Friday, September 30, 2011

Bringing us up to date on 520

You might well think that there just is no stopping the State from doing what it wants to do to State Route 520.  To be sure, the project has quite a bit of forward momentum.  For example, the revisions to the Eastside portion of the highway, including the creation of two additional lanes, are well underway (that's the Bellevue Way overpass above 520 being demolished earlier this month in the photo above). Meanwhile, the State recently published its final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the I-5 to Medina portion of SR-520;  an apparently winning bid was received from a general contractor for the floating-bridge-replacement work; and the federal government weighed in with its approval of the project.  This thing is marching forward.

But while there doesn't seem to have been much press coverage of the fact, the opponents of the State's plans have by no means rolled over.  In fact, just this month the Coalition for a Sustainable 520 filed a federal lawsuit over the FEIS in which it asks the court to "declare that the defendants' actions as set forth in this Complaint are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with law, not supported by substantial evidence, and without observance of procedures required by law, and therefore must be set aside."  The defendants are both the federal and State governments, so this is pretty strong stuff.

The State still thinks the whole replace-the-bridge program is a fine idea, it still doesn't have anywhere close to the money needed to complete the project, and the opponents are still up in arms.  Oh, and the tolling that was supposed to begin on the floating bridge during the spring?  Maybe next year. That pretty much covers the 520 story since our last posting on the subject.  Consider yourselves up to date.

Tomorrow, you will have your chance to weigh in on "the urban design of the new corridor." That's the currently unfunded portion of the new 520, everything between Foster Island and I-5, including the new Montlake "interchange" and freeway lid.  From 9 AM until noon there will be a presentation of the "Seattle Community Design Process" and an opportunity to "meet" (and presumably talk to) the SR 520 design team.  The session will be held in Mary Gates Hall at the University of Washington (south of Suzzallo Library, north of Drumheller Fountain, for those familiar with the campus layout).

[Photo courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation, whose website for the SR 520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program can be found here.]

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tile artists return to the Park on Saturday

Madison Park's Pioneer Hall is the venue again this year for the Handmade Tile Festival, presented by Artisan Tile NW.  Over twenty tile artists will be participating in this, the 6th Annual Festival.  Many of these artists will also be submitting their works for a juried show at the conclusion of the Festival.

The theme for the show this year is “Signage." This is a reference to the old tradition of fronting shops, professional offices and residences with tile signs. In the period before widespread literacy, such signs often used images and symbols rather than words.  Many of the Northwest tile artists in this show will be doing a contemporary take on this old tile-signage art form.

This is the fourth year in a row that the Festival has chosen Madison Park for the event.  There will be a public-invited reception and preview of the exhibition on Friday evening (5-8 PM) at Pioneer Hall, with the show itself taking place on Saturday, October 1, from 10 AM until 5 PM.  Pioneer Hall is located at 1642 43rd Avenue E.

The artists will be on hand at the Friday reception and throughout the day on Saturday. Most of the tiles on display during the show will be available for sale.

Artisan Tile NW is a non-profit handmade tile-makers group dedicated to the creation, promotion and preservation of the art and craft of handmade tile.  You can see more examples of tile art at the group's Flickr photostream.

[Photos courtesy of the artists: Maria Root (top),  Karen Morrice (middle), and Deborah Bacianga (bottom).  The "Seattle, Buy Local" tile shown at bottom is the commemorative tile for this year's Festival, available for sale at the show in a limited edition for $35.]

Monday, September 26, 2011

Musings on the real estate scene

Madison Park: not hot, not cold

Though we’re still a month away from our third-quarter report on Madison Park real estate activity, it’s already clear that the summer is ending on a pretty solid note.  There have been many more sales per month than in earlier quarters, and there’s a large number of properties pending sale. This bodes well for a potentially strong close to the year, at least in terms of sales.  It may also be the case that the average price-per-square-foot achieved by sellers is now trending up rather than down.  So while it’s too early to be breaking out the champagne, these markers, combined with a decline in market inventory, do give sellers reason for hope.

Nevertheless, Seattle, like most U.S. metropolitan areas, remains a “buyer’s market” in the opinion of national real estate research consultants such as Altos Research. meanwhile, recently looked at Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data, comparing the 2011 numbers to the historic “high” and “low” points for the last decade in King County. That analysis showed that sales in the County this year are at about 60% of the decade’s best year, while pending sales are at about 70% of the best year. In terms of closed sales, pending sales and inventory levels, the King County market is still below the averages for the Century’s first decade.   The conclusion of  “Sure, we’ve moved out of the gutter, but we’ve got a long way to go before we get back to anything resembling a ‘normal’ market.”

Madison Park is probably no exception.  Real estate website Redfin did some interesting statistical research on Seattle neighborhoods earlier this summer and found that Magnolia, Ballard, Northeast Seattle, Queen Anne, and Northwest Seattle were the hottest neighborhoods, at least in July.  The relative “hotness” of each neighborhood was rated, among other things, on the year-over-year price change for sold properties (up 8.4% for Magnolia and 2.7% for Queen Anne), and the number of months of inventory (2.0 months for Ballard, 2.3 for Northwest Seattle).  How did Madison Park compare? The neighborhood showed a year-over-year change in the average sales price per-square-foot of 2.5%.  At that point we had an 8.2 month supply of inventory (total listings divided by total sales for the month). While we may not be hot, neither are we cold.  Redfin gave that designation to the Lake Union, Rainier Valley, and Lake City neighborhoods.

A final bit of encouraging news was provided by Zillow, which at the end of July reported that its Home Value Index for our neighborhood (excluding Broadmoor) was up 5.5% year over year.

‘A buyer for every house’

I sometimes attend “brokers’ opens”, which are held in this area on Thursdays.  These open houses are designed to showcase new listings to real estate professionals so they’ll know what’s available in the market.  The listing agent (or a surrogate) usually sits in the house for a couple of hours around lunchtime and answers questions put by the other agents and the occasional passerby who might show up. Part of the listing agent’s job is to shill for the seller: talking up all the pluses of the property while downplaying (or completely overlooking) any minuses.  A good agent will be able to make a potential negative into a positive (for example, talking about super-tight spaces as “warm and cozy” or positioning a house’s lack of yard as a great situation for those tired of landscape maintenance).

I was visiting with an agent during an open house recently, while she did her thing.   As various agents wandered through the place, she would occasionally call out to them: “Did you notice the lovely inlaid wood floors in the master bedroom? It’s all original!”  Having walked through the house earlier, I asked her about the weird floor plan.  She admitted it was pretty bad.  And that was hardly the only problem with the house (lack of street appeal and a musty interior smell were among the other downsides).  So, I wondered, how are you going to unload this thing? She had a ready answer:  “There’s a buyer for every house, Bryan!”

That piece of insight certainly seems to hold true, even if the seller may have to wait a long time for that buyer to finally come along. Right now, according the MLS, there are 17 homes in Madison Park that have been on the market for 200 days or more.  And seven of these have been on the market for more than a year (one for over 500 days). These properties range in price from $265,000 (for a Canterbury Shores condo) to $5,400,000 (for a Broadmoor mansion at an “undisclosed” address), so it’s not all about the “price point.”  While a lot of the problem may be that theses homes are priced above their actual market value, it may instead be that the “right buyer” has simply not come along to claim them.  That’s what the sellers certainly hope.

Every once in a while a house will sell after a long spell on the market, even without a steep lowering of the initial offering price.  When that happens, it’s a wonderful vindication for the seller (and perhaps for the agent as well, unless the agent had been arguing unsuccessfully for price reductions as the home sat unsold).  There was a “right buyer” in those unusual cases, just as there was a “right buyer” in the more typical long-term situations where the buyers struck deals only after the sellers made significant price concessions.  But in the end, most homes one way or another do end up with the “right buyer.”

There are many examples in Madison Park of houses that ultimately found a buyer when it seemed that a sale was unlikely, or at least a sale at the initial offering price.  One such house in my neck of the woods is a 7,000 sq. ft. speculative house built in 2005.  At the time it was put on the market it was the subject of a laudatory article in the Madison Park Times in which the builders stated that they were trying to recreate a little bit of their native Russia right here in the heart of Madison Park.  Much to the consternation of the neighbors, however, they had torn down a classic house in order to build a gigantic home that featured a pastiche of different window, column, and railing styles. When the builders said that the house was reminiscent of St. Petersburg, one neighborhood wag suggested its style was more like “St. Petersburg as interpreted by Las Vagas.”  At a neighborhood party about the time the house came onto the market, the host invited guests to compete for who could come up with the best word to describe this new neighborhood structure (I’ve forgotten what the winning word was, but my vote in absentia—since I was not invited—was “egregious”).  There was just no way this house was going to sell to anyone.  So we thought.

Just a few months later, however, the house sold at close to the asking price of $4,400,000.  The buyer was an insurance executive from California. At that time and in that place, at least, the “buyer for every house” adage certainly proved true.  But maybe not today.  That same house was just withdrawn from the market after having been first listed for re-sale in May 2009, at $4,700,000.  The asking price was reduced to $4,250,000 in early 2010 and to $3,600,000 in 2011.  Still no buyer.  But someday...

The ‘art’ of selling houses

One of the chief jobs of the listing agent is to entice prospective buyers and their agents to take a look at their listed property.  One method of drumming up interest is through the artful wording used in the description of the home.  That’s the paragraph used that’s in ads, on the agent’s and other real estate websites, and given to the MLS.  I often get a chuckle out of these little essays.  My favorite real-estate-agent adjective is the word charmer, a very much over-hyped term that’s sometimes appropriate but is often used to mean, at best, “fixer-upper.”

Of all the real estate property descriptions I’ve read over the years, however, this recent entry for a probable teardown in Madison Park certainly is the most incomprehensibly overwrought:

“A Lake Washington treasure ~ tucked away on a lakefront peninsula of history in the heart of Seattle. The diary of this quiet, no-through avenue in Madison Park/Washington Park community is a journal of significant citizens and signature properties, drawn together by attitudes: superb positions, civic pride, world interests. 60’ of gentle shores; 15,500 sf street to beach. The lore of an Elizabeth Ayer legacy before retiring. Eclectic fire of sunsets against towers of glass; jagged Mtn. peaks.”

Must have worked. The property is rumored to be going pending.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A fine mess: City to detour E. Madison Street through Madison Valley beginning Monday

One-week closure has merchants up in arms

It wasn't supposed to happen this way.  When the Madison Valley Stormwater Project was conceived, nothing other than the intermittent blockage of E. Madison St. was anticipated.  That was then, this is now.

Next week, due to "unavoidable" circumstances, Madison Street will be closed to traffic through the Martin Luther King, Jr. Way E./28th Avenue E. intersection (the red area shown on the map below). The 18,000 vehicles that transit the area daily will be channelled through side streets for five straight days,  beginning Monday morning and continuing at least until sometime Friday afternoon.

The purpose of this temporary closure is to repave the intersection, which happens to be the location where four large boulders were discovered by the tunneling machine near the end of last year.  The machine was boring an underground tunnel for the pipeline that will be used to divert stormwater into the new high-capacity tank being constructed near the ball field in Washington Park.  The boulders, however, proved to be immovable objects, other than through above-ground excavation.  As a result, the intersection had to be torn up--and this caused, in the parlance of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), "a differing site condition." Meaning, therefore, the implementation of a "street restoration plan." In other words, big-time repaving.

According to Grace Manzano, SPU's project manager, Madison Street's repaving will involve a significant amount of concrete pouring and the integration of steel rebar into the works.  This is in order to properly distribute traffic loads on E Madison.  It's "unfortunate," she tells us, that the area will be further disrupted by this additional work, but it's all in a good cause.  "SPU wants to complete the work as quickly as possible so the merchants can return to earning their livelihoods," she says.  "This is the end phase."

When the City announced the detour plan earlier this week, Madison Parkers may have detected a wailing sound coming from the Valley. Those were the Madison Valley merchants, whose general response to this unexpected challenge seems to be "You're killing us!!!"  Anger and frustration boiled over in an email sent by Marie Harris of Veritables earlier this week.  Accusing SPU of being "tone deaf" she railed, "We were assured you would be out of our business district by the end of summer...We have cooperated to the point of rolling over and playing dead."  She requested that the project be put on hold at least until January, after the holiday selling season is ended.

Madison Valley Merchants Association (MVMA) president Larry Levine, meanwhile, sent the Mayor a letter on behalf of the Association.  In it he stated that "many merchants have given up publicly expressing their concerns or contacting SPU with their concerns.  They feel that their concerns fall on deaf ears."  A later meeting at Cafe Flora between SPU and some of the merchants did not result in a delay of the repaving, however.  It is moving forward as planned.

In here (28th E. )

Here's the rundown of how the detour will work.  Westbound traffic will be detoured onto 28th Avenue E. (at the corner where the restaurant Luc is located), it will be channeled onto E. Mercer Street after one block, and then be routed onto 27th Avenue E. for one block back to E. Madison Street.

Out here (27th E.)

Traffic moving in the opposite direction will be detoured off E. Madison at 27th E. and head eastbound on E. Arthur Place for a block before being re-routed back onto E. Madison.  There will be limited parking, if any, on these detour streets, although parking will still be allowed on E. Madison St., other than in the area of the intersection repaving. There is a separate truck detour route which is a far longer, more cumbersome way into and out of Madison Park:

The Madison Valley Community Council has come out with an announcement encouraging all area residents to patronize the Valley's merchants during the construction period.  Signs will be posted reminding everyone that the district is still open for business.  It is hoped that all paving will be completed before the dinner crowd arrives in the Valley on Friday evening.

For what it's worth, SPU's Manzano tells us that everyone on the project understands the merchants' frustration.  We're giving the last word, however, to Madison Valley resident Richard Winsler II, who in an email to the MVMA summed up the frustrations of people living in the construction zone.  He said he opposed any efforts by neighborhood businesses to have the repaving delayed until next year. "While we may sympathize with the local businesses," he wrote, "we will do everything we possibly can to have the construction over with ASAP. We will NOT allow for it to be put on hold."

"Please don't forget," he added, "that the residents agreed to have the night work happen to help out the merchants back in March. While all the business owners were home sleeping soundly, nearly every single resident was kept up every night for two weeks during the night time construction. The residents have had enough and want this construction to be done with promptly and with no interruptions."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Police Blotter 9/22/11

A month without a break-in?

For a period of 29 days (August 18 through September 15), Madison Park did not experience a single residential break-in (or at least not one that was reported to the police). It was looking like we might actually experience a full month without a home burglary in the neighborhood. But it was not to be. On September 16, a late-afternoon break-in at a residence on the 3800 block of E. Crockett Street, in Canterbury, ended the run.  Nevertheless, it may be that we're beginning to see the usual end-of-summer decline in this kind of activity.  To date, at least, there has not been another such incident reported.

Car break-ins, however, continued unabated.  There were nine car prowls in Madison Park proper during the period since our last Police Blotter on August 18, plus another nine incidents reported at various locations in the Arboretum.  Here's the run down of car break-ins in the neighborhood:  one on 8/26 on the 3400 block of E. Valley St., one on 9/1 on the 4000 block of E. Madison St., two on 9/7 on the 4000 block of 43rd Avenue E., one on 9/6 on the 1200 block of McGilvra Blvd. E. and on the same day another one on the 700 block of the same street, one on 9/8 on the 4000 block of E. Madison St., and one on 9/12 on the 1900 block of 42nd Avenue E.  There was also one car stolen in the neighborhood, that incident occurring at 5:30 am on September 6 on the 2300 block of 42nd Avenue E.

Other crimes included a case of harassment involving a landlord and tenant on the 3900 block of E. Madison St. (the giant exclamation point on the map above), with the tenant allegedly making threats (and apparently being hauled off by police for his efforts), a "bar fight" on the 4200 block of E. Madison on August 20 (that one involving an altercation between a patron and the female barkeep), and an arrest of a suspect under a warrant on the 1400 block of E. Galer St. on September 13.  And there was the usual slew of  lesser criminal incidents (theft of mail, dog off leash, credit-car fraud, and petty theft) to round off this month's Police Blotter.

"I need a locksmith" scam artist at it again

Apparently he's at it again. We've alerted our readers on more than one occasion to the well-known (at least to his victims and readers of Madison Park Blogger) scammer who preys upon certain sympathetic souls who fall for his well-honed line about being locked out of someplace and needing money for a locksmith. We received this report from Nat Stratton-Clarke at Madison Valley's Cafe Flora last week:

"There is a man conning people out of money going around the neighborhood saying that he is a janitor from Cafe Flora early in the mornings. He is slim, in his early twenties and African American.  He went to Ines Patisserie yesterday morning around 6:30 AM asking her for money and told her that it was his first day at the restaurant and that he needed $52 for a locksmith because he locked himself out. He also approached our executive chef two weeks ago with the same story while she was by herself at her car a few blocks down the road from Flora. She didn't feel comfortable confronting him ( and I am glad that she didn't!).  I just want make sure people know that he does not work at Cafe Flora. None of our janitors work that early in the morning and none of them can lock themselves out because they are always here with a manager. Hope this hasn't happened to anyone else!!!"  

While it could be a copycat scam artist, it's probably the same infamous guy.  It's not apparent in these incidents that anyone actually forked over any money, however, so perhaps the word is out.  In the earlier incidents people gave the cash and wondered at their gullibility after the fact. Of course using the line about being a janitor at Cafe Flora when trying to scam an actual employee of that restaurant would not be a winning strategy in any circumstance. Nevertheless, the "I Need a Locksmith" scammer is known in the past to have hit the very same house twice with similar "locked out" stories.  Its clear that when it comes to conning people, his attitude can be summed up in that old adage: bold is gold.

Criminal, or just weird?

We also received this report earlier in the week from a reader on 42nd Avenue E., south of E. Madison St.:

“I have just filled a police report regarding a man in the neighborhood who has shown up at my house three times in the past 24 hours.  He first appeared at my garden gate late yesterday (Sunday) morning, while I was working in the garden. He looked like someone from the neighborhood who had been out running. However, once he began talking, it was clear that he was either using something or perhaps had a mental condition.

He then left plants at my front door early this morning while my husband and I were out walking. We learned that the plants were purchased early this morning from a nursery in the Boeing Field area. We thought it concerning but not totally alarming until he showed up at the gate about 7:00 PM this evening with flowers. We called the police.

He is white, about 5'9" tall with short brown hair, clean shaven and in his early to mid 40's. This evening he was wearing jeans, a dark shirt, black baseball cap and dark glasses. He seemed confused when he saw my husband and did not recognize me; but did he remember that he had met a [houseguest] at the house. We told him [the houseguest] was gone to California. He said his name was David, and was heading for Arizona in a couple of months. He left quickly.

The police asked that if anyone sees him to please let them know. Sadly, there is now a lock on the front gate. We hope that it will not have to be there for long, but this just seems a bit too odd to ignore and we wanted to let others know, just in case he shows up at their home or yard." 

Monday, September 19, 2011

More waterfront access for Madison Park?

City rethinking longstanding approach

Longtime Madison Parkers can remember a time when the "Swingset Park" at E. Lynn St. and 43rd Avenue E. was a lovely, sand-filled beach providing year-round access to Lake Washington. Somewhere along the way, however, the City decided to replace the sand with riprap and ultimately concluded that topping the whole thing off with a chain-link fence was a wonderful idea.  What was once a favorite neighborhood beach became, instead, a waterfront park without water access.  In fact, according to the Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation, it is the only piece of park shoreline in the entire City that is not accessible to the water.

Why this was allowed to happen is not obvious, and the Parks Department has been unable to provide us with an explanation. What we did learn today, however, is that the City is seriously looking at reversing course and seeking a way to provide public access to Lake Washington at the E. Lynn site.  According to Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter, a "briefing paper" has been prepared on the subject, which will soon be presented to a meeting of the Parks Board.

The catalyst for all of this, apparently, is a "citizen request" made by an open-spaces activist, Patrick Doherty, who wrote an interesting opinion piece concerning our little park on the Daily Journal of Commerce's "SeattleScape" blog in August ("Why is the City Fencing Off the Shoreline in Madison Park?").  Doherty states in his posting that he was told that the residents of Madison Park do not want the beach restored (though who told him that is unclear). "Well, excuse me," he exclaims, "but Lake Washington shoreline is a precious, very finite commodity and public ownership and use of any part of that commodity is not the sole province of the nearby neighbors."

A reader of this blog sent us the link to Doherty's opinion piece when it appeared last month and suggested that we look into the matter.  The Parks Department did not at that time respond to our request for comment.  Today we learned, however, that is working on a story about the City's possible new stance regarding the E. Lynn Park.  As noted, the Parks Department has now acknowledged as much.

Some MPB readers may recall that several years ago the neighborhood activist group, Historic Madison Park, raised the same issue that Doherty has now claimed as his own: Give Us Our Waterfront Access!  But the group's numerous suggestions for potential "improvements" to Madison Park were met with reactions ranging from outrage to indifference.  The stiff opposition of many in the Madison Park "establishment" to HMP's ambitions ultimately was the death knell for the group, which ultimately gave up its efforts and disbanded out of frustration, anger, and recrimination. Or at least that's the way we remember it.

At any rate, that inside-Madison Park group was ineffective in getting what Doherty has apparently accomplished from the outside:  a City review of a decision that was made decades ago and may not be the appropriate one for today's Madison Park.

We have been promised that when the 'briefing paper" is slated for a Parks Board agenda, it will be made available to us.   Hopefully, it will not only make recommendations concerning the E. Lynn park but will also include the history of the site and the rationale for closing it off to public access.


This just in:  The Parks Department staff will be asking the Madison Park Community Council for some time at its October 3 meeting to discuss the "Madison Park North Beach" fence removal, according to Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter.  The Board of Park Commissioners will be briefed by staff on the issue at its November 3 meeting, and a public hearing will also be held.  The Board is expected to discuss the issue at its December 8 meeting and then make a recommendation to the Superintendent.  Apparently the issue at hand is simply removing the fence, not restoring the beach, however.

More to follow.

[Upper photo courtesy of Windermere Real Estate, used without permission. Satellite photo from GoogleEarth.]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The great summer bee caper

Honeybee swarm causes a ruckus

It was a quiet, tranquil and, rare-for-July, sunny summer day on 42nd Avenue E. when the bees came.  As the morning wore on, however, it began to dawn on folks living on the block between E. Newton and E. Lynn Streets, that something was not quite right.  The neighborhood was no longer quiet and tranquil.  What was that loud humming, anyway?

Where they came from, no one knows.  But the bees had arrived in a giant swarm, and for some reason they decided that a big bush in front of the home of Val Ellis would be a pleasant destination.  Though Val and her husband were oblivious to the sudden bee invasion, some of their neighbors had become aware of the situation.  Naturally, they were alarmed. Val’s immediate neighbor, Anton, called her to break the news:  “Say, Val, are you aware that there are thousands of bees in your front yard?”

What Val discovered when she looked out the window was quite a sight. “I freaked out,” she told us. “I knew nothing about bees, but there they were just ten feet from my front door!” And the bees weren't all resting peacefully in their newfound bush, either.  Many were doing what bees do: swarming all over the place, occasionally massing themselves on neighbors’ windows, and buzzing out into the street.

It was clear that the neighbors expected some kind of solution out of her, Val said.  “They were up in arms!”  Apart from their concerns, Val herself was plenty motivated to get the bees gone--the sooner the better.

So she took action.  She called an exterminator: “Get down to Madison Park pronto. We’ve got an emergency!” she cried. [At this point we should note that Val doesn’t remember exactly what she said because she was still freaking out, so she gave us permission to misquote her, if necessary, to heighten the drama of the story.]  The exterminators said they’d soon be on their way:  “Don’t worry, lady, those bees are gonna be history.”

Meanwhile, however, cooler heads prevailed.  A neighbor, having investigated the commotion, asked his arborist (who just happened to be on site) to take a look at the situation.  The arborist immediately identified the bush (or perhaps tree, Val was a bit unsure which it was). More importantly, the arborist identified the bees as honeybees.  As everyone knows, honeybees are in crisis mode.  You certainly can’t exterminate honeybees!  We need every one we’ve got!

So on to Plan B:  Call the Bee Lady.  In this case, Patti Loesche, a beekeeper from Fremont who is a member of the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association.  It seems that honeybee swarms are not uncommon around here, and the PSBA maintains a list of beekeepers ready and willing to pick them up and find the bees a new home (in the beekeeper’s apiary, of course). Loesche arrived on the scene within an hour or so (the exterminators earlier having been called off).  She immediately got to work.

The neighbors, of course, remained riveted to the scene (though at a safe distance).   Honeybees swarms are not aggressive, Loesche pointed out. She then explained to the crowd how she was going to entice those very bees into an artificial hive she’d brought expressly for that purpose.  “As you can see I have here…”

As it turned out, however, educating an uninformed public and catching honeybees are two different objectives that can’t necessarily be undertaken simultaneously.  While the educational process seemed to be going pretty well, the bees were apparently coming to the conclusion that they didn’t much like what they were hearing. Suddenly the Queen decided to take off--and the swarm, following her, made a bee-line down the street.  “They’re getting away!” the crowd yelled in unison.

"Come back!"

Unperturbed, Loescher leaped into action.  She hoisted the artificial hive back into her vehicle, jumped in, revved the engine, and sped down the street in hot pursuit.  Racing around a corner, she was lost to sight.

The bees gone, the crowd disbursed.

[Thanks to Sara Perkins and Dick Lehman for the photos.  Thanks to Sara Perkins and Val Ellis for telling us the story.  It seemed like such a good place to end the tale, but there's actually more to tell. Return to the blog later this week to learn "The Rest of the Story."]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A fun night in Madison Park

The opening of the Second Annual Madison Park Art Walk on Friday night was one of those occasions when everything just worked.  The weather was perfect, the art good-to-great, and the music infectious. Anyone experiencing the show, even the most curmudgeonly among us, would certainly have seconded the proposition that Madison Park is one fabulous village by the lake.

The kickoff for Art Walk was a packed reception at Starbucks.  The event brought out an array of neighborhood types, a good selection of out-of-the-area art lovers, and the occasional passerby who was swept in, wondering what all the excitement was about.  The venue seemed much more hopping than it did during the first Art Walk last year.  The attraction of the event may have been heightened by the fact that each of the participating artists was allowed to have one piece on display at Starbucks this year (those artworks, incidentally, will remain there through the end of the month). The wine and beer flowed freely--as did the art lovers, who proceeded from Starbucks to visit the 28 locations hosting artist installations. The tide began rolling at Ann Marie Lingerie, flowed down E. Madison Street, and washed ashore at Roppa Bella, around the corner on 43rd.  

The art of Brooke Westlund at Park Deli

There were multiple musicians performing during the evening, with Sambatuque making things festive at the triangle park in front of Bing's, where spontaneous dancing broke out and continued into the night.

But music was not the only lively thing during Art Walk.  The art itself was often interesting, diverse, and fun to see in unlikely settings.  

The art of Lene Sangster & Julia Waldeck at Cactus!

There are clearly a lot of talented and creative people living in the general vicinity. Approximately 30 artists from the Park and surrounding neighborhoods made the cut for this year's show.  In addition to the more established artists, grade-school artists (from McGilvra, St. Joseph, and Epiphany Schools), teen artists (including some from Coyote Central), and "resident" artists from Park Shore, also had their works on display at various venues.

The art of McGilvra's students at Red Wagon Toys

One of the best things about the evening was the ability to interact with the artists and learn about their art. Another positive aspect was seeing so many neighbors and friends enjoying the connection to community that Art Walk exemplifies.

Artists Margo Spellman and Barbara Ireland

We are unabashed fans of this sort of thing, so perhaps we're just prejudiced.  Nevertheless, we doubt that very many (if any) participants left Friday's Art Walk opening wishing they had done something else with their evening.

Art Walk, sponsored by the Madison Park Business Association, could not happen but for the dedicated work of volunteers and the generous contributions of the artists, individuals, and neighborhood businesses such as Key Bank. This year the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods also provided funding.

Art Walk continues through the end of the month, so you still have time to visit or revisit some impressive displays.  More details are available here.  All of the art, by the way, is for sale, with 100% of the proceeds going to the artists.

[Top photo: the art of Maria Root at Martha Harris Flowers & Gifts.  Photo of Margo Spellman and Barbara Ireland courtesy of Dick Lehman.]

Friday, September 9, 2011

Art Walk begins tonight

Opening-night reception at Starbucks

Though Madison Park may suffer a dearth of art galleries (dearth, in this case, meaning zero), that doesn't mean we're a neighborhood where art and artists are under appreciated.  The lack of "proper" venues for art is simply not an impediment to a community that has shops, restaurants, salons, and offices in abundance.  It's now a tradition (assuming three years running can be so designated) that each summer Art comes to the Park, with a weeks-long art walk showcasing the works of local artists, sometimes on display in unlikely locations.  That's part of what makes it fun.

The tradition began with MadArt two years ago and was continued by the Madison Park Business Association with a successful Art Walk last year.  The summer-art idea has proven so popular, in fact, that there were more artists interested in participating in this year's event than there is space to show their works. The diverse art of more than two dozen artists will be on display during the Second Annual Madison Park Art Walk (September 9-30), the theme of which is "Life @ Elevation 46."  All of the artists are either from Madison Park or surrounding communities.

Those who've been reading this blog since inception are well aware that we're very big on art (MPB is an Art not Ads website).  But in the interests of full disclosure we should note (for those not already clued in) that the Madison Park Blogger is married to Madison Park artist Margo Spellman, who helped organize and is a participant in Art Walk again this year (that's her art above).  Shameless Plug Number Two: she has an art show upcoming in Manhattan next month, details available on her website (

So where were we?  Oh yes, Party!!!  The opening night reception at Starbucks is always a lot of fun (or at least it was last year).  The wine begins flowing at 6 pm and continues until 9 pm (unless they run out). One piece by each Art Walk artist will be on display at Starbucks, and many if not most of the participating artists will be present.  After the reception, it's off to see the art scattered around "The Village."  Music will be provided by Sambatuque at the triangle park in front of Bing's, and there will also be music at other venues. Free ice cream will be provided by Bank of America at the bank's new park-bench installation by the BofA parking lot.

Here's some more art to whet your appetite:

Artist: Barbara Ireland

Artist: Brooke Westlund

Artist: Art Messer
We will, of course, cover this event in full.  But reading about it is hardly the same experience as coming on down, seeing the art in person, and meeting the artists.  If you must miss tonight's opening, you still have the rest of the month to experience the high-quality and diversity of our local art community.  It's an impressive bunch!

[Top photo: art by Malei Young.  The art shown here is representative of the artists' work but will not necessarily be on display as part of the 2011 Art Walk. Details of the artists and locations where their art will displayed is available here. Starbucks is located at 4000 E. Madison St.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New York Cupcakes arrives

Stories about new food outlets in the neighborhood are often the most popular postings on this blog.  So we expect that lots of readers will be happy to learn that New York Cupcakes has officially opened, though with this caveat:  "It's a soft opening only--this is still not everything we will ultimately have."  Nevertheless, things looked pretty much in place when we stopped by the new shop in Madison Valley yesterday afternoon.  By our count, first-day customers were able to choose from at least 15 cupcake varieties (there are 40 flavors or more in the NYC repertoire, rotating daily).

All of the cupcakes looked scrumptious, but we chose the red velvet variety ("many people think these are our very best') and received this parting advice: "New York Cupcakes don't like to be left in hot cars or put into the refrigerator."  No problem there.

New York Cupcakes'  hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm, and Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm.  The shop is located in the space vacated earlier this summer by Bella Dolce at 2711 E. Madison St. (328-5161).

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer, glorious summer

We'd just about given up hope that it was going to happen this year: a three-day weekend that was sunny and warm from beginning to end. But mother nature pulled it off, and the Labor Day weekend was pretty spectacular in Madison Park. Not that many Madison Parkers stayed around to enjoy it.  It seemed to those of us left behind that a lot of the natives must have left town for the holiday (you could get an outside table at Cactus!, for example, without having to wait--a pretty much unheard of event during good weather).

Though the beach was definitely not as crowded as it often is on hot weekends during a "normal" summer, the place was still plenty busy. And it looked like everyone was in a pretty good mood...

...for there are few things nicer than the California-seaside atmosphere of Madison Park when the weather cooperates.

Happy Summer!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Residential construction alive and well here

At the height of the local real estate market three years ago it was an unusual month in which three or four spec houses were not under construction in the neighborhood.  As we’ve reported, those heady days are long past, with the number of new speculative projects coming onto the local market each quarter falling to a single outlier, if even that.  This definitely doesn’t mean, however, that construction of new housing has come to a halt in Madison Park.  Far from it.

Numerous residential builders and a host of workers in various construction trades remain gainfully employed here creating new houses.  By our count there are currently 15 residences in some phase of construction in Madison Park. While a few of these are major remodels where the existing structure has at minimum been gutted, most of the current projects involve complete teardown and replacement.   Interestingly, most of the new-construction activity is centered south of Madison or in Broadmoor. Washington Park is home to most of the new construction (a total of nine sites), while Broadmoor has four construction projects underway.  Unless we missed one, the rest of Madison Park is limited to only two at this time.

It’s possible that one or more of these projects will turn out to be a speculative venture. Unless the property owners have already disclosed their intentions, the first evidence of a spec house may be the posting of a “For Sale” sign on a newly completed structure.  At least one house north of Madison appears to be in this spec category, with completion likely in the fall.  That’s when we’ll probably see the sign and know for sure.

39th Avenue E. and E. Highland Drive

But most, if not all, of the rest of the construction projects in the neighborhood are being undertaken by property owners who are building their own dream homes.  And for the most part, they are throwing up large structures on imposing pieces of property. One of the grandest projects in this category is the 7,200 sq. ft. residence being built on a nicely placed 10,000 sq. ft. view property at 3825 E. Highland Drive  The existing 3,600 sq. ft. structure, built in 1937, was demolished to make way for the new two-and-a-half story residence, with a detached garage.

Down the hill from this site, just south of the Seattle Tennis Club along McGilvra Boulevard E., there have been no fewer than three separate view-property construction projects in progress over the last six months, one of which is a recently completed 7,000 sq. ft. mansion on a 26,000 sq. ft. piece of property. Next door to it is an almost-complete 6,500 sq. ft. contemporary home built on a 15,000 sq. ft. parcel.

It is a Stuart Silk-designed steel-and-glass structure which is expected to attain the highest level of "Built Green" certification:

And a few lots further down the street, a 9,580 sq. ft. five-level (four stories plus a lower garage) mega mansion appears virtually completed, a full four years after the original 1930s house on the site was demolished and construction of the new structure first began.

That on-again-off-again project is quite a story that we don’t have time for here.

Meanwhile, in Broadmoor, three of the active building projects involve teardowns of older structures sitting on choice sites.  In one case, a homeowner on the fairway purchased her neighbor’s abode in order to demolish it and expand her already-large residence.  One of the four Broadmoor building projects is new construction on a previously vacant parcel.  More new-construction opportunities still exist in the gated community, with five separate vacant lots currently for sale there. A couple of these are being market as the “only vacant lot” available in Broadmoor.

What we really like to see is the kind of project where the new owner takes a classic existing home and remodels it in a way that preserves and enhances the structure.   There are plenty of examples in Madison Park where the original house that was torn down was architecturally superior to the modern house that replaced it.   In many cases these replacement houses are gigantic boxes rising where a cottage had previously stood.

We are happy to note, therefore, that there are at least a couple of major rehabs underway in Washington Park that defy this go-big-or-go-home convention.  One of these, a classic 1925 Craftsman located at 809 39th Avenue E., is currently being renovated in a way that retains the basic elements of the original house while adding a partial second story.

Based on zoning, a much-larger house than the one planned could be built on the 7,000 sq. ft. piece of property.  A neighboring homeowner was the purchaser of the Craftsman, so this rehabilitation may be more of a view-protecting proposition for him than a special concern over preserving the classic outlines of the somewhat-dilapidated structure that he bought.  Most of us can applaud the idea that not every single original house in Madison Park needs to be demolished and replaced. It's nice, therefore, to see a few old worthies get a reprieve from the junk heap, whatever the property owners' motivations.

[Photo at the top:  A modernistic residence by E. Cobb Architects under construction at E. Highland and 42nd Avenue E.    Thanks to Laura Halliday of Windermere Real Estate for her assistance in compiling some of the information used in this posting.]

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September happenings

Art Walk returns next week

More than two dozen artists from Madison Park and its environs will be participating in this year's Madison Park Art Walk, which will open on Friday, September 9 and extend through the end of the month. This is the second year for the popular event, which last year drew hundreds of art lovers to the neighborhood to view the wide range of art on display in neighborhood shops, restaurants, and other businesses. This year almost thirty merchants are participating in Art Walk, which has been branded Life@Elevation46.

The event kicks off with a free-to-the-public opening-night reception at Starbucks (400 E. Madison St.) from 6 until 9 pm on the 9th, with most of the artists in attendance. Many of the artists who were popular last year are back for this year's event, displaying different works. They will be joined by some new artists as well, including William Ingham, whose art is shown above.  We will be covering this story in greater detail as we get closer to the actual event.

Madison Park Art Walk 2011 is presented by the Madison Park Business Association.

Other events in September

Yes, we know it's not a Madison Park event exactly (actually, not at all), but it is a lot of fun, involves some great food, and is really not that far away:  The St. Demetrios Greek Festival, which begins at noon on Friday, September 16 and extends through that Sunday.  The Greek Orthodox church is located at 2100 Boyer Avenue E. (Montlake), which is practically within walking distance.  Information is available here.

Also this month, Glow Natural Health Center in Madison Valley will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary with a big blowout on September 21 (details here), Pharmaca is presenting a "Women's Vitality Event" on Saturday, September 17 (details here), and The Arboretum and UW Botanic Gardens are sponsoring various events, including free guided walks on September 4 and 18, Park in the Dark on September 9, and Bioblitz on September 23 (details here).