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.)

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.)

Oct 4th, 2009 by Clark Humphrey

(This will appear in the 10/7/09 Capitol Hill Times.)

I just signed a contract with Wilderness Press to produce a walking guide to Seattle.

Of course, Capitol Hill and First Hill will be major locales in it.

After all, The Hill is one of America’s finest examples of a walkable neighborhood. You’ve got residences (in a variety of styles and price points), shopping, dining, entertainment, schools, churches, parks, medical facilities and more, all within a healthy stroll along sidewalked, tree-lined, lighted streets. Add the Hill’s adjacency to downtown and you’ve got the state’s biggest concentration of jobs, major stores, and tourist/scenic attractions.

The Hill also has extensive bus transit, both within the neighborhood and out to downtown, the UW, and the south end. (And there’ll be a light rail station on Broadway sometime in the next decade.)

Civic advocates, such as the Seattle-based Feet First, have long touted the many benefits of walkable neighborhoods. Such places foster a greater sense of community, bringing people into face-to-face interaction even if they don’t live or work in the exact same building. They save on energy and other natural resources.

And they offer more intangible benefits as well. Neighborhoods with a lot of foot traffic are simply more “alive” than places where everybody’s stuck inside either a building or a vehicle.

So it’s natural to find officials in other localities trying to figure out how to add the magic of walkability (and bikeability) to what have heretofore been car-dependent suburbs.

One local example: “The Landing In Renton.”

Out by the Boeing and Kenworth factories, where Cirque de Soleil used to be, and where Clay Bennett once claimed he wanted to put up a new sports arena for just a gazillion taxpayer bucks, a different kind of suburban district is forming.

Some of its retail blocks (particularly the Target and the Fry’s electronics superstore) are built in traditional strip-mall style, with storefront entrances recessed behind giant moats of parking.

But other blocks, including a “main street” intersection, are built direct to the curb, with storefronts opening straight onto real sidewalks.

There’s also a block-long apartment monstrosity, also built to the curb, with indoor/underground parking. A second apartment complex of this type is currently under construction, despite the nationwide building slump.

The Landing, in its current form, is a good start. But it’s not enough. Sidewalks, by themselves, do not a neighborhood make. The Landing’s developers know this. On their web site, they promise that by the time the whole project’s done, it’ll be a real pedestrian-friendly place. “Wide, vibrant sidewalks—lined with lively cafes, dynamic retail shops and cozy residential buildings—will encourage pedestrians to stroll throughout the varied streets. A collection of restaurants surrounding a strong retail core will create a venue vibrant enough to be a year-round destination.”

Until then, The Landing might be a nice place to shop, but it’s not quite the stuff for a walking-tour book. It’s a collection of your basic suburban strip-mall and big-box chains, designed and arranged a little differently.

Even when The Landing is complete, it’ll be something manufactured from scratch, representing what one developer/landlord believes are the shops and businesses and housing-stock types a neighborhood needs.

But traditional urban neighborhoods like Capitol Hill didn’t just grow organically either. They were planned and platted and nurtured by zoning laws. Much of Seattle’s urban cityscape was essentially built up from scratch in relatively short timeframes (from a few years to a few decades). Every building and block in our town has evolved since it was built, but they all were built by humans.

Places like Capitol Hill can be built again. Perhaps not with the same materials (those old houses and apartments used a lot of no-longer-cheap ingredients, including labor), but with the same sense of scale and vibrancy. Will they?

Back to the walking-tours book:

I already know plenty of spots on Capitol Hill to send the book’s readers to—Volunteer and Anderson parks, Lakeview Cemetery, 15th Avenue, Broadway, Pike/Pine, St. Mark’s, the mansions. And on First Hill there’s always the SU campus, the Stimpson-Green Mansion, St. James, the Frye Art Museum.

Where else should I send the book-buying walkers?

Let me know at walking@miscmedia.com.

Aug 3rd, 2009 by Clark Humphrey

The following is based on notes written last Friday afternoon at the new “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, Inspired by Starbucks”:

The first thing to know about this place is that Starbucks isn’t pretending not to own it. Besides the “Inspired by” subtitle, it sells Starbucks’ Tazo Tea and Via instant coffee packets.

The second thing is there are many precedents for corporations setting up faux-indie divisions. I’m old enough to remember Gallo Wines’ many pseudonymous brands of the ’70s and ’80s. Media giants have long hidden themselves behind pseudo-independent brands (Focus Features, Caroline Records). And of course there’s “Shoebox Greetings, A Tiny Little Division of Hallmark.”

But a more apt comparison would be to Britain’s local pubs. Thousands of them are owned by national or regional chains; some of those chains are owned by big breweries.

Many of these corporate-owned boozers maintain individualistic names and decor. That’s what Starbucks boss Howard Schultz seemed to have in mind when he recently said he wanted to add locally-themed coffeehouses to the firm’s regular, standardized outlets.

The company seems to have spent a LOT to make a former regular Starbucks branch site, in a recently-built building, look oh-so raw and rustic.
One could say it looks like a studio backdrop for a 1992 “designer grunge” fashion spread. Like a Las Vegas resort with a “Seattle” theme. Like a big stage set for La Boheme.

It definitely looks like it’s trying too hard to imitate other eateries and drinkeries in the neighborhood (Victrola, 22 Doors, Smith, Redwood, Linda’s, Oddfellows, Buck, etc.).

The place sounds differently, too. Instead of the Starbucks-curated CDs that play in the chain’s regular stores, 15th Avenue features an oh-so carefully “eclectic” music mix. Neko Case, Belle and Sebastian, dance remixes of West Coast jazz standards.

15th Avenue’s products and service routines are truly different from the Starbucks norm. Are they better? That’s a matter of personal taste, but I prefer this to the chain standard. Every drink is made from freshly ground beans, in your choice of varietal roasts and blends, on a La Marzocco espresso machine (not the more automated devices found in regular Starbucks stores).

“For here” orders are served on real dishes, without logos for now. (A hand-lettered sign promises, “Our logo serveware is coming soon.”)

Unlike regular Starbucks branches, 15th Avenue serves wine and bottled beer for on-premises consumption, including several Redhook flavors. (Both Redhook and Starbucks were originally cofounded by local serial entrepreneur Gordon Bowker.)

One thing 15th Avenue has in common with a regular Starbucks is the lack of free WiFi (though you can leech a wireless connection from the Smith bar next door).

Even if 15th Avenue Coffee doesn’t earn its keep as a coffeehouse, it could survive as a lab for the mother chain, testing new products and shticks.

It could blossom into its own subsidiary chain, perhaps with each unit named for its own street. (Note the name for 15th Avenue’s Web site, “streetlevelcoffee.com.”)

It could flop and be replaced by another Starbucks-“inspired” concept.

What it won’t become is a real threat to the indie coffeehouses and their devout clientele.

Indie coffeehouses, with their lingering beat/hippie historical vibe, are natural gathering places for “creative class” people, who frequently style themselves as non-corporate or even anti-corporate.

To these customers, chain-owned coffeehouses—no matter how idiosyncratic looking—will never be good enough.

Jun 2nd, 2008 by Clark Humphrey

This week we must say goodbye to the KFC restaurant at 1001 East Pine.

For decades, it was a welcome sight to nightclubbers seeking a pre-drinking meal, regular working folk seeking an affordable treat, and defiant carnivores who loved its wafting aromas signifying a Hill holdout for un-PC eating.

It was built in the mid-1950s as Gil’s Drive-In, part of a small regional chain started by Gill and Alma Centioli. When Kentucky Fried Chicken first rolled out as a franchise brand, Gil’s three locations offered it as a sideline to their burger-based menus.

By the mid-1960s, the Centolis remodeled Gil’s to conform to KFC’s chainwide branding. (They eventually owned more than 60 KFCs in the metro area.) But the Capitol Hill location remained listed as “Gil’s Drive-In” in industry directories. Restaurant-directory Web sites picked up this oddity, and continued to direct users toward this phantom burger stand.

(The Centiolis’ daughters were involved in the founding of Pagliacci’s Pizza and Merlino Fine Foods; their son owns the regional rights to Krispy Kreme.)

Jack in the Box, recently displaced from its own Broadway site, is said to be taking over the location. It’ll be a few months before the place is remodeled and reopened.

(Update: However, there’s a curious Craigslist posting claiming the site’s currently available, implying another chain doesn’t have it yet.)

Sep 5th, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

I was at the Mariners-Angels game on Aug. 28. The first inning was fantastic. As for the rest of the game, (insert Mad magazine-style, gross-out sound effect words here).

But some local players still ended the evening coming out ahead. They’re the kids and teens who attend the Rotary Boys and Girls Club, 201 19th Avenue.

That’s due to Tom Herche. He runs United Warehouses, in the (for now at least) industrial district south of Safeco Field.

No, his company’s not the old United Furniture Warehouse, of once-ubiquitous musical TV commercials. It’s a general storage facility, where small manufacturers, importers, and distributors can stow their wares at modest rents.

Every August, Herche buys a block of up to 500 tickets to a Mariners home game. He then resells them to friends and friends-of-friends at $25 each, with all the money benefitting the Boys and Girls Club. Folks who buy four or more tickets get to park in the warehouse’s lot, one long block south of the stadium.

He also treats the ticket buyers to a “Tailgate Bar B Que” at the warehouse. He springs for the burgers, hot dogs, sodas, and pony kegs of Coors. The drinks are served inside the building, the food outside.

The tailgate party was a perfect early evening, held in a perfect setting. United Warehouses looks like a warehouse ought to look. It’s got a curved roof and bare-wood support beams. A delightfully rundown-looking front office emits that vital “we don’t waste our customers’ money” look.

Herche’s company also has three larger, newer facilities out in Kent (plus one in Portland). But his Occidental Avenue building is a classic of warehouse architecture. And it’s a shining example of why the city should fight to preserve industrial uses in the old industrial district.

For one thing, it’s hard to imagine a scene in the big-box Kent Valley like the Tailgate Bar B Que.

The scene outside: Standup “tables” made of shipping palettes with Costco tablecloths. Hundreds of casually dressed adults, and a few kids, basking in friendly chatter and the late-afternoon sun, avoiding both the rush-hour traffic and the stadium parking jam.

The scene inside: Grownups sipping refreshing beers in the refreshing shade, standing amid stacks of cases of soft drinks, gardening tools, small appliances, and whatever else was staying in the warehouse this day.

But after a mere two hours of this, it was time for all of us to march en masse up Occidental Avenue toward the ballpark.

Sure, the seats were up in the right field nosebleed section, but nobody complained—at least not about that.

The game itself, you either know about or have tried to forget. The Ms scored five runs on four hits (including an ultra-rare three triples) in the first inning. It all went downhill from there. Our boys lost their fourth in a row (in what would become a nine-game losing streak), dashing hopes that they’d overtake the Angels for the division lead.

But everyone in the tailgaters’ group still had a swell time. Today’s Mariners organization, unlike the early Kingdome-based outfit, knows how to put on a complete show.

But enough about that. Let’s talk about the night’s real winners.

The Rotary Boys and Girls Club began as the Rotary Youth Foundation in 1939, begun by the Rotary Club of Seattle (still a major supporter). In 1947 it affiliated with Boys’ Clubs of America, which went coed in the 1970s.

The club serves more than 700 children from the Hill and the CD, ages 6-18. More than 200 show up on any given after-school day. Programs include education and career prep, “character and leadership” development, health and life skills, and the arts, as well as sports and recreation.

The club’s been blessed over the years by major supporters. Besides the Rotary Club and United Warehouses, Microsoft and auto dealer Phil Smart Sr. have made big contributions.

But they could always use more cash and volunteer hands, to help keep their programs going strong. You can contribute by calling 206-436-1880 or logging on to rotarybgc.org.

Aug 2nd, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

Got another little essay in the Capitol Hill Times, this one about how and why apartment and condo residents could be more sociable.

Got the August Belltown Messenger out, with three long pieces by yrs. truly.

And I’ve turned in another photo-history book to Arcadia Publishing. Seattle’s Belltown will be out in November, tentatively, and it’ll be just as fabulous as Vanishing Seattle. More on this later.

Jan 1st, 2007 by Clark Humphrey

Some time last year, I had a discussion with a Pacific Publishing bigwig, over whether Capitol Hill is or isn’t a real “neighborhood” or was just a jumble of subcultures and “tribes” sharing the same patch of real estate.

This New Year’s Eve I was at a potluck party on the Hill. At events like this, Capitol Hill IS a neighborhood. Painters and schoolteachers and real estate agents and former City Peoples Mercantile clerks and musicians and small business owners and Microsofties and families and singles and gays and assorted races and generations, all coming together. Some no longer live on the Hill, but still identify with it. At occasions like this dinner party, the Hill really is a neighborhood.

Perhaps no one at the event was ever next-door neighbors to anyone else at the event. But they’re still a community.

Capitol Hill is a real community. It’s also a “virtual” community, a state of mind.

Until this past Nov. 7, many people in both the physical and virtual Capitol Hills thought of these places as backwaters, sites of exile from the rampant corporate conservatism that seemed to be overtaking the rest of the nation. In this mindset, the Hill was a retreat, a preserve where the old values of progress and free thought could be kept barely alive.

But the popular repudiation of the far right in the national midterm elections shows the country moving in a new direction, a new mindset. A mindset that values self-expression, inclusion, and real caring about people. A mindset closer to that of the Hill, and of Seattle in general.

At the potluck, I informally asked people their biggest hope for the new year. One woman said she hoped she’d be strong enough to pass the firefighter’s exam. One man said he hoped to finally get his big break in NYC. One guy said he couldn’t think of anything to hope for politically. But others did express a generalized wish that things would get better, that the jokers running things in DC these days would become irrelevant/outplaced, and that people would start to do something, anything, to repair the planet.

The respondents invariably asked the question back at me. I said I hoped people, particularly Capitol Hill people, would start to imagine even the possibility of hope, that the whole world does not necessarily totally suck, that change is indeed possible.

This is my request for you this year: Think of your neighborhood, your community, not as a relic of America’s progressive past but as a vanguard for America’s progressive future.

Yeah, I put out a photo book late last year about Seattle’s yesterdays, including some of Capitol Hill’s yesterdays.

I want readers to see the book as more than a trip down memory lane, a wistful look back at A Simpler Time. It’s meant to be a celebration of the old Seattle, and a call to recapture at least some of its spirit.

Hard to believe, but there was a time when almost every Seattle restaurant printed the prices of every item on its menu for all to see–and did so in dollars and cents, not simply two digits and a dot. Locally-owned (or at least locally-managed) stores set fashion trends that sometimes defied those dictated by the national magazines. Local DJs promoted local rock bands on commercial top-40 radio. Local TV newscasts dared to devote whole minutes to “talking heads” discussing politics and other nonviolent topics.

Other personality traits of Seattle’s past self are more subtle. There was a spirit, a feeling that Things Could Be Done. A real city, with all bells and whistles, could be carved out of recently-conquered wilderness. We could build our own businesses, make our own art, think up our own ideas. Later, the feminist and civil-rights movements added new dimensions to this can-do attitude.

This stance went hand-in-hand with a self-effacing sense of humor. The old Seattle had writers (Betty Anderson, Emmett Watson), cartoonists (Bob Cram, Lynda Barry), and broadcasters (Bob Hardwick, Stan Boreson) who blended unpretentious whimsey and clever wit.

The old Seattle was a place more interested in living a good life than in amassing ever-bigger piles of Stuff. It was a place with a working waterfront, not a “Harbour Pointe.”

It’s that spirit I want to help bring back. And, in the old Seattle mindset, I believe we can.

So think of your immediate surroundings as The Future.

And think of your self as having a Future, beyond grunt survival.

This will be quite difficult for some of you, who’ve spent the past two decades or more bemoaning the supposed creeping fascism of everybody in America outside of yourselves and your immediate friends.

But try it.

You just might be surprised at what happens.

Sep 18th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

…since a post to this site. What can I say except (1) I’m sorry, (2) I’ll try to do better, and (3) I’ve got some great print work I’ve been workin’ on that’s comin’ at ya real soon?

Meanwhile, our Capitol Hill Times friends have a full list of all the beer and wine products you can’t buy downtown anymore. Yet that abominable California product sold under the once-respectable Pabst name still remains freely available.

Autumnal conditions gracefully settled into the greater Seattle area on Tuesday, Sept. 12. We’re cloudy and cool once again, and will probably stay this way, more or less, for the next six months. I like it. If you don’t like it, here’s the URL for Florida real estate.

How high are fans’ expectations for the Seahawks? Let’s just say they’re undefeated, but not undefeated by enough.

And the UW Husky footballers are doing better than expected, having won two squeakers.

Roq La Rue’s Tiki Art Now 3 exhibit is still up. If you go this week, you’ll probably have a more pleasant viewing experience than was had by we who attended the packed-to-overflowing opening night.

I’m sending off the page proofs of my next book, Vanishing Seattle, to the publisher today. There’s only a slight chance copies will be available prior to Xmas; but you’ll still be able to preorder. If you do so through MISCmedia.com, you’ll get a truly lovely gift card to let your lucky recipient know of the memorable reading experience awaiting when their copy does arrive.

Excuse us if we’re not yet really impressed by the newly corporate-approved legal movie download hype. Even if one (1) of the services is Mac-friendly. At this point in time, those physical artifacts known as DVDs still provide greater selection, higher image quality, (usually) lower consumer costs, and fewer pesky rights-management shackles.

It looks like Seattle First United Methoidist Church may move to Belltown after all, even as its previously announced deal with developer Martin Selig goes pffft. Under the new deal, rival developer Nitze-Stagen will take over the church’s historic sanctuary for commercial uses, put an office tower on the rest of the church’s existing land, and help the church buy the Third and Battery site Selig was going to give away to it.

Tomorrow’s primary day here in WashState. I beg of you to all get out and defeat the far right’s highly funded drive to pack the state Supreme Court with anti-environmentalists.

Jun 13th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

(The following is what I’ve written for this week’s Capitol Hill Times.)

I’m hosting a big shindig on Thursday, June 15, and I hope you’ll show for it. It’s at the Rendezvous Grotto (2320 2nd Ave.) and it’s called “The 20th MISCiversary.”

Twenty years ago this week, I started a little column in a little monthly paper based out of Belltown.

In those months and years since, I’ve watched a lot of people, places, and things come and go.

I saw the Seattle rock scene declared dead on at least a dozen occasions. But it refuses to go away; despite the occasional attempts by politicians and the record industry to kill it off for good.

I’ve seen downtown housing go from almost extinct to a hi-growth industry.

I’ve seen local politics pretty much stay the same, with the usual “downtown vs. neighborhoods” and development vs. preservation arguments repeated like a familiar jingle.

Speaking of jingles, 20 years ago commercial radio didn’t quite suck as awfully as it does now. Cable TV was still a novelty. (Remember when music videos were widely derided as a threat to real rock? Heck, remember music videos?)

Yes, Virginia, there was online communication in 1986. It was in the form of dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSs), running off of the home PCs of their respective systems operators (“sysops”).

I resided then in the Consulate Apartments on Belmont. It was the first post-college abode I’d managed to stay in for longer than six months. The manager at the time was a flamboyant yet cynical gay guy who, unfortunately for me, parked his motorcycle directly beneath my unit; prior to his late-night treks to Chinese restaurants, he’d be revvin’ up the thing for a good five to ten loud minutes. He’d installed a Dymo Labelmaker sign inside the back door: “Don’t let strange people in. We have plenty.”

The bar at the end of that block, now Kincora’s, was then a notorious dive tavern called Glynn’s Cove. When I got my first non-toy computer, I snuck it in via the back door so as not to let any Glynn’s patrons learn I had something worth stealing.

There were reasons for this concern. The Pike-Pine corridor’s sidewalks were frequented day and evening by drug dealers/users, aggressive panhandlers, and streetwalkers of all genders. Today’s fashionable foot traffic in the area was much sparser. There was no Linda’s, no War Room, no Capitol Club, no Rudy’s, no Cha Cha, no Six Arms, no Area 51, no Manray, no Neumo, no Harvard Market, no Elysian. There were gay bars, though fewer than nowadays; one of them had the slogan DARE TO BE DIFFERENT posted outside and a six-foot-long dress code posted just inside.

Some places that were here on the Hill then are still around now, but different. There was the Fred Meyer Marketime that became Broadway Market that became QFC. Today’s City Market was Mallstrom’s Market, whose beer racks bore the warning “No ID, no beer—even if you ‘just live up the street.'”

And there were a lot of neighborhood landmarks that are just gone now.

All the low-budget, low-rent, low-pretension hangouts, where the menus were still printed with dollar signs and nothing was listed under the rubric MARKET PRICE. Ernie Steele’s. Lion O’Reilley’s. The Broadway Coffee Shop. Andy’s Cafe. The Cause Celebre Cafe. Pizza Pete.

Shopping in the neighborhood was less about unique knick-knacks, more about practicality. There was the First Hill Thriftway (later Shop-Rite), perhaps the Platonic ideal of a small indie supermarket. A Different Drummer Books. Hardware and home-electronics stores. The still-missed City Peoples Mercantile.

I can’t even begin to talk about the disappeared arts institutions. The former Empty Space Theater on East Pike (a mild walk from the new Empty Space at Seattle University, three “spaces” later). The original 911 Media Center, descended from the multimedia producing organization and/or. All the gallery and exhibition sites that have come and gone during the intervening years, from the Vox Populi Gallery to the Union Garage. The Apple Theater (which was still showing new pornos in ’86; its supply of shot-on-film product soon ceased, but it reran the old films for another decade). The Broadway Theater.

I’m putting a book together about this “Vanishing Seattle,” the city of funky humor and rough-hewn honesty that’s increasingly displaced by the newfangled upscale-luxury everything. I’m looking for photos and mementos of beloved former local stores, restaurants, celebrities, bars, buildings, bridges, and Bubbleators. If you’ve got any, let me know with an email to vanish@miscmedia.com. (All items will be promptly returned.)

Mar 30th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

the big Capitol Hill afterparty memorial service early Tuesday evening. It was large, it was (mostly) somber, it was sad.

But it was also a celebration of life, of the “peace, love, and unity” ethos oft proclaimed by the techno world these past dozen years or so (almost the entire lifetimes of two of the shooting victims).

You’d think that after all these years, the oft-justly-vilified “MSM” (that’s blog-talk for “mainstream media”) would’ve figured out that the dance-music scene ain’t no big bad den of iniquity, except by the standards of far-right prudes. But the ol’ temptation of easy stereotypes reared its ugly head again, as local papers and broadcasters this past week filled too many of their dispatches wtih easy-to-write, easy-to-understand inaccuracies.

The shooting is a one-time event that could have happened in a school, church, shopping mall, or freeway overpass. The music-dance scene in Seattle (particulalry the commercial and nonprofit events with pro security) is about as secure as any young-rebel-hedonist scene anywhere has ever been. And it’s a lot more tolerant and mutually supportive than a lot of the more officially-approved-of youth activities.

This was proven as the memorial service ended and the sun went down. A group of ravers broke up the mass sadness by opening the doors of a parked car, cranking up the car’s stereo, and inviting all to dance the tears away.

Over the years, some music critics have scorned the techno genre for its alleged emotionless monotony. If any of these critics had seen this act of spontaneous defiance/celebration, they’d be singing the proverbial different tune.

Feb 27th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

Let us now praise the brave owners of the Hillcrest Market, set to reopen sometime soon (perhaps this upcoming month) at Summit Avenue and Denny Way.

When the old Hillcrest burned in July 2004, insurers deemed it too damaged to be repaired. The old building was unceremoniously bulldozed. It had operated under the Hillcrest name since 1959, but had been selling groceries at least since the 1930s (it was originally a pre-supermarket-era Safeway).

That might have been the end of it. The Hillcrest’s owners could have cut their losses, sold out, and perhaps retired on the proceeds of the real estate. The site’s small and awkwardly shaped, but that hasn’t stopped the developers of mid-rise condos and luxury apartments elsewhere on the Hill.

But instead, the Hillcrest’s owners chose to rebuild. It’s taken nearly two years. During this time, the land hasn’t earned a cent of income, other convenience stores have taken bigger shares of the neighborhood’s impulse-shopping business, Fred Meyer and Safeway abandoned their north Broadway locations, and independent food marts in other Seattle neighborhoods such as Fremont and Alki died off. The new Hillcrest will have to prove its worth in a changed retail environment.

I hope it succeeds. And not just because the old Hillcrest had Seattle’s best take-out fried chicken.
The old Hillcrest was, and I presume the new Hillcrest will be, a complete grocery store in a compact size. It wasn’t one of those tiny convenience outlets offering little beyond beer, cigarettes, and Lotto tickets. Nor was it one of those posh gourmet mini-marts offering lots of wine and cheese but little of anything else.

Rather, Hillcrest had a full produce department, an acceptably large fresh-meat selection, and a surprising depth in your other basic grocery product categories. You could handle all your food-buying needs there; though it lacked a supermarket’s higher volume, and hence couldn’t compete with a supermarket’s lower prices.

But as the industry evolves, with ever-larger supermarkets located ever-further apart, there may be a continued (or even enlarged) role for stores that offer what you need, when and where you need it.
Some big names are betting on it.

Tesco (Britain’s behemoth supermarket chain) announced in early February that it’s planning to invade the U.S. as early as next year. Tesco will (1) start its American invasion in the western states, where Wal-Mart (America’s behemoth everything chain) is at its sparsest, and (2) mostly build 5,000-square-foot “express” stores, offering full selections (including fruits and vegetables) in neighborhoods the full-size food marts have abandoned.

This is exactly what many urban storefront districts, and suburban strip-mall districts, have desperately needed for years.

Tesco’s push, if it goes through, would bring new respect and industry attention to the midsize store format. But, like many of you, I’d still prefer to transact my business with a local independent operator—particularly one who, like the Hillcrest’s defiant owners, have proven they care for our neighborhood and deserve our business.

Mar 3rd, 2005 by Clark Humphrey

…in the current Capitol Hill Times, expanding on my recent thoughts i.r.t. the silly Republican drive to split Washington into two states.

Mar 3rd, 2005 by Clark Humphrey

…gets any older than it already is, I’ve gotta run down the Kim Warnick retierment roast last Sunday night at Neumo’s.

The 22-year Fastbacks singer-bassist, and more recent Visqueen sidewoman, announced she’s giving up the music-biz grind. Some longtime pals, particularly promoter (and Warnick’s fellow ex-Sub Pop office drone) Kerri Harrop, staged the big shindig to mark Warnick’s long service to the local and global music community.

The event was emceed by former local TV phenom John Keister. He’s apparently spent at least part of the past four years in low-rent exile in Ellensburg. He also looked as if he’d been eating very well lately. He opened with a short monologue about the Seattle music scene, or what passed for it, at the time Warnick began playing—one or two midweek club nights at bars that normally catered to the leather crowd.

Warnick’s father showed up, told his own Dean Martin-style roast jokes, including one in which he referred to the Fastbacks’ most famous touring partners as “Strawberry Jam.” He then narrated a slide show of Kim’s peaceful childhood years in north Seattle.

A succession of other ol’ pals (including Joe Meece from the Meeces, Dave Rosencranz from Sub Pop, and Visqueen leader Rachel Flotard) then took turns on the podium with anecdotes about wacky experiences on tour, in practice, and at day jobs with Warnick, and about her philosophy of life (“ALWAYS make your bed in the morning”).

Warnick’s longtime stage fraternal twin, Fastbacks songwriter-guitarist Kurt Bloch, attended the event but didn’t speak live. Instead, he and the band’s third permanent member, Lulu Gargiulo, appeared in a pre-made video projection, singing Fastbacks songs without Warnick’s vocals and starting but never finishing funny tour stories. (Gargiulo must have a Dorian Gray-esque painting of herself at home, ‘cuz she’s hardly aged a day in the past quarter century.)

That was one of several video segments interspersed through the night, including two vintage Fastbacks music videos from the early ’90s. (One day, we’re going to have to tell our perplexed grandchildren what “music videos” were. They’re fast becoming a scarce commodity, even on the TV channels created to show them.)

All in all, it was a quite pleasant and entertaining evening. Those of us who’d listened to Warnick’s music-making since the bitter start had a wunnerful, wunnerful time reminiscing about the (not necessarily “good,” but fun) old days.

Oct 29th, 2004 by Clark Humphrey

This week, Capitol Hill’s food-shopping routines changed forever.

First stop: The new Safeway at 21st and Madison. It’s part of a “mixed use” retail-apartment megaplex, urged on by city officials eager to gentrify (i.e., white-ify) one of the last blocks of minority-owned retail north of Yesler Way. It’s across from Oscar’s II, the Af-Am restaurant/lounge that was infamously targeted for closure by former City Attorney Mark Sidran.

The new Safeway itself is large, of course, and designed to be a true “urban” shopping target. The ramp for the underground parking’s in the back. The building’s main corner entails a grand pedestrian entrance. In keeping with the L-shaped block it’s built on, the store’s been designed with alcoves and corners, breaking from the seven-decade tradition of the supermarket interior as a plain rectangle.

Even more un-square: The new Broadway Market QFC, which opened Sunday after a four-month remodel of the former urban mini-mall.

Because it was built from what had been several different retail spaces (Fred Meyer, Gap, Gravity Bar, Zebraclub, African Imports) and the central mall corridor, the new Q couldn’t help but pick up some of the old Nordstrom, collection-of-boutiques vibe. (Crossed, of course, with that Whole Foods luxury-nutrition vibe.)

The big surprise: The former downstairs Fred Meyer variety-store section was retained, as “QFC Home.” It’s better organized than it had been under Freddy’s, and retains most of the merchandise lines Freddy’s had had. (Among the missing: Paint, toys, TV/video, family apparel, underwear.)

The old Broadway QFC (above), and the old Broadway Safeway (below), along with the old Bartell Drugs next to the old QFC, stand vacant and awaiting redevelopment. There are enough people in this neighborhood with money and retail experience. Let’s put something together.

The old QFC/Bartell’s buildings add up to almost a full half block. Let’s start up a home/hardware/variety store there, along the lines of the old City People’s Mercantile with home electronics added.

At the old Safeway site, let’s have a no-frills apparel shop for ladies, gents, and kids. Jeans, tops, dresses, undies, casual shoes, hats, handbags, some local-designer consignments.

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