Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oh, the Humanity!

It is with great regret that I witnessed this yesterday:

Polite Society is (soon to be "was") a modest little place that sold nice clothes, which were a little too metrosexual for me. But nevertheless, if I found $500 in the street, I would give serious thought to buying stuff there. Now the dream is over. All they've got left is naked mannequins. I'm sure some perv (who probably lives on 3rd) will buy them all.

Anyhow, Belltown will be diminished without you, Polite Society.

Bad Graffiti of the Week

Here's something I fail to understand: why do some people feel compelled to scrawl on dumpsters? I'm familiar with the concept of tagging; it's the human equivalent of peeing on a shrub. I just have no idea why anyone would bother. I mean, who cares if you've been in the alley between Blanchard & Lenora? Trust me, there are better alleys in Belltown. Why this one? And why on a poor helpless dumpster? It's not exactly like you're fighting the power when you throw your handle on something that holds garbage. Observe:

Yeah, I can't read any of them, either. Let's hope they keep track of each other. I've always been a firm believer that morons should compete with other morons for meaningless titles. Maybe this is the case here. The only other thing I have to say about all this is: Alleywide, bitches!

Random Profound Thought

The P-I is dead and it ain't never coming back. It died because we didn't clap loud enough. It's the Times' town now. We just live in it...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The WTO Rumpus & Belltown

I was walking around yesterday when I came upon 6th & Stewart, the furthest reaches of Belltown. I remembered that for a time, this was the most famous Starbucks in the world:

That's right, this is the one that got looted. Back then, it looked more like this:

So for a moment or two, this obscure corner of Belltown was on the world stage.

For the record, I did try to find photos of the actual retards who did the looting, but for some reason, none were to be found. In case you don't recall the so-called "Battle in Seattle," here's a short, concise summary: Everybody was a dick.

From the cops... the protesters... Bill Clinton... the delegates... the mayor of Seattle:

That's the wuss-tacular Paul Schell there on the right. (Remember him?)

Dicks, all of them.

The main thing I recall from that time (almost 10 years ago) is its intense stupidity. And its dickishness. Most of the heavy action took place in downtown, but there were plenty of folks running around this neighborhood calling for "direct action." All the badness began after the people dressed like sea turtles marched through downtown. Following that, the anarchists - sorry, teenagers from Oregon - did some window smashing and then the air was thick with tear gas. By day three, the cops had either arrested or beaten anyone capable of protesting. Me, I just went to and from work and kept to myself because of all the wholesale dickery going on. I never got caught up in anything, as I always seemed to come upon clashes that had just been broken up; bleeding people on the sidewalk, others in handcuffs and locals like me just blithely walking through it like it happened every day.

The trouble during the WTO conference underscored one thing endemic to Seattle: poor planning. The first day, there were too few cops. The next few days, there were too many. And they really liked swinging their riot clubs. Seattle has always been about bad planning, so why would this occasion be any different?

Well, everybody eventually went home, Paul Schell took the heat for most of the dickishness and the WTO continues on unabated. And for a moment, a Starbucks on the very fringe of Belltown was very famous.

McGuire Scaffold-Watch! Week: ???? + 3

Still there! The brave masonry dwarfs are still heroically trying to de-crapify the the exterior. We wish them luck!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Sidewalk Talks Again!

This time, it's not commanding you to do anything; it's just saying something that doesn't make any sense. This bit of public art is old. I mean, it predates me. It goes back at least to the eighties and possibly the seventies. What's remarkable about it is that it has occupied the same spot at 1st & Virginia for the entire time. That patch of sidewalk used to run in front of a parking lot. Now it hosts this:

Yeah, it's a reflecto-riffic piece of the urban skyscape, indeed. But all through the construction process, great care was taken to preserve the nebulous phrase so that future generations could be puzzled by it. That's pretty admirable, because they usually come in, destroy everything and leave behind an ugly building. This time, they just left behind an ugly building. Well done (for once), construction guys.

You Heard the Sidewalk!

I seldom let sidewalks tell me what to do. But this plea (at the corner of 3rd & Blanchard) gives me pause. You know, the people of 3rd Avenue have suffered greatly over the past few weeks. Their trees have been cut down, their sidewalks have been jackhammered into oblivion and their women have been carried off. Plus, in general they just seem to be physically less attractive that other Belltown residents. So when a sidewalk tells me to save artwork along this neighborhood's fugliest, most downtrodden thoroughfare, I say: "Save it for how long??" That's how I roll.

Coming Soon to the Moore!

Although this sounds a little like porn, it's actually much worse. How is such badness possible? I guess the fact that it's playing in Belltown answers that question.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Public Art FAIL

Years ago - it must have been in 1993 - the city decided they were going to revamp the sidewalks along 2nd Avenue. OK, fair enough, we thought at the time. It actually turned out to be something of a fiasco. The workers came in, obliterated the sidewalk down to the dirt and then mysteriously disappeared for several weeks. Seattle being Seattle, it rained heavily for those weeks and there was a great deal of mud in Belltown. Just as life got more and more impossible, the city guys showed up again and eventually finished the job. Apparently, the sidewalk revamp was extensive enough to warrant a 1% public art expenditure. (I don't know whether this rule is prevalent anywhere else in the country, but it's basically a directive to spend 1% of the cost of any given project on public art.) What we got for that 1% still haunts us to this day.

The person who designed this total fail is a fellow named Kurt Kiefer. He had some big ideas. They were so big that they didn't make any sense either visually or on paper. I remember some mention of vitality and Belltown's improvisational ability, but little else. What this theory translated into was pink concrete railroad ties embedded in the sidewalk:

You get the idea. These dumb pink things stretch from Lenora all the way down to Wall. There's no rhyme or reason to their placement. It's completely random.

Also during the sidewalk project, the city put in more lighting, so that people could get a better look at their assailants. Kiefer's idea was to have the lights hang by small steel constructions, like so:

Yeah, out of all the things he could have done, he chose the most inappropriate option. If this design appeared in an industrial area, then fine. But 1993 Belltown had a reputation for being a rough-edged grunge paradise. Not a whole lot was being manufactured here. It's like Kiefer had absolutely no idea what the neighborhood was all about. First the pink railroad ties, then skeletal light fixtures. Those two things were silly and unsightly enough, but the jewel in the crown of awfulness was the bench.

It stood between Blanchard and Bell and immediately became a bum/crackhead/drunk/crazy person magnet for the area due to its placement at a bus stop. Its reputation as such soon made it the most hated piece of public art in all of Seattle, as this story asserts. After years and years of agitation, the bench was finally removed. Well, more like unceremoniously cut out of the sidewalk, but it's gone just the same. All that remains of it is this:

Again, if Kiefer had given some thought about the bench's placement in relation to the dynamics of the neighborhood, he would have put it somewhere else - or perhaps he could have omitted it altogether. Honestly, I can remember seeing the cops investigating all kinds of weirdness there dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. It was like there was a giant neon sign above it, reading: "Hey scummy people! Come sit here and drink until you get into a fight!"

What did we get for that 1%? A hodgepodge of statements completely at odds with Belltown's true identity. Honestly, it's like Kiefer never visited Belltown. And for all this I'm told he was paid quite handsomely. Wow, talk about money poorly spent! OK, so the offending bench is gone and thank God for that. It's a shame we can't remove everything else that was foisted on us.

New-ish Restaurant!

For years and years, Mom's Teriyaki stood at the corner of 3rd & Bell. It was run by two pleasant ladies who probably weren't Japanese. You know there's that truism about never eating at a place called Mom's, but I guess this place was the exception that proved the rule. Sure, it wasn't the best place in the world, but it was OK and it was cheap. The two pleasant ladies put up with a lot, since they were right next to Kelly's and across the street from Regrade (aka Needle) Park (before it was turned into a dog park). If you came in and weren't high on crack or drunk out of your mind, they'd make your order extra tasty.

Well, they were there for around 20 years, so I don't blame them for leaving. Now we have a place called Gambas in its stead. They've got a super-cheap sushi happy hour that I need to hit soon. Of course, when it comes to sushi, the best place in Belltown or indeed in all of Seattle is Saito's. It's just right across the street from me at 2nd & Blanchard. The only thing keeping me from taking all my meals there is that they're a little pricey. Oh yeah, it's totally worth it, but I can't justify the expense, so I go there once every month or so. It's more special like that. As for the sushi at Gambas, if it doesn't make me sick, then I just might be going there a lot.

Oh, and you read that right; it's a Japanese and French restaurant. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

There's Something You Don't See Every Day!

This is at 2nd & Virginia out in front of the Whisky (that's how they spell it) Bar. I walked past it last week and couldn't help wondering how and why. The sorry fact is that such acts of weirdness don't last very long, and sadly, the shoes have been taken down. Once again, I wonder how and why.

Nature's Bounty of Belltown Road Projects

Gosh, things have not changed at all. Well, they have cut large holes in 4th Avenue at Lenora and Battery, but besides that, everything's the same as last week. Observe:

4th & Virginia...

4th & Lenora; everybody wave to the lovely Cinerama!

Here's 4th & Blanchard. The stretch between Blanchard and Bell is being used as their supply depot, so if anybody needs to steal a piece of road equipment, that's the place to go.

This was a big hole at 4th & Battery, but now it's just a big patched-up section of roadway.

And that's it for 4th Avenue. The sidewalk work continues on 3rd Avenue, but I'll bet real money that all the effort won't make 3rd any less ghetto. Oh, and speaking of big holes, there has been seemingly no progress on the big hole at 2nd & Bell. Observe:

I hear those guys working down the block (they're pretty super-loud), but they don't seem to be either expanding or contracting the hole. Perhaps they're working on the quality of the hole. That would be my guess.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Defense of...The Darth Vader Building

The seventies were about many things. People had weird hair, they wore strange clothes and they talked funny. On the architectural front, it was about all kinds of different stuff and keepin' on truckin' and so forth. Skylines across this great nation were punctuated by odd-shaped skyscrapers and various other tributes to non-conformity. Yes, the seventies did indeed challenge architectural conventions. And nowhere can that be seen more clearly than in Belltown's own landmark, known far and wide as the Darth Vader Building. It began life as the Sedgwick James Building in 1979 and at some point along the way became the 4th & Blanchard Building (buildings along 4th tend to tell you where they are). My windows look out at this building. It's been part of my view for the last 19 years. I love it. This is what I see every day:

Yes, it's really quite a sight. The great thing about its unconventional design is that it mutates into something completely different depending on your angle of view. Observe:

From 4th & Virginia...

From 3rd & Stewart...

From 6th Ave...

From 4th & Lenora.

If dark, reflective glass ain't your thing, you'll definitely hate the Vader, but the thing is just so arresting that I never get tired of looking at it. At 25 stories, it's one of Belltown's biggest buildings. It's also one of its least fug. In addition, it happens to have the best grounds (in the form of a small park on Lenora Street) in the entire neighborhood (more on that soon). So yeah, I love the Darth Vader Building. I rocks my world.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dive Bars on KUOW

Yesterday, Mike Seely from The Weekly was on KUOW talking about dive bars. He's written a book on the subject. As previously mentioned, he names Kelly's at 3rd & Bell as Seattle's most frightening bar. It's not one of my haunts and I haven't been in it for years, but his assessment seems pretty accurate. It truly is a genuine dive - unlike, say, the Lava Lounge or the Whisky Bar (yeah, that's how they spell it). You can listen to the whole interview here. And even though there's only a passing mention of Kelly's, it's still pretty amusing. Seely's original article is here.

Sunny, Sunny Day

Lordy, is it ever gorgeous today! All of Belltown is quite a bit less ugly. And my street smells like Mexican food. As we inch towards summer, it will once again smell strongly of hot dogs - just as it has for the last two years. For the moment, however, things are so very nice. Living in Belltown doesn't suck that much!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bad Graffiti of the Week

Our graffito is either offering this as a loving tribute to the Fine Young Cannibals or as something for our consideration or perhaps another thing entirely. Observe:

I've been looking at this for quite a while. It's probably been up for two years now. Back when I smoked, I'd go out in back of the building to have a cigarette (there were fewer people trying to mooch nails from me in the alley) and there it would be on the side of Federal Surplus' building. And it just never got any better or gained any deeper meaning. It was merely bad graffiti and that was that.

I'm pretty sure that this one will be around for quite a while longer, unlike last week's selection which has already been painted over. Oh well, at least I was fortunate enough to record its utter incompetence while it was freshly scrawled.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Resistance Is Futile

Once upon a time, a child was born. This child was like any other child, laughing when happy and crying when sad or excessively gassy. Years passed and the child grew up and acquired knowledge, eventually deciding to pursue a degree in architecture. The child, now an adult, graduated from an accredited university, entered the world and found a job. After several years of satisfactory work, the former child was given the job of designing a building for the phone company. Here are the results:

The result is one of the most ghastly buildings in the city. It's so cold and devoid of any charm that I have to remind myself that it was conceived of by a human being who had human emotions and not some random robot who taught itself computer-aided design. To make matters worse, this building is on my block. Officially, it's called 120 Lenora (for that is its address although it stands squarely at the corner of 2nd & Lenora), but is alternately known as the Qwest Building (not to be confused with the Qwest Plaza Building at 1600 7th Ave. in downtown). Its 14 floors house a whole array of phone equipment. I can understand the functional nature of the building's design; it contains mostly electronic phone-switching guts and only a few people to do the machines' bidding. But does it have to be reduced to sheer functionality? Does it have to be so lacking in appeal? Does it have to look like a Borg ship made of bricks? Do we have a choice? No - and resistance is futile, by the way.

Seriously, it looks poised to blast off from its moorings to go assimilate parts of the galaxy. There is no stranger building in Belltown or elsewhere in Seattle than the Qwest Building. It's just there - and that's about it. It is tremendously ugly, but it doesn't matter. Beauty is not part of its directive.

Another item worthy of note is that this building also displays some of the worst public art of all time - brick murals of Seattle sights and history. I've been walking past these street-level panels for 19 years now and I'm constantly surprised at how ultra-dreadful they are. You can be damn sure that I'll write a lot about them in the future.

McGuire Scaffold-Watch! Week: ???? + 2

Still there! And not much going on... If I lived there, I'd want a big cut in my rent. I mean, what's the problem? Did the construction company use flour, water and superglue for the exterior? It boggles the mind.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blue Skies over Belltown!

Here's a weird-looking partial Belltown skyline from 6th & Blanchard:

Ain't that pretty? You know, the last two days have been really nice. The general gloom has subsided. The air is warm and as fragrant as possible under the circumstances, birds are chirping over the traffic noise and the leaves are returning to the trees that haven't died of depression during the winter. That doesn't mean there's a whole lot to do in Belltown. As a rule, there's generally very little to do here - even less if you don't want to spend any money. I'm always a little surprised at how little things change once the weather turns. It's not like the entire neighborhood moves outside and hangs out on the stoop. There are precious few stoops in Belltown anyway. No, things pretty much stay the same until high summer, then we see just a teeny-tiny bit of outdoor culture. The reason for the delay is probably because the weather is so friggin' unreliable. Two weeks ago, we had similar niceness going on; blue skies, chirping birds, trees in bloom, etc. Then it clouded up, the temperature dropped by 20 degrees and things were miserable. That week and a half in particular really enhanced Belltown's ugliness. Conversely, good weather mitigates it.

Although I'm looking forward to warmer temperatures, one thing I'm dreading is Belltown's annual ritual: shirtless guys wandering around the neighborhood. Almost all of these fellows have no business in that condition; they're either hopelessly out of shape with giant saggy man-boobs or crack/meth thin with random terrible tattoos and scary scars or some mixture of the previous two. Of course, there are guys who have the build and youth to pull shirtlessness off, but I'm always like, OK, I get it, you've got a decent bod, enough already. I guess my tolerance to those with no shirts is zero.

In the last several days, I've seen two guys in such a condition, neither of which had any call to be in such a state. And they have inspired me. Since this venture is all about ugliness in general and Belltown in particular, I vow to you, the little people who read this big, big blog, that in the coming months, I'm going to take pictures of every inappropriately shirtless guy I can find. Wish me luck!

They're Selling Crack in Belltown?

What will we tell the children?? Seriously folks, this sort of thing happens once every few years. It always seems to start with the day laborers along Western and then moves up and into other parts of Belltown. As usual, this particular drug ring involved people who aren't from here selling to people who also aren't from here. This is just the place where they did business. Funny thing, though, it was a fairly extensive network - 32 guys - yet there wasn't the same kind of insane "wild west" vibe around here like there was back in the bad old days of 2001. I mean, you'd think there'd be lots more twitchy, violent, drug-crazed people roaming around. I really didn't see that. Oh well, it's nice to see the cops doing their jobs every once in a while. Congrats, cops. And better luck next time, Honduran guys.

Here's the KIRO report on the operation. I like how they pretend that they're in neutral territory when in fact they're actually very close to the heart of the action. Yep, they're right here in Belltown at 3rd & Broad. The reporter on the street is standing on the corner of 1st & Cedar. Why she's there is anybody's guess. It's not exactly the jewel in Belltown's crack crown. It's just some church that used to be the Carpenter's Union Hall. Anyhow, for those still trying to orientate themselves to Belltown geography, she's standing directly across the street from this rather squat eyesore:

So once again, Belltown and crack are synonymous. By the way, what are we gonna tell the children?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Make Way for Segways!

OK, so riding a Segway doesn't make you a dork. It only makes you look like one. Even Seattle meter maids (it's a unisex term, folks), with their snazzy black and blue stealth-wear, cannot make Segway riding look cool.

I was walking down Wall Street and I saw these five people at 4th Ave. on Segways, looking quite serious. In fact, to those of us without wheels and gyroscopes, they tried really hard to make it look like it was the most normal thing in the world. They failed. They still looked like tremendous dorks. Observe:

Yes, it's not a great picture, but if you look at it closely you'll see five people on Segways heading toward the Bayview Tower, the ugliest building in Belltown. Hey, I had to chase them for a block or so and the best I got was this lousy photo. I have long said that when Segway riders start organizing, we're all doomed. It was never a worry till now. I will keep you posted with any further sightings.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nature's Bounty of Belltown Road Projects

Spring is here! You can tell because that's when Belltown's larger street projects begin. Your 4th Avenue is having all kinds of stuff done to it, most noticeable of which is its closure at Pine Street. Although most of the action is taking place around Stewart Street, some pretty serious work is happening all the way to Wall Street. I'm pretty sure this has something to do with the new Escala at 4th & Virginia. It's a very big building that probably requires more city services than the parking lot that stood there previously. So they're coming in, busting up the asphalt, digging down two feet, then filling it in. Observe:

Here's 4th & Virginia. The Escala is just off to the right, across Virginia and not in the picture. You'll see that two lanes are blocked off.

You can tell they're serious. They've brought in the heavy stuff. This is from 4th & Lenora. The fabulous Cinerama Theater stands in the background.

More heaviness dappled by the righteous Sunday morning sunshine between Lenora & Blanchard.

Look, look! Blanchard Street gets the honey bucket! Score!

A little minor action at 4th & Bell.

And on it goes down to Wall.

But wait! There's more. We've also got stuff going on at 2nd & Bell.

First off, there's this giant hole in the sidewalk covered up with steel plates.

This seems like too much equipment for that size of a hole.

There's even more on the other side of the street. And look! They've got their own honey bucket. Class!

OK, so the work on 4th seems to be going quickly, especially considering how massive it is. The 2nd & Bell stuff? Who knows? About a year ago they were doing similar work just a block away at 3rd & Bell and that lasted over six months. We shall see..