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In December 2013, I wrote in this space about Bill’s Off Broadway, the legendary Capitol Hill pizza joint and bar.
It had just closed earlier that month. Its building at Harvard and East Pine was going to be replaced by a fancy new mixed-use development.
Now, Bill’s is back.
It’s got the same owners, much of the same staff, and the same menus.
It’s got the same interior color scheme.
It’s at the same corner.
But it’s not the same place; and it’s not in the same space.
Only the street-facing outer brick walls remain from the old building. Everything else, including the Bill’s interior, is all-new. Above the brick front, modern steel and glass construction rises six stories up.
This sort of thing is going on all over Pike, Pine, and Union streets on Capitol Hill. Everything from printing plants to luxury-car dealerships has been removed except for the skins. A few blocks away, even the beloved Harvard Exit Theater is being razed-and-rebuilt like this.
It’s going on all over South Lake Union. The massive Troy Laundry building has already been hollowed out. The former Seattle Times building, its interior recently defaced by squatters, will probably also vanish except for its art-deco frontage.
In these and other places around town, you can see forlorn exterior walls of brick and terra cotta, artificially braced up, standing in front of nothing but construction holes.
In the frontier towns of the Old West (including pioneer Seattle), main streets were full of “false front” architecture. Grand, pompous storefronts stood proudly as signs of civic ambition, drawing people into the little one- or two-story stick structures hiding behind them.
Today’s “façadism” (yes, that’s a term some people use for this phenomenon) attempts an opposite aesthetic goal.
It seeks to mask the harsh, brutal, hyper-efficient modernity of a structure by offering a make-believe connection to the funky old building it replaced. Long-time residents can drive past it and imagine that the historic old building is still there, as long as they don’t look too closely.
But that’s about all it does.
It doesn’t preserve the spaces within, or their diverse uses.
Eugenia Woo, a local historic-preservation advocate and current director of preservation for Historic Seattle, writes about “What Price Façadism?” in the latest issue of Arcade, the local architectural/design journal.
Woo decries the practice, as an aesthetic travesty that fails to preserve the old buildings’ “authenticity”:
“Stripped of everything but its facade, a building loses its integrity and significance, rendering it an architectural ornament with no relation to its history, function, use, construction method or cultural heritage. With only its primary facades saved, the original structure is gone, including the roof, interior features and volume of space.… Further, the scale and massing of the new building change the rhythm and feel of a block and neighborhood.”
Crosscut.com’s Knute Berger recently noted that property owners have sometimes manipulated the façades they’re supposedly preserving.
Berger writes that preservation advocates “have accused developers of damaging the historic integrity of building exteriors to ensure their building won’t be made a landmark, yet preserving the building’s skin as a ploy to win approval for more height for a new project. In other words, façade protections could actually be undercutting true preservation.”
Berger also notes that, at least in the Pike/Pine Corridor, current regulations have the effect of encouraging façadism instead of true preservation: “If an old building’s exterior is deemed to have architectural and contextual character, a developer can get additional height for a new structure in exchange for saving the façade. In other words, extra density and square-footage is dangled as an incentive to save an original exterior.”
The current tech-office boom, a legacy of city officials promoting urban development at almost any price (except in “single family” zones), and popular trends that see urban life as more attractive than suburban life have combined to create a “perfect storm” of development fever. This has put pressure on the continued existence of old commercial and industrial buildings, throughout Seattle.
Growth, say pro-development “urbanists,” is inevitable.
But façadism needn’t be.
There are other ways to keep Seattle’s built history alive, while accommodating new residents and new uses.
Instead of false façades, Woo would rather see a form of “smart planning” that either preserves historic buildings whole or replaces them whole with “new projects that are well designed, perhaps the landmarks of tomorrow, cohesively knitted into the streetscape.”
(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)
photo by arthur s. aubry (who himself passed on earlier this year), via earl brooks
We all knew he was going.
He’d had chronic COPD for many years. At his last Seattle public appearance, in early 2013, he’d looked frail, and had trouble talking for long periods of time.
But it was still a total bitch to learn that he’d died this last Monday morning.
Like many people commonly grouped as “’60s generation kids,”Rolon Bert Garner was already past his teens before the Beatles came to our shores. He’d grown up in Eugene to parents from Oklahoma. In Portland he’d cofounded Artech (a long-running regional art-supply and framing chain) before he came here to work for the Seattle Art Museum, circa 1969.
He was one of the original instigators of Bumbershoot in 1971, and one of the creators of its visual-art component (then a much bigger part of the festival than it is now).
He was involved with the multi-disciplinary arts center and/or (1974-84).
He curated and designed exhibits, installations, and temporary “pop-up spaces.”
He installed exhibits (choosing which pieces went where) at the Frye Museum and many local galleries.
He helped produce private events, including fashion shows for Nordstrom.
With Virginia Inn owner Patrice Demombynes, Garner pioneered the idea of art exhibits in local bars. (He and Demombynes had their own gallery space on Dexter Avenue for a couple of years.)
He continued to curate art on barroom walls as a co-owner of the Two Bells Tavern (with wife Patricia Ryan, who passed in 2001). He’d been a bartender there before Ryan bought the place circa 1982, then married her in 1984. Under Ryan and Garner, the the rundown little bar on a low-foot-traffic stretch of Fourth Avenue became the virtual living room for the then-burgeoning Denny Regrade arts community. When Ryan’s cancer got too bad for her to continue running it, they sold it and retired to the country.
Garner was also an artist in his own right.
His last show of paintings, a career retrospective at the Virginia Inn two and a half years ago, was full of bright colors, underground-comix-esque lines and curves, and an old hippie’s lifelong interest in semi-abstracted nudes.
And he was a conceptual artist. With Ken Leback, he created the public-art piece Equality (a grid of Monopoly-style houses) on north Beacon Hill.
I’d been going to the VI since 1981, and to the Bells since at least 1985.
I knew Garner as a smart, soft spoken, often funny presence.
After I started MISC as a column in the old ArtsFocus paper, he supported and encouraged my work. (It took me years, though, to convince him I wasn’t just making up the things I wrote about in it.)
He did so many things, in so many places, that it was hard to imagine a local arts scene without him.
And it still is.
Mama’s Mexican Kitchen, the family-owned eatery that for 41 years has been a bastion of the pre-gentrification Belltown, closes this year, perhaps in September.
Its 1924 building will be razed for yet another 60-unit “mixed use” development.
Mike McAlpin, who’s owned Mama’s from the start (and used to also own the nearby Lava Lounge), says he’ll retire. Many of his employees have been there for 15 years or more.
I’ve been going there almost since it opened. Its Second and Bell corner spot once seemed way out in the wilderness, a million years from either downtown or Seattle Center. Art/music types had begun to flock there, attracted by what were then low rents close by to everything. Mama’s became a hangout and a resource for this community. Its cheap and plentiful food and margaritas, its friendly Elvis/Marilyn interior decor, and its unpretentious vibe kept its regulars coming back, even after many of them couldn’t afford to live in Belltown any more.
Yes, there are fancier and even more “authentic” Mexican joints out there these days, or at least ones more amenable to modern tastes. (Mama’s recipes came from McAlpin’s Cal-Mex grandmother, and are heavy on melted cheese and mild salsa.)
And there are many, many other dining and drinking joints in today’s Belltown; some at prices as tall as the condo towers now dominating the area.
But there isn’t anything else like Mama’s, and there probably never will be.
this year's space needle fireworks were sponsored by t-mobile and heavily emphasized the color 't-mobile magenta.'
As promised previously, MISCmedia is back for two-ought-one-five with a new commitment to try and make sense (or at least document the nonsense) of Life in the Demitasse Size City.
To start things off, and for the 29th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most trusted (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known media relay systems.
As always, this list operates under the premise that the future is not necessarily linear. It compiles what will become torrid and tepid in the coming year, not necessarily what’s torrid and tepid now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some RadioShack stock to sell you.
The Comet Tavern reopened to the public on March 31, a little less than six months after it had abruptly closed. Former regulars (from many era of the bar’s history) and curiosity seekers crowded the joint.
The place they entered had been considerably cleaned up. Years (nay, decades) of grafitti, soot, and cigarette-smoke stains had been scrubbed away. Several grody closets had been removed, opening up more of the main barroom. New wooden booths had replaced some wobbly bar tables. The ceiling only had a few old dollar bills taped to it, instead of being covered with them. The bathrooms, and everything within them, were both clean and functional.
Indeed, it still looked mostly as it had looked before. That is to say, it looked mostly as it had since it first opened in the 1930s, as one of Seattle’s first wave of post-Prohibition beer halls.
But the Comet’s “scene,” and its function in the Pike/Pine neighborhood, has changed many times.
A hangout for hippies and bikers in the ’60s, it attracted more of an “art world” crowd by the ’80s. In the early ’90s it was the principal watering hole for “grunge” musicians and their friends.
By the late 2000s it had become a full time live-music venue. It was also a clubhouse for Hate City, a neighborhood skateboard gang; some of its members worked as bouncers and bartenders.
Then on Oct. 2, the Comet suddenly closed.
Reportedly, its then-owner hadn’t paid the rent or the water bill for several months. Even before that, several apparent years’ worth of “deferred maintenance” meant much of its interior looked on the verge of physical collapse.
Many, on and off the Hill, wondered whether the Comet had poured its final pint.
Several would-be buyers announced themselves over the subsequent days and weeks.
The building owners, though, soon chose to deal with people they already knew. David Meinert and Jason Lajeunesse had already opened the Lost Lake retro diner/lounge in the same building.
Besides Meinert and Laneunesse already being known to the landlords, access to Lost Lake’s kitchen meant the Comet could add food, and therefore offer hard liquor, without the Comet needing a new kitchen of its own.
(Just across Pike from the Comet, Meinert and Lajeunesse also co-own Big Mario’s Pizza, and Lajeunesse co-owns the Neumos/Moe Bar/Barboza nightclub complex. Meinert also owns the 5 Point restaurant/bar in Belltown; Lajeunesse also runs the annual Capitol Hill Block Party.)
One of the new owners’ first decisions was to cut the live music from seven nights a week to one midweek night and two weekend matinees. That meant the new Comet would complement, not compete with, Neumos’ shows. It would again be (as it mostly was before 2005) a place to drink and talk, not to see bands.
Another decision was not to rehire the occasionally violent bouncers from the Hate City crew. (I knew a petite woman who’d been worked over badly by them one night there, and was glad to see them gone.)
But the decision to clean up the place was both the most obvious and (probably) the most controversial to the Comet’s former regulars.
A good amount of fixing up had to be done just to get the room back up to various building and occupancy codes.
But by so thoroughly sanitizing one of the city’s last un-reconstructed true dive bars, Meinert and Lajeunesse risked alienating the very regulars they claimed to be trying to please.
Business was brisk on night one. The real question is whether bargoers (old and new) will come back, whether they’ll still find the Comet inviting and comfortable, despite its lack of grime.
While the Comet’s future is more or less assured, other Capitol Hill institutions have been falling to redevelopment projects.
The latest, but undoubtedly not the last: Piecora’s Pizza.
After more than three decades on the Hill, its employees were suddenly given two-week notices on April 1. It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, either. The building’s coming down for yet another new mixed-use midrise.
At least the Piecora family owned the building, and presumably got enough for it to retire.
'i hate the 49ers' on facebook
(Note: This post’s title is a gag based on a song lyric. Californians never get the joke.)
Twice a year, I get to express out loud an opinion that usually attracts scorn and correctiveness from even my closest friends.
And this week, I get to really say it.
The excuse: The Seahawks’ upcoming battle in the National Football League’s playoff semifinals, against the arch rival 49ers.
The opinion: San Francisco is a land of pompous, arrogant snobs who falsely believe themselves to be the Supreme Species of the Universe.
Especially San Francisco’s “alternative” and “radical” scenes.
That’s a socially forbidden opinion there—and even, often, here.
All my life, I’ve heard people here insisting that Seattle was a “hick town” that needed to become “world class” by religiously copying everything in, from, and about San Francisco. Its restaurants and bars. Its bands. Its fashions. Its municipal political structure. Its architecture. Its media institutions. Its stores. Its strip clubs. Even its street crime.
To these “local boosters,” anything Seattleites created on their own was intrinsically inferior to anything swiped from or “inspired by” cultural dictates from down south. (This attitude was particularly strong during the ’70s and ’80s, when Seattle’s civic establishment was almost completely run by upscale baby boomers.)
Over the years, there’s also been a steady stream of promoters and hucksters from there moving up here, opening “authentic San Francisco style” hoity-toity clubs or boutiques, long on attitude and short on anything really interesting. When these enterprises failed, as they usually did, said hucksters bemoaned us Seattle hicks for failing to appreciate their genius.
To a true San Franciscan, there is only San Francisco, and maybe New York, and just-maybe-maybe Los Angeles. The rest of America is all Bumfuck, Iowa.
“But,” people invariably say, “what about all the bohemian rebels and counterculturists and Establishment-challengers from there?”
They can be even more annoyingly snooty than your basic San Franciscan annoying snoot.
And it’s an American tragedy, the way they’ve helped left-wing politics to get ensnarled with the most anti-populist, square-bashing sentiments, in which one is supposed to love “the people” and hate “the sap masses” at the same time. (I’m talking to you, Mr. Tom Tomorrow and Mr. Jello Biafra.)
I happen to believe progressive/revolutionary politics should be for everybody.
Even meat eaters. Even TV viewers. Even people who don’t drink lattes or listen to public radio.
Otherwise it’s just a worthless pose.
There’s now a book out by one Fred Turner, called From Counterculture to Cyberculture. It traces the twisted path of San Franciscan “liberation” ideology/hype, from the “flower power” wild-oats sowers, through the Whole Earth Catalog gang, to the early microcomputer startups, to Wired magazine’s founders, to the hyper-alpha guys (and too few gals) running today’s dot-com giants.
Turner traces how a particular strain of NoCal “personal freedom” beliefs mutated and metastasized into corporate-Libertarian selfishness.
The Harvard Business Review story about the book carries the telling title, “How Silicon Valley Became the Man.”
Right now in Frisco (an informal, anti-elitist abbreviation I always insist upon using), there’s a loud backlash against dot-com one-percenters taking over the whole city, forcing artists and musicians (and, oh yeah, non-white folks) out, and making annoyances of themselves with their big spending and boorish behavior.
Protesters and pundits forthrightly proclaim that this all runs counter to “The City” and its heritage of rugged individualists, rule breakers, and wild boys.
No. It’s a monster bastard child of that heritage, taken to a parasitical extreme.
So no, Danny Westneat and Knute Berger: I don’t share any “sense of inferiority to San Francisco.”
I treat it as an example of what Seattle should not become.
For the 28th consecutive year (really!), we proudly present the MISCmedia In/Out List, the most venerable (and only accurate) list of its kind in this and all other known solar systems. As always, this is a prediction of what will become hot and not-so-hot in the coming year, not necessarily what’s hot and not-so-hot now. If you believe everything hot now will just keep getting hotter, I’ve got some BlackBerry stock to sell you.
If you know the answers to some or all of these questions, then you stand a fighting chance at MOHAI Trivia.
This monthly “pub trivia” competition began in April 2012, as a way to help promote the Museum of History and Industry’s pending reopening in south Lake Union. It began at the Wurst Place restaurant/tavern on Westlake, near the old Naval Reserve armory where MOHAI moved that December.
It’s now has also branched out to other bars around town, where volunteer quizmasters offer “MOHAI rounds” as part of those locations’ weekly trivia contests.
But the monthly flagship event is still held at the Wurst Place (except during summer breaks).
And, since its inception, it has been dominated by one team of obscure-knowledge buffs.
Which happens to be the team I’m on.
The Decatur Cannonballs were organized by Jeff Long, a rare book dealer and a longtime Seattle history maven. The other members, all founts of obscure knowledge, are Long’s longtime friends Chris Middleton, Brian Doan, Bill Sandell, and Randall Fehr.
The team is named after a U.S. Navy “sloop of war” whose artillery fire helped end the Battle of Seattle, a one-day uprising by local native Americans against the new white settlement in 1856.
(On nights when some members were unable to attend, the remaining team members have used the alternate name Denny Hillbillies, after the hill that was leveled to create today’s Belltown.)
The Cannonballs won all of the first 11 MOHAI Trivia events. Sometimes they won handily; sometimes by a mere half point. Once, a tiebreaker question was needed to put them on top.
They aced “name the local building” photo questions, questions based on audio clips from movies filmed in Seattle, the origins of local place names, old political scandals, local celebrities, historic events, and sports teams. They beat as many as ten other teams on any given night.
Finally, in November of this year, a team arose to challenge the Cannonballs.
And two categories were found that stumped the Cannonballs. They were local hip hop and local Olympic athletes—both vital aspect of our recent cultural scene but both topics about which these 50ish Caucasian dudes were relatively ignorant.
That night the Cannonballs finally lost.
The previously undefeated champs took it all in stride.
After all, constant triumph without at least a few setbacks just isn’t the Seattle way.
Then the Cannonballs promptly won again in December.
MOHAI Trivia at the Wurst Place (510 Westlake Ave. N.) occurs the first Tuesday evening of every month, including Jan. 7. Neighborhood MOHAI Trivia events will resume in the new year following a holiday hiatus; check MOHAI.org for dates and locations.
(ANSWERS: Henry Yesler; zero; University Village; Ben Haggerty.)
My ol’ pals Marlow Harris and Jo David would love your presence at an event they’re helping to promote.
It’s the Three Crowns New Year’s Eve Ball at the Swedish Club, 1920 Dexter Ave. N.
It features live and DJ music (including the Moonspinners, Easy Big Fella, Gravity Kinds, and the Spyrographs) in three separate rooms, and a Swedish pancake breakfast at 12:15; plus stunning Lake Union views. A smorgasbord-style buffet and no-host bars will also be on hand.
Discount advance tickets are, at this writing, still available at Brown Paper Tickets.
In early October, crews began tossing abandoned personal belongings out of the former Palladian Apartments at Second and Virginia, across from the Moore Theatre/Hotel.
Everything that the building’s former tenants chose not to take with them, along with all of the building’s interior walls and fixtures, was originally sent down the building’s not-always-reliable single elevator, then later by chutes attached on the building’s south side. It all got tossed into truck-sized Dumpsters parked outside.
Among the toss-outs: CRT TV sets. Cheap Ikea shelving. Old clothes in varying degrees of rattiness. Pots and pans. The detrius of more than 60 human lives, detrius left behind and destined for either recycling or dumping.
In 1909-10 (shortly after the the Moore, and a little late for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition tourist business), attorney/businessman Scott Calhoun built the Calhoun Hotel for $175,000. Its block had recently been lowered as part of the massive Denny Regrade project. (The intersection of Second and Virginia is the highest remaining point in what had been the Denny Hill neighborhood.)
Like the nearby Moore, Commodore, St. Regis, and New Washington hotels (the latter two are now nonprofit housing), the Calhoun was the product of a frontier city trying to prove it had come of age.
Its facade incorporated elements of Art Nouveau and Beaux Arts architecture.
Its 152 guest rooms were small by modern standards, but its lobby, mezzanine, and dining room were posh.
There was even a “rathskeller” beer tavern in the basement (which became a Prohibition-era “speakeasy”).
Over the decades, the Calhoun (like its neighbor hotels) got steadily less posh. It essentially became a single-room occupancy residence.
Developers turned it into the Palladian (after a style of window dressing on its exterior) in 1984. The lobby was walled off into two storefront spaces, a building office, and an alcove/mailroom for the residents upstairs.
The storefronts first housed a bookstore and coffeehouse. Later tenants included the Poor Italian Restaurant and Corner Bar; then the Buenos Aires Grill and the Whisky Bar.
The upstairs contained 69 apartments (all studios and 1-brs; some with Space Needle views) and an art studio. It was affordable housing without public subsidies, except a city tax credit for preserving existing affordable housing stock.
However, there were hidden costs within those relatively low rents. The units and hallways were bland looking. Stairwells were poorly maintained. The elevator often stalled.
And it had noise issues, particularly the units that faced the alley entrance to a men’s homeless shelter. This alley became a 24-hour hangout for street people, including drug dealers and users.
In 2011, the city granted historic-landmark designation to the building and its exterior.
The following year, the Buenos Aires Grill’s owners signed a lease on the Whisky Bar’s space. The Whisky Bar’s owners took out all the furnishings and fixtures, which the Buenos Aires people almost completely duplicated to create the new Corner Bar. (A new Whisky Bar moved one block up the street, opening in October 2012.)
Then this past March, notices appeared in the mailroom and the ground-floor office door, asking tenants to personally meet with landlord David Cohanim. They learned that Cohanim, whose family had owned the building for more than a decade, was turning it into a boutique hotel.
City relocation assistance checks arrived in mid-May. Even before that, residents had begun to seek new homes, pack up, and move out. They scattered to places near and far—to commercial and non-profit apartments, to senior buildings, to rooms in relatives’ homes.
The Buenos Aires and the Corner Bar closed by the end of May.
The last resident officially moved out of the Palladian on Aug. 17.
Once the residents’ abandoned trash is removed, workers will take out the appliances, plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, and anything else that can be sold or recycled.
Then, the building’s roof will be knocked open. A crane will drop a small bulldozer onto the top floor. With that machine, crews will knock out the entire interior of each floor, top to bottom; flooring, wiring, and all.
It will take at least a year for what’s tentatively being called the new Calhoun Hotel to open. (Its operation may be contracted out to an established management company, which may want to stick its own name onto the place.)
The last Palladian residents will each get one free night in the hotel.
In February, we wrote about the impending closure of Bill’s Off Broadway, Capitol Hill’s venerable home style pizza place and sports bar.
At the time, Bill’s was scheduled to close on June 30. Delays in the big redevelopment project on the Pine and Harvard site meant Bill’s owner Don Stevens got to stay open over the summer.
Bill’s finally closed on Dec. 2, coinciding with a Seahawks appearance on Monday Night Football. The old joint was packed with well wishes and regulars past and present. It was more a celebration than a wake, especially with the Seahawks’ easy victory lifting everyone’s spirits.
Stevens and crew will reopen in the new building on the site some time in 2015; a new Bill’s “exile” location is now open on Greenwood Avenue N., north of N. 85th Street.
A long-delayed batch of randomosity (the first in more than a month) begins with the discovery of the newest local “mainstream microbrew.” Underachiever Lager appears to have begun as a promo vehicle for Tacoma designer-casual-wear company Imperial Motion, but is now being rolled out as its own thang in select local bars.
getty images via huffington post
My first thought: How could such a still-vital part of our musical heritage, one of the original proto-punks, be gone from us so soon?
My second thought: How did the writer of “Heroin” (almost a love song to the drug), then later of “The Power of Positive Drinking,” live this long?
My third thought: Back to the first thought.
I mourn the Comet Tavern for what it had been. The un-upscaled hippie hangout; the dive that remained a dive when most of the other dives in town cleaned up their acts. I don’t mourn what it had become—a hangout ruled by an oft-violent aggro gang called Hate City. (A good friend, a petite female, was once roughed up by bouncers there, badly.) Could any new owners make it an inviting place again?
We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.