citizen blockades and pepper spray, that’s what.
  • Forget about caffeinated meat. That was yesterday’s novelty product. Today’s big news in pick-me-ups is caffeinated inhalers!
  • The Tacoma City Council passed what was essentially an anti-Walmart zoning law. But, faced with potential unaffordable lawsuits, the council’s backed down and allowed Walmart’s application to proceed through the bureaucracy.
  • Darcy Burner, one of our favorite folks, is running for Congress again. This time it will be in the redrawn version of Jay Inslee’s old district.
  • R.I.P. Thomas Patrick Haley, who bought two neighborhood-newspaper groups and combined them into Pacific Publishing Co. Haley took a ragtag batch of properties (including a job printing operation) and put them on a firm footing (well, as firm a footing as could be attained in that subset of publishing). The Belltown Messenger had a co-publishing agreement with Pacific for the five years I was involved with it. I appear once a month in Pacific’s Capitol Hill Times.
OCCUPYING HALLOWEEN
Nov 1st, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

Broadway and Pine. The south lawn of Seattle Central Community College. 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Throughout the area, cute cartoon monsters are displayed on painted plywood stand-up pieces. It’s an installation called “Monsters on Broadway.”

Also throughout the area, young-adult volunteers are pulling batches of hay from bales and spreading it over every part of the lawn. The smell reminds me of the hobby farm on which I grew up. This, it turns out, is not part of “Monsters on Broadway.”

Instead, as a kind lady on the hay-spreading team tells me, they’re covering the grass to protect it from turning into mud. Occupy Seattle would set up its tents on the lawn later in the day. The whole area was going to be heavily walked and stood and even slept on, perhaps for some time.

Fast forward to 6 p.m. Halloween Saturday night is slowly getting underway. The Hill’s regular weekend-night parade of colorful characters is at least a little more colorful. Men and women walk around as zombies, vampires, celebrities living and dead (and undead), and cartoon characters. In and near the more upscale bars, some of the women are dressed just slightly “sexier” than normal for a Saturday.

Back at SCCC, Occupy Seattle events have begun. There’s a speaker’s platform, with a microphone and a small set of amplifiers. There’s a covered feeding station. A few dozen people are there, some in costume. These include a disco dude in a metallic toga (with a wool scarf covering his lower face, WTO style), a Maid Marian with a sign reading “Where Is My Robin Hood?,” several generic fantasy and steampunk getups, and at least one guy in a Guy Fawkes mask, a la the graphic novel and film “V for Vendetta.” (The graphic novel’s author Alan Moore denouced the film, and earns nothing from the masks.)

It’s at least an hour before the main scheduled events get underway. The speaker’s platform bears a succession of orators discussing topics outside the “Occupy” movement’s already broad subject matter. I leave as a woman at the mic promotes 9/11 conspiracy theories, with the audience repeating her statments call-and-response style. (This shtick comes from the original Occupy Wall Street protests, which aren’t allowed to use amplifiers.)

From there I go to a Pike/Pine bar. A woman there tells me she’s “so over” the “Occupy” protests. She claims they’ve degenerated into protesting for protesting’s sake. This remark upsets the man seated next to her, who’s stopping for a drink on his way to join the camping-out protesters. He says something to the effect that he hopes the woman’s happy being part of the problem instead of the solution. (Hint: If you’re going to build a popular, all-welcoming movement, it’s unwise to go around insulting people.)

Back at SCCC, tent raising time officially begins around 8:30. A few campers had already put up their shelters ahead of time. Several hundred people have gathered for the main “street party” (not actually in the street) with pumpkin carving and more costume characters.

Hours later, well into the bar scene’s peak hours, about 150 people would settle in for the night. More than three dozen tents were raised.

They’d had to move somewhere. Even the most capital-P progressive mayor wasn’t likely to let the protests remain 24/7 indefinitely at Westlake. Especially not with the annual Christmas carousel less than a month away from installation.

SCCC is about as Occupier-friendly a public space as can be had in the heart of Seattle.  The teachers’ union is an outspoken “Occupy” supporter. The college president released a statement giving at least tacit, tentative permission for the camp.

This space is not really the place for a thorough analysis of the “Occupy” movement and its agenda. Suffice it to say they’re responding to long-term trends in U.S. society, and doing so with long-term tactics. By announcing no end date to their protests, and no single, simple demand to be met, they’re stating that building their society will also be a long-term endeavor.

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

RANDOM LINKS FOR 10/3/11
Oct 2nd, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

linda thomas, kiro-fm

  • If only more real-world buildings could be more like the ones displayed at BrickCon, the gathering of Lego maniacs.
  • If you still measure companies by the Almighty Stock Price (and you really shouldn’t), the once mighty IBM is bigger than Microsoft for the first time in 15 years.
  • An Internet photo of a Sharpie-penned list of bookstore employee pet peeves, supposedly from a now-closed Borders branch, has been going around lately.
  • So, apparently, has whooping cough.
  • The next big idea for Seattle bike lanes—site them on side streets instead of major arterials.
  • Open Circle Theater has produced what it called “fantastical theater for a daring audience” since 1992. In recent years, it moved into the old Aha! Theater space on Second Avenue, bring live theater back to Belltown. Now, it’s apparently defunct. No word yet about the other troupes that have been sharing OCT’s Belltown space.
  • Danny Westneat claims that, despite the hype, Seattle Public Schools are actually pretty good these days.
  • State schools superintendent Randy Dorn is refusing to offer Gov. Gregoire a list of programs that could be sacrificed in the next round of budget cuts. Dorn claims to do so would violate the state constitution’s requirement for basic education support.
  • The “voter fraud epidemic” so loudly hyped by the right-wing media despite its complete nonexistence? KIRO-TV hyped it too. Even though the state gave the station the facts that negated the station’s claims.
  • The Occupy Wall Street protests continue. And they’ve now got a Seattle branch operation, which also continues.
  • Mark Sumner argues that the old Dutch tulip mania makes a better metaphor for the Wall Street speculation bubble than it did for the late-1990s dot-com bubble.
  • Despite what the religious right and its right-wing-media hucksters claim, America’s actually becoming a more secular nation.
  • Mike Dillon, who first got me doing the occasional essays I do for the Capitol Hill Times, has some nice things to say about my book Walking Seattle. Thanks.
A HUNDRED CITIES IN ONE
Sep 2nd, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

My book Walking Seattle, which I told you about here some months back, is finally out.

The big coming out party is Sunday, Sept. 24, 5 p.m., at the Elliott Bay Book Co. This event will include a 30-minute mini walk around the Pike-Pike neighborhood.

When I came up with the idea of a mini-walk, the store’s staff initially asked what the theme of my mini walk would be. Would it be about the gay scene, or the hipster bar scene, or the music scene, or classic apartment buildings, or houses of worship, or old buildings put to new uses?

The answer: Yes. It will be about all of the above. And more.

The reason: Part of what makes Capitol Hill so special (and such a great place to take a walk) is all the different subcultures that coexist here.

A tourist from the Northeast this summer told me he was initially confused to find so many different groups (racial, religious, and otherwise self-identified) in just about every neighborhood in this town.

Back where he came from, people who grew up in one district of a city (or even on one street) stayed there, out of loyalty and identity. But in Seattle you’ve got gays and artists and African immigrant families and Catholics and professors and cops and working stiffs and doctors all living all over the place. People and families go wherever they get the best real-estate deal at the time, no matter where it is.

On the Hill, this juxtaposition is only more magnified.

In terms of religion alone, Pike/Pine and its immediate surroundings feature Seattle’s premier Jewish congregation, its oldest traditionally African American congregation, the region’s top Catholic university, a “welcoming” (that means they like gays) Baptist church, Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, and a new age spiritual center. Former classic Methodist and Christian Science buildings are now repurposed to offices and condos respectively. And yet, in the eyes of many, the Hill is today better known for what happens on Saturday night than on Sunday morning.

A lot of Igor Keller’s Greater Seattle CD is a quaint look back at when this city’s neighborhoods could be easily typed, as they famously were on KING-TV’s old Almost Live!

Perhaps you might find a few more franchised vitamin sellers in Fremont, or a few more halal butchers near MLK and Othello.

But for the sheer variety of different groups and subgroups and sub-subgroups, there’s no place like this place anywhere near this place.

Though a lot of the time, these different “tribes” don’t live in harmony as much as in they silently tolerate one another’s presence.

To explain this, let’s look at another book.

British novelist China Mieville’s book The City and the City is a tale of two fictional eastern European city-states, “Bezsel” and “Ul Qoma.” These cities don’t merely border one another; they exist on the same real estate. The residents of each legally separate “city” are taught from birth to only interact with, or even recognize the existence of, the fellow citizens of their own “city.” If they, or ignorant tourists, try to cross over (even if it just means crossing a street), an efficient secret police force shows up and carts them away.

It’s easy to see that scenario as a metaphor for modern urban life in a lot of places, including the Hill. It’s not the oft talked about (and exaggerated) “Seattle freeze.” It’s people who consider themselves part of a “community” of shared interests more than a community of actual physical location.

The young immigrant learning a trade at Seattle Central Community College may feel little or no rapport with the aging rocker hanging out at a Pike/Pine bar. The high-tech commuter having a late dinner at a fashionable bistro may never talk to the single mom trying to hold on to her unit in an old apartment building.

Heck, even the gay men and the lesbians often live worlds apart.

It’s great to have all these different communities within the geographical community of the Hill.

But it would be greater to bring more of them together once in a while, to help form a tighter sense of us all belonging and working toward common goals.

THE ART OF OBSOLESCENCE
Aug 4th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

You still have a chance to view the five “MadHomes” along Bellevue Avenue E. They’re open to the public until this Sunday, Aug. 7, noon to 7 p.m. each day.

These house-sized art installations are the brainchild of Alison Milliman. Her organization, MadArt, is dedicated (according to its web site, madartseattle.com) “to bring art into our lives in unexpected ways, and to create community involvement in the arts.”

MadArt curated last year’s sculpture show in Cal Anderson Park and a store-window art display in Madison Park.

But MadHomes vastly outscales either of those projects.

The show’s contributing artists have taken the outsides of the four houses and the insides of three of them (one was still occupied as a residence), plus their front yards and side setbacks, as a three-dimensional canvas, as a setting for “site specific” and interactive works meant to last only three weeks.

And because the houses are going away (to be replaced by a long-delayed condo project). the artists didn’t have to leave the structures the same way they found them.

This meant Allan Packer, one of the show’s artists, could cut holes in floors, walls, and ceilings, from which his cut-out animal figures emerge to greet visitors (as aided by large mechanical devices mainly hidden in the basement).

It also meant Meg Hartwig could freely nail big wood scraps to both a house and to a tree in front of it (which will also be lost to the condo project).

You’ll also see a lot of work that plays in less “invasive” ways with its setting.

These include the SuttonBeresCuller trio’s “Ties That Bind,” comprising 12,000 feet of red straps winding back and forth through one house and along a setback to a second house, creating a labyrinth through the side yard.

They also include Troy Gua’s “Chrysalis (Contents May Shift In Transit),” in which one house has been entirely covered in shrink wrap with a giant bar code sticker.

There are also pieces that could theoretically be re-installed elsewhere upon MadHomes’ conclusion.

One of these is Allyce Wood’s “Habitancy.” She’s mounted “tension-wound” string on and between upstairs walls in one of the houses, depicting silhouettes of imagined former occupants (including at least one dog).

Another is Laura Ward’s “Skin.” Ward painted one of the houses with latex rubber, then peeled it off, then stitched those molded pieces into a smaller replica of the house, placed over a tent-like frame.

None of this would have been possible without the gracious cooperation of the houses’ current owner, the development company Point32. That company’s going to turn the quarter-block into one long three-story building and an adjoining six-story building at the lot’s north side. The project will adjoin and incorporate the existing Bel Roy Apartments at the northeast corner of Bellevue and East Roy Street.

MadHomes has also drawn the approval of the lot’s previous owner, Walt Riehl. He happens to be an arts supporter and a member of the Pratt Fine Arts Center’s board.

Besides being a fun and creative big spectacle, MadHomes means something.

It’s a call for more whimsy and joy in the everyday urban landscape.

Especially now that the new-construction boom has resumed after a two-plus year pause, at least on Capitol Hill.

So many of the big residential and mixed-use projects built on the Hill in the previous decade lack these very elements.

Oh sure, a lot of them are all modern and upscale looking, with clean lines, snazzy cladding, and exterior patterns that make every effort to hide the buildings’ boxy essences.

But there’s something missing in a lot of these places. That something could be described as adventure, delight, or fun.

I’m not asking for huge conceptual art components, of a MadHomes scale, installed into every new development. That wouldn’t be practical.

But there could be little touches that attract a passing eye and give a momentary lift to a tired soul.

POSTSCRIPT: Eugenia Woo sees MadHomes as not a temporary artistic triumph but an urban preservation defeat. At the blog Main 2 (named for an old Seattle telephone exchange), Woo states that the homes, while under-maintained in recent years, could and should have been kept:

Everyday (vernacular) houses for everyday people represent Seattle’s neighborhoods. The drive for increase urban density does not always have to come at the price of preservation and neighborhood character.

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times. Thanks to Marlow Harris of SeattleTwist.com.)

THE VALUE OF CHEAPNESS
May 29th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

Last November, Capitol Hill resident Ferdous Ahmed appeared in a full page photograph in City Arts magazine. He was dressed to the proverbial nines in a vintage black suit, top hat, sunglasses, and high-top boots, accessorized with a gold pocket watch.

A lifelong vintage-wear fan and collector, Ahmed had just opened a boutique on East Olive Way the month before. It specialized in outfitting “steampunk” afficianados in suitably outlandish retro costumery, with garments and accessories mixed and matched from assorted real-world times and places (though mostly of a Victorian sensibility).

Ahmed’s boutique, Capitol Hill Vaudeville, is gone now.

The Solara Building, where the store had been, is mostly vacated (except for a tattoo studio). Entrepreneurs Shanon Thorson and Laura Olson (the team behind Po Dog on Union Street and the Grim bar on 11th Avenue), in partnership with Alex Garcia (Emerson Salon, Banyan Branch Marketing), are turning the place into The Social, a mammoth (3,000 square feet) gay bar and restaurant. Construction crews are now reshaping the building’s interior to sport a dining room and at least four semi-detached bar areas.

Olson and her partners are keeping the tattoo studio on the premises during the construction period, and say they want to bring back some of the building’s other former tenants (including a hair salon and a role-playing game store) in its peripheral spaces.

Ahmed’s boutique, though, might not get invited back. It was just getting off the ground as a business when it got sent packing. Harem, another clothing shop that had been in the Solara (and had previously been in its own storefront on Broadway), is definitely not returning; owner Victoria Landis has held her liquidation sale and is moving on.

Two features had made the Solara ideal for merchants like Landis and Ahmed.

The first was the interior flexibility of its main floor. It featured a big open space, where the gaming store could hold tournaments and the boutiques could hold fashion shows and receptions, without having to pay full time for the extra square footage.

The second was the relatively low rent. None of the Solara’s tenants had its own street-facing storefront. Without this means to attract casual foot traffic, in a building that was already set back from the street by a small parking strip, the tenants had to draw their clientele with clever promotion to identifiable niche markets. The building’s low rents were priced accordingly, to allow these specialty destination spaces to exist.

But a couple of alt-fashion boutiques and a gaming parlor just can’t bring in the kind of money a destination restaurant, and especially a bar/nightclub, can potentially generate.

Thus, the Hill is getting a new, high profile gay club. Olive Way, in particular, is getting another stop on what’s quickly shaping up as the Hill’s next major bar-crawling scene.

And we’re losing an experiment in providing urban spaces for highly specialized retail, the first experiment of its kind here since the Seattle Independent Mall (on East Pike a decade ago.)

Any “artistic” neighborhood needs some cheaper spaces within its mix. Spaces where the unexpected can happen, where new subcultures can form, where new concepts can germinate.

I was reminded of this when I read the University of Washington Press’s new essay collection Seattle Geographies. One of its longer chapters is entitled “Queering Gay Space.”

The chapter’s authors (Michael Brown, Sean Wang, and Larry Knopp) noted that Capitol Hill hadn’t always been the region’s gay culture nexus. In the first half of the last century, gay and lesbian bars, cabarets, and residential homes existed, with varying degrees of “out”-ness, mainly in Pioneer Square, plus a few scattered spots throughout the downtown core and in the University District and Queen Anne.

But when gay pride first really took off in the early 1970s, the Boeing Bust had depressed housing prices throughout the region. The Hill’s housing prices were further held back by what the essay’s authors called “white flight and fears of inner-city decay.” That gave the Hill a “large number of affordable apartments and rooms in shared houses,” which “drew young queer baby boomers into the area.”

The Hill’s desirability as a place to live, aided in part by then-low housing costs, helped spur its growth as a place for gay businesses and hangouts; and also as a place for bohemian art, theater, and fashion scenes.

Thus, four decades later, it can sprout a venture as monumental as The Social.

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

A DRIVE-THRU LANDMARK?
Jan 2nd, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

There’s talk about seeking historic preservation status for the doomed Bank of America drive-thru branch at Broadway and East Thomas.

SRM Development wants to establish the right to tear the bank branch and three adjacent buildings down. That’s so the four buildings (and a back parking lot, where the Capitol Hill Farmers Market has been held in recent years) could eventually make way for another of those retail-residential mixed use projects that were so popular a few years ago.

Right now there’s still a surplus of storefront and condo spaces, on the Hill and in the greater Seattle area. But SRM is betting that, as the economy eventually improves, this backlog will eventually fill up, leaving a market for new projects again.

In December, SRM learned that the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods has formally begun to investigate whether the B of A building was worth landmark status. This status, if granted, would not automatically prevent the building’s demolition, but it would make the developer jump some more bureaucratic hurdles.

The building in question was built by Seattle-First National Bank, for more than 50 years the state’s dominant bank.

“Seafirst” (as it was later known) and its predecessors gave Seattle many true landmark buildings. In downtown alone, the Seafirst heritage includes three of its headquarters buildings—the Dexter Horton Building, the 1969 Seafirst Tower on Fourth Avenue (now known as “Safeco Plaza”), and its last headquarters, the Columbia Center (the tallest building west of the Mississippi).

Several original Seafirst branch offices are also landmarks, or could be. In that roster, I’d include the relatively huge (for neighborhood branch banks) brick edifices in SoDo (still used by B of A) and on Denny Way (now a Walgreens).

But the Broadway branch building’s a more quesitonable candidate for landmark status. It was built in 1967, to a standard suburban-style prototype Seafirst was using at the time.

It presents a slate facade and a small rock garden to the street, and a blank wall to its barren side plaza. It’s never been a particularly pretty or pedestrian-friendly spot. Its drive-thru window is a quintessential example of the ’60s “car culture” City officials now want to discourage.

Two of the other three buildings SRM wants to replace as part of the development scheme have far more character. They’re the old First Security Bank building (later a Crown Books, most recently housing a salon and a pho restaurant) and the old Cafe Septieme/Andy’s Cafe building. The former sports an institutional white facade, symbolizing an image of comfortable solidity banks used to care about promoting. The latter is a quaintly aged neighborhood diner structure.

If the City’s willing to let those buildings fall, for the sake of higher residential density near the future light rail station, there’s no real reason to keep the B of A building standing.

(The bank itself plans to move back onto the block when the retail/residential complex is built, and to temporarily occupy other space on the Hill during the construction.)

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

CLOSE PIKE? WHY NOT?
Oct 8th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

(Cross-posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

Sally Clark had seen the Capitol Hill Block Party.

She’d seen the exuberant crowds bringing life, and business, to Pike/Pine.

She saw that it was good.

She decided she’d like more of it.

All year round.

In July, even before this year’s Block Party occurred, the City Councilmember floated the idea of closing one or more blocks in the Pike/Pine Corridor from vehicular traffic, one or more nights a week.

Her inspiration came partly from the Block Party and partly from the example of Austin. The Texan nightlife hotspot, once billed in the ’90s as the “Next Seattle,” shuts down Sixth Street (its main nightclub drag) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to closing time. The result: A bustling, vibrant street scene along this part-time pedestrian mall.

Councilmember Clark’s first choice for a year-round block party site here was East Pike Street, from Broadway perhaps as far east as 12th Avenue.

The concept hasn’t progressed very far since it was initially offered. Councilmember Clark says it would need the approval of, and tax assessments from, area businesses.

Still, at this fledgling stage, the every-weekend block party has already attracted detractors.

Writing at PubliCola.net in mid-September, urban planning maven Dan Bertolet (who has described himself as a devout “car hater”) nevertheless disapproved of the street closure concept.

Bertolet believes a late night street party every weekend just couldn’t attract enough regular patrons to be worth the traffic disruptions.

He’d rather have a more modest set of pedestrian amenities on East Pike, such as wider sidewalks and a wider range of permitted foods for street vendors to sell.

I disagree.

I’ve seen the weekend night scene along First Avenue in Belltown (which will get its own quasi-Block Party space next year, when Bell Street gets refitted with wider, landscaped sidewalks).

The late-night scene on First can occasionally get wild and rowdy, particularly in the hour just before and after closing time. But it can also be a blast, an entertainment destination in its own right.

Something like that on The Hill, with its own unique milieu, would be its own kind of blast. Particularly if it’s enhanced by the freedom of milling about without fear of traffic.

Of course, Seattle has something Austin (and New Orleans and Miami) don’t have.

A rainy season, commonly known as winter.

Would The Hill’s party-minded young adults, hipsters, gays, etc. want to wander about on a closed-off street during a drizzling Northwest monsoon season?

For a potential answer to that, don’t look south. Look north.

A long stretch of Vancouver’s Granville Street has been car-free (except for transit buses) for three decades now.

And it works.

Day and night, week in and week out, Granville is alive with diners, drinkers, clubgoers, and assorted revelers of all types.

Pike can become more like that.

We could at least try it out.

Close East Pike to cars one Saturday night a month for six months.

Festoon the place with awnings and tents in case of rain.

Bring in artists, a music stage, street performers, fire eaters, and vaudeville/burlesque acts.

Park some mobile vending trucks. But leave out the beer garden. The object is to bring more business to Pike/Pine’s bars, not to compete with them.

If these trials work out, if they attract enough regular revelers, turn them into regular events.

I can see the slogan now:

“Yes, We’re Closed!”

HOW’S BROADWAY?
Sep 2nd, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

As retail trade remains contracted around the nation, Capitol Hill’s Pike-Pine Corridor has bloomed. With the Elliott Bay Book Co. as its new anchor, and a growing array of restaurants and bars covering a wide range of styles and price points, Pike-Pine is the Hill’s, and the city’s, most happening spot.

So how’s that affecting the Hill’s traditional main drag, Broadway?

It’s hanging on. From a cursory glance, it might be doing better than a lot of American neighborhood business strips.

Yes, several Broadway merchants failed to eke out this economic storm. A moment of silence now for Bailey/Coy Books, Harem, Broadway News, Blooms on Broadway, Bella Pizza, and their fellow victims of tough times. (Hollywood Video is a separate case, a whole chain that went away pretty much at once.)

Then there’s the little matter of the big hole in the ground at Broadway and John. Toward the end of this decade it’ll be a spiffy light rail station. But for now it’s two long blocks of dirt and noise behind artist-embellished wooden fences.

But Broadway is refusing to close down for the duration, either of the recession or of the rail construction.

I’m writing this on an extremely busy Sunday afternoon at Espresso Vivace, one of the outfits forced out by the rail project. It’s relocated to the Brix, one of Broadway’s six new mixed-use developments. All were launched during the peak of the now long-burst real estate bubble. The last two, Joule and the Broadway Building, are in the process of opening.

Yeah, that means a bunch of new storefronts are coming on the rental market, adding to what was already an oversupply.

But from the looks of things on this Sunday, they stand a healthy chance of making it work.

Vivace’s big new flagship store at the Brix is packed at this writing. The line for service stretches almost to the door.

Nearby, the Dilettante, Byzantion, Deluxe, and Roy St. Coffee (one of those thinly disguised Starbucks) have their own milling crowds. So do the Broadway Grill and Pho Cyclo.

Three blocks south of Vivace, the Broadway Sunday Farmers Market is closing up shop for the day. The dozens of indie merchants there seemed to have had a good day, even if the weather was unseasonally uninviting.

Still further south, Cal Anderson Park is all busy with dozens of young men and women. They’re posing for one another’s digital cameras and prancing about. They’re dressed in elaborate costumes. Some wear wigs of green, blue, or silver.

It’s the monthly meetup of Gasukan, a local “costume role play” group. Its members come dressed as specific characters from anime, manga, and video games. It’s a shining example of the “everyday cosplay” idea I wrote about in this space back in April.

All this indoor/outdoor activity on an August weekend afternoon certainly doesn’t prove all is fine n’ dandy on Broadway. If it was, perhaps the old Bailey/Coy and Dilettante spaces would be refilled by now.

But at least some of the Joule complex’s storefronts have occupants announced, including an Umpqua Bank branch and a Qdoba Mexican Grill.

The latter is opening approximately where Taco Bell used to be. I can’t say whether or not this is a step up. But at least it’s a step forward, a sign of confidence in the neighborhood by a growing national franchise.

Meanwhile, one venerable Broadway business is about to change.

Ken and Christine Bauer are retiring from Charlie’s on Broadway. They started the venerable diner and bar, with the late Charles Quinn, in 1976. Its art nouveau nostalgia decor, trendy at the time, now seems like a friendly beloved relic.

The Bauers have put Charlie’s up for sale as a going concern. Let’s hope whoever takes it over knows how to pump up its business, without meddling too much with its essential nature.

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

THE EXTRAVAGANT AND THE INTIMATE
Aug 9th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

Thoughts on recent performance events, big and small, on the Hill:

1) The Capitol Hill Block Party.

From all accounts it was a smashing success. Some 10,000 people attended each of the event’s three days. Except for one no-show due to illness, all the big advertised bands satisfied their respective throngs. Seattle finally has a second summer attraction with top big-name musical acts. (I personally don’t consider an outdoor ampitheater in the middle of eastern Washington to be “in Seattle.”)

But as the Block Party becomes a bigger, bolder, louder venture, it can’t help but lose some of its early funky charm, and a piece of its original raison d’etre.

Once a festival starts to seriously woo major-label acts, it has to start charging real money at the gates. It’s not just to pay the bands’ management, but also for the security, the sound system, the fences around the beer gardens, and assorted other ratcheted-up expenses.

That, by necessity, makes the whole thing a more exclusive, less inclusive endeavor.

The street fair booths that used to be free get put behind the admission gates. The merchants, political causes, and community groups operating these booths only end up reaching those who both can and want to pay $23 and up to get in.

I’m not suggesting the Block Party shut down or scale back to its earlier, small-time self.

I’m suggesting an additional event, perhaps on another summer weekend. It would be what the Block Party used to be—free to all, but intended for the people of the Hill. An all-encompassing, cross-cultural celebration of the neighborhood’s many different “tribes” and subcultures. An event starring not just rock and pop and hiphop, but a full range of performance types. An event all about cross-pollenization, exchanges of influence, and cultural learning.

It wouldn’t be a “Block Party Lite,” but something else, something wonderful in its own way.

2) Naked Girls Reading: “How To” Night.

A couple of years ago, a friend told me about a strip club in Los Angeles called “Crazy Girls.” I told him I would rather pay to see sane girls.

Now I have. And it’s beautiful.

“Naked Girls Reading” is a franchise operation, originally based in Chicago. But it’s a perfect concept for Seattle. It’s tastefully “naughty” but not in any way salacious. It’s not too heavy. It’s entertaining. It’s edifying. It could even be billed as providing “empowerment” to its cast.

The four readers last Sunday night, plus the dressed female MC (costumed as a naughty librarian), all came from the neo-burlesque subculture. But this concept is nearly the exact opposite of striptease dancing. There’s no stripping, no teasing, and no dancing. The readers enter from behind a stage curtain, already clad in just shoes and the occasional scarf. They sit at a couch. They take turns reading aloud. When each reader has performed three brief selections, the evening is done.

Each performance has a theme. Last Sunday, it was “How To.” The readers mostly chose types of texts that are seldom if ever read aloud in public. Given Seattle’s techie reputation, it’s only appropriate that we rechristen instructional text as an art form.

Selections ranged from explosive-making (from the ’70s cult classic The Anarchist Cookbook), to plate joining in woodwork, to home-brewing kombucha tea, to deboning a chicken (from The Joy of Cooking), to the famous Tom Robbins essay “How to Make Love Stay.” The women performed these selections with great humor, great voices, and great sitting posture.

Despite what you may hear from the Chicken Littles of the book and periodical industries, The Word isn’t going away any time soon, any more than The Body. Both obsessions retain their eternal power to attract, no matter what.

“Naked Girls Reading” performances are held the first Sunday of each month in the Odd Fellows Building, 10th and East Pine. Details and ticket info are at nakedgirlsreading.com/seattle. The promoters also promise a “Naked Boys Reading” evening at a yet-unset date. (The participles won’t be all that’s dangling.)

‘GRUNGE POLITICS’ GROWS UP
May 12th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

I should have written about this topic back last November, around the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and of the surrounding protests that totally upstaged it.

It was the peak of what could, in retrospect, be called “grunge politics.”

There were plenty of other movements and philosophies at work during the WTO protests, but this particular trend is one that had its greatest moment that week.

It was a time when busting a window at Niketown seemed like a provocative act, when white kids could dress up like Mexican Chiapas insurgents and imagine they were overthrowing something bigger than any mere government. They were, in their own minds, driving a stake into the diseased heart of global commerce itself.

This was a movement, or trend, that was less about changing the world and more about personal expression. It was about expressing strongly felt, if one-dimensional, notions of good vs. evil and us vs. them.

They insisted they were not a target market, that they would not be defined by corporate marketing. Even if they were defining themselves in large part on the basis of their consumer choices in music, attire, transport, food and drink.

The typical proponent of this attitude/lifestyle (male version) was the sort of dude I met a lot at places like Linda’s Tavern and the Six Arms in the late 1990s, and then later at the old Tablet newspaper.

The ideology for the grunge-politics adherents I knew only partly overlapped the ideology of the Olympia radicals and Riot Grrrls from earlier in the 1990s. These Capitol Hill folks I knew weren’t as big on gender issues as the Olympia kids had been, and weren’t at all into the “straight edge” scene (clean and sober partying).

Mostly they had no agenda, because they weren’t vocally in favor of much of anything. What they were “for” was being against stuff.

I’m thinking of one particular guy. We’ll call him Geoff (not his real name). He and I would get together occasionally at a Pike/Pine bar or coffee houes, to agree to disagree.

He firmly believed everything in the world beyond him and his own subculture was the enemy—that big, amorphous enemy that the hippies had called “the Man,” and that the Riot Grrrls had called “the Patriarchy.”

Everything wrong in the world was the fault of Those People. You know, those sap masses out there in Mainstream America. Eating meat. Watching television. Unquestioningly obeying the dictates of the corporate media.

Geoff repeatedly expressed contempt for everything he felt Those People stood for. This included America’s mainstream political system. Organizing, building coalitions, persuading people from other walks of life to join together in a common cause, were things he found boring and useless. He thought of himself as “too political” for any of that.

No, to him “being political” meant publicly protesting, and privately complaining, about everything he was against. Which was a lot.

The things he spoke out against ranged from the epic (wars) to the personal (commercial “alternative” fashion accessories on sale in the malls).

There was one thing he was unquestioningly for. At the time, it was called “hemp.” In more recent years, it’s been called “medical marijuana.”

Of course, Geoff’s reasons for being for it had little to do with the carefully prescribed alleviation of physical pain, and had nothing to do with the promulgation of industrial fibers.

I once argued with Geoff about pot smoking. I said it turned too many people into pacified submissives, and that no real movement for true social change could come from it. He stared at me vacantly and asked me in a droning monotone if I had some.

Which leads to the current marijuana initiative, I-1068.

Its proponents are now gathering signatures across the state. It doesn’t claim any noble non-recreational justification. It’s about pot, and asserting the right for any adult in the state to have and use it, for any purpose. No excuses, no sanctimonious fronts.

This is actually progress.

This is a generation, or a piece of a generation, getting up off of its collective protests and actually doing something.

Which is what I told Geoff, those several years ago, I didn’t expect him and his pals to ever do.

I was wrong.

(Cross-posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)

THE PURSUIT OF HEDONISM
Jan 11th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

A kind reader recently slipped me a rare copy of The Hedonist: In Pursuit of Pleasure and Happiness. It’s a self-published local restaurant and entertainment guide from 1970.


“Typeset” on a typewriter (remember those?) with what look like press-type headlines (remember those?), the slim paperback provides a handy, informal peek at what Seattle was like four long decades ago.


It just happens that 1970 was a very pivotal year around here. The Seattle Pilots baseball team split for Milwaukee after just one season, temporarily dashing civic boosters’ hopes of Seattle becoming a “big league city.” Boeing executed its first massive layoffs, plunging the region into a deep recession that stuck around for several years.


The youth culture was also changing. The flower-power era was quickly fading. The “grownup hippie” milieu of mellow blues-rock bands and foodie bistros was slowly emerging.


In this time of uncertainty, The Hedonist’s editors (William L. Hailey, Joan Frederickson, and Sharon Minteer) and a small team of co-writers took it upon themselves to list the ways a young adult in Seattle could eat, drink, dance, shop, and play.


They tell all about such onetime major city attractions as Morningtown Pizza on Roosevelt (“Come as you are—when you get there, you’ll see that everyone else did, too”), the pre-burger-chain Red Robin near Eastlake (“Once a comfortable, clannish tavern suitable for intimate drunken orgies, the Robin now shelters those who would be hip for a few hours on Friday night and sell shoes and encyclopedias the rest of the week”), and First Avenue’s “amusement arcades” (“films are silent, uncensored, and done on extremely short subjects. No minors, no women allowed to view films and ID please”).


You learn about some of the hundreds of tiny storefront taverns that dotted the city during those days of more restrictive litter laws. Places like the Rat Hole in Wallingford (“shingled walls are covered with posters and road signs; the floor is barely visible through the sawdust covering”), the Century on upper University Way (“a welcome relief from the swinging world of the university beer halls”), and Your Mother’s Mustache in Pioneer Square (“revisit your childhood in the ‘Pillow Play Room’—a bathtub full of pillows, tinker toys and carpeting to sit on”).


What did they say about Capitol Hill? Glad you asked.


A brief chapter about the neighborhood opens with a brief essay by contributing writer Jeannette Franks: “Capitol Hill still hasn’t decided whether it is a haven for hippies, rich kids or little old ladies. Consequently, it has something for everyone, but not a lot for anyone. Shops spring up like mushrooms and vanish as quickly, so don’t get too attached to any one place. The following are expected to be with us for a while, but one never knows just how long.”


A few of the establishments listed in that chapter, and elsewhere in the book, did last a while. Fillipi’s Book and Record Shop ran until 2000 or so; the Keeg’s and Del-Teet furniture stores lasted into the 1980s


We’ve still got the Harvard Exit (“the only movie house with soul”). And the Comet (“This small, friendly tavern on Capitol Hill caters primarily to hip young people…. The management prefers country music, but this is not adamant.”


Where Joe Bar is now, there was once the Russian Samovar restaurant. (“No reservations are necessary to enjoy this old world Russian cuisine, and ‘a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.’”)


Along the 10th Avenue East business strip near the Roanoke Park Place Tavern, there used to be the New York Style Deli. (“Not quite New York style, but good. A little old lady will appreciate your business. Open until midnight.


Those two places I remember. I have no memory of Oquasa Inc. on Broadway (“a head shop with assorted beads, bells vests and candles but no papers”). Nor did I ever visit Demitri’s Coffee House on East Pine (“Demitri has filled all nine of his rooms with fresh flowers, precious old things, bric-a-brac, statues, music—almost anything”).


A short chapter toward the end of the book lists eleven bars and other sites around town “For the Involved Gay.” Only one of these has a Capitol Hill address—Dorian House, the predecessor to the still-operating Seattle Counseling Service for Sexual Minorities.


Then there’s the chapter about “Things To Do For About a Dollar.” It contains an odd little item entitled “Giant Ice Cube.” It reads: “The ice machine at 18th and Madison sells 25-pound blocks of ice for 60 cents. Take these oversized ice cubes to a grassy hill in the Arboretum and ‘ride’ it to the bottom. This may not be a hot idea, but it will freeze your social position in the community.”


I like to think we’ve got better entertainment options than that now.


(Expanded from a column in the Capitol Hill Times.)

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