Monday, August 31, 2009

Music in the Park gets one more gig

Though the Music in the Park banner proclaims there will be music “rain or shine” every Thursday in August, it didn’t quite work out that way earlier this month when Cuban-music septet SuperSones was scheduled to appear. There was definitely a lot of rain in the Park that Thursday evening, but not much music. Fortunately, the situation is about to be rectified as the Music in the Park series briefly extends itself for one week into September. SuperSones will play the Park this Thursday evening beginning at 6:30.

SuperSones performs a type of energetic Cuban country music known as son, a precursor of salsa. This music was popularized in the early 1920s and remains a staple of the Cuban-music repertoire to this day. Son blends Spanish guitars and harmony, Afro-Cuban percussion and swing, call-and-response singing, and trumpet improvisation. SuperSones plays both the original music and new compositions that are anchored in the son tradition. The group’s musical range includes bolero, cha cha cha, guaracha and something known as son montuno.

This is fun music, designed to get everyone dancing. If you are unfamiliar with it and interested in learning more, you can listen to son on SuperSones’s website. And if you’re signed up for MySpace, you can find more tracks here.

We'll see you in the Park on Thursday!

[Music in the Park is sponsored by the Madison Park Business Association. Photo courtesy of SuperSones.]

Rover’s spawns new eatery

This is a little bit off of the Madison Park beat, but in case you missed the story of Rover’s owner Thierry Rautureau’s latest venture, the Capitol Hill Seattle blog has the details (click here). If you are one of Rautureau’s regulars, you’ve probably received an invitation to purchase $1,000 gift certificates to his as-yet-unopened Luc, which will be located next to Rover’s. Opening in early 2010, it’s supposed to have a more casual atmosphere than its stuffier French neighbor (there will be take out!).

You have to give Rautureau credit for novelty. His idea is to finance at least some of the cost of Luc with the proceeds of the pre-opening gift-certificate sales. If you’re ready to invest you may start the process by clicking here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

MadArt will accost you

When it arrives on the Madison Park scene next month, MadArt is certainly not going to be anything like a typical “art walk.” No staid galleries, no specially designed and repainted spaces for these works of art. No, this will be art in the public domain. Like literally in the neighborhood hardware store. Not expected. Surprising. Shocking even.

MadArt is designed to shake things up and get people talking art down here in the Park, and there’s no doubt it’s going to have impact. Beginning with an opening event on September 12 and continuing for the next 23 days, 21 emerging Seattle-area artists will have their works displayed in the windows of 18 Madison Park merchants. Each piece of art will have been specially produced by the artist to work in the space in which it appears.

The idea of MadArt is the brainchild of Madison Park resident Alison Wyckoff Milliman, who while living with her family in Melbourne, Australia several years ago was one day confronted by art in an unlikely place: the window of a village shoe store. “It was there to be art,” she said, “not there to sell shoes. It stopped me in my tracks because it was so unexpected.” And it got her thinking both about how people normally get to see art and about how artists might benefit from having their art exposed in a different way.

“We’re used to seeing art in prescribed places,” she told me. “And if you don’t go there, you’re going to miss out.” She reflected on the great job the Australians were doing of encouraging young artists and helping them get their work seen. “I thought to myself: ‘We could do this in Madison Park!’ I literally envisioned walking down the street in Madison Park and seeing art in the shop windows.” Her epiphany, after a couple years of effort, has resulted in MadArt.

Milliman is no stranger to the art world, having graduated from the UW as an art history major, worked in the antique-appraisal business for many years, and served on the Board of the UW’s School of Art. She says she’s always been interested in artists and their process, and she was particularly concerned about how new artists might learn the “business of art,” which is just not part of an artist’s training. MadArt has been designed not only to get exposure for the artists involved but to help them think about their art in a business-like way. Artists were required to go through a bit of a drill, for example, in order to participate in MadArt.

First of all, 200 local artists or so were considered for the project. This initial list was whittled down to about 40 artists, whose studios were then visited. Many of those artists were asked to make proposals for inclusion in the project. “We gave them a challenge,” said Milliman. “Visit the sites, talk to the store owners, and propose a design for a site-specific installation piece.” With 18 merchants agreeing to participate, 21 artists were chosen to fill the spaces (some of the artists are working together on an installation).

Among the emerging artists chosen for MadArt is Tamara Codor, whose untitled painting I used above as a teaser for this story. Here she is in her studio with the actual piece she is working on for MadArt, which will be displayed in the Bank of America branch:

‘Art is supposed to activate’

Bryan Ohno, who has a long history on the Seattle Art scene, bought into Milliman’s vision and joined MadArt as its director early in the process. He defines the spirit of MadArt as having two principal objectives: “to give a new opportunity to emerging contemporary artists to show their work, and to reactivate Madison Park through art.”

Although art is most often seen in a prestige setting such as a gallery, studio, or even a restaurant, “ultimately it disseminates into our everyday lives,” he told me. “Why not have the art start there? Why not have it happen this way in Madison Park?” So, for a period of almost a month, MadArt will give us our chance to see art as part of our quotidian lives: art at the vets, art at the bank, art in the drug store, and art in the real estate office, among other venues.

MadArt presents an opportunity for new artists to help us “see the endless possibilities of visual creativity,” to quote Milliman. The effort will be a success, she says, if it brings people to Madison Park to see the art and if it gets us all talking about what we’ve seen.

Here’s another artist, Cameron Anne Mason, who is lending her talents to MadArt (her hand dyed and sewn silk vessels will be displayed at Anne Marie Lingerie):

For a complete listing of the participating artists, with links to their websites and pictures of their MadArt installations as works in progress, click here.

The fun begins September 12 with a 6:00pm opening reception at Starbuck’s (4000 E. Madison Street), followed by a walk around the various MadArt installations, beginning at Anne Marie Lingerie and ending at Spa Del Lago. As we get nearer the event I will post another story about MadArt with additional pictures.
[Tamara Codor art photos courtesy of the artist. Cameron Anne Mason photo courtesy of MadArt. Photos of the artists by Bryan Ohno.]

Friday, August 28, 2009

Madison Park Beach No. 1 in the summer

The Seattle Parks and Recreation department reports that our beach is the “most heavily attended” beach in the City, at least during the summer. It sure looked that way yesterday, with multitudes of sun worshipers, swimmers, and waders thronging the beach area. Even so, it’s a bit of a surprise to me that we surpass both Golden Gardens and Alki in popularity. Perhaps easy access is the reason.

Ice cream is still available at the beach, by the way, for those willing to await the periodic arrival of the musically-challenged ice cream truck:

The tent may be gone, but private enterprise goes on. The Parks department confirmed to me in an email this week that it was “community concerns” which led the Parks’ contract manager to suggest that the vendor fold up his tent earlier than planned.

Meanwhile, across the street in the play area of the Park, the newly engraved pavers (installed earlier this week) were on display for all to see.

It seemed to be a picture-perfect day:
As an aside, blog reader Alice Lanczos reports that the political website The Huffington Post is having a contest for Best U.S. City Beaches, and Madison Park Beach is currently running in 8th place (up from 9th place earlier in the week). She wonders, however, about this comment by the person who nominated the Beach: “Be sure to stick around for an incredible sunset, known to locals as the Protestant Sunset.” Perhaps I’m just not a local, but that’s news to me. A Non-Denominational Sunrise would be a more likely phenomenon at Madison Park Beach, don’t you think?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New media gets into bed with the old

This is me, in a photo by my friend Barbie Hull, looking pretty darn pleased with myself. Perhaps even a bit self satisfied. I started this blog four months ago on a whim, and since that time there’s been slow but steady readership growth and increasing visibility for Madison Park Blogger. There have been over 900 unique visitors to the site since inception (not a few of them landing here by mistake), and last week MPB averaged just over 60 unique visitors per day. Late last month the biggest story I’ve ever covered (Girl injured jumping off diving board) was viewed by almost 200 people; and the recent dump-truck-runs-into-laundry story was also big news, with about 120 viewers.

Well it’s progress, though not at a level that would make other Seattle bloggers envious. A story I posted earlier this year on the Capitol Hill Seattle website, for example, was viewed by 554 people. And it was far from being the biggest story that blog has ever covered. I could certainly garner more exposure for myself by writing for them than doing this blog, but I have other goals. For one thing, I actually think someone should be covering stories specifically about the Park.

Not that I’m uninterested in a bigger audience, however. In fact, to get more visibility for this blog I’ve made what some might consider a pact with the devil. I consider myself a new-media citizen journalist, but in order to be discovered by more Madison Parkers I have nevertheless aligned myself with part of the creaky old media, a newspaper. Specifically, the Madison Park Times. Beginning with the paper’s September issue, MPT will be picking up my monthly review of the Madison Park real estate market. What the paper gets out of the deal is editorial content that it hopes will be of interest to its readers. What I get is the opportunity to inform a wider audience through my reporting and, not incidentally, a chance to publicize this blog. I see it as a win/win, since I am not in competition with the Madison Park Times and would like to see it remain a viable channel of communication for Madison Park.

Even so, I’ve had my qualms. The paper did, after all, lay off its paid reporter who had covered Madison Park. In providing copy for the paper, am I somehow being unfair to people in the trade who have lost their jobs? But if I am being unfair, it turns out I’m apparently right in line with the thinking of several other bloggers in this town who yesterday announced their affiliation with part of the big old media: The Seattle Times. This presumably will mean providing the Times with editorial content that could have been provided by paid (read union) staffers covering Seattle beats. As the Times has pared down staff, it has needed to find other ways to get content. This new foray into the neighborhoods is a part of that effort. Whether this is a good deal for the neighborhood blogs, however, is less clear to me. Most of these blogs are in competition with the Times for advertising dollars, so everyone is going to have to tread very carefully if these partnerships are to work to the advantage of both sides. It’s an experiment, and only time will tell.

Another part of the old media suddenly making a play for the neighborhood audience is KOMO. I was a bit shocked the other day when, after I mentioned to someone that I did our neighborhood blog, she asked “Oh, do you work for KOMO?” She had heard (though not seen) that KOMO has started a Madison Park neighborhood blog, but she had never heard of mine. Such is the power of TV to get a story out (at least to a certain audience demographic).

KOMO’s Madison Park blog is not much of a blog, however. And for a good reason. KOMO launched 43 Seattle neighborhood blogs this month, all written by one KOMO staffer located downtown, and apparently without anyone “on the ground” in any of the actual neighborhoods (except to the extent that KOMO staffers happen to live there). This is what KOMO has to say about its blogs: “We are the place for conversations to start and communities to connect on the issues that are important and relevant to where you live. We’re taking the news gathered in and from your neighborhoods and publishing it in a place you care about. “

Maybe so, but after almost a month of operation, KOMO’s Madison Park site has not produced a single story about Madison Park (although they did upload two pictures of the dump truck crash in Madison Valley). And there hasn’t been a blog posting over there in the last week. Like the Seattle Times/neighborhood blogs affiliation, KOMO’s invasion of the neighborhoods is an experiment in progress. And it’s been tried before.

The Seattle PI was probably the first of the old-media outlets in town to attempt an affiliation with neighborhood bloggers to create original content. In the PI’s case, that effort was limited to its on-line site, which is still in operation. You can judge the success of this effort by taking a look at the Madison Park/Madrona page. In case you didn’t just click on the hyperlink, I can save you the effort by telling you that today’s stories from Madison Park include one about speed bumps in West Seattle (from July) and a list of road and bridge closures (from May). The Ballard and Capitol Hill reader blogs on the PI site do have current content, so it is possible for Hearst (owner of the PI site) to get the locals to provide free content. But it’s obviously a hit-or-miss thing.

As for KOMO and The Seattle Times, I wish them luck in finding the right way forward, especially if it means more and better coverage of neighborhood news in this town. Meantime, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing down here in the Park. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The police respond: “Call 9-1-1”

As a follow up to my “Why the police won’t come running” story last week, I asked the Seattle Police to respond to my commentary--and they did.

Officer Timothy Greeley, who is the community liaison officer for Madison Park, agreed with the thrust of the story but had a few clarifications to add. While it is true, he said, that there is no regular patrol for Madison Park, there is a “beat car” assigned to the Charlie 3 beat, which includes Madison Park. That patrol, he said, tends to focus on the “hot spots” of the beat “and you’re not one of them, fortunately for you.”

He noted that Charlie 3 (which also includes Madison Valley, Montlake and parts of Madrona and Capitol Hill), is one of the biggest beats in the City; so while there’s a lot of action on the beat—it’s just not usually in the Park. Greeley indicated that if there’s an on-going problem within the beat that can’t be handled by the regular beat patrol, he would get involved in directing additional police resources to deal with the problem.

What message would the Seattle Police most like to communicate to Madison Park residents concerned about potential criminal behavior in the neighborhood? “Call 911” he said. “Don’t hesitate if you hear or see anything suspicious, call immediately.”

Greeley reports that many people are afraid to call 911, thinking that their problem may not be an emergency and that the line should be used only for emergencies. But the 911 system is used primarily for dispatching police officers to investigate anything that needs investigation, he said. The 911 operators are well trained to move non-emergency calls to the right department. The system is also used to evaluate the volume of crime incidents and help allocate police resources, he said.

Greeley commented that when there were recent incidents of suspicious activities at the Park, not one resident called 911 to report it. The only way the police found out about the problem, he said, was the result of calls from the media and from citizens calling non-emergency police phone numbers, ones that don’t necessarily have 24/7 coverage (such as his).

“It’s not possible to tie up the 911 phone line,” he told me. “It’s a great piece of technology, so use it.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

July Real Estate Report

What happened to the trend?

Madison Park home sellers looking for a sign that the tide has turned in the local real estate market may have to wait a little longer for their good news. The upward trend in sales volume that characterized the last quarter does not seem to have kept its momentum into the summer.

During the second quarter of the year six homes were sold on average each month, a significant increase in volume from the two sales a month recorded at the bottom of the market last winter. In July, however, only four houses were reported sold in Madison Park, according to the King County Assessor’s Office, and no houses were recorded as sold during the first half of August. These initial results for summer home sales break the trend line, making it harder to argue that a recovery is underway:

Just to put these numbers into perspective, there were 14 homes sold in Madison Park (including Broadmoor and Washington Park) during July and the first half of August last year, and there were 16 sales in 2007. There’s a hopeful sign in the fact that through mid-August there were seven houses listed as “pending” sale by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS). But the four closings to date this summer certainly define a market that’s still drifting in the doldrums.

Even though recent sales figures are not positive, in other respects things are at least not getting worse. For example, the level of for-sale inventory has been holding steady at about 100 homes for several months. Based on current pendings, that represents about a 14-month absorption rate. Not robust, but much better than the 30-month rate or higher recorded in the first quarter.

Values, meanwhile, also seem to be holding up. estimates that the median home in Madison Park has declined in value by only 4.7% in the past year. Of the 99 Seattle neighborhoods the website surveys, only four have a better record than Madison Park of retaining their home values in this down market. Some, such as East Queen Anne, have seen declines of 20% or more, in Zillow’s estimation.

Our real estate market continues to be characterized by relatively big and expensive homes, with the bigger and more expensive of these dominating the list of properties for sale:

The median home currently on the market in Madison Park (condos and townhouses included) has a list price that is 74% higher than Zillow’s estimate of the median value of all area homes. Of the 76 houses for sale, over 40% of them boast at least 4,000 sq. ft. Many of these properties have been on the market for a year or more (one Broadmoor house has the record at 460+ days).
Here’s a snapshot of the current listings in Madison Park (Washington Park and Broadmoor included), based on data from


Listings: 76
Median Asking Price: $1,995,000
Median Square Footage: 3,870
Median Price per Square Foot: $516
Average Days on Market: 83
Percentage with Price Reductions: 45%
Average List-Price Reduction: 8.2%

Condos & Townhouses

Listings: 28
Median Asking Price: $525,000
Median Square Footage: 1,152
Median Price per Square Foot: $456
Average Days on Market: 95
Percentage with Price Reductions: 45%
Average List-Price Reduction: 7.2%

The most expensive home currently on the market is a $12.8 million waterfront mansion located in the Reed Estate (1500 42nd Ave. E.). The least expensive is a 680 sq. ft. condo, listed at $279,000.
The four-bedroom, 3,300 sq. ft. home pictured above is located across the street from McGilvra School at 1620 38th Ave. E. and is a listing of Coldwell Banker Bain agent Laurie Way. At $1,300,000, the house is actually one of the more modestly priced properties currently on the market here in the Park.
Chasing the Market Down

A continuing phenomenon of the current real estate market is the disconnect between the expectations of sellers and perceptions of buyers over home values. Almost half of those with homes on the market have had to reduce their list price at least once to try to catch the market as it has headed downward. And while the average price reduction so far in this cycle has only been 7-8%, many sellers with unrealistic expectations have taken a beating while trying to “chase the market down.” The most extreme example of this is a five-bedroom Washington Park view home (610 Hillside Drive E.) which went on the market over a year ago at $2,795,000 and, after numerous price reductions, is currently listed at $1,549,000--a 45% come down. But have the owners finally caught the market? Until someone makes an offer, it’s hard to tell.

Windermere Associate Broker Lincoln Thompson believes that one of the biggest problems with the market right now is that with so few sales occurring, especially in the upper market, there just isn’t enough data available to properly determine values. Owners, agents, buyers and appraisers are all without information, and this is causing a lot of discomfort for everyone. Agent Jonathan Himschoot of Windermere agrees, saying “the hard thing is finding the right price. How do you pull comps when there’s so little to compare to?”

One agent told me that she thinks many sellers who want to put their houses on the market perceive that they are taking an actual loss if they list their houses at a price consistent with the current market. But for most people in Madison Park who’ve owned their homes for any appreciable period, the only thing they will be giving up is part of an unrealized gain, a different thing entirely. But try telling that to someone who set the value of his own house on the basis of what his neighbor got when selling his house two years ago.

Several other agents that I spoke with told me that many buyers are just as unrealistic as the sellers, expecting big discounts from the list prices. The fact is, however, that on average Madison Park home sellers are currently getting 97% of their list price at sale. Small comfort, perhaps, to those who have had their houses on the market for months without any offers.

Next month we’ll take a look at two other factors having a significant impact on house sales in Madison Park: the difficulty in finding mortgage financing, and the downside of the new rules governing appraisals.

[Thanks to Windermere agent Wendy Skerritt for her help in providing market data utilized in this report. Please note that the Average Monthly Homes Sales chart above, which shows different historical data from the numbers used in the June real estate report, has been adjusted to exclude sales that are not the result of properties being placed on the public market (such as changes of ownership within a family as part of an estate settlement, etc.).]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Gone (sort of), but not forgotten

The vendor who has been selling ice cream and pop from a tent near the bathhouse this summer is no longer a fixture of the Madison Park beach scene thanks to the efforts of some area residents. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that it’s his tent that is no longer a fixture, since the vendor himself has been turning up this week in an ice cream truck and selling his products on the street next to where his tent had been located. He reportedly does not have the City’s permission to do so, however.

Beginning on Monday this week, the City effectively revoked the concession. As I reported last week (“Private profit using public resources?”), a petition drive was underway here to oust the concessionaire due to concerns over safety and the competition he provided to area merchants. The City, while claiming that the vendor has not been “evicted” from the Park, did confirm to me that “he was asked to leave early.” But we’re not really sure why.

Seattle Parks & Recreation Department spokesperson Dewey Potter told me that the Parks official who made the “leave early” decision was not in town this week, so she was unable to say what led to the result. She acknowledged that the City did receive the petition from area residents this week, but the petition actually arrived after the vendor had already been asked to leave the Park. I've been told that a Park resident unconnected with the petition campaign went directly to a Parks manager with her complaints and got action. The lower-level employee who originally approved the concession declined to be interviewed for this story.

According to Potter, until last week the City had never been notified that residents had concerns about the concessionaire’s activities in the Park. However, according to a Madison Park Community Council member to whom I spoke, an email from the MPCC was sent to the City on June 12 and was responded to by the City on June 23, essentially rejecting the concerns outlined. It was for this reason, she said, that the petition was started jointly by the Council and the Madison Park Business Association. Approximately 100 residents added their signatures to the petition, which was hand delivered to the City this week.

Potter told me that she was surprised by the reaction to the vendor this year, since the City had granted a Madison Park concession in each of the last two years. This is news to many of us who live near the Park; but if true, the concessionaire was certainly not a very visible presence. And he also didn’t snake an electrical cord from the women’s bathroom across public walkways.

Potter also denied that when it comes to city-park concessions there is any difference between a park like ours, located within easy walking distance of area merchants, and a park—like Magnuson or Matthews Beach—which is remote from ice cream and pop vendors. She told me that from the Parks Department perspective the needs of park users are paramount. Interestingly, I understand the formal response from the City to the MPCC’s email earlier this summer noted that park users might be endangered by having to walk across a street in order to get sundries from area merchants. This was apparently cited as a justification for having a Park concession here.

Now that the petition has been delivered, Potter assured me that the Parks Department will be taking the concerns of area residents very seriously. “We will investigate each of the issues raised in the petition,” she said. But Madison Park residents still shouldn’t expect to be notified next year if her department grants another concession. That’s just not part of the process, she told me.

[Above photo, courtesy of Seattlest, shows the concession tent earlier this summer at its location near the intersection of E. Howe Street and 43rd Avenue E.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Swim for Life a big success

I got a bit off assignment this morning, as I was supposed to be covering the Puget Sound Blood Center's 12th Annual Swim for Life Across Lake Washington. I was diverted, however, by the spectacular crash of the dump truck in Madison Valley. Nevertheless, here's a photo of a member of the first team to make it across the 2.5-mile course, which began at Medina Beach.

The swim started at 7:30, and the first swimmer arrived at the Madison Street dock at about 8:45. Not bad. She was a waif-like teenage girl without a wetsuit! Supposedly the water was realtively warm (70 degrees in some spots), but most of the swimmers I saw definitely had wetsuits.

Swim organizers told me that the event, which raised money to fund a new bloodmobile for the PSBC, had significantly more participation than last year. About 250 swimmers made it across the lake, even though not all of them could do in with a an hour-fifteen time.

It could have been much worse

This was the scene at about 9:00 am today at the intersection of E. Madison Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way E., half an hour or so following an accident that left two cars totalled and sent one driver to the hospital with minor injuries. A dump truck hauling rock was headed east down Madison when, according to its driver, the brakes failed. After hitting the two cars, the driver swerved off the street and stopped his vehicle by raming into the brick wall of Madison Cleaners. Neither the driver nor the wall was seriously damaged in the accident, though the truck sure was.

My neighbor Jim Waltz, who covered the story as a cameraman for KIRO-TV, told me that the police administered the mandatory sobriety test to the truck driver, who in an on-camera interview with the station said that he swerved to avoid hitting additional cars and thought the brick wall should do the job of stopping the truck. It did.

Another of my neighbors was a witness to accident. He was sitting at the counter of Essential Bakery looking out the window when he saw the truck coming down the hill at a very very fast rate, he told me. The truck hit a parked car sitting at the curb (with the driver in it), careened through the intersection, hit a car turning into the Madison Cleaners parking lot, and then smashed into the wall. From his vantage point it did not seem to be a controlled crash. More of an out-of-control smashup.

Thanks to Barbie Hull of Barbie Hull Photography for the great shots:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mystery of the missing pavers solved

Anyone who purchased a granite paver in support of the Friends of Madison Park but has yet to see the engraved paver placed in the Park will be happy to learn that installation should happen within the next week to ten days. That’s the word, at least, from FMP volunteer Matt Bridge.

In my role as investigative journalist (“Ask Bryan”) I was called last week by someone who wondered if there might be something questionable going on with the non-profit Friends of the Park. She said that she and others had paid their money months ago but had yet to see any results. Where are their pavers?

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, the Park recently underwent a significant upgrade as a result of the efforts of FMP, which raised about $1 million for park improvements. This was matched by around $115,000 from the City. The upgrade included reconfiguration of the play areas, creation of a sitting area, the addition of playground equipment and benches, and new landscaping.

Bridge told me that he hopes everyone will be patient as the finishing touches on the Park are completed. These include installation of several engraved pavers, repair of some of the playground equipment, and placement of some additional park benches. He said that what began as an FMP group of 12 parents has now dwindled to just three parent volunteers, “and we’re working hard.”

The engraved pavers became a fund-raising method for FMP rather late in the game, according to Bridge. Donors willing to contribute $500 were entitled to placement of a 6” by 8” paver engraved with their name or the name of their business. Those donating $800 would get an 8” by 12” paver. Bridge told me that as he remembered it, the initial deadline for donors to get in on the opportunity was probably sometime around June 1.

At any rate, some donors didn’t submit their forms until much later, he said. (In their defense, the form does not list a deadline). These later donors are the ones who have yet to see their names displayed in the Park. To save on costs, installation was delayed until all of the pavers of this later group were engraved. According to Bridge engraving is now complete and the pavers are sitting securely in the warehouse of the Seattle Parks & Recreation Department awaiting placement. Bridge says he understands the frustration of those who are still waiting to see the results of their contribution, but their wait is almost over. “We realize we’re late, and we do apologize.”

Friends of Madison Park (which is a section 501.c.3 nonprofit) will continue to operate as long as there are funds in the FMP account, Bridge says. Right now there’s between $25,000 and $30,000 available, he estimates, which will be used principally for maintenance of the playground equipment.

When the Friends of Madison Park announced plans to make improvements to the Park, some longtime residents were wary if not downright hostile. They liked the Park the way it was. But I’ve been by the Park a lot since it was dramatically transformed, and my sense is that the users are plenty happy with what FMP has accomplished there.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why the police won’t come running

This is a story about home security systems and what you can and can’t expect in terms of Seattle Police response if the alarm is triggered. Don’t get me wrong. Assuming that your alarm works correctly and that your home security company does its job properly, you should expect that in most instances the police will quickly be on their way. But if you think that any time your alarm is triggered you will get an automatic and immediate police response, don’t.

This is how I know. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I were out walking our dogs when we got a cell phone call from our security-alarm company telling us that the motion detector in our basement had detected a possible intruder. Should they notify the police, they asked? Yes, I said. We were about three blocks from our house, so we rushed back to the general vicinity; and, along with several of our neighbors, we awaited the arrival of the police. After about a half an hour I decided to check out the situation for myself. I walked around the house to see if there was any evidence of a break in. There was none. I opened the front door and heard the interior alarm on, but it appeared there was no one in the house. Perhaps an animal? An upstairs window was open, so a bird or rodent could have entered. But after checking the house thoroughly, we found nothing. False alarm.

About an hour later, a good 90 minutes from the time that they had first been called, the police arrived. I had already called both the police and the alarm company to tell them that it had been a false alarm. But there they were. The two officers confirmed my identity and said that they had not been told that it had been a false alarm. Not that it would have made any difference, they said. They would have still come to check, since anyone could have called the police to say it was a mistake—even someone who had broken into our house.

Since I happened to have a couple of police officers standing in my front yard, I naturally took the opportunity to quiz them on why, exactly, they had not rushed to the scene of this possible crime. Their explanation provides an object lesson from which my neighbors with home security systems can benefit. Here’s the short answer on why they didn’t rush to my house: lack of police resources and a resulting need to prioritize their responses to potential crimes.

They told me that in their estimation, the East Precinct probably deals on average with 20 or more false alarms a month. With regard to motion detectors, they said, it is much more likely that there will be a false alarm than a real one. This is especially true in the summer, when windows are more likely to be open and false alarms can be caused by things blowing around in the house, such as curtains. Animals moving around the premises and system malfunctions (as in our case) are other causes. So in the end, responding to home-security alarms is just a low-priority police dispatch. In fact, they said, even if they had been rushing to my house but had received a call about any other police need, they would have been diverted to handle that issue before responding to my alarm.

And here’s another point they made that applies to Madison Park in particular. There are no longer any regular police patrols through Madison Park. Relative to the rest of the East Precinct, there is just not enough crime here to justify having police resources tied up driving around the Park when they are probably needed in the rest of the Precinct, which includes Capitol Hill and parts of the Central District. Therefore, it would be an unusual situation for there to be a patrol car nearby when a Madison Park home alarm goes off, they told me.

Well, that’s good to know (I guess), but what value is my home security system if the police are hardly ever going to be arriving in time to catch a burglar? The audible alarm is certainly a deterrent to some housebreakers, they said, but it is more likely to be effective if it is audible to the neighbors than just audible inside the house (as ours is). Someone who breaks into a house is going to be concerned about being seen in the act, so home security systems can be effective in causing a burglar to leave or at least leave more quickly than otherwise. Make no mistake, they said, if it is clear that a break-in really has occurred (as when a neighbor calls 911 and confirms seeing the crime taking place) the police are immediately dispatched. My neighbor was able to confirm the truth of that statement earlier this month.

A home security system can be an excellent way to get automatic police or fire response in most circumstances (for example, if a smoke or heat detector is activated or if you press one of the emergency buttons), but it is by no mean automatic in all circumstances. Now you know.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Short takes

One of the glories of summer in Madison Park

Blog reader Alice Lanczos tells me that I ought to rave about the lovely Crape Myrtles that line the north side of E. Madison Street in the area between Bing’s and McGilvra’s. I’m happy to do so. Though in past years I barely noticed these splendiferous beauties, they are certainly not to be missed this year. The blooms are expected to last at least until the end of the month; so if you haven’t done so already, get down there, look up, and enjoy the show (if driving, please pull over first).

Do New Multi-Lot Houses Have Consequences?

I’ve done some additional digging since my story earlier this week on the census numbers; and I’ve discovered that there is, in fact, an official government estimate of the current population of Madison Park. The Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM) estimates that our neighborhood has actually lost population since the 2000 census.

The current population estimate for our census tract shows a decline in population from 5,006 in 2000 to 4,937, a loss of 69 Madison Parkers. If true, this would mean a decrease in population of 1.39% over the eight- year period, the kind of thing that happens in the rust belt.

The State’s population estimates are “derived from the current housing stock using decennial census-based occupancy rates and household size that have been adjusted based on other estimation information,” according to OFM. I guess we can hardly argue with that methodology, can we?

Private profit using public resources?

Some Madison Park residents (and probably a few merchants) are miffed that the City’s Parks and Recreation Department issued a permit to the concessionaire who sets up a tent near the Bath House on sunny days and sells ice cream and pop to beach goers. Part of the irritation stems from safety concerns about the electrical cord which snakes its way across the grass, over a dirt path and cement walkway and into the women’s room (where I am told it sometimes sits in water that ponds on the floor).

A bigger concern for many, however, is that allowing a vendor to operate on Park property—using taxpayer space and electricity—creates unfair competition for Madison Park merchants, such as Scoop du Jour, that make most of their revenue during the summer months. Topping it all off is the fact that the City acted—as usual—without apparent notification to anyone in Madison Park. This is something guaranteed to drive the Madison Park establishment (Community Council and Business Association) crazy. Apparently it has.

If you believe that the City acted unwisely in granting the concession, you may sign a petition to that effect which is available at Madison Park Hardware.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crime is down in the ‘hood

Madison Park is not experiencing an uptick in crime, as some might think. In fact, according to new year-to-date crime statistics released by the Seattle Police today, major crimes in our area are actually down 9% for the first six months of this year as compared to the same period last year.

This good news does not apply to the East Precinct as a whole, however, which—like the City itself—is experiencing a higher level of crime in 2009. So we can consider ourselves a bit of a crime backwater, though not all of the numbers are good. Unfortunately, multi-year crime comparisons are not possible for Madison Park because the police department changed its reporting districts in 2008. Neighborhood crime had previously been reported on the basis of census districts, one of which includes all of Madison Park. Now, however, our neighborhood is reported as part of a larger police beat known as Charlie 3:

So, in addition to Madison Park, these crime statistics also cover Montlake, Madison Valley south to Union Street, Denny Blaine, and part of Madrona. In this reporting area we’ve had no homicides this year or last, and there’s been only one reported rape in each year. While burglaries significantly increased in 2009 (from 5 to 11), assaults were down (from 13 to 7). This is the month-by-month picture for violent crimes on the beat for both years:

The non-violent crime picture is better. These crimes include larceny and theft, motor vehicle theft, and burglary, and as you can see (at least if you click on the graph to maximize it), we are tracking below last year’s crime levels in every month this year, with a particularly big fall off in June:

Looking at the City crime map, you can see how relatively crime-free we really are (the lighter-green areas are the low-crime beats and the darker-green areas fit into the lock-the-doors-and-bar-the-windows category):

Madison Park had 34 crimes per 1,000 residents last year, according to Seattle Magazine, placing us in the top ten low-crime Seattle neighborhoods.
[The crime density map above is a feature of the City of Seattle's My Neighborhood Map webpage.]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Madison Park makes top-20 ranking

I’m not sure that this can be considered a particularly noteworthy honor, but Madison Park is ranked Number 20 on Seattle Magazine’s recent list of Seattle’s 60 best neighborhoods. “Madison Park enclave Broadmoor,” however, makes the list at Number 8, just behind Madison Valley, at Number 7. The list is highly subjective, and there appears to be no obvious method to the magazine’s madness in creating its rankings. There are multiple paragraphs detailing the source of information for the various categories used in creating the list, but there is no explanation of how these categories were weighted.

Given the magazine’s stated criteria concerning housing affordability as the “key to continued dynamic growth in our area,” it is interesting that Broadmoor (with its supposed $2,009,000 median house price) ranked so high, while Madison Park as a whole (with its stated $792,500 median house price) was so far down the list. I guess it’s just that Broadmoor is eminently affordable for the wealthy, while the rest of the Park is considered pricey for the less wealthy.

Or maybe the magazine places high value in its belief that the commutes to downtown Seattle and to Redmond (two of the ranking criteria) are significantly shorter for people in Broadmoor than for the rest of Madison Park. (Are are we really five minutes further away from Redmond; and if so, do very many of us care?) These are the only two categories in which Broadmoor ranked higher, unless you want to count the fact that $2+ million gets you more bedrooms and bathrooms per median house than $792,500 does. Crimes per resident, park acreage, and percentage of fourth graders passing the WASL were the other criteria for the rankings. Oh, and for some reason, the appreciation (or not) of median house values from 2007-2008 was an important element. (Madison Valley was down 1%, Broadmoor was up 1% and Madison Park was up 4%).

Personally, I suspect that Seattle Magazine’s staff voted on their favorite neighborhoods in order to create the list. The magazine certainly does not seem to be particularly aware of Madison Park. In the “Neighborhoods” section of the magazine’s website, for example, the “Madison Park/Madrona” webpage devotes 200 words to describing the pleasures of Madrona, but there’s not a single word about Madison Park. This didn’t help Madrona in the listings, however, as it was ranked Number 33. Leschi, on the other hand, barely made the list at Number 60, just below Judkins Park! Really?

Frankly, I think the list is screwy. However, for those who are interested but unwilling to actually buy the August issue of the magazine, here’s the top ten list: Queen Anne, View Ridge, Alki/Admiral, Phinney Ridge, Magnolia, Delridge, Madison Valley, Broadmoor, Capitol Hill, and Roosevelt. The Seattle and suburban Seattle neighborhood rankings are not available on the website.

[Sour-Grapes Disclosure: My impression of Seattle Magazine’s neighborhood rankings is in no way influenced by the fact that a story on best neighborhood blogs in the same issue of the magazine did not list Madison Park Blogger as among “the cream of the crop.” Actually, this blog was not mentioned in any context, but neither was the Central District News, which certainly deserved comment.]

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who are we and what are we doing here?

In advance of the 2010 U.S. Census, now only a few months away, I thought it might be kind of fun to take a look at what the last census said about us. (If you don’t think it would be kind of fun, stop reading now and see the note below). I’m guessing that where we were at the time of the last census is pretty much where we are today, since Madison Park is not a particularly dynamic community. But I could be wrong; so it will be interesting to make a comparison of these statistics to the new numbers when they come out next year.

Madison Park (including Broadmoor and Washington Park) comprises King County’s Census Tract 63, which in 2000 was populated by 5,006 residents living in 2,822 separate housing units (houses, condos or apartments). We were and clearly still are a pretty homogenous group of people: 2% Asian, 1% Hispanic, 1% African-American, 1% multi-race, and the rest (94%) Caucasian.

And we’re a pretty old bunch, as well, given that the median age for the community is 45. The distribution around the median would make for a pretty nice bell curve if I hadn’t decided to present it as a horizontal bar chart:

Consistent with an older population is the fact that women significantly outnumber men in Madison Park:

This difference becomes more pronounced at the upper end of the age range (the ratio of 65-and-older women to men, for example, is 1.75 to 1.00).

A much higher percentage of us live in rental units than I would have supposed:

Meanwhile, very few Madison Park households include children 18 years of age or younger, unless things have changed dramatically since the last census:

This is consistent with the fact that most of us either live alone or have only one other person in our household:

Although the City has generated some updated census estimates for Seattle as a whole, I have been unable to discover any new estimates for our neighborhood in particular. So until some better information comes along, I think we have to conclude that Madison Park is still the same aging, white beach community that we’ve been for some time. The details may have changed somewhat around the edges, but basically, that’s who we are.

Oh, and with regard to the “What are we doing here?” in the headline above, that’s what this blog is about.

[Note below: For those of you who get bored with statistics, here’s a story from The Seattle Weekly about the nude beach in Madrona (actually Denny Blaine), which you might find more interesting: No Swimsuit Required.]

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Seattle Fire Department: Lord love ‘em!

We had a little to-do at our house last night, one that serves as a salutary counterpoint to the irritation that I and many other Seattleites have about how our City government works—or doesn’t (remember the big snow last winter?) Last night, my wife and I discovered that water was flowing into our finished basement from what turned out to be a break in the main water line between our house and the meter. Unfortunately, I and my neighbors were unable to turn off the water at the street with the tools at hand.

So my wife called a plumber, and he said he’d be there in an hour. As you might expect in a case like this, the water was cascading into the basement and running away from the drain. So my wife and I started taking turns using a mop to slosh the water in the direction of the drain. After an hour of this, however, the water was clearly gaining on us and we were more than a bit done in. So when the plumber called to report that he’d be another half hour, I decided that the problem could not wait. I called the Fire Department.

I felt sheepish about doing so, since I was sure they had more pressing situations—real emergencies—to deal with. However, when the SFD dispatcher heard my story he was far from dismissive. He told me to hang tight, they had the solution and they’d be on their way.

As I sat on my front steps listening to the sirens coming closer and closer, I felt chagrined and a bit foolish. When they arrived, my embarrassment was so palpable (I think I started apologizing before most of them were out of the truck) that one of them turned to me and said “Don’t worry about it. This is what you pay your tax dollars for.”

The fire crew immediately took charge, assessing the situation and getting the water stopped. They brought in mop-up gear, vacuumed up the standing water and cleaned up the room. My wife was pretty impressed with how smart, articulate, organized—and attractive—the team was. When she told them we’d been bailing for an hour, one of the crew said “Next time, don’t wait. Call us immediately. You’d be surprised at what crazy things people call and expect us to take care of. Water breaks are not in that category. This is what we do. When it’s a case of your property being at risk, do not hesitate.”

Thanks guys, now we know.

[Above, the brand new (last week) engine of Fire Station 34 arrives.]

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Short takes

Madison Park Beach makes Seattle Weekly’s 2009 Best of Seattle List: In choosing our beach as the “Best Spot to Run into the Random People You Thought You’d Never See Again After High School,” the Weekly claims that “the beach is literally divided into elementary-school, middle-school, high-school, and college zones, from north to south.” Who knew? Literally? Anyway, the paper designates Madison Beach as “the unofficial stomping ground of all of Seattle’s youth,” commenting on the “beer, pot, and cigarettes galore” to be found there. (The Harvest Vine in Madison Valley, incidentally, also made the paper’s list as the “Best Place for a High-Heeled Date”.)

Harasser of Madison Park Resident Gets No Jail Time: State Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Milstein, who once lived in Madison Park, has pleaded guilty in a very bizarre harassment case which was covered in some detail today by the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Milstein, who now lives in Kirkland and is married to KING-TV reporter Deborah Feldman, admits going onto sex-related websites to impersonate the victim, a married woman who resides here. As a result of Millstein’s actions, the victim began receiving dozens of phone calls from people thinking she might be interested in engaging in various sexual acts with them. Milstein, who received only 240 hours of community service as his sentence, apologized for his actions and resigned from his state position today (his job was to represent the state Department of Social and Health Services in child protection cases). However, neither the PI story nor a similar report in the Seattle Times provides any explanation of Milstein’s motivation for perpetrating this gross misdemeanor.

Hit and Runs Not Confined to Land: There have been several hit and runs reported in the general area during the summer, including one on Monday. Now comes a report from the Seattle Police blog that there was a major boating hit and run on Lake Washington about a half mile south of the Evergreen Point bridge last week. “According to the victims, their boat was adrift in the water. The adult male victim was swimming while the adult female victim remained in the boat. The suspect’s boat bore down on the victims and did not change direction. The suspect’s boat collided with the victim’s boat and went over it, damaging and disabling it. Both the male and the female sustained minor injuries from the collision.” The Harbor Police brought the victims and their boat safely to land. The suspect has not been apprehended.

Lakeside Mansions of Madison Park Featured in New Book: Lake Washington boater David Dykstra, who is fascinated by all of the mansions that ring the Lake’s shoreline, has just self-published a book, Lake Washington 130 Homes, which provides an opportunity for the curious to view pictures taken from the water side of some of the more notable examples. Among the Madison Park homes that Dykstra profiles are four in the Reed Estate (those of Howard Schultz, Jack Briggs, Gregg Maffei, and Colin Moseley, although he incorrectly identifies Colin’s father, Furman Moseley, as the current resident). Also included are the area mansions of Joel Diamond, Martin Selig, Brooks Ragen, and Russell Horowitz, whose 1929 manse is probably the classiest of the lot. (Brigg’s spectacular property, which is for sale, was featured on this blog earlier this summer in “A glimpse beyond the gates”). In addition to his misidentifications (he is totally wrong about the site of actor Tom Skerritt's residence, for example) Dykstra provides no architectural commentary or context with his pictures. Still, it's interesting to see these mansions from the water side, even if you can't trust that identified owner really lives there.

[Beach photo by David Hutchins.]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pet peeves

In a posting earlier this summer I believe I referred to Madison Park as an oasis within the urban jungle, or perhaps I claimed that our neighborhood was an island of tranquility in a sea of troubles. Whatever overwrought metaphor I may have used, my argument was based on some sound evidence: comparing the level and types of crimes committed on our .91 square miles of the City to what goes on daily in a lot of the rest of this town shows that we’ve got it good.

Now I think there’s fresh evidence for my point about the relative tranquility we enjoy down here at the end of the road. It has to do with the story ideas for this blog that my neighbors keep coming up with. Let’s just say that these suggestions are not the kinds of things that most Seattle neighborhood blogs would find noteworthy. Not that this is much of a surprise, but I can say categorically (assuming that my neighbors are representative) that unlike many places in the City, ours is not a community with a lot of urban angst, social disconnect, or even anti-corporate passions. We’re apparently not so much “mad at The Man” as we are irritated with each other—and with those interlopers who come here and flout the rules.

Actually, I’d put most of our concerns about the neighborhood squarely at the level where they belong: in the category of pet peeves. This is not to say that there aren’t some big issues that Madison Parkers can get worked up about, such as preservation versus development. But to be frank, a lot of the things that really seem to disturb us are, well, a bit pedestrian.

So evaluate my proposition for yourself. Here’s a (semi-complete) list of the teeth-gnashing concerns that people in the ‘hood get so hacked off about that they think it’s worth my blogging about:

People who allow their dogs to roam freely and, as the British might say, foul the footpath—not to mention a lot of other parts of the neighborhood landscape. This is by far the most mentioned pet peeve.

People who walk or run their dogs and still don’t control what their dogs may leave behind. [My neighbors on the 1600 block of 43rd Avenue East provide the social commentary pictured above.]

People who park their boat and trailer rigs on the street in front of their houses for days or weeks at a time in violation of City ordinance.

People who park their boat and trailer rigs on the street in front of other people’s houses (often on a different street than their own) for days or weeks at a time in violation of City ordinance. (These are apparently people who have been warned off by the neighbors on their own streets).

People who allow their trees and other landscaping to encroach onto the public right of way, narrowing access to sidewalks and, in some cases, creating a hazard for walkers and runners.

People who drive down East Madison Street and at the intersection of E. Howe Street make a u-turn around the traffic island, ignoring the “Do Not Enter” sign, and then heading back up Madison in order to park on the other side of the street.

People who drive down East Madison Street, make the right turn on to E. Howe Street, but then turn right onto 43rd Avenue E., ignoring the “Do Not Enter” sign in order to park facing the wrong direction in one of the back-in angle parking slots by the beach.

People who hire people who use leaf blowers to blow grass clippings and other debris all over the place, often onto their neighbors property. (Okay, I admit that no one asked me to do a story on this. It’s my own pet peeve. But really, I ask you, is it necessary or environmentally or socially responsible to be using our energy resources this way while simultaneously fouling the air and causing noise pollution? And does it have to be done at 7:30 in the morning?)

Anyway, you get the idea. If these are our big issues, we’ve got it good.

[Did I not mention your own personal pet peeve? If so, please post it in the comments section below or email me. We'll get to it.]

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Music in the Park returns this week

The 2009 version of the popular Music in the Park program gets underway this Thursday and continues on each successive Thursday through the end of August. Sponsored by the Madison Park Business Association, this year's series presents quite a range of musical styles, beginning with early American popular music and ending with a bit of everything.

On deck for this Thursday is the 24-piece Cornucopia Concert Band (shown above), which performs American music of the 1890-1930 period, including ragtime, roaring 20's, and early jazz. Based in Seattle, The Cornucopians, are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. Their program is likely to include a bandstand march and some dance music, possibly even a polka or a waltz.

On August 13, the the sounds of traditional Cuban son music will fill the Park, as the SuperSones play the acoustic dance music that was a Cuban countryside precursor to the better-known Salsa. "Son is a unique blend of Spanish guitars and harmony, Afro-Cuban percussion and swing, call-and-response singing, and trumpet improvisation," and SuperSones has been playing this vibrant, happy music since the group was formed in 2001.

A piano-sax duo, Two Scoops, performs a program of blues and boogie in the Park the following week, August 20. The combo features Seattle pianist/singer/composer Eric "Two Scoops" Moore, who has performed with legendary blues musicians and with his own combo at blues festivals all over the United States and overseas. A critic calls his singing "soulful," his keyboard playing "ferocious," and his performances "roof raising."

Rounding out the concert series, on August 27, is country/folk/pop/jazz singer and songwriter, Jonathan Kingham, who apparently does it all. With four albums to his credit, Kingham's music has been used in the soundtracks to films and TV shows. He places himself within the same musical sphere as Norah Jones.

The Music in the Park concerts, which are held in the grassy area near the tennis courts of Madison Park, begin at 6:30 pm. For those interested in checking out these acts in advance, click on the hyperlinks for the music samples available on each of the groups' websites.