Sunday, May 31, 2009

For No Reason at All: Dino, Dino, Dino!

What the hell?? When I crossed 3rd & Bell, I saw this:

OK, look, Dino Rossi lost the election way back in November. This time, it was decisive. True, he really made it exciting back in 2004, but he ended up losing then, too. And besides, who wants to be governor of Washington anyway? This place is in a pretty dire mess. What's the state deficit? Eight billion? Nine billion? More?? Chris Gregoire isn't exactly Ms. Warmth-and-Caring and she's no Booth Gardner (that's for sure!), but I'm sure Dino would be about 20 times worse. After all, his biggest contributions over the last two election cycles came from pavement companies. Paving and tax cuts were his solution for everything. Still, about the only thing cool about potentially having Dino as governor would be that Washingtonians could declare to our fellow Americans that we've got a governor named Dino. It would make us sound a lot tougher than we really are. "Yeah, dis is Dino's toif. Yous gotta problem wid dat?" I pray that never happens.

Anyhow, I checked to see what was keeping that sign on the van. On closer inspection, it seems that it was actually bolted on. Wow, that's what you call commitment to the gag.

Then and Now

Once again, we delve into Belltown's storied past to show how much/little things have changed. Today's trip back in time features another splendid artifact from the "film row" days. The MGM/Loew's Buildling at 2nd & Battery was completed in 1936 and began dishing out heapin' helpins of film immediately after that. It may well be one of the best examples of one-story, faux-castle art deco in this whole crummy town. Observe:

This shot was taken back in 1938 when the world was new and always smelled like springtime. But times changed. The film distribution business eventually died out (though it was present in the neighborhood for nearly 60 years) and the corresponding buildings were repurposed. The MGM/Loew's became an insurance agency and was later known as the McGraw-Kittenger-Case Building. When I moved into the neighborhood, the insurance guys were gone and space had been split into two parts, one occupied by the original Cafe Septieme (it's now up on Capitol Hill) and the other would soon be filled by a stationery/gift store, Blu Canary. In a few years, Septieme was gone and over time, there have been several restaurants in that space (in no particular order): Good Chow, Lush Life and Marjorie - am I missing any others? Meanwhile, the Blu Canary chugged along for 17 years. Here's what the place looked like in 2007:

Last year, Blu Canary decided to pack it in (*sniff* That place always had the perfect card for every occasion!) and the building's owners ended Marjorie's lease in favor of a unification of spaces. And along came Buckley's. It's a sports bar of sorts that serves up some nice-smelling chow. Here's what it looks like today:

I haven't been to Buckley's yet, but that's not because I'm opposed to sports bars. In fact, I'm all for them. Belltown is home two and a half (Spitfire Grill and the Whisky (that's how they spell it) Bar is the half; they only get into football - and who can blame them?) sports bars. I just don't go to them, because I can't exactly afford to go out drinking these days. Anyhow, Buckley's building has been proudly rechristened as the MGM/Loew's Building and long may it stay that way.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Big Things in the Air

When you're walking down the street (as I was early this morning) and you see this sight:

you know that something big is going to get lifted high into the air. Whenever these extendo-cranes show, it's seldom boring, although sometimes you've really got to wait while all the guys in orange vests talk about their feelings and hopes and dreams.

Ground zero for all this excitement is the big hole formerly known as the future home of the One Hotel and Residences at 2nd & Stewart. It's a dead project whose abandoned onsite construction offices I predicted would be sheltering the homeless by fall if things were left as they were. Apparently, other people might have come to the same conclusion. Either that or they needed those single-wides someplace else. But today was the day to get them out of there.

I didn't expect for things to happen so quickly. I thought there would be more discussions of feeling, hopes and dreams before anything got hoisted in the air. (Crane operators just go on and on with the feelings.) But gosh, I was wrong:

And then they did the same thing with the other one while I was at the gym. When I was done, this is what it looked like:

No more trailers! Now all they've got to do to make the place look normal-ish is get rid of the scaffolding that the portables were perched on. Then after that, they might want to fill in that big hole with dirt and make it a nice parking lot like it was before.

In conclusion, time spent watching one of these cranes in action is never wasted - unless you've got some other place to be, which I never do.

This Week in Window Boxes

You will see a great difference over last week's comparative puniness. Witness:

It has been such a productive week that I'll start taking shots from the street for the next installment. I am very pleased with how they're doing so far. Usually when I reach that point, something drastic happens; half the plants in one box die off for some unknown reason or something similar. So I'm going to modify my outlook to "guardedly pleased." That oughta keep those plants alive for a while.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Big Plans for Bell Street

My friend Jim sent me this story from yesterday's Slog. It seems that Bell Street has been slated to become a green space. In order to make that happen, they're cutting the street down to one lane with a curb lane for parking. We're talking about 1st Ave. all the way to 5th. Here's an artist's conception:

Obviously, whoever drew this is unaware of Bell Street's layout; because of sidewalk improvements on the left side of the street, that's where parking will have to go. They also failed to notice that Bell is not lined with department stores.

Frankly, I'm not falling instantly in love with this idea. I don't think it will change much about the neighborhood, except snarl traffic on Bell. Like cranes in the shallows, Crackheads will still move stealthily about searching for those elusive stray rocks. Crazy people will still wrestle their demons in public. Can men with their reappropriated shopping carts will still loudly trawl for recyclables in every blue garbage can. A green space will change none of this. In fact, it may intensify the conundrum.

I say the city goes all out and installs fountains and swing sets and all kinds of other stuff. It should be more park than green space. At $2.5 million, they should be able to put in some cool stuff. Or how about this: city gives me the $2.5 mill, I buy the Rivoli, rig it up with barbed wire, machine gun nests and flood lights so I can go all "Omega Man" on the vampire armies of darkness. Does that sound good? It's been one of my personal goals for a long time.

Anyhow, here's a shot that gives you a sample of how this might look. Here's a view of the intersection at 5th & Bell:

OK, just imagine that patch of sidewalk on the right extended out another eight feet. Do you feel your quality of life increasing? Me neither.

Because this is Seattle, we can never tell how bad the planning will be on this project until it's finished. While it's true that Belltown can use many more green spaces, I'm not sure whether this is the best way to go about it. Why not acquire the former Speakeasy lot at 1st & Bell and parkify the heck out of that? Or what about the site of the old UA Cinemas at 6th & Blanchard? That place would park up real nice! I want fountains and all that other park stuff in a real park setting. Five blocks of 16-foot-wide greenery isn't going to accomplish that.

Coming Soon to the Moore!

Just when I was pretty sure I wouldn't be taking a picture of the Moore marquee till mid-next month, they surprise me:

I dunno, "slam" doesn't sound right after "story." I'd feel more comfortable with "time." Story time. Isn't that nice? It's followed by cookie time and then nap time. That's the life I want.

OK, I understand the whole poetry slam aesthetic; it's mostly just bad poetry read in a forceful manner. Does that also hold true for story slams? Or do you have to shout and wave your arms around whenever one of your characters says anything?

"Dale came into the kitchen while Mom was making dinner.
'WHAT'S FOR DINNER, MOM????' (flail arms above head)
'MEATLOAF AND SALAD!!!" (drop to your knees, face Mecca, begin praying)
'WOW, MY FAVORITE!!" (pull some random person out of the audience and start beating them up)"

That's how I envision it. I'm sure that in reality, it's much worse than that. But like everything, once you spend enough time around it and get used to it, it seems like a real thing - like hip-hop or the plays of Tom Stoppard.

Speaking of 4th Avenue...

This is the current state of things:



Well, you get the idea; the top layer of pavement is gone. It's like that from Virginia all the way to Denny. If you still own an SUV, driving down 4th almost feels like offroading - y'know what you bought that SUV for in the first place.

Anyhow, I will provide you with action paving photos at the appropriate time.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rant Avoided!

Here I was going to go off about how badly they'd put 4th Avenue back together. I was gonna use this photo as justification for everything. Observe:

That's 4th, between Virginia & Lenora. They've been doing some very intense work along this street for two months now and I just wanted to highlight the fact that they couldn't even manage to make the new roadway at the same level as the rest of the road. But that's not really an issue any more. Sometime shortly after I took this picture, they came in and stripped off all the old blacktop. So they're repaving. Any weirdness/dumbness like in the above photo was just temporary and no reason to get bent out of shape (like I did a few days ago).

Apparently, your beloved 2nd Avenue is getting a similar repaving treatment later in the summer. It shouldn't be as maddening and chaotic as it usually is.

Bad Graffiti of the Week

With this bit of badness at 2nd & Battery, I think I've discovered a new species. Observe:

I think what we're seeing here is the work of a few organic taggers. They go around tagging in chalk. What do you know about that? I'm baffled. It's usually not the tagger way to care what media you work with (as long as it's permanent and perhaps a little shiny) or what your work looks like (as long as it's bad), so I can't see the purpose of this, unless they simply ran out of money and felt the urgent need to express themselves. Although this bit of work will be easy to eradicate, don't count on it any time soon, since the building's empty.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Crazy New Home for the Crazy Homeless

Behold this humble parking lot at 1st & Cedar:

See it? Well, OK, treasure it because soon it's gonna look like this:

Homeless? Crazy? Well, you're in luck! The plan is to construct this building with 84 units for 84 special homeless/crazy people. Hey, this is Belltown; there's always more room! But, as somebody who has lived next to crazy people for the past 19 years, I have to warn you that it's not as cool as it first appears.

This is all Plymouth Housing's idea. They've done some really nice work in the past, what with the old St. Regis Hotel at 2nd & Stewart and various other projects around Belltown, downtown and elsewhere. And they've got hard proof and solid facts that this sort of set-up is a good idea.

Anyhow, I'm not sure when construction will start or when it'll be finished, but let's wish those nice Plymouth Housing Group folks much luck.

McGuire Scaffold-Watch! Week: ???? + 7

Still there and just as still there as ever. I wonder how much they'd charge me if I wanted to live on a less-trafficked section of scaffolding. I couldn't get less sleep than at last night's Rivoli. Yeah, getting three hours of sleep a night is starting to get tiring.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Transformation Complete!

I guess some guys came in one night last week and switched signs on the WaMu at 1st & Cedar. Before:


That super-chunky Chase sign has filled me with such confidence that I can't remember this bank being anything else! What does WaMu mean?? You're talking nonsense! Long live Chase!

Huzzah for Commerce!

It looks like we've got ourselves a new business here! What a rarity! And here I thought that the economy was going to contract till we all became hobos who conducted business with cans of baked beans. But no, at 2nd & Bell, they're showing us their gumption and maybe a bit of moxie. Observe:

In case it isn't clear, it's going to be called Bedlam and it's opening soon. It's going into the space once occupied by Spa Noir (which has moved down the street (they're now next to Saito's, Seattle best sushi restaurant) because they're so busy; hooray for growth!) and the legendary Wall of Sound. Bedlam will share the lower story with Dennis' Murder Mart (does that place even have a name??) but hopefully they won't share a majority of customers. Even though there is quite a bit of competition in the neighborhood (the tiny Cafe Casbah is up the block and there are three Starbuckses within two blocks) these guys should do OK if they brew a decent cup of Joe and keep out the riffraff.

Nature's Bounty of Belltown Road Projects

Once again, this week it's all about 4th Avenue and it's also about Bell St. Little has changed:

Here's the Escala at 4th & Virginia, singlehandedly keeping the drywall industry afloat for another week. So yes, those two right lanes of 4th will be blocked until they finish up this future-eyesore.

Everything's clear for an entire block, then you run into 4th & Blanchard:

They're just paving the sidewalks, which is very nice of them. That former sidewalk sucked a lot. After Battery, everything's clear until you get to 4th & Vine, although it looks like it's been abandoned. Maybe it's haunted.

It's quiet. Too quiet...

They may be winding down on 4th, but Bell is really hopping. Starting at 5th Ave., they're digging a lot of holes clear down to 2nd. Observe:

Two sides of 4th & Bell:

Here's some goings-on at 3rd & Bell:

And then we get to 2nd & Bell where all the poking, prodding and sharing of feelings has ceased for the moment:

Oh, but there is something new! Some city guys think it's really important to punch a hole at the corner of 2nd & Lenora:

We wish them luck!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Not an Autoharp in Sight: Folklife 2009

Way back in the eighties, I used to work at the Tower store at 5th & Mercer. And without a doubt, the most nightmarish weekend of them all was during Folklife. Yes, we called it "Jokelife," but that didn't diminish its awfulness. For one thing, it always rained and I don't mean the sort of half-assed drizzle that falls nearly year round here. This was torrential; buckets and buckets for three solid days. This was enough to force most of the hippies (they were real, genuine, original hippies, so therefore, they were quite disagreeable sorts) into the store to wait for the rain to stop, which it never did - not for the whole weekend. The entire store smelled like wet, slightly sweaty wool. I'll never forget that smell. Once the store was full of wet hippies, they'd just go ahead and sit down wherever they wanted. Anybody asking them to move would feel the sting of hippie righteousness, because, after all, man, they weren't hurtin' anybody, man. A few would come in and very obviously shoplift for whatever reasons they thought best, so the security guys were in full arm-bending mode. Occasionally, we'd have to tow some dumb Folklifer's car, because he hadn't read the signs posted all around the parking lot that said they'd get towed if they parked there and went off to Folklife. Yeah, it was always a treat dealing with irate folkies. In short, the store was a total zoo, with a pungent smell to match. Since I've always associated Folklife with such madness, I've stayed away for nearly 20 years. But it's a new millennium, the Tower store is gone and I decided to pay Folklife a brief visit. Of course, I waited till the afternoon of the last day to go, but I did jump Belltown's northern border and stage a visit.

Here are a few shots of the sea of humanity:

Lots of people, but strangely enough, not a lot of them folkin' out. No wait, here are some:

And some more:

You know, I expected more drum circles and things like that, but most of the instrumentalists there were fiddle players. Many were not very good. Sure, they were trying hard and having fun, but good intentions don't negate bad music. Well, maybe if you're David Helfgott, that guy from Shine, but everyone else is excluded. In addition to the musicians, there were all these roving gangs of tweens offering free hugs. I did not take the bait. Hugging strangers is never advisable until you know their politics. Teach your children that.

In my brief time there, I looked hard for the least capable and inspired act. It had to be these guys:

That's a fellow playing a beat-up mandolin and a woman attempting to step dance, all the while looking just slightly too happy. They were not good. Almost everyone performing there was not good. I see now! If nobody's any good, we'll all feel better about ourselves. That's a brilliant plan!

OK, it's not like I haven't been to Folklife in 20 years. I actually played there a few years ago. That was back when they staked out the entire Exhibition Hall for jazz bands. I only remember three things: 1) the night was cold and very rainy; 2) once we got going, we had about 300 people dancing to us; and, 3) we didn't sound very good. That's probably because the band wasn't very good to begin with. I tried, but I was but 1/17 of the assembled forces.

So that's what Folklife was like for me for about 20 minutes. I have no desire to ever go again.

This Tree and Why I Love It

When it comes to the trees along Belltown's thoroughfares, 5th Avenue has its massive planes and maples, 4th Avenue has its stately maples and oaks and 3rd is getting away from its commitment to the honey locust. But what about 2nd? Oh, it's just chaos, man! There's absolutely no rhyme or reason for anything. We've got pear trees, purple leaf plums, California incense cedars (one of which I hate with a passion), red cedars, maples, a palm tree, a few stout oaks and, most surprisingly of all, the bald cypress. Behold:

This specimen, along with two of its friends, stands at 2nd & Blanchard. And yes, that's the same bald cypress that is the state tree of Louisiana. It may look like an ordinary evergreen; it's got needles and all, but it's the type that sheds them in the fall - just like they do in Louisiana! Ain't that weird? And I have no idea how these three cypresses got here. They're totally non-native and they usually do a lot better when they're growing in a few feet of water in a swamp. But not only have all three done well, they're actually outgrowing the competition, which is a little strange, since cypresses don't grow very fast at all.

I like this particular tree the best. It's right outside our local murder mart, Wally's. It's the only obstacle the drunks have on their way in to refuel with a Tilt or a Four or a Joose or a simple six of Bud Light and they usually find a way to collide with it. But this tree doesn't mind; it's way bigger than any one drunk. I can't describe it, but there's a certain dignity to this tree that's missing from its neighbors.

I love this tree.

I Can Think of Two Things Wrong with This Sign

I was just walking past the Fountain Court, which occupies the entire block between Battery & Wall and 4th & 5th. It's really a massive place that has managed to kill a whole city block by not including retail of any kind. That's right, the units go right down to the sidewalk. Reaction to the Fountain Court was so negative back when it was built in the nineties that the city passed zoning laws making that kind of design illegal in Belltown. Honestly, the city should have seen that kind of thing coming, but Seattle is a place legendarily lacking of foresight, so that's just the way we roll. OK, so I was walking by there today and saw this sign. It's supposed to get people amped about living at the Fountain Court (if you call that livin'!):

First of all, this is not downtown, it's Belltown. Anybody who doesn't know the difference should be sent to one of those FEMA reeducation camps. Downtown has tall buildings, plentiful retail and few actual residents; Belltown has crazy people, ugly buildings and nice restaurants. Secondly, contrary to what this poster implies bass players DO NOT congregate in Belltown - and especially not around the Fountain Court. This is a fact.

I close with a photo of the actual fountain and the actual court:

I'm told that the sound of the fountain covers up the wails of the ghostly lost souls who wander the hallways.

Coming Soon to the Moore!

Wow, they sure used a lot of letters for this one! This looks potentially interesting. The whole intent of the Book It series is to bring books to the stage. Most of these are merely dramatizations of novels. But this one is a musical version of the semi-non-fiction book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. You know, the guy who wrote The Little Prince. Yeah, apparently this is about an airmail pilot flying around Argentina in 1930. I'm sure there has to be more to it than that. But it could totally work. I mean, they wrote a musical about Oklahoma, this country's least attractive state, and look how that worked out.

I do think it's kind of ironic that here's this thing called Night Flight by Saint-Exupery, a guy who went out on a night flight in 1944 and never came back. For years, some of the more fanciful declared that Saint-Exupery had merely gone off to live with his creation, the Little Prince on his asteroid, but over the past ten years or so, the truth has come out. He's totally dead. They found his ID bracelet, they found his plane and they even found the guy who claims to have shot him down. So yeah, he's dead.

Anyhow, this doesn't start till next week and plays for 10 days, so you won't be seeing much of the Moore's marquee for a while. I hope you can handle that.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Then and Now

I generally try to document the goings-on of this neighborhood in terms of what's going on now and what has gone on in recent memory (i.e. since I moved in 19 years ago) but I recently came across a cache of photos that was too interesting to pass up. They depict certain neighborhood buildings as being part of what was known as "film row." My understanding of this is that these were screening houses where movie theater operators would come to view coming attractions and choose which ones they wanted to show. If that's wrong, then please correct me. Apparently there were quite a few of these in the neighborhood. We'll start with the building at 1st & Battery.



Golly, how times have changed! And it only took 71 years. As you can see, the photo was taken in 1938. For about the first 15 of my 19 years here, this place was the Catholic Seaman's Club on both floors. Now it's the Del Rey (not to be confused with the El Rey; my God, please do not confuse those two things!) below and Catholic sailors on top. Gosh, that sounded pretty gay! Anyhow, it's not my part to judge which is best, but if I was, I'd say that the 1938 version of the place was much cooler. To tell you the truth, I've never been to the Del Rey. There's never been any compelling reason for me to go. But knowing its history does make it somewhat more appealing.

You know, I was looking at a book of historical photographs of Seattle and I began to notice that downtown seems to experience a transformation about every 20 years. I kept seeing all these photos of 2nd Avenue during the twenties with all kinds of grand, dark, heavy-looking buildings going all the way down to Pioneer Square. Then 20 years later and everything would be completely different. What the hell happened in the meantime? I guess progress meant tearing stuff down as fast as it was built. It kept your average worker from having impure thoughts, I guess.

I think the same can be said of Belltown. The Belltown of 2000 bore little resemblance to the Belltown of 1980 in so many ways, physically and demographically. Likewise, in another 11 years we'll probably see a dramatic change from the 2000 Belltown. However it changes, though, I still expect it to be very ugly.

A Small Adjustment...

I just wanted to announce to any and all who are interested that I am now going to be posting the regular feature "Nature's Bounty of Belltown Road Projects" at the beginning of each work week. It's one thing to walk around Belltown taking pictures on a Sunday morning and hectoring the latest advances of the City of Seattle against the tide of decay. It's quite another to show the city's metal monsters and their brave, orange-vested overlords in action. Right now, there's more heavy equipment in Belltown than I have ever seen. I'm not exaggerating; it's all over the place. And there are also many, many holes in the ground, which many people find exciting.

So that's how it's gonna be. If all goes well, I'll have lots of action photos of the heavy stuff. If not, it'll just be guys in orange vests looking bored. Either way, it'll be better than my previous efforts to document this epic road struggle.

Dept. of Crappy Patch Jobs - Your Tax Dollars at Work

Sorry about no posts yesterday. I was up in Snohomish being a temporary country boy. Anyhow, so I was walking around on Friday. I come to 4th & Battery and this just jumps out at me:

It might be a little tough to see, but the middle part of the road is at least a few inches lower than the area around it. Tell me that they're not done with this! It's shoddiness incarnate! You take for granted that city engineering guys would know how to make a flat road, but I'm starting to have my doubts. Large stretches of 4th Avenue have been obliterated and replaced by weirdly-sloping concrete slabs (sorry, no pictures; just go down to 4th & Lenora to see what I mean). I have no idea what the city is up to, but the clear answer is becoming "no good." I like 4th Avenue, but after these "renovations," what man would have her?