Tuesday, August 31, 2010

End of the ferry era: 60 years ago today

On this very day in 1950, the ferry Leschi pulled out from the Madison Park dock at 9:15 in the morning for her final run to Kirkland, where, 20 minutes later, she tied up—never to return. So ended Madison Park’s long history as a Lake Washington port.

For most of the previous 80 years, Madison Park had been a critical link in the Lake Washington transportation system. But on that day, August 31, 1950, Madison Park, at least in transportation terms, simply became the end of the road.

The opening of the first Lake Washington floating bridge in 1940 had been the beginning of the end for ferry service on the Lake, but it took another decade for the era to finally draw to a close. Regularly scheduled ferry service between Madison Park and Kirkland had begun in 1900, but as we chronicled last summer (“Steamboat Days on Lake Washington”), Madison Park had long served as a vital transportation hub connecting communities on the eastside with Seattle. Once it became possible for cars to drive across the Lake, however, the economics of the Lake ferries became problematic.

The Leschi was the last of several ferries that had made the Madison Park-Kirkland run in the fifty-year history of the route, which was operated by the King County Ferry System. The Ferry Lincoln had served on the route for 25 years, up to the point where the floating bridge was inaugurated.

The Leschi served the route for its final ten years, which included a profitable period during the Second World War when gas rationing made ferry travel popular again and many workers used the ferries to get to work at the Lake Washington Shipyard near Kirkland. But when bridge tolls ended on the Mercer Island floating bridge in 1949, the ferry could no longer be operated at even a reasonable loss. Though the King County Commissioners voted to end the run in early 1950, the City of Kirkland briefly won a reprieve for the route which lasted into the summer. UW students living on the Eastside were said to be among the most disappointed when ferry service ended since they had been allowed to ride for only a nickel.

Although the Leschi later saw service on both the Vashon-Fauntleroy and Mukilteo-Clinton runs, sadly she eventually ended up as a rusting hulk on a beach outside of Whittier, Alaska.

Those interested in the history of the Leschi should check out evergreenfleet.com/leschi. Also of possible interest is a great essay on the Madison Park-Kirkland ferry run available at HistoryLink.org and a MPB posting about our neighborhood’s past life as port (“Madison Park: a Port No More”), which includes some historical pictures.

[Photos of the Leschi, top and bottom, from evergreenfleet.com. Middle photo, showing the Leschi at the Kirkland ferry dock, courtesy of the Kirkland Heritage Society.]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Police Blotter 8/27

A rash of break-ins, drug deals go down

There have been three residential break-ins in Madison Park during the last week. There was a forced-entry burglary in the 1200 block of 41st Avenue E. on 8/21, which occurred just three days after a forced-entry burglary three blocks over, on the 1200 block of 38th Avenue E. In that incident, an appraiser arriving at a house discovered damage to the front door and evidence that the back door had been forced open. Police discovered that drawers and cupboards had been ransacked, and the homeowner later reported that items had been stolen. Even Broadmoor was not immune to this type of crime. A homeowner on the 1500 block of Parkside Drive E. reported that her garage had been broken into (although it had a combination keypad and none of the remote control devices were missing). In that incident an I-Pod was stolen from a car in the garage and $350 was stolen from a purse just located inside the house. No fingerprints were found in any of these incidents.

There have been three car break-ins reported since our last Police Blotter on 8/14. Car prowls occurred on the 2000 of 43rd Avenue E. on 8/16, and on the 2300 block of 43rd Avenue E. and the 1600 block of 41st Avenue E. on 8/20. All of these were early to mid-morning break-ins, with items stolen in each case.

There were also a couple of other incidents of theft reported in the area. One involved the use of force and occurred in the Arboretum on 8/21. The victim reported that someone came up behind him and put his arm around the victim’s throat, demanding his wallet. The suspect took the wallet and victim’s cell phone. A sad aspect of the police report is the notation that the victim tried to get someone near him to call 911, “but no one would help.”

Finally, there’s been drug activity in the neighborhood. In an incident on 8/18 police arrested a suspect on the 3200 block of E. Madison St. for the sale of heroin. The following week, I myself witnessed what clearly must have been a drug buy. While walking my dogs down an alley I came upon a suspicious truck parked so closely to a neighbor’s gate that the driver would have been unable to exit his vehicle. When he saw me coming, the driver started his engine and raced away, only to slowly circle the block. Later a second truck drove past the suspicious vehicle and stopped at a stop sign up the street. The suspicious vehicle pulled up next to the other truck at the intersection and a plastic bag containing a white powder was passed to the second driver. Both vehicles then raced away.

If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Red and Black are back!

Guest Posting
by Will Lomen

A new soccer season is about to get underway; and when it does, there’s no doubt that the McGilvra Youth Soccer Club will again be fielding some pretty formidable contenders. Last year, two McGilvra teams were All-City Champs: the McGilvra Chargers (shown above) won the Girls Under 12 title and the McGilvra Sparklers (shown below) won the Girls Under 11 title.

The Club, whose colors have always been Red and Black, was originally formed in 1973. Back then, all players played eleven-a-side on a regulation field and the McGilvra Club provided the opportunity for approximately three hundred kids to play soccer in the Seattle Youth Soccer Association. Over the years the club has experienced steady growth; and in 2010, 37 years later, the club stands at more than five hundred players coached by over fifty volunteer coaches. McGilvra Soccer now includes not only boy and girl teams for each year between Under-10 and Under-19, but also boy and girl teams from Under-6 to Under-9 that play using modified rules. These modifications for the younger players include reduced rosters, shorter fields, fewer on-field players, shorter games and a smaller ball.

One consistent characteristic of the Club over the years has been the outstanding volunteers who have kept the McGilvra Soccer organization (mcgilvrasoccer.org) running efficiently. In some years a few individuals have done most of the work, but in other years a new generation of enthusiastic parents has come on board to fill the many essential officer, coordinator and coaching positions.

One of these great volunteers is Kendall Culwell, who has been the Club’s head registrar for the past five years. She will be stepping aside and moving to California as soon as this season’s registration is completed (she swears that the reason for her move has nothing to do with intensity of the job). She admits that the May to August registration period can be hectic, but it’s also very satisfying to see the new teams come together with names like Go Girls, Sparklers, Lasers, Stampede, Green Hornets, Superfriends, Speedy Cats and Hotshots. It is a testament to Culwell's efficiency and dedication that during her five years she has twice been designated the Seattle Youth Soccer Association volunteer of the month. The SYSA (sysa.org) has sixteen clubs and over thirteen thousand soccer players under its umbrella.

Although one of the smallest clubs in the SYSA, the McGilvra Red and Black is competitive with any of the larger clubs and has many City Championships to show for it. Last year, in weather not fit for a polar bear, four of the Club’s teams fought through the marathon rounds of the City Tournament and made it to the finals. On that cold and rainy of December 19th at the Nathan Hale and Summit field complexes, the Sparklers coached by Bruce Clarkson and the Chargers coached by Mike Riley won their respective City Championships in heart-stopping performances. The Go Girls (Under 13) coached by Scott MacIntire and the Nighthawks (boys Under 11) coached by Joe Nickerson finished as the gutsy runner-ups in their classifications.

The new season begins in September; and based on the enthusiasm of the volunteers, the anticipation of the kids, and the winning tradition of the Club, we can look forward to another outstanding year for McGilvra soccer.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

July 2010 Real Estate Report

Stable overall, but Broadmoor breaks out

The Madison Park real estate market may not exactly be taking off, but it’s certainly not in the doldrums of last year either. “The market is definitely better than it was,” says Windermere agent Kathryn Hinds. “What I’d call it now is stable.” That assessment seems to be borne out by sales figures for the last six months showing that the average number of monthly sales in Madison Park (Broadmoor and Washington Park included) is now eight, versus six per month during 2009. That’s a 33% uptick. During the worst six months of the local market, from October 2008 through March 2009, there were only two sales per month on average. So we’re certainly out of that trough.

And just to put this into focus, here’s a breakout comparing Madison Park home sales (condos included) for the first six months of the past four years:

But the real story of the past couple months has been the turnaround in Broadmoor, where nine sales were recorded in June and July combined. That is equal to the total number of sales in Broadmoor during all of 2009, a year in which there were four months when not a single house sold there. During 2008 there were 20 homes sold in Broadmoor, so the fact that there have been 18 sales in the first seven months of 2010 demonstrates a pretty significant turnaround for that Madison Park enclave.

Perhaps this also means that at least a part of the upper market is coming around, much like the under-$1 million market did earlier this year. The average sold price of Broadmoor homes in 2010 has been $1,453,000, which represents a 10% average discount from the seller’s original asking price. That is a higher discount than houses at the lower end of the market have been selling at. Only one house in Broadmoor has sold for over $2 million this year, which is particularly interesting given the fact that the median price of the 21 Broadmoor houses on the market is $2,950,000. Clearly, it’s easier to sell at the “lower end” of the market, even in a place like Broadmoor.

Like the sales figures, inventory levels are also stable in the overall Madison Park market, standing at 103 listings in July. That was in line with June’s 102 listings and the 101 units listed in May. Of the 77 current single-family home listings, only 12 (16%) are listed at under $1 million, and the median price is down to $1.8 million (it had been holding at almost $2 million for most of the year). There were 18 new residential listings during the last month, of which only three were outside of Broadmoor or Washington Park. There were also six new condo listings, bringing the total condo inventory in the Park to 25. The median condo listing is $640,000, which gets you about 1,200 sq. ft. The median-priced house has about 3,000 sq. ft.

Here’s the breakdown of Madison Park sales during July:


Sales: 6
Median Sales Price: $1,348,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 3,718
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $396
Average Number of Days on Market: 75
Average Discount from Original List Price: 11.8%


Sales: 2
Median Sales Price: $1,325,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 1,778
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $745
Average Number of Days on Market: 17
Average Discount from Original List Price: 10.0%

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS) reports that there are a fair number of pending sales in our market this month: eight houses and five condo units, many of these residences having been built in the 21st Century. Still, there’s something to be said for old and comfortable. One of the houses that is pending sale this month was constructed in 1907.

[Photo: This classic Washington Park home located at 833 34th Avenue E. is one of the new listings in Madison Park this month. Built in 1904, it has five bedrooms, 3.5 baths, and a total 4,100 sq. ft. of living space. It is listed at $2,498,000 (Val Ellis/Coldwell Banker Bain Real Estate). Thanks to Wendy Skettitt of Windermere Real Estate for her help in compiling July sales information and to Redfin for supplying current listing information from the MLS and other sources. Aerial photo of Broadmoor is from Bing Maps.]

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reminder: floating bridge closed this weekend

Nornally, I don't do postings about issues that you are likely to read or hear about in the major media. But since it's clear that not everyone pays attention (or necessarily has a very good memory) I thought I might just mention the fact that if you're planning to cross the water this weekend for a bit of fun on the other side, you better use I-90 or take your boat. At 11 pm on Friday night, August 20, the Evergreen Point (Albert D. Rosellini) Floating Bridge will be closed for its annual inspection and maintenance. It will not reopen until 5 am on Monday morning, August 23.

While the bridge is closed, SR-520 will be open between I-5 and the Montlake Boulevard E. exit. Make your plans accordingly.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Medina to Madison Park in an hour or so

They piled onto the Madison Park shore this morning in five separate waves. Swimmers (306 of them) and kayakers (80 of them), all having plowed across Lake Washington to benefit a very good cause. It was by far the biggest Swim for Life in the 13 year history of the event, which raises funds for the Puget Sound Blood Center (PSBC). Last year there were only 250 or so participants, and it was not that long ago (perhaps two years) that there were only about 30 swimmers making the race.

So Swim for Life, the brainchild of banker Scott Leopold, has come a long way since 1998 when, according to PSBC President James AuBuchon, Leopold did the very first Swim for Life solo.
The weather didn’t quite cooperate, making the course choppy (“wicked fierce” said one participant); and the air temperature was a bit bracing for the swimmers when they arrived on the beach after their 2.25- mile workout. But shivering or not (and most were not), everyone seemed to be having a good time, spectators included.

For reasons of safety, a kayaker was a part of each of the 80 teams participating. With a maximum of four swimmers per team, the kayakers were able to effectively monitor the progress of each of the team's swimmers as they navigated the straight-line course to Madison Park.

Swim for Life this year was successful in raising almost $50,000 as of the start of the race. And it’s not too late to donate, so click here to do so. All funds raised from the event this year will go to fund registration fees for the national bone marrow registry.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

President visits Madison Park (sort of)

We can technically claim a Presidential visit to Madison Park today, though his time in the neighborhood was rather fleeting. While on his way to a fundraiser at the waterfront home of Real Networks founder Rob Glaser, President Obama’s motorcade used Lake Washington Boulevard as “a long on and off ramp to and from 520.” He thus rather inadvertently entered Madison Park along our western border before heading south on the Boulevard and into Denny-Blaine, where Glaser’s house is located.

Ironically, the media gave credit to Madrona as the site of the Presidential visit. But as regular readers of this blog well know, Denny-Blaine is not part of Madrona, a fact acknowledged by the Madrona Community Council. So ironically, while the President actually did pass through Madison Park and did not travel into Madrona as far as we can tell, Madrona got the glory in most of the media.

Oh well, we know better. And so, presumably, do the residents of Denny-Blaine, many of whom must have been negatively impacted by the various security measures.

At any rate, the President’s brief excursion through our neighborhood was a big thrill for those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. The picture above was taken from the phone camera of Thao Nguyen of Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy in Madison Court as the motorcade entered the Arboretum at the intersection of E. Madison and Lake Washington Boulevard. The staff of Therapeutic Associates reports that they waved to the President and that he actually waved back.

There are some good pictures of the motorcade, the security detail, and the exterior of Glaser’s house on the neighboring blog, Central District News. That blog, which actually covers Madrona as part of its beat, was the only media outlet that I could find today that correctly reported that site of the Presidential visit was “near Madrona.”

[SPD Command Vehicle photo by Will Lomen.]

Monday, August 16, 2010

Arboretum seeks big-time reduction in traffic

“Traffic calming” coming soon to a road near you!

If the Arboretum gets its way, the number of cars using Lake Washington Boulevard to transit the Park each day will be reduced by as much as 80%. And when it comes to traffic mitigation, what the Arboretum wants, the Arboretum may very well get. Frankly, the Park’s recent track record on this issue, though not widely heralded, has been pretty impressive.

Among the various constituencies of the Coalition for a Sustainable 520 (that amalgam of interested communities and interest groups, which includes Madison Park’s community council), the Arboretum was, in fact, the only immediate winner when the Governor last spring announced her new “Preferred Alternative” for 520. Rejecting the previous Option A+ Plan crafted by a legislative workgroup, the Governor eliminated the Arboretum on/off ramps from the design for the west-side approach to the new floating bridge. This, as we earlier reported, means that there will be no Arboretum off ramp from 520 beginning in 2012 (based on the current construction schedule) and no Arboretum on ramp to 520 beginning in 2015. The permanent elimination of the on/off ramps was what the Arboretum had argued for—and it’s what the Arboretum achieved.

But that’s hardly the end of the story. The Governor also mandated that the State Department of Transportation work with the City and the Arboretum to develop a “traffic management plan” that reduces the impact of cars on the Park. That’s something else the Arboretum wanted and got.

But what exactly does “traffic management” of Lake Washington Boulevard mean? I went right to the top to find out. In a narrow-ranging interview with Arboretum Foundation Director Paige Miller earlier this summer, I asked her what ideas were being debated for re-routing traffic and what kind of process will take place for developing a new traffic plan for the Arboretum.

But first, a word about Miller. She’s an attorney (Yale Law), former Seattle Port Commissioner, and one-time candidate for the Seattle City Council. She became executive director of the Arboretum Foundation three years ago. She has the reputation of being very smart and politically astute. Though she is modest about her role in the Arboretum’s recent success with the Governor ("It was a tremendous effort of a lot of people concerned about protecting the Arboretum") it’s pretty clear that the Arboretum’s cause has been advanced significantly by having Miller leading the parade.

With regard to the Arboretum’s traffic reduction objective, Miller did not mince words: “Our goal is to slow down traffic and discourage people from using the Arboretum as a through route.” And where will the traffic that now uses the Arboretum go? Miller is clear on that as well: “People should be encouraged to use 23rd Avenue E., which is a four-lane City arterial street and not an Olmsted Boulevard.” Her Olmsted reference, which is perhaps a bit obscure to some, comes from the fact that the City’s boulevards—developed in the early 1900s by the Olmsted Brothers—were intended to be parkways linking the City’s parks. When they were designed and built they were not intended to be major conveyors of through-traffic. But in the case of Lake Washington Boulevard, at least in its Arboretum portion, that’s exactly what it has become.

The City estimates that 18,000 cars drive through the Arboretum on average each day. Of these, according to Miller, about 10,000 vehicles access the 520 on or off ramps. She notes that the Boulevard—which was designed to handle only 4,000 cars per day—is only a two-lane road, while the four-lane arterial through Montlake also processes about 20,000 cars on average per day. By implication, improvements to 23rd and 24th Avenues E. could easily increase access to Montlake. To keep people from using the Arboretum in order to enter or exit 520, “we need to make sure that the logical route is to turn at 23rd,” Miller told me. “The Montlake Corridor ought to have the capacity of taking more cars than the Arboretum does.”

In order to encourage that northbound turn off of E. Madison Street and onto 23rd, Miller proposes to make the left-turn light there longer and to have the City lengthen the turn lane to accommodate more cars. Miller also wants the City to investigate ways to improve bus usage in that corridor.

But there are other ways of discouraging Arboretum use which are also under serious discussion. Miller prefers to call these “traffic calming measures” rather than traffic management schemes, but here are the major ones:

--putting a toll on cars using the Arboretum to access 520

--reducing speed limits through the Arboretum

--increasing the number of pedestrian crossings

--introducing speed monitors to tell drivers their cars’ speed

--placing a stop sign at the Boyer Avenue intersection

Miller says that no decisions have been made, but the planning process is underway. She believes that the Arboretum and Botanical Garden Committee (ABGC) has been given jurisdiction by the State to develop the traffic plan for the Arboretum. The ABGC is composed of the Arboretum Foundation, Seattle Parks Department, and the University of Washington, and it jointly operates the Arboretum. The ABGC will be meeting this week (on Wednesday, August 18 from 8:00 am until 12:00 pm in the Graham Visitors Center in the Arboretum), and one of the items on the agenda will be “traffic calming and management in the Arboretum.” That discussion is expected to get started at about 9:30 and last for around 90 minutes, for those interested in attending.

Just to put the issue into perspective for those of us who use the Arboretum for something other than nature viewing, note that Miller is on record testifying to the Seattle City Council in April that the Arboretum would like to see the number of cars coming through the Park each day limited to about 4,000. That’s an almost 80% reduction from the estimated level of traffic flowing through the Arboretum today. To get to that number, a lot of cars are clearly going to have to go somewhere else—or not go at all.

Miller certainly is not apologetic about what she admits might be an unobtainable ideal. “You have to have a goal,” she told me. “Lake Washington Boulevard was meant to be a leisurely parkway and not a long on and off ramp for 520.” On her watch, she said, she intends to fight for the Arboretum as the urban oasis it was intended to be, not a place that’s convenient for people to “just zip through.”

[Lower photo: cars queue up eastbound on E. Madison Street at Lake Washington Boulevard to turn into the Arboretum on a late summer afternoon. Many if not most are heading for the 520 on ramp to the Eastside.]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is there anything nicer than Madison Park beach on a hot summer’s day?

Apparently not. Or perhaps it’s just that our beach’s attractiveness on days like these comes from there being nothing nicer within close proximity. There’s certainly no doubt that this beach of ours is POPULAR. I live four blocks south of the beach, and when it gets so parked up around here that I’m unable to angle my car into a spot in front of my own house, it’s pretty clear that down at the beach the place is packed. That was certainly the story this weekend, and based on my observations both Saturday and Sunday I’d say the beach was at about 92% capacity, at least in the afternoons. There was still enough room to walk from end to end without actually stepping on anyone. But just barely.

And yes, those tanned and toned gay men were on the scene (in their regular spot north of the bathhouse) and the babes that we’ve been hearing so much about were also on view; but there were plenty of families and other regular sorts as well, both in and out of the water.

The diving platform was seeing plenty of action:

As was the pier:

Meanwhile, on the grass it appeared that many people had not been in the water and maybe didn’t intend to go:

This beach is a neighborhood amenity that many of us probably take a bit for granted. Capitol Hill's principal blog refers to the Madison Park beach as the “Capitol Hill Caribbean” and many users who write reviews of our beach—on the website Yelp, for example—rave about the place (well, the beach does rate four stars out of five overall). And for those Madison Parkers who don’t like having all of the commotion down here that a hot summer day brings? Not to worry. It’ll all be over for this year very soon.

[As with almost all photos found on this blog, click to enlarge.]

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Police Blotter 8/14

It’s pretty rare that we get to hear about a “Stop, Thief!” incident that turns out well, but we’ve got just such a story for the Police Blotter this month. The crime took place on a Saturday evening, two or three weekends ago. It was the kind of warm summer night when, even though it was already past midnight, people were still sitting out at sidewalk tables in front of the various Village restaurants and pubs. Barkeep Simon Greene was on duty that night at The Attic, and his brother Andrew (the bartender at Bing’s) had just dropped down on break to say hi. Simon says that he suddenly had one of those “something’s not right with this picture” moments when he saw a guy ambling along the sidewalk in plaid shorts and a suspicious manner. Not long thereafter there was a commotion, a woman screamed that her purse was being stolen, and the perpetrator and two female accomplices took off running, with Simon and Andrew, joined by their friend Alison from Cactus!, in hot pursuit. Alison was on the phone with the police as she chased down the plaid-panted purse snatcher, who took a wrong turn and ended up running down a dead end. In the story told by Simon, Alison yells “Drop It!” to the thief, and he immediately drops the purse just before the police arrive. Nice scene.

One of the females, meanwhile, was also chased down, but the second got away. Simon said he was hesitant to use physical force on the woman, which he felt would have been necessary in order to keep her from escaping. Unfortunately, she apparently had stolen the victim’s cell phone. But the purse was returned and two criminals were sent to jail, all thanks to the quick thinking (and fast running) of our “Hero Squad” trio, who Simon modestly refers to as the “B Team”. All in a night’s work.

Here’s the rundown on the other criminal activity that was reported since our last Police Blotter on July 21 (three weeks ago):

There were two cases of harassment reported: one on the 2000 block of 43rd Avenue E. involved a dispute with a neighbor, which included alleged threats to kill; and the other, a case on the 4000 block of E. Madison St., was a phone harassment situation possibly related to a domestic dispute.

Two cars were stolen from the neighborhood, one from the 600 block of 34th Avenue E. on 7/31 and one from the 1200 block of 39th Avenue E. on 7/23. Additionally, there were six car prowl incidents: on the 500 block of 36th Avenue E. on 7/23, on the 1100 block of Arboretum Dive E. on 7/26, in Broadmoor on the same day, on the 4000 block of E. Madison St. on 7/30 (in which a laptop and cell phone were taken), on the 800 block of Lake Washington Boulevard E. on 8/9, and on the 1300 block of the same street on 8/12.

There were also a couple of disturbances reported, one which was a fight between two men at the baseball field in the Arboretum (no one arrested). Interestingly a surveillance camera was stolen from a “public” building on the 3700 block of E. Madison St. on 7/30 (isn’t that the site of the Russian consulate building?).

Finally, a report of a theft on 7/25 from the 2400 block of Canterbury Lane E. gives me a great segue to a discussion of the Seattle Police’s new on-line reporting system, which was used by a resident to report this crime. The system is rather ponderously called Seattle Police Department Community Online Crime Reporting System (CORP). But it’s rather nifty in that if you have a crime to report that is not currently in progress (like someone stole your lighted Fourth of July display sometime during the night) and there is no known suspect, you can go here to make an online report. Hassle free! Remember that the Seattle Police have stated on many occasions that precinct staffing is determined each year based on the number of crime reports made in each precinct. For this reason, reporting crime in our neighborhood--even if we don't think that the crime reported will be investigated or solved--is important.

[Thanks to Mark Long of The Attic for clueing me in to the story of the foiled purse snatching.]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy ending to lost-dog story

When has this kind of thing ever happened? Contractors are working at your house and someone leaves the door or the gate open. The dog wanders out into the unknown, and you come home to find the house empty. That, at least, is the back-story on this little stray, found early Thursday evening.

The pup, however, was lucky enough to be discovered by the Tennis Club's Shannon Harney after it was almost hit by a car on McGilvra. She secured the dog in the Club's kennel, notified Club staff of her find, printed up posters, and contacted the Madison Park Blogger to get the word out. And it worked! Later that evening a woman looking for her lost dog contacted a Club employee, and the dog and its owner were reunited in what I imagine must have been a touching scene.

The story, however, contains an object lesson for those of us who are pet owners. This dog did not have any visible identification. We can only hope that it did have one of those id chips embedded under its skin (Shannon says that she would have investigated this possibility if the owner had not been found). Lost dogs are not that uncommon in the neighborhood, and many of these do not have collars or tags. Consider this a word to the wise.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rats in the toilet? Say it ain’t so!

This is another one of those “Yes, it can happen here!” stories, one which is more or less (mostly less) in line with our recent posting on (gasp!) outdoor drug activity in the neighborhood. Now comes further evidence that we Madison Parkers are actually living in a big city. I’m sorry to report that not only are rats in the toilet not an urban myth, but they actually have been known to make occasional appearances right here in Madison Park loos.

You might not think this if you didn’t follow the subject (and who does?), but the City actually tracks reports of rats in toilets and charts these incidents on a big pink rats-in-toilets map (that’s a tinier version below).

I am indebted to neighboring blog, Capitol Hill News, for this little bit of knowledge. They covered the story last month, noting that their neighborhood had the least reported toilet-rat incidents of any Seattle neighborhood. I think they must have meant per capita, because to be fair it appears that Madison Park has had two such reports while Capitol Hill has had, well, three. We’re talking rat reports in 2008 and 2009. One per year reported. But how many of us would know to report such a thing? And to whom would you make the report?

Well, should this happen to you (a rat-in-toilet incident, I mean), here’s what you should do, as instructed by the Seattle & King County Public Health Department: 1) “Stay Calm!” 2) shut the lid, 3) squirt some liquid dish soap into the toilet, and 4) flush (“you may need to flush multiple times”).

Then you report it (by phone or by using a handy on-line form). The County maintains a very useful rats-in-the-toilet website which provides lots of fascinating information on how rats get into sewers, what you can do to stop toilet rats, and where to report those soggy rodents when you find them.

And don’t say we never gave you any useful information on this blog.

[Photo: Yes, that is a rat on the toilet rather than a rat in the toilet picture that I culled from the internet--but believe me, you don't want to see the rat-in-the-toilet photo. Not on this blog. The map above shows incidents reported in 2008 as green blobs and incidents reported in 2009 at purple blobs.]

Monday, August 9, 2010

The police investigate, the Tennis Club acts

Members of the Seattle Tennis Club have received a letter from the Club disclosing that the STC has taken action in connection with the sexual assault which allegedly took place at the Club on July 7. As we reported last month, the incident involved two junior members of the Club and occurred in the boys’ locker room. In his letter last week, Board of Trustees Chairman Tonny Oswald states that the Club has expelled the offending member for “inappropriate” behavior and is also denying him any guest privileges.

Oswald notes that the Club “conducted a prompt and thorough investigation” before the Board acted in executive session. He also praises Club management for its immediate and professional response to the report of the incident.

The fact that the allegation is serious has been confirmed by the Seattle Police. I was told late last week by police department spokesperson Renee Witt that following an initial review the case was referred to detectives of the Sexual Assault Unit, who are currently investigating.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wanted: your old books for a worthy cause

The Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) is in desperate need of some books--actually a lot of books. The Council has a book sale upcoming at the Bathhouse (September 11, 10 am to 4 pm), but has virtually no books to sell! This is a really not a good thing. Especially not good, given that the annual book sale (this is actually the Second Annual) is the MPCC’s primary funding vehicle. No books, no book sales, no money to operate the Council. You get it.

So, if you have any books that are cluttering up the place and that could be donated to help your neighborhood, the Council has a solution, one that also applies to surplus DVDs, CDs, tapes, and audio books, as well as kids’ toys and games. And this year your donations will be tax deductible, since the MPCC has just been given non-profit status.

In the first book sale last year, thousands of books were donated and the council netted $900. This year, according to Council President Ken Myrabo, donations are running about 90% behind last year’s level. I’m suspicious that last year everyone who donated pretty much cleaned out their years’ of accumulated books and disks, so for those folks there’s probably not much left in the old house this year. If my theory’s correct, it means that some new souls will now have to join the effort by searching their own basements, attics, and garages for donate-able items.

In case you’re unaware of the Council and its activities, here’s a brief rundown of some of the things the MPCC has been working on over the past year: opposing the Governor’s SR-520 “preferred plan,” creating a park at the Madison Street road end, replacing park benches in the “triangle park," improving parking in the neighborhood, upgrading sidewalks, and working with the Seattle Police on neighborhood crime prevention. The Council is composed of volunteers who receive no monetary compensation for their efforts.

Donations may be delivered to Park Postal (4111 East Madison St.) or you can email Myrabo (kmyrabo100@hotmail.com) and he will come and pick them up from you. Either way, you’ll feel better for helping the cause!

Friday, August 6, 2010

It’s official: Key Bank will arrive in 2011

Though the landlord was less than forthcoming on the subject (at least to us), Key Bank proudly confirmed this week that it’s all true: the Bank is coming to Madison Park. It has signed a long-term lease and will be moving into the first-floor spaces previously occupied by Ropa Bella and two other tenants at 4105 E. Madison Street. There will be a lot of remodeling necessary to accommodate the new “specially designed” 3,200 sq. ft. branch, meaning that the opening won’t occur until February of next year. The ETA is actually Valentine’s Day.

Well this is exciting. A fourth bank for the neighborhood. If anyone thinks that the Park is already a bit overbanked, it’s pretty clear that's not an assessment shared by Key Bank’s decision makers. This is what the Bank has to say about it in a press release that we and the Madison Park Times received on Wednesday: “Madison Park is a growing and thriving place to live, dine and shop—and we’re thrilled to be part of its future.” That’s the word, at least, from the Bank’s District Retail Leader, John Roehm, who adds that “Key looks forward to being a good neighbor in Madison Park.” This is potentially good news for the neighborhood, since the Bank points out in its announcement that last year it gave over $1.6 million in cash and in-kind services to various Washington communities. I expect that the local business association and community council, among others, will have some “good neighbor” philanthropic opportunities to discuss with Key’s new branch manager when he or she arrives.

So why does Madison Park rate so highly as the location for Key Bank’s 159th branch in Washington? After all, there’s already an easily-accessed First Hill Key Bank branch on Madison Street that doesn’t seem that far away. Do you suppose it’s simply that the Bank, in the words of the press release, is “investing in making banking easier by moving closer to where our customers live and work”? That’s an interesting statement, really, which leads to a logical question about where their branches usually are located. Apparently in places too far away from where their customers live or work. Anyway, I think what they’re driving at is a contrast to electronic banking. Building new branches is at variance with the idea that no one needs physical contact with a bank anymore. At most, an ATM machine. Key Bank disagrees.

Of course it could simply be that Madison Park is where the money is.

Our neighborhood, by the way, joins Anacortes, Kent, and the Maple Valley as target markets for Key’s branch-expansion program this year. Key Bank, based in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the smaller of the big national players, not quite on a par with San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, North Carolina-based Bank of America, or New York-based JP Morgan Chase. Locally, Key Bank has its roots in the old Puget Sound Bank and Seattle Trust & Savings, both gobbled up by Key years ago during a period when all of the major locals were taken over by the national banks (except for WaMu--and we know what finally happened there.)

I was pretty sure that the managers of our three already-in-place neighborhood banks would be anxious to weigh in on this momentous development in local banking. So I made the rounds yesterday to accost them and get their take on the situation. Their on-the-record responses ran the full gamut from “no comment” to “I am not authorized to speak to the media.” (Well, I guess that elevates Madison Park Blogger into the realm of media—even though it was only one banker’s opinion). But somehow I just didn’t feel that I was getting the complete picture of how they really feel about the new competition. I suspect they don’t like it much but just are too polite to say so.

Other Madison Parkers, however, have voiced concern about the new bank on the block. These include members of the community council—at least some of whom are still agitated about that “too-big-and-too-bright” Chase sign down the street. These good folks are hoping that Key Bank will be more respectful of “neighborhood standards.”

We shall see.

[I suppose this is as good a point as any for me to disclose (to those who have not already read my profile) that I myself am a banker, though not on the retail side of the business. I do not, however, work for any of the banks profiled in this posting.]

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Madison Park has it all (or at least some of it)

Madison Park has just been singled out by Seattle Weekly as having both the Best Beach for Babe Viewing and the Best Pizza in Town. These twin honors have been given to our .9 sq. miles of the City as part of the paper's 25th Annual Best of Seattle awards.

First, about that beach award. It seems that we are outstanding only because the people at our beach are imported from elsewhere. To quote the paper, "Owing to its proximity to Capitol Hill and the U District, Madison's shores become crowded with the toned, tanned bodies of gay men and college students." I guess the college students must be the babes then. At any rate, at least according to the Weekly, once the lifeguards leave the beach in the evening, the skinny-dipping babes appear and things get lively. I apparently am in bed by then.

The best-pizza honor is probably a bit more momentous for most of us here in the Park. The Weekly recognizes Madison Park's recently opened and "unprepossessing" The Independent Pizzeria as being a cozy place with great pizza, even though it's located in an "unlikely" neighborhood.

I'm just not sure that we're getting the appropriate level of respect from this paper, but perhaps we can be content in the knowledge that we've got the pizza--and, however fleetingly, the babes.

[Photo of Madison Park Beach courtesy of the Weekly. For all of the Best of Seattle awards, click here. The Independent Pizzeria is located at 4235 E. Madison Street. As a related aside, I note that CitySearch picks Madison Park Beach as the No. 5 Best Outdoor Venue to Meet Singles in Seattle.]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Real Estate Report

It’s Not all Gloom & Doom in the Local Market

To those readers who were chagrined, appalled, or depressed by my report last month that Madison Park house values may have had a greater fall from the peak than the declines experienced by other Seattle neighborhoods, I now offer some more-encouraging words. Simply put, the sky is not falling, though house prices here obviously have. It’s not the end, and the future may well be bright. That, at least, is the opinion of real estate professionals I’ve spoken with.

Of course realtors are paid optimists, as one of them admitted to me. Even so, it’s a fact that Madison Park has a lot of things going for it, and it’s clear that our community enjoys significant advantages that will continue to make the Park very attractive for home buyers as overall market conditions improve.

Let’s take a minute to remember what makes Madison Park special for those of us who live here. We can start with the neighborhood’s easy access to downtown and (at least until the Arboretum 520 ramps are removed) the Eastside. Proximity to our City center and the UW is always going to be a big plus for the Park, especially as transportation gridlock in the Puget Sound region grows worse.

But the ambiance of the neighborhood is probably at the top of most people’s lists of reasons for living in Madison Park. We’re an end-of-the-road community with many of the aspects of a beachfont town: exciting and crowded in the summer, and quieter and slower-paced in the winter. We enjoy immediate access to nature, with the Lake and the green spaces of the Arboretum virtually surrounding us. We have water and mountain views, eagles soaring, beavers building, ducks quacking, Canadian geese—well, you get the picture. Then there’s the Village, our commercial core, with its “quaint shops” (that quote’s from a marketing piece I picked up), sidewalk cafes and excellent restaurants. Ours is a great walking neighborhood too, with a significant expanse of flat streets and not-too-tough slopes--perfect for runners, joggers, and cyclists as well. It’s a place where, as realtor Leslie Dickinson notes, you really don’t need a car since you can walk to just about everything (among the few things I miss here are a book store and a liquor store). And bus transportation to and from the Park is easy.

For an urban community, Madison Park retains a bit of a small-town feel, with a low crime rate, and friendly neighbors that you’re likely to know. People actually acknowledge each other as they pass on the streets; and like any little berg, news is exchanged at community hangouts (Madison Park Hardware, Bert’s, Starbuck’s, Tully’s and Scoop du Jour). People who grow up here and move away often find themselves coming back, while those who come here from elsewhere often decide to stay. It’s one of those rare neighborhoods where siblings, cousins, parents and even grandparents may live within walking distance of each other. Val Ellis, longtime resident and real estate agent, sums up this family-friendly aspect by saying we’re simply a place “where we all look out for each other.”

Last but not least, let’s acknowledge the advantage to the neighborhood of having an outstanding public school located in our midst. Unlike many Seattle schools, McGilvra Elementary is highly regarded (rated ten out of ten, for example, by greatschools.org), and boasts dedicated, highly involved parents and solid community support.

These are among the major reasons that Madison Park will continue to be an attractive option for many home buyers well into the future. But what about the economics?

Because of its many advantages, Madison Park has historically performed well, relative to other Puget Sound neighborhoods. In the early 2000s, The Seattle Times did a survey of 50 or more communities in the region and found that Madison Park had the highest average annual appreciation over a twenty-or-more-year period of all of them (Federal Way, at that time, had the worst). Madison Park has always been a good place to invest; and even though we are down from the highs of 2007, the economics for our neighborhood don’t indicate that we have suddenly become unattractive. Just a bit pricey. But we can hardly complain, can we, about our house values falling while simultaneously bemoaning the fact that no one can afford to buy a house here? Well, maybe we can.

Here’s what the market has been doing over the past couple of months: people are still buying, sales numbers remain steady, and inventory is on the rise. In May, there were ten home sales, followed by nine sales in June. The level of activity is completely in line with the trend of recent months. There are currently eight homes pending sale.

Here’s the breakdown on the sales for single-family residences during the May/June period:

Median Sold-Home Price: $1.1 million (May)/ $1.6 million (June)

Average Number of Days on the Market for Sold Homes: 126 (May)/149 (June)

Average Discount of List Price to Sales Price for Sold Homes: 5.8% (May)/4.7% (June)

Additionally, there were six condo sales during the two months, with a median price of $337,000. The average sq. ft. of the sold units was actually slightly less than 1,000. The houses that sold, on the other hand, were big as well as expensive, averaging over 4,000 sq. ft.

This is what the market looks like today, based on data supplied by Redfin:


Listings: 73
New Listings in Last 60 Days: 30
Median Listing Price: $1,950,000
Average Number of Days on Market: 112
Percentage with Price Reductions: 36%


Listings: 29
New Listings in Last 60 Days: 9
Median Listing Price: $475,000
Average Number of Days on Market: 198
Percentage with Price Reductions: 52%

What’s striking about these numbers is the significant increase in inventory from the levels of a few months ago. As recently as February there were only 71 listings in Madison Park, while now there are 103, a 45% increase. Real estate agent Chris Falskow, however, thinks this may have more to do with seasonality than with some unexplained market spike.

And it does seem to be true that winter is slow for new listings, historically, while things generally pick up in the spring and summer. It’s also true, however, that there appears to be a much higher level of inventory now than there was prior to the point when the local market peaked in September 2007. Lincoln Thompson of Windermere Real Estate has provided me with some data on inventory levels in Madison Park since June 2005 which show that current levels are high, though not as high as at this time last year. In the pre-peak years the inventory of houses ranged between 15 and 35 in any given month. In the post-peak years the range has been between 35 and 90, with June 2009 being the absolute high point. During 2009 house listings averaged 67. Today, with 73 house listings, we’re running ahead of that pace.

Interestingly, the newest inventory is skewed towards the lower end of the market, the kind of properties which in Madison Park have to pass for “affordable.” The number of under-$1 million houses now stands at 13, almost a fifth of the total listings. In recent months we had as few as three listings at this price level, so it seems pretty evident that many sellers in the lower market have concluded now is the time to make their move.

At a ten-sales-a-month pace we have about a ten-month supply of inventory in the Park right now, condos included. This is well under the horrendous levels we saw during several months last year. It's just another item to add to the list of real estate blessings we should be counting.

[Photo Above: The home of Joel Diamond (Diamond Parking) and his wife, located at 4205 East Highland, is one of four waterfront houses currently on the market in Madison Park. Priced at $7,880,000, the 6,500 sq. ft. house features curved rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and sits on an outstanding view site. Photo courtesy of David Dykstra, from his book, “Lake Washington 130 Homes”.

Thanks to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate for her help in providing sales data used in this report.]

Monday, August 2, 2010

August Happenings

Blue Angels

Last year at about this time I warned everyone to dig out those earplugs and doggie tranquilizers—and the same advice applies this year. As everyone who’s lived in the Park during Seafair knows, it gets a bid loud down here when those boys do the flyovers. The Blue Angels’ schedule for this year has them practicing on Thursday, August 5, from 10 am until 12 pm and again from 1:30 until 2:30 pm. They will be performing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1:30 until 2:30 pm. Note that there will be I-90 bridge closures related to this schedule. For more information, click here.

MadArt in the Park

Following up on the successful installation of original artworks in the windows of Madison Park shops last summer, MadArt has changed focus this year and moved the venue to Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill. The brainchild of Madison Park resident Alison Milliman, MadArt seeks to “support emerging artists in our community, to bring art into our lives in unexpected ways, and to create community involvement in the arts.” The unexpected art will be produced this time by six “emerging” sculptors, who will create the art in the park during the next week and a half, with a kickoff event celebrating the installations happening on August 12, beginning at 7 pm. As part of the kickoff, Madison Park's own IndieFlix will be presenting an outdoor screening of four short films ("a film Festival in a Box") at 9 pm. Cal Anderson Park is located at 1635 11th Avenue. Additional information on the sculptors and the event is available here.

New Photography Exhibit

Madison Park photographers Noreen Frink and Morgan Davidson will be among seven “luminary photographers” to be featured this month in a new exhibit at the Gallery at Maison Michel (1928 43rd Avenue E.). Also among the exhibitors will be blind photographer William Madison, whose interesting story is available here. The exhibit will open with a (public invited) reception on August 5 (4-8 pm) and run through the start of Madison Park Art Walk (which begins on September 11).

Swim for Life

The 13th annual Puget Sound Blood Center Swim for Life from Medina to Madison Park will happen on Wednesday, August 18th, beginning at 7:30 a.m. The 2.5-mile swim is an individual event as well as a team event, with each team involving four swimmers and a kayaker. This year’s swim benefits the Center’s Bone Marrow Registry. Registration ends August 11, and you may register here. Swim for Life’s fans are on Facebook.

“Pushing Up the Sky”

The UW Botanic Gardens, Friends of Yesler Swamp, and the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) will be putting on a fun event for kids (ages 3 and up) at MOHAI on August 22 (1-3 pm). It will be a series of audience-participation plays for children based on Snohomish tribal legends and folktales from around the world. The plays will be followed by a naturalist-guided nature walk. MOHAI is located at 2700 24th Avenue East. The suggested donation is $10 per family. Proceeds go to the restoration and preservation of Yesler Swamp, “a unique piece of nature in the heart of Seattle.” More information is available at YeslerSwampTrail.wordpress.com.
[Photo from www.pdphoto.org.]