Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ah, Belltown!

What is Belltown?
Belltown is a district of Seattle that separates downtown from the semi-appealing Lower Queen Anne dukedom. It comes by its name because it occupies (more or less) the same area as the land claim of a fellow named William Bell. Parts of it are hideously ugly. I intend to show them all to you.

Where is Belltown?
OK, north of downtown; south of Lower Queen Anne, roughly. More specifically, it’s:

bordering to the north;

bordering to the south;

bordering to the east; and

bordering to the west.

Here’s a map.

Belltown’s area is open to interpretation. Clark Humphrey, venerable Belltown historian that he is, cites the waterfront as Belltown’s western border. I have to disagree with that, because it clashes with my belief that in Belltown, there is little to see and little to do. The waterfront offers both of these opportunities, so I don’t consider it part of the neighborhood. The City of Seattle’s concept of Belltown goes like this:

Obviously, they’re totally high on crack at the city admin building. You've seen it. It's the one shaped like a penis. Here’s the deal: Belltown ends at 6th Ave. and that’s that. East of there is the sinister-sounding Denny Triangle, or the Denny Neutral Zone (DNZ), as I call it. There’s all sorts of other stuff wrong with this map, but we won’t get into it.

Lots of smart and personable people claim that Belltown gives way to downtown at Virginia Street. I have to disagree. Ask yourself this: Is the Moore Theater (2nd & Virginia) part of Belltown? How about the Virginia Inn (1st & Virginia)? How about the Westin (5th & Virginia)? All of them lie between Virginia & Stewart. OK, so the answers are: You bet, absolutely and who cares?? So there.

The strange thing is that to outsiders, Belltown seems hip, happenin’ and (*heavy sigh*) quirky – God, how I hate that word! In my 19 years living here “quirky” has come to mean “my next door neighbor is a drug addict.” How true! And, as much as I hate to tell you this, Belltown hasn’t been hip and happenin’ since the twilight of grunge in the early ‘90s. I was here for that, but too poor to participate. Those were interesting times, but they’re over. Lots of people move to Belltown thinking that it’s gonna be this really cool place packed with artists, poets and philosophical drunks, but they leave after three months of feeling completely isolated. People, that’s what living in Belltown is all about! It’s for loners! Capitol Hill is much clubbier and more social. It also has lots more greenery. Those poor hipsters who experience the real Belltown and are driven insane are usually a lot more comfortable on Capitol Hill or in the U District.

Why Belltown?
Yeah, Belltown truly doesn’t have a lot going for it; it’s quite ugly, it’s very loud, it smells weird and there are crazy people everywhere. But the one thing for me that trumps everything else is its location. It’s right next to downtown. I settled here because I wanted to be able to walk everywhere: work, bars, stores, restaurants, movie theaters, what have you. I grew up in the burbs where you had to have a car to do anything. The bus wasn’t an option and it took forever to walk anywhere. It was a huge drag. I never wanted to be stuck in that awful position ever again, so Belltown was the ideal choice. And I’ve been here for damn near 19 bizarre years. In case you’re wondering, yes, I own a car. I drive a gigantic, wheezy, old heap that I use on occasion to drive up to my parents’ house in the wilds of Snohomish County and run errands beyond Denny, Stewart, Western and 6th. .

Anyhow, this may seem odd, but it’s been only the last few years that I’ve taken a really close look at Belltown. Before that I barely noticed my surroundings. Sure, I knew when they were building some brand-new ugly apartments down the way and all that, but I never took stock of the neighborhood as a whole. But I spent all of 2007 and half of 2008 working from home. I gotta tell you, there were times this place drove me absolutely nuts with its noise, craziness, smell and ugliness, but then something would happen and I would once again be at peace with all creation. Most of my discontent stemmed from the chilly, dreary, damp winters intersecting with my drafty apartment multiplied by my poverty. But once spring rolled around, everything seemed much more tolerable. This year is no different.

So here’s the deal: I’m gonna try to figure out what makes Belltown so ugly and you’re gonna read it, OK? Even if you don’t live in Belltown or even in Seattle, you may be entertained by the amount of human folly that has transformed this place from a working class neighborhood to a major eyesore. Enjoy!

No comments: