Thursday, December 30, 2010

Police Blotter 12/30/10

Very few crimes were reported in the neighborhood during the past three weeks. Although there were two car prowls and a case or two of graffiti, major criminal activity was limited to just one boat theft and two burglaries.

The most notable burglary occurred at the Seattle Tennis Club on Friday, December 10. Early that evening, several STC members reported to staff that personal items of theirs had been stolen from the men’s locker room. One member reported that he had seen someone going through clothing inside the locker room. A review of security-video footage later revealed that a suspect had entered the locker room and remained there for about 15 minutes, leaving only when a STC staffer entered to investigate the report of suspicious activity.

The suspect apparently didn’t enter or exit the Club through the front door, as required of members. During a subsequent check of the premises it was discovered that someone had cut a hole in the chain-link fence on the north side of the property, and a lock had also been cut from an inside gate, probably giving the suspect access to unlocked doors on the east side of the Club. A copy of the video showing the suspect was provided to the police, who are continuing to investigate the case.

There was another burglary reported in the neighborhood over Christmas weekend. This one was at a residence undergoing renovation on the 400 block of Hillside Drive E. The contractor reported that someone had broken into the house by removing a temporary plywood door covering. Taken in the burglary were power tools and construction equipment. The house was not occupied at the time of the break in.

A boat was stolen from the 2300 block of 41st Avenue E. on the evening of December 20, and there were car break-ins on the 2300 block of 42nd Avenue E. on the morning of December 18 and on the 1800 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. on the morning of December 17. There was also one case of a weapon being surrendered to police on the 4200 block of E. Blaine St. on the day after Christmas. No word on what kind of weapon was involved, other than that it was not a firearm.

All in all, we’ve managed to end the year on a fairly positive note, crime wise; and if we’re lucky, the trend will continue into the New Year--until the weather warms up. That, at least, is the usual seasonal pattern.

[Key to crime-map symbols: starbursts represent burglaries, solid cars represent car thefts, un-solid cars represent car prowls, spray-paint cans represent property damage, upraised hands represent shoplifting, dollar bills represent thefts, handcuffs represent arrests under warrants, guns represent weapons involved, and red exclamation points represent cases of harassment. This map covers the period from December 6 through December 30.]

Monday, December 27, 2010

November Real Estate Report

Madison Park hangs tough

We’ve seen a fair amount of gloomy commentary in recent weeks about the state of the Puget Sound real estate market. An email we received from Redfin earlier this month, for example, described sales volume in Seattle as “dead as a doornail” during November. That’s harsh, but not entirely inaccurate. The number of closed sales in November was down 32% from the same month a year ago, and in our part of town (Capitol Hill are the surrounding neighborhoods), sales actually plunged 41%. Pending sales were also down from 2009 levels.

The market here in Madison Park, however, hasn’t shown quite the same degree of year-over-year decline, perhaps because it was not as impacted by the now-expired home-buying tax credit that is being blamed for the falloff in the overall market. In November, there were eight residential sales in Madison Park, which, though a 20% decrease from the ten sales recorded in November 2009, was still very much in line with sales levels of the past few months. At least through November, the market here in the neighborhood could be characterized as slow but steady.

There were five house sales during the month, two of which were under $1 million. The median sales price was $1,260,000 and the median square footage was 2,900, which works out to an average price per square foot of about $434. Three condos also sold in November, with a median sales price of $325,000. The average square footage was 1,351, and the average price per square foot was $365.

The market continues to be characterized by long sales times (219 days on average for condo sales and 343 days for house sales, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service [MLS]). And sellers continue to accept significant discounts from their original listing prices: 11% for condo sellers and a whopping 18% for house sellers during November, according to the MLS. The numbers are admittedly skewed by the sale of one Washington Park house originally listed at $3,295,000, which sold 624 days later at $2,050,000. Another house sold after 482 days on the market, but with only a 9% discount.

Real estate agents always point to pending sales as the hope for the future, and at mid month there were ten homes in Madison Park on the pending list. At this same time last year there were nine pendings, and December 2009 turned out to be a fairly good month for sales.

Inventory levels continue to be low, but not out of line with the typical seasonal patterns. Some sellers take their houses off the market during the holidays and many potential sellers decide to wait to list their houses until the New Year. Madison Park’s current inventory of 76 residences is actually up from the 70 houses and condos listed at this time last year.

Here’s an overview of the Madison Park market (Broadmoor and Washington Park included) using data from Redfin:


Listings: 52
Median List Price: $1,786,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 3,900
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $458
Average Days on Market: 180
Percentage with Price Reductions: 40%
Pending Sales: 7
New Listings: 3


Listings: 24
Median List Price: $635,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 1,262
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $503
Average Days on Market: 216
Percentage with Price Reductions: 46%
Pending Sales: 3
New Listings: 2

Currently, the most expensive home on the market is this 1931 Broadmoor estate, listed at $11,950,000. It boasts slightly more than an acre of property and over 10,000 sq. ft. of living space. Note: “seller financing available.” At the other end of scale, the least expensive ticket to Madison Park is a 643 sq. ft. condo in Washington Park Tower, listed at $269,000.

Finally, one of the most interesting buying opportunities is this “probably uninhabitable” 1948 brick rambler in Canterbury, listed at $1,800,000:

There’s over a half acre of waterfront property here, and the new owner will get a front-row view of the construction of the new SR-520 floating bridge.

[Photo at top: This house at 2341 McGilvra Blvd. E. was on the market at $940,000 in November but was one of the Madison Park homes withdrawn from the market in December.]

Thanks, as always, to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate/Capitol Hill for her assistance with market statistics .

Monday, December 20, 2010

Washington Park Playfield project wins out

. .
As we reported in April, Madison Park was one of several contiguous neighborhoods that jointly won the CleanScapes 2010 Neighborhood Waste Reduction Rewards competition. The Thursday pick-up area, which includes Madison Park, had the greatest reduction in non-recycled waste during the competition period. As a result, Madison Park and the other winning neighborhoods were each asked to submit proposals for a neighborhood project to be funded by CleanScapes. Thirteen proposals were received and reviewed by a selection committee, and last week a project to provide new playground equipment for the Washington Park Playfield was declared the winner.

The winning project was apparently the handiwork of the Madison Valley Community Council, though the press release from CleanScapes is strangely silent on what group, precisely, sponsored the proposal. The project is designed to replace the existing swing set at the Playfield with an integrated play area consisting of “one giant, continuous and dynamic play feature” suitable for children five to twelve years old (as shown above). If the kids want to swing, they will just have to come down to the Madison Park play area, where the swings that had been temporarily removed for safety reasons have now been returned.

Representatives from the winning neighborhoods’ community councils served on a project selection committee which chose the winner. Madison Park’s David Hutchins, who served on the committee, commends both the people who generated the project proposals and the CleanScapes team for helping turn those ideas into meaningful, executable projects. “CleanScapes’ generous gift to the community will be used and appreciated for years to come,” he says.

CleanScapes will fund up to $50,000 towards project costs. A supervisor will be hired to coordinate the volunteers who will assemble and install the playground equipment on site. There will be a presentation on the proposed new playground on January 20 in the Visitors’ Center in the Arboretum (6:30-8:00 pm). Those interested in volunteering to install the equipment should contact Candy Castellanos at CleanScapes: (206) 859-6717 or Construction is expected to begin in February and be completed by April.

[Photo courtesy of the equipment manufacturer, Xccent.]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas ships arrive with perfect timing

The rain had stopped only minutes before, and the breeze had calmed. The sky was dark and the air crisp. Indeed, conditions were perfect for reflecting the lights and resonating the sounds of the arriving flotilla of Christmas ships as they made their way into Madison Park waters late yesterday afternoon.

The beach crowd of several hundred, mostly decked out in rain gear and toting umbrellas, had lucked out. The boat display was joyous and colorful and the musical performance by the Vivace! Cathedrals Choir was truly outstanding.

But in twenty minutes it was over. The boats sailed on to their next stop, leaving an appreciative and presumably uplifted audience behind. Many in the crowd immediately decamped to the Bathhouse for jazz and refreshments sponsored by the Montlake Community Center. Others piled into neighborhood restaurants or headed up the street for cookies and hot drinks provided by the Madison Park Community Council. And for once, no one had to complain about the weather.
[Argosy Cruises would no doubt take it amiss if we did not acknowledge that, officially, their vessel is the one and only "Christmas Ship" (a trademarked term) and that all others in the flotilla are, well, boats.]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tolls coming to a bridge near you

For several months, the State’s Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has wanted us to do a posting about tolling on 520. We’ve resisted until now because there’s already been a lot of press on the subject and we’ve had plenty of other issues to cover here at Madison Park Blogger. But the new tolling will directly impact almost all of us here in the Park, and we’re getting close to the day when we’ll have to start paying up. So we thought it would be useful to bring everyone up to date on the subject and to link MPB readers with some helpful resources.

First of all, don’t expect that tolling, when it’s introduced in the spring of 2011, will further slow things down on 520. Those old enough to remember the original toll gates on the eastside of the bridge will recall that everything suddenly came to a halt there as people dug out change to pay the toll keepers. A new electronic tolling system, which WSDOT has branded Good to Go, will automatically record who crosses the 520 bridge and allocate the tolls accordingly.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the system will record what vehicles cross the bridge, since the electronic monitoring will be based either on license-plate numbers or on a reading of the Good to Go stickers placed in the windshields of cars that are signed up for the program. Signing up for a Good to Go pass will make sense for most people who cross the bridge fairly often, since it will be easier and less expensive to do so. Once you’re signed up, the crossing cost will simply be deducted from your Good to Go account. If you’re not signed up, you can be billed by mail. The system is already in use on two State roads, the Highway 167 “hot” lanes and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Anyone registered with Good to Go will be able to use the pass on any Washington State toll road.

Now, about those tolls. They have not been finalized, but the recommendation of the Washington State Transportation Commission is that they vary, depending on time of day travelled, from $0.00 (11 pm until 5 am) to $3.50 for peak commuting hours (7 until 9 am and 3 until 6 pm). That’s what you’d pay with a Good to Go pass. Because it’s more expensive to bill, the State expects to charge a higher toll ($5 during peak hours, for example) to those who do not sign up for the Good to Go program. Weekend tolls will be lower than tolls during the workweek. The chart of the Commission’s proposed tolls is available here. The Commission is expected to finalize the toll schedule on January 5.
Information on all of this is available from the Good to Go site, where you can register to receive emails that will ultimately provide details on obtaining a Good to Go pass. WSDOT has also produced a nifty five-minute video explaining the whole thing. The soothing voice of the upbeat female narrator might almost lull you into the belief that paying a toll to cross the old bridge is a wondrous thing.

Now if she could only make us feel the same way about that new bridge these tolls will be paying for…

[Lower photo is a still from the lovely new WSDOT video. Upper photo is by D. Harshan.]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Madison Park in the media

Seattle Magazine’s Best of 2010 issue, out last month, apparently gives the nod to only one business with Madison Park connections, Hopscotch Tees. It’s a small, year-old personalized clothing creator and retailer, the brainchild of Madison Park resident Shana Perrina. Hopscotch focuses on customized t-shirts for both children and adults.

Although not technically located in Madison Park, Madison Valley’s Luc is cited as a Madison Park restaurant and hailed in the Best of 2010 issue as winner of the magazine’s Readers’ Choice award for Best New Restaurant. The magazine’s November issue, meanwhile, carries a full-page neighborhood review of Madison Park, in which we are described as having a “family-friendly vibe.” The Independent Pizzeria, Madison Park Conservatory, McGilvra’s, Red Wagon Toys, Smooth Sugaring Studio, and Spa Jolie are among the local businesses singled out for special mention.

Off the Vine, “The Left Coast Food and Wine Magazine,” gives Madison Park Conservatory a laudatory restaurant review this month, calling the space “intimate and warm,” and the cocktails “very well thought out,” while praising both the food and its presentation. Those wondering about the details of MPC’s menu will find plenty of descriptive detail in the review.

The efforts of the Madison Park Community Council and volunteers Gene and Liz Brandzel to prepare the neighborhood for the next big snowfall was the subject of a story in The Seattle Times on Monday, in which City officials state that Madison Park is the only neighborhood in Seattle to create an organized effort of this kind.

And finally, both Cactus and The Attic scored last month on Seattle Weekly’s list of Top Five Nacho Plates, coming in at Number 2 and Number 4 respectively. The honor of being home to two of the Top Five in this “comfort food” category is interesting given the neighborhood’s high-end image. But it’s very much in line with the honors given earlier this year by Seattle Weekly to other Madison Park attractions. In the paper’s opinion, we can now add nachos to the list of things we can be proud of, the others being our beach babes and pizza from The Independent Pizzeria.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Short takes No. 11

The case of the vanishing swings

The big swing set in the play area of Madison Park was suddenly missing its swings last week, though the cause was not immediately evident. On Wednesday, however, an explanation was provided by the parks department, which reported that it had removed the swings due to safety concerns.

It seems that during a routine safety check, an inspector detected that the swing set’s top rail, which is twelve feet high, tends to bow considerably, especially when “a large person” is on the swings. According to Seattle Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter, the top rail was actually bowing as much as two or three inches. This, in turn, was causing other structural bending, which is unusual. The swings have been removed until the problem can be addressed with the manufacturer.

While the swings are presumably in the Park for the use of children, their occasional use by “a large person” must be engineered for. As Potter notes, “play equipment safety is the highest priority for us.” The opportunity to swing in the Park still exists for those who can maintain proper ground clearance. The much lower, two-seat swing set remains functional—though probably not comfortably so for “a large person.”

Spa del Lago on the move
One of the neighborhood’s several spas, and the only one with a hair salon, is getting ready to pack up and move out. But it’s not going very far. When the New Year opens, Spa del Lago will be located just across the street from its current location. Its new digs will be on the first floor of the Villa Marina building, 1928 43rd Avenue E.

The move is reportedly necessitated, at least in part, by the recent sale of the building in which the Spa has long been located. But the move also fits nicely into the plans of Villa Marina owner Lakeside Capital Management, which is in the process of converting the building from apartments to retail/commercial use. Another ground-floor retail unit in Villa Marina is being built out as retail space on the 43rd Avenue side of the building. That space, which is next door to Maison Michel, should be available for lease in the first quarter of next year.

As MPB readers may recall, the Villa Marina Apartments was slated last year to be replaced by a ten-unit condo project. Changes in market conditions, however, forced a change of plans; and the conversion of the existing building to commercial use was the outcome.

No word yet on what will be happening to the current Spa del Lago space at 1929 43rd E.
Madison Park Café to ring in the New Year

Karen Binder is about to celebrate her 31st New Year’s at the Madison Park Café and would like us all to come celebrate the occasion with her. She reports she’s planning a special fixed-price New Year’s Eve dinner, promising both a glass of free sparkler and “great fun.” The menu is available here.

Binder and a business partner opened the Café in 1979, and it’s been serving French-bistro cuisine since Binder assumed full ownership of the restaurant in 1999. It is, without challenge, the longest-running white-tablecloth eatery in the neighborhood.

The Madison Park Café will also be doing a Christmas Eve Dinner this year, with an “early-ish” seating, says Binder. For reservations to either event call (206) 324-2626 or visit the website. The Café is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E.

Chase lowers the voltage

From the moment the large neon sign was installed above the Chase (née WaMu) branch in the summer of 2009, it was controversial in certain quarters. The Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) certainly took a dim view of the bright sign, which it felt violated the sign standards for the Madison Park business district. The goal of those standards is to exclude large, lighted commercial signs from the neighborhood. Though not every Madison Park commercial establishment adhers to the voluntary standards, the MPCC still hoped that it could get Chase’s attention to the issue and, hopefully, convince the Bank to be a bit less visibly present at nighttime.

Now, almost 18 months after the effort began, the Council can finally report success. Chase this week installed a smaller neon version of the Bank’s logo above the entrance to the branch. To get this action, the MPCC’s Kathleen O’Connor reportedly went straight to the top at Chase, asking for the help of Chase’s Washington President, Phyllis Campbell.

Rumor has it that the next target of the tone-it-down effort may well be Madison Park Conservatory’s newly installed representation of a flying Canada Goose, a skeletal image which is lighted at night. No confirmation of this, however.

Update: Since our original posting, the Community Council put to rest the rumor that anyone there has a problem with MPC's goose. Board member Lindy Wishard, in fact, reports that she "worked directly with the owner to insure that his sign was in keeping with the guidelines," adding that "we're grateful to Cormac [Mahoney] for caring about the sign and his storefront."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Madison Park Blogger builds readership in India

This is the city of Madurai in the teeming state of Tamil Nadu, Southern India (or at least we assume it’s teeming). Tamil Nadu is one of several Indian locales—Uttar Pradesh being another—that a savvy new crop of Madison Park Blogger readers (and commentators) call home. In a minute we’ll get to how our blog achieved this surprising (if unlooked for) market penetration on the Subcontinent. First, however, a few words about our success closer to home.

We’re pleased to report that we recently passed the 200-subscriber mark, something of a milestone. We’re now tracking at about 230 subscribers, which means we’ve been averaging a bit more than ten new email and feed subscriptions per month since we began the blog in April 2009. In addition, there are about 200 visitors to the website on average each day. Most MPB postings are read by 300-350 people, though many blog pieces that are also of interest to readers outside Madison Park gain much-higher viewership (our memorial to Madison Park realtor Jan Sewell, for example, has had over 1,600 readers).

There’s a limit, however, to the penetration of the market that can be achieved by any hyperlocal blog such as Madison Park Blogger. In the blogging community, it’s generally believed that the upper limit is probably 20% or so of the population base. For Madison Park, with its 5,000 not-necessarily-internet-ready residents, this would mean a maximum potential readership for the blog of about 1,000. The City’s most-established neighborhood blogs (those covering West Seattle, Ballard and Capitol Hill), have only been able to penetrate to a few thousand regular readers (at best), so we feel gratified that at not-quite 20-months old we seem to be about a third of the way to readership nirvana here in the Park. Just to put things into perspective, the blog for West Seattle, which has a population base of about 53,000, would need to have readership of about 11,000 to be at its likely potential penetration level. Since that would be a pretty sizeable audience to deliver to advertisers, there’s probably enough “critical mass” for West Seattle Blog’s business model to ultimately succeed.

The for-profit-blog model, however, would not work in tiny Madison Park, which is one of the reasons why this is an “Art not Ads” website. The other, more important, reason is that this blog is the part-time effort of someone who has a day job. Madison Park Blogger will therefore remain an ad-free public service medium. Although the author sometimes gets asked “Is your blog paying for itself yet?”, no money is being made off of this blog.

Or at least not by us. And that brings the discussion back to those intellectually curious and enterprising new Indian readers of ours.
The reason we’re aware of our visitors from India is that we get a report which tracks such things. For example, we know that, for whatever reason, we have regular readers in Puyallup, Kirkland, Mount Vernon, Bellingham and Spokane. And as a result of Google or Bing searches, we often have visitors to the site from other American states. But it’s pretty unusual to get visitors to MPB from overseas. When this happens, we generally assume it’s the result of Madison Parkers travelling abroad. But how many of us are regularly spending time in India?

Traffic from India is particularly noticeable because it occurs in the middle of the night (say 3:10 am), which is daytime there. We first noticed the report of an Indian reader on the site several months ago and saw that he’d left a comment in response to one of our blog postings. When we looked at his comment, we were surprised to see that it made little sense. Although the posting was about Madison Park real estate, the Indian’s commentary read something like this: “Yes, property is nice buying for Orlando Real Estate.” What?

Later, when other Indian visitors started putting comments on the blog, it became apparent that there must be a method to this madness. As we discovered after a little internet research, Madison Park Blogger has become an indirect vehicle for some people to make money—and those people just happen be living in India.

It turns out that there’s an insidious little industry that’s grown up to help website owners gin up the Google search results for their sites. These businesses are called “blog commenting services” and they exist to take advantage of the well-known fact that Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) reports results in order of site popularity. One of the ways Google determines popularity is by looking at how many other websites have links to a particular site.

So, if you can get other websites to include a hyperlink to your own site, it will increase your site’s ranking in SERP and potentially increase traffic. One underhanded way to accomplish this is by paying someone in India (or elsewhere) to place a link to your website on other sites. This can easily be done on many blogs, where reader comments may not be monitored. In our example above “Orlando Real Estate” was a hyperlink to a site selling (you guessed it) real estate in Orlando, Florida.

Here’s what one of these “blog commenting services” has to say about its efforts: “We have successfully completed more than 100,000 blog comments in the last three years. Our writers are trained to search for niche related blog posts and leave a 10 word minimum blog comment with proper spelling, capitalization, and grammar.” Obviously, not every company in the business has such exacting standards (the Orlando comment providing strong evidence). “Abdul” did a good job, however, when he left this reader comment on Madison Park Blogger earlier this month: “It is important for you to clean your floor coverings regularly so as to avoid diseases and dirt accumulation in the home. Vacuum cleaning just isn’t enough for your rugs.” A hyperlink to a rug-cleaner website was then inserted. We don’t know what Abdul was paid for his little contribution to our blog, but the going rate for posting a comment like this is twenty cents. That, at least, is what the owner of the rug-cleaner website probably paid the “blog commenting service” for the honor of having his link added to the Madison Park Blogger website.

It’s only natural for us to feel abused by Abdul and his Indian employer. Of course, the questionable business they are engaged in wouldn’t even exist but for website owners who want to scam the Google system by artificially inflating the popularity of their websites.

We are not trying to grow our readership in India, and we almost always delete reader comments left on this blog that include a hyperlink to another site. Occasionally, however, some local blogger may make a relevant and insightful comment on a MPB blog posting that includes a hyperlink to his site. Here’s an example on one such comment that appeared on Madison Park Blogger this summer (we’re paraphrasing):

“Your analysis of the local real estate market is the best in the business. I look forward each month to reading your insights and seeing your charts showing the activity in Madison Park. This is another fine posting. Keep up the good work! Sam Smith at”

That’s one comment we didn’t delete.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Police Blotter 12/5/10

Madison Park is becoming one tough neighborhood. Or, to be more precise, it’s certainly getting rough and tumble if you’re an on-street solicitor trying to work the Park. First came this summer’s incident involving the panhandler (and former Real Change newspaper vendor) who was beaten up for “begging” in the neighborhood. Now comes a report that a Real Change vendor was assaulted in front of Bert’s last month.

In that incident, which occurred on November 18, the female vendor reported to police that she had been attacked on the street by a woman who sometimes solicits donations for a church at that same location. According to the victim, she was already on the corner selling her newspapers when the suspect arrived on the scene and began setting up a portable table and chair. According to the police report, “an argument ensued between [the victim] and the unknown suspect over who could stand where on the sidewalk. The unknown suspect grew angry, then suddenly picked up the folding chair she was sitting in, and struck [the victim] with the chair until [the victim] fell to the ground. Once [the victim was] on the ground, the suspect dropped the chair and then began to use her hands and feet to strike the victim.”

Then, according to the police report, a second suspect, a male, arrived on the scene in a car. The two suspects hurriedly loaded the table and chair into the vehicle and then sped off westbound on Madison. The website reported this incident with the headline “Real Change Vendor, Church Lady in WWF-Style Brawl in Madison Park,” thereby providing some rather unlikely publicity for our fair neighborhood. The WWF reference, for the uninitiated, is to the World Wrestling Federation.

The fire department arrived to treat the victim, who reported that she had suffered a shoulder injury in the assault, but declined further medical attention. She later told the police that she would be able to identify the assailant if she saw her again. Although unable to remember the name of the church for which the suspect was soliciting, the victim did recall that the church’s motto was “Don’t Give Up!”

There were several other criminal incidents in Madison Park since our last Police Blotter, but they were not as serious or as numerous as they briefly appeared to be last week. For some reason, the Seattle Police Department’s reporting system showed multiple narcotics incidents and a couple of arrests as occurring in Madison Park in late November. This is pretty unusual activity for the Park, so we were naturally curious to know the details. After we requested copies of the police reports, however, we discovered that the incidents had actually happened in the Rainier Valley and West Seattle and had simply been misreported as being in Madison Park. So, though crime was hardly nonexistent here, things certainly could have been worse.

Here’s what actually happened:

There was one reported incident of a car being broken into in the neighborhood, which occurred on November 30 on the 800 block of 34th Avenue E. There were four such incidents in the Arboretum, on the 1300 block of Lake Washington Boulevard E., during the period. One car theft also occurred here. The car was stolen on November 22 from the 1200 block of Knox Place E. (just off of the E. Lee Street road end at Lake Washington).

Two arrests on warrants for misdemeanors took place: one in November 16 in the 2000 block of 43rd Avenue E. and one on November 25 on the 1500 block of that same street.

There were also three forced-entry burglaries reported: one occurred at a residence on the 3200 block of E. Mercer Street on November 14, one occurred the next day at a non-residence on the 3800 block of E. Garfield Street, and one occurred at a residence on the 1200 block of 37th Avenue E. on November 17. Curiously, there are no on-line police reports available for any of these incidents, and the Madison Park Blogger’s Public Information request for other records of crimes in the neighborhood during the last two weeks has proven unproductive. We received a letter from the SPD last week stating that several incidents reported here are exempt from disclosure “to the extent that nondisclosure is essential to effective law enforcement or disclosure would violate a person’s right to privacy.” The letter adds: “Please resubmit your request for these reports in 6 – 8 weeks.”

We shall see.

[Key to crime-map symbols: starbursts represent burglaries, solid cars represent car thefts, un-solid cars represent car prowls, spray-paint cans represent property damage, upraised hands represent shoplifting, dollar bills represent thefts, handcuffs represent arrests under warrants, and red exclamation points represent cases of harassment. This map covers the period from November 14 through December 5.]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How the election played out in Madison Park

For the most part, the posting of political yard signs in Madison Park, other than in support of the occasional school levy, is something that is just not done. So it was noteworthy during this last election cycle that a fair number of “No State Income Tax” signs suddenly sprouted up around the neighborhood. We noticed that a “Defeat 1098” sign was prominently placed in front of Broadmoor by somebody on one day, only to be unceremoniously yanked down (presumably by somebody else) the next.

In rejecting the idea of an income tax, Madison Park’s voters, however, were perfectly aligned with the voters of the State of Washington. The “No” vote here was 64%, and it was also 64% statewide. It’s perhaps interesting to note, however, that the degree of opposition to the proposed tax was not uniform throughout Madison Park. Feelings against Initiative 1098 were generally more intense the higher up the economic scale you moved, with voters in Broadmoor exceptionally opposed:

One neighborhood precinct, 43-1990 (located north of Madison, from McGilvra Boulevard east to the water), actually split down the middle on the income tax issue: 166 votes in favor, 166 votes opposed. Only one other precinct, 43-1817 (located south of Madison, primarily inland, south to E. Lee Street), came close to supporting the tax: 84 in favor, 88 opposed.

On most issues, Madison Park was in agreement with the decision of voters at the State level. In the most important contest, for example, the U.S. Senate race, Madison Park solidly supported Patty Murray over Dino Rossi—though our level of support for the Senator far exceeded the proportion of the total vote she received statewide:

There were two prominent issues, though, where Madison Park was not in alignment with the State as a whole. If it had been up to us, we would have ended the liquor monopoly of the State by solidly passing Initiaitve 1100, which was defeated at the State level:

And Madison Park was very much out of sync with the State’s voters on the issue of ending the sales tax on candy, gum, and soda. While the initiative was completely out of favor here, it passed in a landslide at the State level:

Although contrarian in supporting retention of this particular tax, Madison Park was in agreement with the rest of the State in voting for Initiative 1053, which placed limits on the Legislature’s ability to impose new taxes (55% of Madison Parkers voted in favor, versus 64% in favor statewide). Madison Park was generous with regard to the Seattle Schools, voting 59% in favor of the levy (somewhat less, however, than the 67% “Yes” vote recorded citywide).

Overall, the Park demonstrated again this year that it’s a pretty liberal community and one which votes solidly Democratic when given a partisan choice. State Representative Jamie Pedersen (D), who effectively ran unopposed, collected 58% of all votes cast, while State Representative Frank Chopp (D) garnered 62% of the total vote versus his Republican opponent, Kim Verde. Senator Ed Murray (D), meanwhile, received 55% of the total vote versus his Republican opponent, Jim Johnson.

So, in spite of the ill-informed commentary that we sometimes see about Madison Park being a Republican area of town, that’s hardly the case—unless we’re talking about Broadmoor. Proving itself to be the very last bastion of Republicanism in the City of Seattle, Broadmoor supported every Republican legislative candidate on the ballot, as well as favoring Dino Rossi over Patty Murray for the U.S. Senate by a vote of 63% to 37%. But since it only represented 18% of the total votes cast in Madison Park, Broadmoor’s Republican-outlier precinct (43-1992) was more than overwhelmed by the other eight Democratic-leaning precincts. As some MPB readers may recall, Broadmoor is actually not an assured Republican enclave, which it proved in the last election by voting for Democrat Obama over Republican McCain for President.

Overall, 78% of the Park’s 3,445 registered voters elected to vote in the 2010 General Election, exceeding the statewide participation rate of 71%.

[A note on methodology: There are nine precincts that are wholly contained within the boundaries of what we define as Madison Park. These include the two precincts in Washington Park (43-1819 and 43-1821) and the one precinct in Broadmoor. Washington Park is defined as Madison Park south of E. Madison Street and south of E. Galer Street. There is a very small section of Washington Park that is south of the Seattle Tennis Club (but still north of Denny Blaine), which for some reason has been placed in a different Legislative District from the rest of Madison Park (the 37th versus the 43rd). The several dozen Washington Park voters that are in this 37th District precinct are not included in the Madison Park totals for purposes of this analysis. There is simply no way to separate them out from the vast majority of voters in that precinct who are not located in our neighborhood. For the same reason, we have not included a Madison Valley precinct (43-2020) in our totals. That precinct encompasses the several blocks surrounding the Shell Station on both the north and south sides of E. Madison Street. Therefore, some residents of Madison Park who live to the west of 34th Avenue E. (and vote in a Madison Valley precinct as a result) are also missing from our Madison Park voting analysis. All in all, there are probably no more than 300 voters who have been figuratively disenfranchised from the Madison Park totals as a result of our being unable to count them. Since Madison Park has 3445 registered voters, it is unlikely that the addition of these 300 or so waylaid Madison Park residents would have impacted our vote counts in any meaningful way.]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The newest thing in the neighborhood

Opens tonight

When we wandered by the place this afternoon, they were cooking away madly, getting ready for Madison Park Conservatory’s opening at 5:30 this evening. Chef Cormac Mahoney admitted to being both excited and stressed, hardly surprising given the logistical requirements of getting a new restaurant properly launched.

Judging by the turnout for Saturday’s open house, there’s certainly a lot of buzz surrounding the Park’s newest eating establishment. Guests sampled food and wine while enjoying the atmosphere of the newly refurbished space. Much of the talk, of course, was about the food. On that point, Madison Park Conservatory has managed to preserve much of the mystery. Chef Zoi Antonitsas did confirm to us that she and Cormac agree that lemons and limes are important ingredients.

Tonight is going to be something of a “soft” opening, and diners could find that the staff still has a few bugs to work out. That’s all part of the fun, however. Tomorrow the new restaurant begins in earnest, taking reservations beginning at 11:30 a.m. MPC has kept Sostanza's phone number, 324-9701. The website should be up and running in a couple of weeks. Our earlier interview with Cormac is available here.

[Photos are each from MPC's open house on Saturday. Top: Cormac and Zoi in the kitchen. Bottom: panna cotta anyone? Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E.]

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lowballing in an unsettled market

By Bryan Tagas

Home sellers—and many real estate agents—hate to even hear the term lowball offer, let alone be the recipient of one. But there’s anecdotal evidence that as buyers have tried to gain an advantage from the dysfunctional nature of the residential real estate market, lowballing has been on the rise.

There are no statistics that confirm this trend, if it exists. That’s because there is no uniform definition of what a lowball offer is. One buyer’s idea of a realistic offer may be a seller’s idea of a lowball. Even among real estate agents, there’s no industry standard. Some maintain that an offer 25% below asking price is lowball, while other professionals set the bar at only 10% or less. More often, however, agents argue that it really depends on the property in question and whether the seller has properly priced it to the market. In a generally declining market such as this one, it’s easier for sellers to unreasonably overvalue their houses, while buyers might at the same time unreasonably assume they can negotiate a big discount from any asking price. Local agents tell me they see both kinds of mistakes made all the time. In a market with a low number of home sales the problem is exacerbated, since there are fewer comparables by which sellers, buyers, and their agents can measure value.

“When the bust first happened,” says one local Windermere agent, “many sellers didn’t recognize it and held onto their prices far too long. This led to a lot of lowballs.” He says he thinks most sellers are wiser now about setting their asking price, “but many buyers still seem to think lowballs make sense.” The reason for this, he says, is that buyers are in no hurry, making the assumptions that interest rates will remain low and that plenty of houses will continue to be available in the market.

Many sellers react to lowballs with anger, however. Some agents caution against “insulting” the seller with an offer that is too much below the asking price, since this may not result in a counteroffer by the seller. If the buyer’s idea is to start a negotiation, lowballing is more dangerous than if the buyer is simply testing to see if the seller is desperate or not. And desperation certainly can lead to a changed attitude on the part of a seller. One agent reports that she received a lowball offer on a house which the seller promptly rejected, refusing to “counter” because he was incensed. Several months later, however, that same seller accepted an even lower offer after having failed to sell his house. This is apparently not an unusual scenario. Many listing agents have personal horror stories of having a seller reject their recommendation to lower the asking price, then suffering the loss of the listing when the house remains unsold, and finally watching as another listing agent sells the house after drastically reducing the asking price. Some sellers simply have to learn by experience, which can sometimes be painful.

In fact, there’s evidence from the local market suggesting that waiting too long to accept “market realities” can be costly. Windermere/Madison Park agent Laura Halliday provided me with an analysis she did based on King County’s September sales for houses listed at $1 million or more. She found that houses that had no price changes before they were sold stayed on the market for an average of only 22 days—and the sold price of these houses was, on average, 93% of the original listing price. These were quick sales for well-priced houses, and this represented 44% of total sales for that market upper-segment. On the other hand, the houses that had one or more listing-price changes before sale (representing the other 56% of sales during the month) spent 214 days on the market, on average, and were sold at an average 78% of the original listing price. Houses that were on the market for 180 days or more sold at only 70% of their original list price.

Halliday notes that particularly in higher-end markets such as Madison Park, there are lots of houses to choose from. “When a seller prices a property too high all they are really doing,” she says, “is helping all the other correctly priced properties sell by making them look like a bargain.” Halliday believes that “the longer a property sits on the market the less the seller will net in the end.” She notes that someone with a home that has gone unsold for many months may become discouraged or “worn out” at some point, willing to accept a lowball offer. So lowballs definitely make sense in certain instances.

Val Ellis of Coldwell Banker agrees, stating that “time on the market” is a major factor for a potential buyer to consider. “A property that has lingered on for some time with numerous price drops will immediately become an invitation to an even lower (lowball) offer.”

Lowballs may make sense in certain other instances as well. One example is where the buyer who is making the lowball provides some advantage to the seller that might not otherwise be available. The ability to pay cash is one such advantage, and several agents report sellers being willing to accept reductions in the sale price of 10% or more simply because cash means an immediate sale and no risk of financing falling through, which might happen with a higher non-cash offer.

Another reason that a lowball offer might be effective is that it can be the opening round of a negotiation with the seller. Some agents advise sellers to make a counteroffer to a lowball even if they are angry. While the lowballer may simply be bottom fishing, he possibly could just be a serious negotiator making an initial gambit. The one way to find out is to keep talking. It’s possible, after all, that the two sides could meet somewhere in the middle. As Windermere’s Halliday notes, “you never know how high a buyer will go or how low a seller with go” until someone initiates a negotiation. Sometimes that begins with a lowball.

On a personal note, I have been involved in lowballs on both the buying and the selling sides of the equation. Many years ago my wife and I made an offer on a beach house which was “ridiculously" lowball--more than 20% below the sellers’ already-reduced asking price. It was the end of summer, the selling season was over on the island, and we expected our lowball to be the starting point for negotiation. To our astonishment and the listing agent’s dismay, the sellers accepted our offer rather than making the anticipated counteroffer.

Later as sellers, however, we learned a different lesson. After buying our house in Madison Park on a no-contingency offer, we still had to sell our house in View Ridge. We received a lowball offer for it, which we promptly rejected. But after several more months of not selling our house (suffering from double mortgage payments in the meantime), that lowball offer suddenly seemed more attractive and even realistic. Our agent asked the lowballer to resubmit his offer, which he did—and which we accepted. At closing, the buyer, a professor of finance in the UW’s Graduate School of Business (my alma mater), gently reminded me that the market sets the value. A good point, and one that buyers and sellers should always be mindful of.

[As noted, statistics are based on September 2010 sales in King County for the $1 million+ market. The lower chart shows that for sold houses in this market segment, only 3% of sellers had maintained their list price for 180 days or more. 54% of sellers, meanwhile, were successful in selling their houses after maintaining their original listing price for 30 days or fewer. Analysis supplied by Linda Halliday of Windermere Real Estate, using data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Click to enlarge charts.]

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Early snow 2010

National news coverage of the snow in Seattle last week included commentary by several weather experts predicting that our early snowfall could be a sign that the region is in for a cold and snowly winter. We’re a bit skeptical of weather predictions, for good reason, but it’s certainly better to be prepared for another snowstorm than to assume we’re only permitted one per season.

It's certainly true that early snow planning by our Community Council occurred none too soon this year. We’re told that several people were “rescued” and delivered back to the neighborhood by the all-volunteer Emergency Snow Brigade, just established. We received no reports of any serious problems occurring in Madison Park during the period of freezing temperatures.

We appreciate the MPB readers who followed up on our suggestion to send us their snow pictures. These artsy shots are by Emily Heston, who blogs at

The photos that lead off and end this posting were taken by Dorian G. Muncey.

Unsolicited Testimonial: Before ending this posting, the author (who does not own stock in the company and has not been compensated in any way for this endorsement) would like to recommend a product: Yaktrax Pro, a traction device for walking on snow and ice. I advise MPB readers to get this product (or one that’s similar) if you want to feel comfortable walking around the ‘hood in conditions such as we experienced last week. It is not expensive ($29.95 a pair at REI) and it really does make a world of difference. Last week I slipped and slid for 14 blocks while trudging on snow and ice get to the REI store downtown. I purchased a pair of Yaktrax Pros there, put them on, and walked back to my office with total confidence. Nary a slip nor a slide the whole way. Later in the week, while wearing Yaktrax, I actually (without thinking) ran with my dogs on the ice while they chased after a squirrel. Yaktrax slips over your shoes or boots and acts like “cable chains for your feet.” As noted, there are other products out there to choose from. Additionally, there are some customer reviews saying that Yaktrax does not have a long life. However, to pay a nominal amount not to fall on ice—even if you have to replace the product next year—seems like a bargain to me. My wife advised me to check them out, and I advise you to do the same. Many residents of hilly Queen Anne reportedly swear by them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

October Real Estate Report

There’s no getting around the fact that it’s just not over. The decline in activity in the local real estate market, that is. The October numbers released by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for our area of town show sales, pending sales, and median sales values all down for the month, compared to October a year ago. And 2009 was hardly considered a good year in the local market.

For MLS’s Statistical Area 390 (which includes Madison Park, Capitol Hill, Madrona, and Montlake) inventory levels remained steady, but closed sales declined by 19% and pending sales were down by 24% year-over-year. This performance was better, however, than for Seattle as a whole, where closed sales declined by 32% and pendings were off by 26%.

Comparing monthly sales data for a market as small as Madison Park’s doesn’t make at lot of sense, however. Where total monthly sales range from only 5 to 11, a couple of extra sales (or a couple fewer) can seriously skew the data. The best way to analyze the numbers for our neighborhood is to look at longer-term trends. At the end of the year we will compare 2010 to 2009 and to previous years in order to put our market into better perspective. Just for the record, October’s numbers for Madison Park are almost level with those for the same month a year ago. Madison Park actually seems to be doing a bit better than the rest of town.

Here are the October market data for Madison Park (Broadmoor and Washington Park included), as reported by the MLS:


Sales: 3
Median Sale Price: $1,640,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 4,867
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $572
Average Days on Market: 103
Average Discount from Original List Price: 14.7%


Sales: 2
Median Sale Price: $1,120,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 1,557
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $646
Average Days on Market: 125
Average Discount from Original List Price: 4.7%

Additionally, however, the King County Assessor’s office reported two sales in Madison Park that were not apparently handled through the MLS. Both sales were under $1 million, and if included the above totals would reduce the median sale price for single-family homes to $1,150,000.

The October total of seven sales was slightly down from the eight home sales recorded in October 2009 and in line with the seven sales reported in Madison Park last month. The homes that sold did so relatively quickly, but the sellers of single-family homes took fairly deep discounts from their original list prices in order to get the sale: almost 15% on average. Condo sellers did much better, with an average discount of under 5%. Both condos that sold during the month were in the Washington Park Tower (1620 43rd Avenue). The most expensive home sold was the Washington Park waterfront estate of Joel Diamond, which we featured in our Summer Real Estate Report. Originally listed at $7,880,000, it sold for $6,700,000.

Here’s the current state of our real estate market, as reported by Redfin:


Listings: 62
Median List Price: $1,786,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 3,900
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $458
Average Days on Market: 156
Proportion with Price Reductions: 34%

Condos & Townhouses

Listings: 31
Median List Price: $519,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 1,262
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $411
Average Days on Market: 199
Proportion with Price Reductions: 45%

There are eight houses and five condos currently pending sale. Inventory levels, meanwhile, seem to be holding steady at around 100 listings. Many realtors advise prospective sellers to refrain from entering the market during the holiday season, since many potential buyers are focused on other things. This is not a universally held view, apparently. There were 12 new listings on the market during the last 30 days.

[Photo: This 2,100 sq. ft. one-story home, built in 1941 but recently remodeled, sits in the heart of Madison Park at 2060 McGilvra Boulevard. It has been on the market for one month and is a listing of Evan Wyman, Windermere Real Estate. Thanks, as always, to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate for her help in compiling market data used in this report.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Madison Park Conservatory ready to make music

Open house on Saturday

By Bryan Tagas

Before we get to the blah blah blah portion of this posting, let’s go directly to the reveal: Madison Park Conservatory, the latest culinary incarnation to inhabit the onetime Sostanza space, is going to have its soft opening on Tuesday; and in advance of that, the neighborhood is invited to tour the refurbished digs and meet the new restaurant’s team at an open house to be held this Saturday, November 27, from 6 until 9 pm.

Now, on to the narrative:

Cormac Mahoney, maestro of Madison Park Conservatory, seems like a guy who’s ready for his close up. At 38, he’s done his time in the kitchens of other restaurateurs and has gained both assurance and bit of celebrity from his successful effort of last year: the trendy, well-regarded Tako Truk on Eastlake. That little venture, in which he was partnered by Bryan Jarr, was a “summer experiment” of intentional short duration. Operating out of window space in the 14 Carrot Café, Tako Truk was a quickly-popular, walk-up/carry-out purveyor of some adventuresome dinner fare—for example, the Coco Piggy Taco (coconut-flavored braised pork belly topped with pork rinds) and the surprising Octopus Taco (octopus boiled, sautéed, caramelized with lemon juice, and topped with a yogurt sauce and parsley)*. The critics raved and the place developed something of a cult-like following before shutting down.

Don’t expect another Tako Truk here in Madison Park, however. That’s not the plan.

But what is the plan? Since everyone wants to know, I’ve been doing my best to ferret that out, pestering Cormac for weeks to tell all. But though he was gracious and voluble, the guy was just not ready to divulge. Until now.

On Monday I got an email from him, and the subject line read: “built to spill.” So I eagerly bundled myself up and trudged through the evening’s snowstorm to meet Cormac at his new Madison Park Conservatory and get the scoop.

First of all, about the space. It’s been both lightened up and stripped down since the days of Sostanza. Outside, the building has been whitewashed, making it cleaner and brighter. Inside, the false ceiling in the main dining room has been removed, the fireplace eliminated, the wallboard pulled away to reveal the underlying cement, and the walls considerably lightened in color. The impact of all this is to make the room much airier and more open. Upstairs, the carpet has been pulled up to reveal a lovely wood floor, which has been refinished; the walls have been painted a light gray-blue in order to better tie the interior space to the view of water and sky; and in the bar area, decorative tin ceiling tiles have been installed to enhance the ambiance. The previously dark-stained bar—like the food counters downstairs—has been sanded down (by Cormac himself) to reveal the lighter wood beneath. Again, the impact of these changes is to create a livelier, happier space.

The Mediterranean atmosphere of the new restaurant, meanwhile, is heightened by the addition of hand-made Moroccan light fixtures. Large mirrors, which were framed in wood by Cormac’s father, will grace the main floor; but what other interior furnishings and decorations will fill the space are unknown to me, as they had yet to arrive. Hopefully, the snow will not prevent their delivery in time for Saturday’s event, so we can all see the full staging.

I had submitted a list of questions to Cormac before I actually got the chance to quiz him in person, not that he would have needed any advance prep in order to handle my interrogation. He certainly appears to be a guy who’s self-possessed, confident, and well able to think on his feet. He is also—by his own admission—profane, contrarian, and conceited. All of this, however, is overlaid with a well-developed, self-deprecating sense of humor. I was not fazed.

Here are the blogable results of my interview (some of which I excised in conformity with community standards and some of which Cormac himself decided were off the record, either before or after uttering the words). The questions and the responses have been paraphrased, except where there are direct quotes.

Bryan: Why the name, Madison Park Conservatory?

Cormac: Four things. First, “I like the way it sounds. It rolls nicely, and I like the acronym.” Also, there’s the greenhouse sense of conservatory. “We’re going to have our own garden and grow our own herbs and as much stuff as we can.” Additionally, “I like the whole idea of the music-school conservatory since there’s a correlation between music and cooking. At Sitka & Spruce [where Cormac was chef, 2005-09] I likened us to a house band. People came to us for the standards, but we wanted to do new things, too.” Finally, there is a certain “nudge/nudge, wink/wink” aspect to the name. “I wanted to play against the expected. Madison Park has the reputation of being staid and conservative,” and a conservatory is what people might expect to find here. “So it was kind of an inside joke, which maybe only I get: ‘Oh, let’s do lunch at the Conservatory.’ I was counseled against the name from some camps, but if I have gotten laughter or even a single giggle out of it, it’s what I wanted.”

Bryan: You’re being pretty coy about the menu. What kind of food are we talking about?

Cormac: As I always say, we’ll be serving “delicious plants and animals with a squeeze of lemon.” I really don’t want to define it further or put a label on it and then have it typecast. Once you do that you limit the food. “I’m going to cook what I want to cook.” My favorite dinner, for example, is roast chicken, potatoes and braised greens—the best vegetables ever. We’ll start minimally with the menu, the bar, and the space--and then let things take their course. I don’t want to overdesign it. It will grow organically. We will get feedback from our audience, and things may change. This is not to say, like Tom Douglas [famous Seattle restaurateur, in whose restaurants Cormac got his start] that the customer is always right. I reject that. I know it’s not true because as a customer I am sometimes wrong. So we’ll consider the input and then decide. I don't want this to be a place that intimidates people, but everyone will have to remember that “we’re a restaurant, not a catering company.” I want people to be comfortable here, but people will also have to be reasonable. This is going to be a mature, adult place. I want to have a healthy relationship with the neighborhood, including introducing it to new things that people may not already know and that might not otherwise be here. Mario Batali [well known New York chef and food impresario] has a sign up in his market, Eataly, which says ‘We are not always right, you are not always right, but together we’ll figure it out’ or something like that. I like the thought. “I don’t want Madison Park Conservatory to be a place that intimidates people. I want someone to walk away from a dining experience here saying ‘I learned something I didn’t already know.’”

Bryan: Can we talk about the Sunday dinners?

Cormac: We’ll be doing them every Sunday and if you want to dine you’ll have to make a physical reservation. In other words, come in, look us in the eye, and tell us you’re going to be here on Sunday and with how many people. We’ll post the Sunday Dinner menu on Thursday, so everyone can see what’s being served, the same meal for everybody. You’ll also get to look at the signup list, so you can see exactly who you’ll be dining with.

Bryan: Tako Truk—three months successful and then gone. How does your experience there inform what you’ll be doing in this new gig?

Cormac: “Tako Truk was an experiment, a street party. It was my frustrated artist scratching an itch. It was designed to be a summer thing, and it was fun for me to build something and then kill it. The food was good—I loved eating what we cooked. But I had to separate myself and get over myself for a second.” I learned to be self-critical. I’m sure I learned other things as well.

Bryan: What kind of atmosphere are you hoping to create at Madison Park Conservatory?

Cormac: “I want this to be a fun place, and I want this to be a place where big discussions happen. I have high hopes that the crazy Madison Park people will turn this into the kind of place where someone will suddenly break into song and that people will have great ideas eating here: ‘a full belly leads to an inspired mind’ or something like that. At minimum, I want people leaving here happy with themselves.”


Cormac is by no means alone in this new adventure, as he is quick to point out. Onetime Dahlia Lounge chef and celebrity Top Chef contestant Zoi Antonitsas, Cormac’s longtime friend from their days together in the kitchens of Tom Douglas, has returned from San Francisco to Seattle to work the “back of the house” with Cormac. “She’s my alternative life partner in the kitchen,” he says. A Seattle native of Greek descent, Zoi went on to become executive chef at Zazu in Santa Rosa after her 2008 stint on Season Four of Top Chef. She’s a believer in the simple and the rustic, and she’s on record as favoring the use of local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible. That’s certainly a fit with Cormac’s own thinking.

Maggie Savarino, meanwhile, will be managing the “front of the house” at MPC. She’s a one-time booze, wine, and food columnist for Seattle Weekly, whose first job (so her story goes, as told by Cormac) was as a bartender in a roadhouse blue-collar bar. Cormac met her through a mutual friend, did a dinner with her, instantly hit it off, and came back gushing about Maggie to his girlfriend, he reports. “She’s a fabulous, fun person.” says Cormac, adding “she’s a killer.” But I’ve met her and she seemed pretty sweet to me.

Last but not least, Bryan Jarr continues as a principal player with Cormac in this latest endeavor. “If the rest of us are Charlie’s Angels,” says Cormac, “then Bryan is our Bosley. He picks the herbs and chooses the insurance, among a lot of other things—he makes the ball round. He’s the only guy who can tell all three of us no.”

Madison Parkers will get the opportunity to meet the whole MPC crew on Saturday, at which time you can quiz each of them unmercifully. Cormac already knows what he’s in for, since he’s met at lot of neighbors already and has concluded that we’re pretty free with our advice and commentary. He lives in the neighborhood himself and describes Madison Park Conservatory as a 24/7 effort.

Judging by my interactions with him, it’s clear to me that Cormac Mahoney is a big thinker (just to prove my point, ask him sometime for his views on the fetishization of food in American culture). And it's also evident that he's ready to move to center stage. Though he’s perhaps a bit crazy, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the proprietor of a top-end restaurant, even one located in Madison Park. He’s obviously got a lot of talent, a good team, and a thought-out game plan. I think we should set the bar high for Madison Park Conservatory and expect great things.

[*I’m abashed to report that I was not among those lucky enough to have had the Tako Truk experience. I’ve therefore relied on the excellent reporting of Seattle Times critic Tan Vinh for these descriptions. Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow, the morning after

First the good news. The bus is running and some cars are successfully navigating E. Madison St., which appears to be reasonably clear—at least for drivers with experience and the right kind of vehicle. On the other hand, the side streets are a bit treacherous in some places, especially where the thin covering of snow has been removed by traffic to reveal a dangerous layer of ice underneath. Inclines may be tricky.

Here's a good photo of the conditions at 7:00 am on E. Madison, which allows you to judge for yourself whether you want to take the bus or chance it in your car, assuming you need to leave the Park today:

Last evening’s mini-blizzard, with winds reportedly tracking at 20 mph or so, dumped about two inches of snow on the neighborhood. By 6:00, as most commuters had finally struggled home, the Village became pretty quiet, with few people or cars on the streets. Even Cactus! was relatively deserted (an almost unheard of event) when we wandered by, though the usual crowd of four or five was sitting around the fire at The Red Onion.

This morning, the Village is still relatively peaceful. Delivery trucks are making their rounds, and people are heading down for coffee. Be careful out there. The sidewalks are messy.
Update at 9:30: Our drive downtown to work causes us to reinforce for MPB readers the fact that only drivers with experience and the right vehicle (four-wheel drive) should be on the roads. E. Madison St. is officially closed between Martin Luther King Way and 23rd Avenue E. Those wishing to travel downtown are advised to turn left on MLK rather than continuing up Madison. At Union Street you can turn right with the buses and continue on to downtown. Drive safely and watch out for the crazy kind of pedestrians who cross the icy streets against the light and in front of oncoming cars.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Remembering the Big Snow of 2008

There was a brief flurry of snowflakes over the Park this afternoon, and a winter advisory just issued raises the possibility of real snow in the forecast for Monday. All of this provides a fine excuse for posting more of the great photos sent in by blog readers showing what it looked like when the Park was briefly severed from the rest of the City during the Great Snowstorm of 2008.

Although the mid-December storm that year only dumped about eight inches of snow on the town, continuing freezing weather kept that accumulation on the ground for many days. And, as those of us who lived through it well remember, the City failed miserably in its responsibility to quickly clear the streets, E. Madison included. Wasn’t it about four days before plowing and sanding finally occurred? That’s our recollection, at least.

At any rate, we learned to live with the situation. Whatever the inconveniences, however, the neighborhood managed to look absolutely fabulous in a picture-postcard, winter-wonderland kind of way.

Snow like that can be fun for kids and for those who don’t have to get to work somewhere. But it can also be treacherous for others. Hopefully we have learned some lessons from last Big One and will make sure to check on our neighbors if happens again this year. Remember, too, that the Community Council is heading up the neighborhood’s snow-emergency volunteer efforts. If you’re interested in helping out contact Gene Brandzel, the Council’s Lead Coordinator, at or (206) 524-2115.

It's unlikely that this year we'll be experiencing anything like what happened in 2008, when the most snow Seattle had seen in over a decade fell in a seven-day period (it had also snowed earlier in the week, prior to the 8-inch dump). But if it does snow, a lot or a little, please send us your pictures!

[Photos, top to bottom: 1) Madison Park Beach, courtesy of Dorian C. Muncey Interiors, 2) 43rd Avenue at E. Howe, courtesy of Graham Fernald, 3) E. Madison Street at E. Galer, courtesy of Spencer Rascoff, 4) Washington Park, courtesy of Dorian C. Muncey Interiors, 5) the Madison Park pier, courtesy of Mikel Anne Morrison, and 6) Sophia Rascoff having the Madison Park playground all to herself, courtesy of her dad.]