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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.
safeco field sushi stand in 2001
Last season, the Seattle Mariners were playing for respect.
At the start of this season, some fans and observers thought the Ms would be playing for their first World Series rings. (Hasn’t turned out that way so far, alas.)
But this story is about some of the other teams that call Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field home.
Staging a Mariners game, Sounders FC soccer match, or other major sports event requires a small army of workers, from ushers and ticket takers to standby paramedics.
And among them are an unsung aspect of the teams’ charitable contributions.
This season, the teams and their concessionaires are working in conjunction with local charities including the Millionair Club to furnish overflow staffing in fiood service at the games. The concessionaires get extra hands; the workers, many of whom are long-term unemployed and underemployed, get hands-on experience in the industry.
As with the Millionair Club’s better known “day labor” program, all workers are interviewed and vetted before they’re sent out. The group helps them attain the needed food handling permits, and in some cases also state alcohol servers’ permits.
Despite common stereotypes about the jobless, these are diligent and ambitious men and women, striving to improve their lives.
More than one hundred of them (the number of workers invited depends on expected game attendance) waited patiently outside Safeco Field’s gates in the early morning of Opening Day. As instructed, they were clad in black shoes, black slacks, and black shirts.
Eventually, they were organized into lines, handed uniform shirs and hats, and sent through the gates onto the stadium grounds. Just beyond the gates, the workers stopped at a table where supervisors assigned them to their respective work stations and duties.
One group was sent to the opposite corner of the stadium, to a hot dog stand on the highest deck. While the concessionaires’ regular staffs had done a lot to prepare it and the other food/drink outlets for the new season, much remained in the last moments before the first fans streamed in. But with some applied “organized chaos,” all the menu items, trays, cups, and straws got to their proper spots. The new workers were quickly taught to operate the grills, the soft-serve machine, the beer taps, and the point of sale terminals.
By shortly after 11 a.m. the first customer had the first beer poured at that stand this season. Business gradually picked up as the sellout crowd continued to gather.
By the first pitch at 1 p.m., the joint was hopping. Beer taps that poured mostly foam at first now efficiently dispensed plastic cup after plastic cup of Coors product. The three varieties of hot dogs were sold as quickly as they could be cooked.
While the workers could neither see nor hear the game (the TV monitors on each side of the stand were, of course, pointed outward toward the customers), they heard, and sometimes joined in, major cheers that erupted whenever the Ms did something spectacular. With pitching ace Felix Hernandez leading the team to a 4-1 victory that day, such celebrations came frequently.
It should be mentioned that each of the food and beverage “stands” in each stadium is a fully equipped, permanently installed facility. Each has its own coolers, freezers, and cooking and cleaning equipment. The price of stadium food and drink isn’t just the result of exploiting a “captive market.” The concessionaire companies put a lot of investment into facilities that only earn income 81 days a year. (And that’s at the baseball stadium. The football/soccer stadium has even fewer event dates.)
While the concessionaires tried to anticipate opening-day demand, some of the beer kegs “blew” prior to the scheduled cutoff of alcohol sales at the end of the seventh inning. Supervisors scrambled to replace them, even for just a half hour’s worth of potential sales. That’s what you do when your sales day is so short. (Soccer matches, which run for less than two hours, have even shorter sales “windows.”)
Once the beer officially ceased flowing and the tap handles got put away, food sales also trickled off. The stand remained open until some time after the game’s end. Then came a furious hour of thorough cleaning, wiping, and product inventory. The regular staff and the charity “day workers” had worked as one team, and done it well.
By 5 p.m. the day workers had returned their uniforms and signed out. Only some of them would be needed at the next day’s game, for which far fewer tickets had been pre-sold. But all of them had gained work experience in a high-energy, high-volume, group effort.
Even if that effort was for nothing more significant than feeding some hungry baseball fans.
(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)
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.
the kalakala in 2007, from wikipedia
During my long “blog silence” last year there were many things I could have written about, for sure. Some of them I mentioned in my little space in the little paper City Living Seattle (I’ll repost those soon here). Others I didn’t get to there either.
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.
In the six weeks or so since I posted any news briefs, the news has just kept on a-comin’.
Among the highlights: The hedge-fund guys who bought and sold Chrysler, then bought (and re-merged) the two previously spun-apart regional halves of Albertsons, are now going to buy Safeway.
Both chains have been bought and sold in leveraged buyout schemes previously; both have barely recovered from those debacles. Both chains have also acquired other regional chains over the decades, and lost and re-gained some of the stores operating under their original “store banners.” Even the “core” Safeway-branded operation was originally a merger of several chains, arranged by Merrill Lynch in the 1920s.
It happens that Safeway and Albertsons both have roots in Idaho (the original Albertsons is still open in Boise!). Both circuits grew and thrived in the inland and coastal West, areas A&P (the grocery biz’s former 300-lb. gorilla) mostly never got around to entering. These are also territories that Walmart only got around to entering in the last decade or two. That makes them relatively stable fiscally, compared to southern and eastern grocery circuits operating in Walmart’s core regions.
Both chains, of course, control lots of real estate, which may be the real reason they’re attractive to the hedge-fund folks. Safeway in particular has actively co-developed multi-story, “mixed use” projects on many of its store sites, including several projects in Seattle and Bellevue.
The soon-to-be-combined chains’ management claims no stores will close as a result of the merger. But many could be sold off, especially in metro areas where both chains are strong. And some warehouses and front-office jobs could also go away.
One thing I predict won’t go away: the persistent, and false, urban legend that either or both chains are really “owned by the Mormons.” They never were.
NY10014 at flickr
Since most of my most loyal readers will have other things to do on Sunday afternoon, here’s some relatively timeless randomosity for whenever you log back in:
'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.
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.