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MISCmedia MAIL for 1/5/16
Jan 5th, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

In Toosday’s nooze: Jim McDermott’s leaving; the Oregon militia doodz aren’t; Sawant really is a socialist; birth control can be gotten without a prescription (in other states); FAA vs. 101-story tower plan.

MISCmedia MAIL for 1/4/16
Jan 3rd, 2016 by Clark Humphrey

The work year begins and so does MISCmedia MAIL, with: white gunmen get not to be called “terrorists;” the region’s oldest gay bar quietly disappears; a Seahawks triumph; and what will Jim McDermott do?

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/24/15
Dec 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

As the holidaze (and, just perhaps, snow) loom, MISCmedia MAIL covers the legacy of Chubby & Tubby; fun with fish names; looming layoffs for MS “permatemps;” a private techie-shuttle-bus startup; and many weekend activities.

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/14/15
Dec 13th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

The darkest two weeks of the year are underway, and we’re here to help you survive. On Monday, read about more weather woes; anti-Islamaphobia marchers; just how Microsoft and other companies shave their tax bills; and a real-estate developer who tried to improve views from his property by poisoning neighbors’ trees.

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/10/15
Dec 9th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Bauhaus Coffee’s sudden demise; the polar-opposite fates of KEXP and KPLU; how *not* to talk about women dating male sports fans; and just what is “urbanism” anyway? All this and more in Thursday’s MISCmedia MAIL.
MISCmeida MAIL for 12/9/15
Dec 8th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

As KEXP moves into its super-deluxe new digs, our midweek report remembers its far-less-slick precursor KCMU. Also: dampness everywhere; Amazon’s plans for the Dog House/Hurricane Cafe block; Troy Kelley refuses to quit.

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/8/15: SOLITUDE AMONG THE RUINS
Dec 8th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

eitel ruins

tiffany von arnim

In Tuesday’s e-missive: a visit to the beautifully decrepit Eitel Building before it gets “restored”; a rural school district may be charter schools’ legal savior; Comcast offers Seattle a slightly better franchise deal; and a brief thought about the John Lennon shooting’s anniversary.

MISCmedia MAIL for 12/7/15
Dec 6th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Monday’s missive contains the disappearance of Group Health as we know it; the neo-Nazi march that wasn’t; the final (at last) election result in City Council District 1;  tough times for an artist/entrepreneur; and a brief thought about Pearl Harbor Day.

MISCmedia MAIL for 11/12/15
Nov 11th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

In Thursday’s MISCmedia MAIL: Remembering another practical li’l apartment building; a posthumous arts bounty from the Kingdome; the predictable truth behind the anti-Starbucks ranter; can KeyArena be rebuilt without taxpayer funds?
 
MISCmedia MAIL for 11/5/15
Nov 5th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

There’s no such thing as “old news” for election pundits. Also in MISCmedia MAIL for Friday: More thoughts on the soon-to-be-temporarily-gone Gum Wall; sports teams’ “pay-triotism;” a 17-mile freeway backup.
 
OF ‘FACADISM’ AND FALSE FRONTS
Oct 8th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

ex bill's off bway construx

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.

exterior 1b

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.”

ex bauhaus facadism

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

ROLON BERT GARNER, 1940-2015
Aug 18th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

rolon bert garner

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.

CAN ‘AMAGEDDON’ BE PREVENTED?
Aug 16th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

bloomberg.com called amazon’s under-construction hq complex a ‘geek zone, cursed by dullness’ (sean airhart/nbbj via bloomberg)

A few months back, I gave a presentation to a group of retired teachers about my 2006 book Vanishing Seattle.

At the talk, I mentioned how, at the time the book came out, the city seemed to be losing its most beloved people, places, and things at a rapid rate.

These disappearances have only accelerated since then. (Most recently, the Harvard Exit on Capitol Hill, one of the city’s pioneer “art house” cinemas, which closed forever following this year’s SIFF.)

Everywhere you look, funky old buildings are giving way to enormous new buildings.

And it’s all to be blamed, if you believe some wags, on a company that’s more interested in incessant growth than in such business-world niceties as, you know, actually turning a profit.

Late last year, Jeff Reifman posted an essay on GeekWire.com claiming everything we now know and/or love about Seattle could quickly become lost to what he calls “Amageddon,” the total takeover of the city by Amazon.com’s self-styled “code ninjas.” Reifman warns that, unless Amazon’s corporate culture (or its rampant growth in town) is stemmed, the result could be “an unaffordable, traffic-filled metropolis dominated by white males and devoid of independent culture.”

Reifman claims there are three things Amazon could do (other than crashing in a WaMu-like stock bubble) to become a better corporate citizen. It could “advocate for an appropriate tax system in Seattle and Washington state,” commit to hiring more women and minorities, and support programs to help “lower income, lower skilled Seattleites” stay in the city.

But those moves, as noble (and unlikely) as they are, would not change the trend of Amazon (and many smaller dotcoms) importing waves of hyper-aggressive “brogrammers” from out of state, with no knowledge of or affinity toward Seattle’s heritage, only to replace them after an average of one or two years.

(The NYT recently described Amazon as “a bruising workplace,” where “code ninja” programmers are worked into the ground, maternity and illness are treated as treason to the corporate cause, and a hyper-aggressive atmosphere makes it nearly impossible for women to advance.) (A high-ranking Amazonian wrote a long rebuttal to the NYT piece at GeekWire.)

No, what we need is a training program. A crash course in why this city, this place, is something to be celebrated, cherished, nurtured. To encourage our newer citizens to care about more than just their own narrow cliques and their own material existences.

With enough people taking a more active part toward making things here better, we can still be the city that rose from challenge after challenge.

A city that respects its heritage, in its highest and lowest aspects.

A city that could create great things.

Whose engineers and deal-makers brought about the Jet Age, and later “de-fragmented” the chaotic early home-computer business.

Whose progeny have repeatedly pushed the boundaries of art, music, and performance.

A city that’s constantly remade itself; that moved mountains (well, hills), raised streets, lowered lakes, created islands, and planted parks in the most improbable spots.

A city that pioneered in public power (City Light) and public health care (Group Health).

A city that can both love and laugh at itself, creating great comedians and cartoonists along the way.

A city that comes together, not apart, in moments of sadness (the public rallies after 9/11) and sweet triumph (the first day of gay weddings at City Hall).

A city that always took pride in its buildings and other structures, whether sublime (the Olympic Hotel), playful (the Hat n’ Boots), tasteful (the many Craftsman bungalows), or both spectacular AND populist (the Central Library).

Indeed, the library building is a great example of Seattle at its best. Yes, the building qualifies for that hoary overused expression, “world class.” But it’s also a place that simply works. It invites everyone to relax, read, listen, and learn.

It’s a building that’s more than “world class.” It’s Seattle class.

And it’s what we need more of.

Not just in our buildings and construction projects, but in our people, our attitudes, our ambitions.

More than half a century ago, the Century 21 Exposition depicted a Seattle on the move toward a great tomorrow.

Our real life Century 21 might never have flying cars; but it can still become an age built on wonder, optimism, high art, low kitsch, and shared joys.

Reifman has since gone beyond merely complaining about the Big A.

He and artist Kali Snowden have just started a site called Flee the Jungle.

It’s got short essays reiterating Reifman’s complaints about the company, and about its actions (or lack of same) as a local corporate citizen:

“…Amazon’s run by a wealthy libertarian who’s shown only modest concern for his home community as his company’s growth has dramatically impacted the city—good in some ways, but largely problematically in many…”

And it has dozens of links to other e-commerce sites, in many of the umpteen product and service categories in which Amazon’s now involved.

The thing about “disruptive” companies is that someone else can always come along to disrupt them.

To date, Amazon’s been able to crush (or at least hold its own against) the competition in all these lines on its sheer size and muscle, and on its ability to operate unprofitably thanks to loyal shareholders.

But none of those advantages are necessarily permanent or exclusive.

Is there an endgame to all this?

Of course there is.

As I always say, things that are hot now just don’t keep getting even hotter forever. (Except, perhaps, actual climate-related hotness.)

Financial/accounting exec John Spaid, writing at GeekWire, believes Amazon will eventually have to change itself to become profitable, and that those changes will likely include lotsa layoffs in Seattle.

And when that happens, a lot of locals (merchants, landowners, homeowners, etc.) will get burned.

(Cross-posed with City Living Seattle.)

OF DESPERATE TIMES AND VISUAL VOCABULARIES
Jul 24th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

desperate times cover

I know I’ve been taking however many of you are reading this back to memory lane a lot lately. But indulge me a few more times, please, including this time.

This time, it’s back to a weekend day in June 1981.

I went straight from my UW commencement ceremony, still possessing my cap and gown, and went to a planning meeting in a Wallingford rental house.

Also there were Daina Darzin, Maire Masco, and Dennis White.

We were starting a punk rock zine, to overcome what we all thought was The Rocket’s excessive commercialism. (Yeah, I know.)

The result was called Desperate Times.

It lasted for six tabloid issues, before Darzin effectively ended it by returning to New York, where she’d previously lived.

(And yes, like so many New Yorkers, she absolutely KNEW how everyone ought to think and behave. And if they thought or behaved in a non-New Yorkish way, then that thought or behavior automatically sucked.)

I had at least one piece in each of the six issues. The most affecting, albeit in a very indirect way, was in the first issue. I asked readers to write in mentioning the band they hated the most. (A cheap “comment bait” trick, it would now be called.)

It got a response all right.

That response came from one Mark McLaughlin, then a student at Bellevue Christian High School. He wrote that he loved the simple repetitive music of Philip Glass, and hated Mr. Epp and the Calculations. (“Pure grunge. Pure shit.”)

This, I continue to insist, was the first documented use of that six-letter word to describe a Seattle punk band.

And it was the first print mention of Mr. Epp, McLaughlin’s own band (of course).

One night shortly after that, Masco found McLaughlin on the streets downtown, pasting up flyers for a fictional gig by Mr. Epp, which at the time was mostly a fictional band (named after a favorite math teacher). Masco persuaded McLaughlin to stage real gigs.

For the next three nearly three years, Darren “Mor-X” Morray, Jeff “Jo Smitty” Smith, and Mark “Arm” McLaughlin gigged and recorded under the Mr. Epp name.

Arm, of course, went on to Green River and then to Mudhoney, famously performing on top of the Space Needle for Sub Pop’s 25th anniversary in 2013.

Darzin became a scribe for Billboard and other high falutin’ rags.

White and Masco started the short-lived Pravda Records label (not the Chicago firm of the same name).

White now runs another indie music label, “dadastic! sounds.”

Masco took a long hiatus from “creative” endeavors.

But now she’s back with a book collecting every issue of Desperate Times, from full-size high-quality digital scans.

Some thoughts on looking at these pages nearly 3.5 decades later:

The music discussed, well a large part of it anyway, still stands up.

The writing and the graphic design are of their time and of the milieu. That is to say, they’re brash, un-slick, and occasionally immature. But that was part of the whole aesthetic of the period. This was before “desktop publishing.” The text was created on typewriters. The headlines were created with press-type lettering. It was DIY Or Die, and it expresses the emotional states of its content better than anything in Adobe InDesign ever could.

Masco is selling the book online and at a few select local shops.

 

 

chantry speaks cover

Masco’s been living in Tacoma in recent years, with a guy who knows a thing or two about graphic design, and who’s not shy about sharing what he knows.

I’ve written several times in the past about Art Chantry. How he played a critical role in creating my book Loser (itself coming back later this year). How he did most of the grunt work in bringing “punk rock graphics” and poster art beyond the deliberately “amateur” style seen in Desperate Times and toward something that was “professional” but NOT corporate. He took his obsessive research into design schticks high and lowbrow, industrial and “artistic,” and created a whole new visual vocabulary.

In recent years, Chantry’s been spreading his vast knowledge and sharp opinions about the design profession (actually, he thinks of it as more of a “trade”) on his Facebook feed.

Now he’s collected some 50 of these essays in the book Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design.

The format of self-contained short essays, on different but related topics, works well with the disparate roots of Chantry’s visual aesthetic and career philosophy.

He finds inspiration in everything from monster-movie magazines to industrial-supply catalogs, from trade magazines to Broadway show posters, from hot-rod customizers to girlie magazines.

Unlike the late Andy Warhol (to whom he dedicates a praise-filled chapter), Chantry appreciates commercial design without feeling the need to dress it up in “fine art” trappings.

Indeed, Chantry openly and repeatedly scoffs at such trappings.

He upends the “official” history of graphic design, which treats it as a top-down profession dominated by Manhattan designers and ad agencies.

Instead, he sees it as a bottom-up, working-stiffs’ trade, originating with sign painters, printers, and other craftspeople. It’s a living tradition, re-created and adapted everywhere. It’s something that’s both populist and commercial at once. It expresses social and individual values, even as it overtly tries to sell stuff (products, politicians, religions, etc).

And, just as American pop/rock music absorbed and mutated everything that came before it, Chantry’s personal aesthetic absorbed and mutated everything he’d learned to love in the various arts of visual/verbal persuasion.

You won’t find any images of Chantry’s own works in Art Chantry Speaks. For that, look up Some People Can’t Surf: The Graphic Design of Art Chantry, written in 2001 by Julie Lasky. There, you’ll see his famous posters for bands, film screenings, and condom-awareness campaigns; his cover art for The Rocket; and his many record covers and band/label logos.

But, just as there are now drinking-age people who weren’t alive when Nirvana last performed, many of the various production techniques Chantry’s essays discuss have become lost to time, from the lead-cast “hot type” of letterpress to the photo-strip “cold type” of manual pasteup pages.

And much printed ephemera itself (magazines, newspapers, cheap paperbacks, recorded music on physical media, etc.) has declined or disappeared in the digital age.

But Chantry’s observations are still important in our current era, when even web page design is considered an obsolete line of work.

Typography, illustration, color theory, and layout are all part of the visual vocabulary of our world. There are reasons why all these arts developed the way they did.

And, just as many young adults have discovered the great music of the 1980s and ’90s Chantry’s idiosyncratic views about these can teach timeless principles about how things look (or ought to look).

BUSES, BANKS, AND THE BUILDING BOOM
May 22nd, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

Still more classic places and things are going away from our once-sleepy city, as it loses more and more pieces of its built heritage to an urban building boom the likes of which Seattle hasn’t seen in nearly a century.

We’ll start this journey with a street feature almost everyone in the city has seen and even used, but to which few might fave given any thought.

The bus stop “island” on Pine Street between Third and Fourth avenues is one of the last standing relics from downtown’s once-prominent streetcar lines.

Those long, track-bound vehicles generally ran in the middle of four-lane streets, and of course couldn’t pull over to the curve to add or subtract from their passenger loads. Riders got on and off the streetcars from raised concrete islands placed one lane away from the curb (sometimes dodging car traffic to get there).

Most of those islands were removed in the 1940s, when the streetcars were scrapped and the tracks were dug up. But the island on Pine remained, for riders on buses and rubber-tired “trackless trolleys” at what remained Seattle’s highest-volume transit intersection.

Until now.

The island bus stop is now permanently closed. By July, piledrivers will clear it away. The space will be turned into a truck loading zone and a permanent parking spot for police vehicles.

It’s part of a major project to completely revamp the bus zones along Third Avenue and adjacent streets. When the work’s all done, the city promises the area will be more convenient and attractive to residents, commuters, and shoppers alike.

But it’ll be without a remnant of a time when public transit was a far more central aspect of city life.

(A more elaborate trolley island survives on South Jackson Street, but it hasn’t been used for transit since the demise of the Waterfront Streetcar.)

streetcar island at third and yesler (seattle municipal archive via kplu)

Even before Seattle’s streetcar network was changed to buses, “Motor coaches” had been carrying people within and between cities.

And in Seattle, intercity bus trips had begun at the Central Stage Terminal on Stewart Street. Greyhound took it over, along with some of the regional bus lines that stopped there, by 1939.

The station was in constant use (sometimes 24/7). Untold thousands of passengers passed through its lobby (which, like that of the King Street railway station, had been sadly “modernized” in the 1960s).

That ended last summer. Developers bought up the entire block, intending to build another of those big new luxury hotels. They haven’t started yet (there’s a shortage of construction cranes and crews here these days).

Greyhound could have moved in with Amtrak at the now-restored King Street Station, but instead remodeled a small building near Safeco Field. (It’s near the Link light rail line, but good luck trying to get a cab from there on game days.)

The old Greyhound station, especially before its remodel, was a passenger palace near the city’s heart. The new station seems like almost an afterthought to Seattle’s transportation network.

Some landmarks don’t have to be (completely) removed to lose their original character.

The Rainier Square block is the biggest surviving relic of what was Washington’s second biggest bank.

The project was originally announced in the early 1970s as Commerce House, the new headquartes of National Bank of Commerce. Before it was finished, the bank’s name was changed to Rainier Bank and the project became Rainier Square. It replaced the stoic, block-long White-Henry-Stuart building with a slender office tower atop an odd looking but functional pedastel. The tower was set above a block of street level storefronts, which in turn led into an underground passageway to the Convention Center.

Rainier Bank disappeared during the first wave of out-of-state bank takeovers in the late 1980s. but Rainier Square remained, and even grew with a second-floor atrium (home to the Rock Bottom brewpub).

Now, developers plan to raze the block’s low-rise northern half for a second tower, bulkier than and almost twice as tall as the first, with a staggered base that will look vaguely like a high-heel boot.

The original Rainier Square tower, one of the finest products of Seattle’s ’70s highrise boom, will remain. But its clean modern lines will be dwarfed by its overwhelming new neighbor.

nbbj/motyw via seattlepi.com

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)

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