Saturday, March 31, 2012

Snippets from the food & drink scene

Deli: moving from "too weird" to "family friendly" ?

The rumor was circulating earlier this month that Park Place Deli was up for sale, a story that seemed all too likely. Over the past few months we'd been getting reports of strange and inappropriate behavior by the deli's staff, which apparently included their yelling at each other and sometimes at the customers.  In fact the atmosphere in the place had apparently deteriorated to the point where at times it was, in the words of one former patron, "just too weird." The tense situation in the shop was compounded by stories, true or not, about the public behavior of owner John McCormick in the neighborhood.  So the idea that he had decided to throw in the towel after five years of owning the place did not seem farfetched.

As it happens, however, Park Place Deli is not for sale.  When we went in to check out the rumors we were met by a very friendly bunch of employees who reported that selling the store was under consideration "for about two hours."  But in the end, McCormick apparently decided to counter the deli's growing Seinfeldesque reputation by bringing back some old hands and conjuring up a "family friendly" environment.  Deli manager Nic Albice, in an email to us, confirms this scenario and reports that he himself had previously worked for John for three years, and other staffers are also former employees.  "The Deli is not for sale and is here to stay," he says. "I plan on changing a few things, giving the Deli a little makeover and a revamped menu." Patrons should expect "the same great deli with a new look and feel."

Stay tuned.

[Owner John McCormick has responded to this posting.  Click on "Comments" below to view his response.]

Kudos for MPC's Cormac Mahoney

Madison Park Conservatory's chef/maestro Cormac Mahoney came in for a pretty heady honor this month when Food & Wine Magazine named him as a "People's Best New Chef" nominee for the region.  The chefs from only ten restaurants across the "Northwest & Pacific" were nominated by the magazine for what was an on-line beauty contest, where anyone could vote.  The magazine's "regional" coupling of the Pacific Northwest with Hawaii is the first of its kind that we've seen--and in fact the winner turned out to be the one chef in the contest from Hawaii.

Nevertheless, the honor of the nomination is the thing.  Here's part of what F&W had to say about Mahoney:  "WHY HE’S AMAZING: Because his irreverent take on global cuisine is drawing crowds to Seattle’s tony Madison Park neighborhood."

Cafe Parco expanding seating

One of the great things about the old Madison Park Cafe was the fun of sitting outside on a warm, sunny day and enjoying the ambiance of Madison Park.  Since Cafe Parco took over the space last year, however, there has yet to be a single day on which that finely balanced combination warmth and sun was just right for outdoor dining.  We're sure that day will come.

In the meantime, Cafe Parco has embarked on an project to create a private dining room on the lower level of the building, where the restaurant had initially placed its racks of fine wines.  Some MPB readers had asked us what exactly had happened to those prominently displayed bottles, and Cafe Parco's blog provided the answer. Manager Nic Norton, who is doing the remodel work himself, reports that the new space will be used for small parties, which cannot be easily accommodated upstairs.  He also notes on the blog that lunch will be returning to the schedule April 11, though it will only be available on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The menu will be similar to the weekend brunch menu, he says.

In case you missed it, Cafe Parco, was the subject of a rather mixed two-star review in The Seattle Times last month.

Karen's next thing

And speaking of both Madison Park Cafe and wine bottles, Seattle Met Magazine reports that the Cafe's longtime owner, Karen Binder, is back from vacation and on to her next role as proprietor of wine shop Binder's Bottles. Its strictly an on-line affair where, according to the magazine, Karen states that patrons can get "anything they've tasted or seen in a shop or want me to find for them."

[Photo of Cormac Mahoney by Karen Loria, swiped from the Food & Wine website.  Park Place Deli is located at 4122 E. Madison St.; Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Ave. E.; and Cafe Parco is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E.]

Monday, March 26, 2012

The new floating bridge gets real

If the building of those giant pontoons in Grays Harbor didn't make us take notice, and if the the recent though belated imposition of tolls on the 520 floating bridge didn't wake us up to the fact, then this week's announcement from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) should bring the reality of the situation into sharp focus for us all: the building of a new floating bridge across Lake Washington is soon to begin. And Madison Park is going to have a front-row seat.

Madison Park Blogger has posted 30 stories about the floating bridge over the past three years.  Though some of these have been about weekend closures, many have been about the controversial nature of the new bridge and the practical implications for Madison Park of both the construction and the eventual bigger, higher, and broader floating structure that is to be built (e.g. "Say bye bye to those Arboretum ramps!").

We intend to continue chronicling the progress of this project and its impact on our community, but those who are interested in learning first hand about what to expect will have an opportunity to hear the story right from the source (WSDOT, that is) at public presentations to be held at the Museum of History and Industry (2700 24th Avenue E.) at 5:00 pm and again at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, March 28.

One of the biggest impacts of this project on Madison Park will be the removal of the ramps to and from SR 520 in the Washington Park Arboretum.  In the original project plans, the westbound exit ramp to Lake Washington Boulevard was to be closed in 2012, near the start of construction. The eastbound ramp from the Arboretum was not to be closed until near the end of construction in 2015.  At project end, the "ramps to nowhere" were also to be demolished and trucked away.  Is this still the game plan?  We've asked WSDOT to confirm this schedule, and our sources there tell us they are working on an answer.

The construction project team conducted a press conference today which we were unable to attend, but WSDOT was kind enough to send us the press information, which we've just begun reviewing.  We believe this is the first time that WSDOT has provided close-up graphic views of the bridge from water level (aka "elevations").

Here is what they show as a view of the bridge from the vantage point closest to Madison Park (click to enlarge):

Here's a close-up of that image:

The WSDOT package has a lot graphics that we will be sharing with you as the opportunity presents itself.  For more information on the construction project's steps, click here.  Construction, by the way, will begin on the Medina side.  A link to more renderings of the new bridge is available here

Saturday, March 24, 2012

There's a new vet in town

Teri Byrd sells her practice

Without fanfare or even a public announcement of the fact, ownership of Madison Park Veterinary Hospital changed hands on Tuesday morning and Dr. Barry Katz, having just arrived on the scene from Atlanta, took charge. The clinic's four-year owner, Dr. Teri Byrd, apparently decided to sell her practice in February but did not want that fact generally known. We understand that she didn't tell many people of the impending management change until several days before it became a fact.  Though we don't know what factors may have prompted Byrd's decision to sell, we hear she felt she was ready for a sabbatical---one which has apparently already begun in Maui.

By Thursday, Katz had formalized his arrival in the neighborhood with an "Hello Madison Park" letter on the clinic's website.  In it, he says "we have chosen the Madison Park area because it immediately felt like home to us. My wife, Jenya Katz, is from the west coast. She grew up in Southern California, where her family still resides. Now that we have a family of our own, we knew in our hearts that we needed to move out west so our kids can be closer to their grandparents. Seattle was the place for us!" Katz tells us that he drove into the neighborhood and decided he liked the place before even having set eyes on the actual clinic he was considering buying.

He and his wife, who is also a veterinarian, have two young children. The rest of the family will stay behind in Atlanta until school is out and then join our new vet somewhere here in the Seattle area.  Katz is living temporarily in Bellevue; but ideally, he says, he would like find a place closer to the clinic before the family arrives.  His wife, he reports, will not initially be working at Madison Park Veterinary, though she may practice at another clinic at some point.

No major changes are currently planned for the clinic, Katz notes, except that Saturday hours will be added to the schedule later in the Spring.  Madison Park Veterinary will hold an open house on Saturday, March 31, 11 am until 2 pm, where you can meet Barry and quiz him on whether he's a cat person or a dog person.  Not that we expect him to tell you.

[Madison Park Veterinary Hospital is located at 4016 E. Madison Street.]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eagles return to Broadmoor

When Eddie, one of Broadmoor's breeding pair of bald eagles, died in a tragic mishap on the floating bridge last summer, it was unknown whether his mate would return to the nest that they had shared for many years. She definitely did disappear from the scene, but there was good reason to hope for her return.  In cases such as these, we were told, it is typical for the female to leave the area in order to search for a new mate.  If successful in that quest, she will often return to the nest with the new male.  Bald eagles mate for life.

For several months we have been hearing about the sightings of a lone eagle perched on a lamppost above the 520 floating bridge, but there are other breeding pairs of eagles in the general area and the initial reports from the Broadmoor ground crew were negative with regard to a permanent eagle presence at the golf course. So for some time it has not been clear whether Eddie had a replacement in the Broadmoor nest or just a successor to his old role of bridge sentinel.

Now, however, we seem to have confirmation that the nest, located at the golf course's 11th tee, is again inhabited.  The photo above, taken by our "staff photographer" from a position at 38th Avenue and E. McGraw Street, shows two eagles perched in the tree above the nest. Moreover, we have reports from Broadmoor that in addition to the two adults, there are also two fledglings in the eagle family.

So for Eddie's mate it appears that life goes on.  And for the rest of us, so does the show.

[Thanks to our "staff photographer" (and confidential informant), and to Broadmoor resident Laura Halliday for helping us get to the bottom of this story.]

Monday, March 19, 2012

One dangerous intersection

This is the intersection of E. Madison Street and 37th Avenue E., located adjacent to the southeast corner of Broadmoor's enclosing wall.  It was at this intersection that on a rainless morning last September a student riding his bicycle to McGilvra Elementary was hit by a car and seriously injured.  Police reportedly determined that the driver of the vehicle was not at fault since the driver, when stopped at the stop sign facing south on 37th, could not have seen the boy on the bicycle, who was heading east on the sidewalk. The child apparently didn't stop at the intersection before heading into the path of the oncoming car, which was turning right onto Madison.

We admittedly missed this story at the time the incident occurred. This, in spite of the fact that he happened upon the scene shortly after the accident.  We mistakenly believed that there had no serious injuries, and we were only disabused of this idea when we sat through the greenways presentation at a meeting of the Madison Park Community Council last month. The incident was used as an example of what can happen when there are not well-designed bicycle paths and good lines of sight between vehicle drivers and pedestrians and cyclists. Because of the location and configuration of Broadmoor's wall, this particular intersection is relatively blind unless a car pulls forward of the stop line.

The reason for reporting this story now, a full six months after the accident, is twofold: 1) it is a cautionary tale that all drivers should take note of, especially given that there are also other difficult intersections in the neighborhood where vehicles and children can meet in unpleasant ways, and 2) Broadmoor could give serious consideration to changing the configuration of that particular corner of its property in order to provide better sight lines.

According to Maurice Cooper, a longtime resident, Broadmoor will soon be doing some reconstruction on several brick columns of the wall near community's Madison Street gate.  Knowing this, he says he had raised the subject of extending the work to include redoing the brickwork at the 37th Avenue corner of Broadmoor to re-angle that section of the wall. He introduced the idea at a recent meeting of Broadmoor residents, he reports, and is hopeful that the community will take the necessary action.

In the meantime, for this intersection and others, it's driver beware.

[The McGilvra student injured in the accident reportedly recovered fully from his injuries and was able to return to school quickly.]

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, President Madison

It's a tradition for us to take note each year of the anniversary of the birth of our Fourth President, James Madison, for whom---at least indirectly---Madison Park was named.  As we've previously detailed, we might just as easily now be living in Monroe Park, but Madison Park it is and presumably shall always be.

This date marks the 261st birthday for President Madison, and 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of his second election as president of the United States in 1812.  It was a year in which he was both re-elected and presided over the ill-advised War of 1812.  That was the contretemps, as referenced by British Prime Minister David Cameron at our nation's capital earlier this week, in which the British burned the White House.

Here's a little bit of trivia about our Fourth President:  Madison ran for President in 1808 against Charles Pinckney, who had the distinction of having earlier been defeated for President by Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1804.  Madison's Vice President was former New York Governor George Clinton, who had also been President Jefferson's Vice President for the previous four years. Clinton is one of only two Vice Presidents in American history to have served under two different Presidents (the other Vice President being John C. Calhoun).  George Clinton's nephew, DeWitt Clinton, was defeated for President by James Madison in the election of 1812.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

February Police Blotter

An unusual month for assaults

It's not typical for Madison Park to be the venue for multiple incidents of assault during any given month, but there were no fewer than four assaults in the neighborhood during February.  The first incident was a bar fight on the night of February 1 on the 4300 block of E. Madison St.  Property was damaged in the fight and the assailant was identified.  The police have referred the incident to the City Attorney's office for possible charges.

The second incident occurred in the parking lot of Bert's Red Apple Market in the afternoon of February 10.  The victim reported to police that he had just parked his car when a person he knew only by his first name approached him and indicated that he was upset with the way the victim had parked his car.  The victim told police that he had recently purchased the car from the girlfriend of the suspect.  He said that while he talked to the man, the suspect suddenly became incensed, yelling that the victim had ripped off his girlfriend by not paying enough for the car.  According to the victim, the suspect then followed him and his ten-year-old son into the store, where the suspect continued to yell obscenities, causing a store employee to order him off the premises.  Though he did leave, police were called---but they arrived well after the suspect had vanished.

The third incident occurred on the 600 block of 32nd Avenue E. in the early evening of February 15.  Police were called to the scene, where witnesses described a strange situation involving a car passing through the neighborhood at a speed that someone on the sidewalk thought was excessive.  The pedestrian apparently signaled the car to stop and the driver complied.  She rolled down her window to ask what was the problem and was told to slow down.  At about this point an unidentified man came out of a building, approached the vehicle and began berating the woman, taking the side of the pedestrian.  The argument became heated. During the course of it, "bad language" was used and someone allegedly spit on someone else before the driver revved up her car and raced away.  Again, no suspect was apprehended at the scene.

On February 24, a police officer responding to a call was assaulted in Broadmoor, at the intersection of E. St. Andrews Way and Shenandoah Drive.  The suspect had entered Broadmoor on foot through the Madison Street gate, although ordered to stop by the gate guard.  Police were called and an officer arrived and approached the suspect, who apparently tried to punch the officer.  The gate guard and officer were able to subdue the suspect, who was then hauled off to the precinct station.

There were also several burglaries in Madison Park during February. Items were stolen from a garage on the 1200 block of 41st Avenue E. sometime during the night of February 19.  The garage had been unlocked.  Another non-forced burglary took place on the night of February 2 on the 400 block of 39th Avenue E.  In that incident, the victim reported that someone had entered his house and removed a laptop computer.  Apparently the garage door had been left open overnight, providing an entry point into the house.  Though the victim was home while the burglary occurred, he did not see or hear anything. That same night, another burglary occurred on the 1000 block of 34th Avenue E.  A man reported to police that his mother-in-law's house had been broken into during the night, a fact he discovered when he went to check on the house the following morning.  He found that the glass portion of the back door had been broken and that the suspect had entered the house, opened drawers and cabinets, and at minimum stolen an Apple laptop computer.  Although the house has an alarm system, it was not activated at the time of the burglary.

Two cars were stolen from the neighborhood during the month, one on the 2000 block of 41st Avenue E. on February 20 and the other on the 1500 block of McGilvra Boulevard E. on February 14.  One car was broken into, the incident occurring on the night of February 15 on the 4000 block of E. Highland Drive.  Rounding out the crime activities for the month were three incidents of fraud (identity theft and credit card fraud) and two incidents of property damage.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Arrivederci Ropa Bella

Though the big sale sign hanging below the awning doesn't hint at the fact, a much smaller sign in the shop window confirms a sad truth: in very modest-sized type are the words "Ropa Bella is closing."  All furniture and fixtures, mannequins included, are for sale.  So the end is near for the long-running women's clothing shop that has struggled over the past couple of years to find its place.

A Madison Park mainstay for over two decades, Ropa Bella only recently moved back to the neighborhood after a short-but-uneventful foray into Madison Valley. That eight-month experiment seemed to confirm for owner Lisa Loban that the Park was where she needed to be if Ropa Bella were to survive.  But in the end, "it was the economy," she says.  She notes that her landlord, Lakeside Capital Management, bent over backwards to help her return to the neighborhood last year and has been supportive all along.  But the in-store traffic, quite simply, hasn't come back since Ropa Bella returned to Madison Park last May.  As a result, Loban notified Lakeside that she would not be renewing her lease at the end of April.

"It's been a really hard decision," Loban tells us.  "It's my baby and I gave it my all.  I really tried."  She notes that the current sale is definitely not a liquidation event.  There is all-new Spring inventory on hand, she says, and she hopes her loyal customers--and everyone else--will come by to check it out.

Loban, who is unsurprisingly emotional about the store's demise, says that beginning in May she intends to take a few months off to rest and recover.  Ultimately, she hopes to do something new in fashion or sales.  In the meantime, she's trying to come to grips with her changed circumstance. "I love my customers, but we've had our turn and it's time for change."

There was a time when there were multiple clothing shops in Madison Park, including The Yankee Peddler and Nubia's.  With Ropa Bella's exit, the only remaining Village store offering clothes will be The Original Children's Shop.  It is unclear whether a retail tenant will take the Ropa Bella space when it's vacated.  Although Lakeside would prefer to see multiple retail establishments remain in the Villa Marina building, it is reportedly prepared to convert space to office use if that is a better alternative.

[Ropa Bella is located at 1928 43rd Avenue E.]

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Emergency floating bridge repairs necessary

Work to begin Friday on corroded cable, plus there's a scheduled bridge closure this weekend

An important underwater cable which connects to the westernmost pontoon on the south side of the SR 520 floating bridge was discovered to be severely damaged today, necessitating emergency repair work which will begin early tomorrow morning.  Divers who conducted a routine inspection of the bridge found that corrosion and stress had caused a connecting pin to be moved halfway out of position.  The cable involved is one of 58 that connect the bridge to anchors on the lakebed.

Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond wasted no time in using this unexpected underwater damage to make a point about the vulnerability of the floating bridge: "Each windstorm threatens to cause further damage and demonstrates our need to replace this nearly 50-year-old bridge," she said in press release this evening.  WSDOT further noted that "if heavy waves batter the bridge, the [damaged] pin could be forced completely out of position, separating the bridge and cable from the anchor."  Not a good scenario, obviously.

The bridge was already scheduled to be shut again this weekend for the purpose of allowing crews to demolish the Evergreen Point Road overpass in Medina.  The closure will begin at 11 pm on Friday night and end at 5 am on Monday morning.  Heavy machinery will be used to break apart the overpass, which will then be trucked away.  A similar operation took place earlier this year when the Bellevue Way overpass was deconstructed, and there's an interesting multi-day time-lapse video of that process posted on YouTube, for those interested. Evergreen Way will be re-routed until the new freeway lid is completed (details here).  This is the new Bellevue Way overpass lid under construction:

In case you were worried, take comfort in the knowledge that the emergency cable repair is not a serious enough problem to necessitate closing the bridge earlier than the scheduled shutdown on Friday night, according to WSDOT.

[Photos courtesy of WSDOT.  Upper photo shows the south side of the looking east, the general area where the repairs will take place.]

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

One tough neighborhood?

Another business folds

Word on the street last week was that Spa del Lago had closed up shop, so we decided to check the story out (that's generally a good plan of action before reporting rumors).  The Spa's website, however, is still up and functioning, with no notice of any closing. The voice message on the Spa's phone line, meanwhile, does not mention that the place is out of business. So we concluded we'd better head down there and get to the bottom of situation.

Spa del Lago was unoccupied today, other than by boxes, broken furniture, and a garbage can or two. The "Closed" sign on the door told the tale. The Spa had been open for only about nine months under its current management.

For many years Spa del Lago had been a successful neighborhood business, though the owners ultimately split up and listed the space for sale in 2010. Apparently much of the Spa's clientele followed the co-owner to the newly established Terzo Salon across the street. After many months on the market, the Spa location was eventually occupied last June, though not for long.

It's been a difficult year for many small businesses in the area, and it seems that Spa del Lago in its new incarnation never quite found its audience. One longtime Madison Park resident on hearing of the Spa's demise commented, "This is one tough neighborhood."  But it's also been one tough economy.  We understand this is not the last report we will be making this month of a local establishment closing its doors.

[Spa del Lago was located at 1929 43rd Avenue E.]

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What's new at McGivlra?

It's been some time since we last covered what's going on at our by-many-beloved neighborhood elementary school, John J. McGilvra. Our last coverage, in fact, was in December when we reported that McGilvra had again been given the highest quality-education rating by the School District. It was just about this time last year, however, that we reported something that was quite controversial: the fact that the District had reneged on its ten-year-old agreement with McGilvra's PTA. That agreement had limited class size in the School in return for parental funding of special programs.  We wondered what impact, if any, the District's decision had so far had on the School.

We had heard, anecdotally, that some parents who were concerned about larger class sizes had decided to remove their kids from the School or, in other cases, not to send their children to McGilvra in the first place.  If this, indeed, has happened it's not something that is obvious to the School District. According to Enrollment Services Planning Manager Tracy Libros, McGilvra experienced an increase of almost 30 students year over year.  The 2011-12 enrollment is 298, as compared to 269 students during the last school year.  That represents an increase of five students, on average, per grade level (kindergarten included).   It had been rumored that the District would be increasing the School's attendance-area boundaries for next year in order to further increase enrollment at McGilvra, but Libros reports that "there are no plans to change the assignment boundaries." This is not to say, however, that there will not be further increases in enrollment at McGilvra during the next school year, since it is not at what the District considers to be the School's capacity.  Projected enrollment for McGilvra is, in fact, listed at 305 in the School District's official recommended budget for this school year.

Seattle Schools, incidentally, takes exception to the use of terms such as "abrogated" or "reneged" with regard to the action it took on what originally was a 20-year contract with the McGilvra PTA.  In the opinion of the District, it simply exercised its right to pay the PTA $60,000 representing the discounted value of the school portables the parents had purchased for the School ten years earlier. That was an option provided for in the contract, so from Seattle Schools' point of view the contract was completed as agreed, neither rescinded nor cancelled.  It was simply contractually terminated at the tenth year.

A potential impact of that termination is what it might portend for the continued private financial support of McGilvra by parents and friends of the School.  So far, it appears that concerns were overblown. McGilvra's PTA just completed a very successful fundraising dinner and auction which, according to auction chair Shyla Wilcynski, was attended by over 300 guests and netted over $150,000 in proceeds for the School.  She reports, in fact, that this year is the first in which ticket sales, sponsorships, and advertising for the event covered all costs.

Big turnout for the 2012 McGilvra Auction

So if the District's action last year is having a negative impact on McGilvra, the reaction is perhaps too subtle at this point to be noticed, at least with regard to community support.  The whole issue of private fundraising for Seattle Public Schools, incidentally, was the subject of a front-page Seattle Times article earlier this year in which McGilvra's position as one of the top schools receiving private funding was highlighted.  A related article the same day cited the determination by McGilvra's parents to continue raising funds, reporting that their efforts had already brought in $300,000 to the School "this year" (a pre-auction estimate).

There's more to this story--and we'll be following up with a later posting.