Sunday, September 30, 2012

The mayor makes an appearance

McGinn walks the neighborhood, holds town hall

If Mayor Mike McGinn was aware that Madison Park was one of those rare Seattle neighborhoods that voted solidly against him in the last mayoral election, it was certainly not evident in his gracious opening remarks at yesterday morning's town hall meeting held at Park Shore. The major, who had just completed a circuit of the neighborhood with community council and business association leaders, told the assembled crowd of about 100 that he was impressed with Madison Park's great "assets." He mentioned, in particular, our location on the Lake, our park-like setting, and our vibrant business district.

We did not tag along on the morning's tour but we understand that among the sites the major saw was Constance Gillespie's notorious building at the heart of that very business district the mayor mentioned.  We've been told that the City inspected the building last week but did not find that the structure was unsafe for occupancy or a threat to passersby.  This almost certainly means that in spite of the irritation of fellow merchants and many residents about the decrepit condition of the building, Ms. Gillespie cannot be forced to make improvements.

Failing to fulfill our reportorial obligation, we did not stick around for the question-and-answer session with the mayor. But we were well aware that anyone who missed the event and wants to know what took place will have multiple opportunities to see it all on The Seattle Channel, beginning October 3.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Consequential or silly?

New Wells Fargo sign has MPCC seeing red (plus gold and black)

There was a new sign installed at the Wells Fargo branch last week that replaces a very similar sign that had graced the site for many years. The replacement sign has somewhat larger gold lettering for the bank's name, the color red covers more of the surface area than was true of the old sign, and the Wells Fargo Wagon (and, for that matter, the Wells Fargo horses) are now black instead of white. These changes, apparently, are just too garish for some residents (can something be too garish or is just being garish sufficient?).

At any rate, the reaction of the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) was swift and devastating. A letter was immediately drafted and delivered to the Wells Fargo manager asking for a return to the past: Give Us Back the Old Sign (or better yet, no sign at all!) The new sign is just too out of line with the village character of Madison Park and should not stand, the MPCC insisted.  In a posting to some Madison Park residents, the council urged that citizens voice their complaints directly to Wells Fargo's local representatives.

As of yesterday, we understand from Wells Fargo that there have been two complaints. Here, for comparison purposes, is what the old sign looked like when lit up at night:

The mayor cometh

Walking tour on Saturday to be followed by a town meeting 

It's been a good ten years, by our reckoning, since Seattle's mayor last made an official appearance in Madison Park. Of course it was the ever-affable Mayor Greg Nickels who had the honor in 2002 (that's him in the photo above, with city officials and various Madison Park celebrities in tow).  This year it will be the deep-voiced Mayor Mike McGinn who gets to amble around the neighborhood and meet with the locals.  Madison Park certainly merits a mayoral visit every decade or so.

On Saturday, McGinn will hold a "town meeting" from 11 am until noon at Park Shore Retirement Community (1630 43rd Avenue E.), at which time the Mayor will take questions from residents (and, presumably, from anyone else who may show up).

Prior to that public forum the mayor will walk the 'hood with the various dignitaries of our community council and business association.  We suspect he will be channeled in the direction of Constance Gillespie's notorious "black hole of Madison Park" while he's here. But that's only a guess.

[Photo of Mayor Nickels' walking tour from the Seattle Municipal Archives.]

Mayor supports intersection improvement here

E. Madison & 37th Avenue E. may be upgraded

The mayor's office announced earlier this week that the intersection where a McGilvra Elementary School student was injured in a car/cyclist accident last summer is one of three projects budgeted as part of the Safe Routes to School program.  A total of $836,000 has been allocated for improvements affecting access to McGilvra, Beacon Hill, and West Woodland (Ballard) Elementary Schools.

Area residents, including parents of McGilvra students and supporters of Madison Park Greenways, have been urging a fix for the 37th and Madison intersection since the near-tragedy at that location a year ago. If funded, the intersection improvements are expected to include a sidewalk extension, curb bulbs, and a curb ramp. Construction could begin as early as next year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

News from the chow line

New deli operator to arrive in October

Park Place Deli reopened last week after a brief hiatus, but we were a bit ahead of the story in having earlier reported that the deli would be operating under new management. Through September 29, the place will be run by the current owner.  Sometime after that there be a new operator on the premises.

We've been told that Park Place Deli lost its lease because the business had been shut down. As a result, the landlord reportedly not only offered the space to someone else but required that the current tenant reopen the business or be in violation of the existing lease terms. So while the business has not been sold, it will soon be replaced. No word (at least to us) on what the new format might be when the management does change.

Cafe Parco celebrates first anniversary

Chef/owner Celinda Norton of Cafe Parco was profiled last week on, a website for foodies.  It's been one year since Norton opened her "modern Italian" restaurant here, replacing the venerable and French Madison Park Cafe. In the interview with Eater (which can be found here), Norton reports that the most popular regular menu item at Cafe Parco comes from the brunch menu: the bacon-banana waffle.

Her biggest surprise about Madison Park?  The fact that lots of regular customers suddenly disappear for the winter season, off to their other homes.

Madison Park Conservatory makes some changes

In addition to adding some lovely (but expensive to operate) propane heaters to the lower-level outdoor dining area this summer, Madison Park Conservatory has also revamped its to-some-cumbersome website with a more user-friendly one that includes at lot of great photography and even (get this) on-line reservations!

Chef Cormac Mahoney has seemed to revel in such things as having an obscure "Madison Park Conservatory" sign (a relatively tiny brass plate barely visible from the street) and a website that took some patience to deal with. On at least one of those fronts he apparently (and with great reluctance, we assume) finally relented.  Accessible is good.

[Photo of Celinda Norton by S. Pratt from SeattleEater and photo of Cormac Mahoney from the MPC website, both used without permission.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another bridge closing this weekend...

...not to mention the main drag through the Arboretum (though obviously we are doing so)

There will be another in the long series of SR 520 road closings this weekend, beginning Friday night at 11 pm and extending through Monday morning at 5 am.  As always, the Montlake off-ramp from SR 520 eastbound will be open, but cars will be unable to travel east past that point.  Here's what WSDOT has to say about this weekend's work:

During the closure, crews will install a fish-friendly culvert beneath all lanes of SR 520 near 108th Avenue Northeast in Bellevue, among other work. To install the culvert, crews will cut a 30-foot-deep trench across the highway, lower in 22 concrete segments weighing as much as 53,000 pounds each, fill the trench and repave the road. 

Also this weekend, Lake Washington Boulevard through the Arboretum will be closed for what is supposed to be the last time in this cycle. The road will be shut down from E. Madison Street to the E. Foster Island Road on Saturday and Sunday, September 22 and 23, from 6 am until no later than 5 pm each day. It will still be possible to enter the Arboretum via E. Foster Island Road. This is what SDOT has to say about the road closure:

The boulevard work includes new street lighting, pedestrian and bicycle facilities, traffic calming measures, landscaping and drainage maintenance. After this weekend, the bulk of the work will be completed, in time for visitors to enjoy the colorful splendor of autumn foliage in the Arboretum and the adjacent Seattle Japanese Garden. The remaining work on the boulevard will require occasional single-lane closures and will be undertaken in October.

By the way, here is an interesting picture we culled from WSDOT's Flickr feed showing the recent installation of a shaft anchor off of Edgewater Apartments:

[Pictures courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation.]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Broadmooor fledglings fly (away)

Eagle parents may be empty nesters

Ever since the return of the eagles to their tree on the Broadmoor golf course earlier this year, we have been following their progress on the blog of Montlake photographer and bird watcher Larry Hubbell.  For those readers who haven't been keeping up, we can tell you that both of the eaglets became fledged over the summer and one of them, at least, has apparently flown away. As of the end of August, the remaining fledgling (that's her in these photos) was still hanging around--and apparently demonstrating her ability to acquire nesting materials.

Hubbell has some more photos and some interesting commentary on his blog, Union Bay Watch, about this fledgling's first flight, as well as coverage of the other fledgling's earlier efforts at learning to fly (which can be read here).

[Photos by Larry Hubbell, used by permission.]

Monday, September 17, 2012

Massive tree was probably just old

The sudden collapse of that massive Heritage tree in the Washington Park neighborhood late last month left many of us wondering what the cause might have been.  As we reported at the time, the catalpa speciosa, which was approximately 85 feet tall and 75 feet wide, was apparently undiseased, yet it crashed to the ground without the impetus of either appreciable wind or water saturation of the surrounding ground.

Though the tree was gradually removed from the street during the week following its toppling, the homeowner has been left to dig out the lower woody sections and roots. That's where we found him last Sunday when we happened to drive by, so we pulled over to ask what's the rest of the story. "Inconclusive," was the answer.  It is not obvious why the tree fell, he said, but he suspects that for this particular tree it was just its time.  He estimates that the tree was probably 80 or more years old (he has a picture of the tree standing in front of his house in 1939, he said, when the tree was only about 12 ft. high).  He noted, however, that some of the wood he's dug out shows evidence of voids that might have weakened the tree and could be evidence of disease that was not detectable on the tree's exterior:

And will he be replacing the tree with another catalpa?  Not likely, he told us.  No decision yet, but it will definitely be a lower-growing variety.

Deli to reopen tomorrow

If you happened to walk by the Park Place Deli one day last week you may have noticed the sign in the window stating the the deli had been sold and would be reopening soon.  That sign, however, came down quickly. Today, however, the sandwich board out front carried the announcement that the place will be re-opening tomorrow at 9 am and that there will be free coffee and cookies at lunch time.

It does not appear that the deli has actually been sold, however. Rather, as we understand the situation, this a reopening with new management.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

August Police Blotter

But first, this cautionary tale...

A Madison Park resident living in Canterbury recently sent us an email describing a criminal incident which fortunately did not result in a break-in, but which nevertheless demonstrates both the brazenness of some criminals and the need for homeowners to be ever vigilant:

"I happened to be up at 3:45 am and walked through the house in the dark, noticed our motion sensing light on the side of the garage was on. Then I noticed a figure looking into our playroom off the garage with a small flashlight, obviously scoping the room for valuable stuff. I was amazed that the guy was not even fazed by the motion floodlights, and the area is pretty well lit to begin with. He likely knew we were home since he walked past our car on the way through the gate. My phone was in a spot where he would see me pick it up, so I banged on the window to scare him off.  Even that didn’t seem to bother him too much. He turned to look and then rather calmly walked back out the way he came in the yard. I called police and they arrived quickly, but no sign of the prowler.

This prowler seemed to fit the profile of a guy that wouldn’t hesitate to enter an open door or window even when someone is home. I know there have been at least two other recent burglaries in Canterbury while the owners were home. I hope it’s not a trend." 

Amen to that.

August burglaries (many of which could have been prevented)

As is typical for this time of year, there was a fair number (seven, actually) of burglaries reported during August (shown as star-burst icons on the map above). Several of these incidents were the result of windows and doors being left open or unsecured.

In one such incident, which occurred during the night of August 18/19, someone boldly reached through an open window at a home on the 1600 block of 39th Avenue E. and removed a laptop computer which was sitting conveniently within reach. The family was at home and sleeping at the time of the incident, and it does not appear that the house was entered by the suspect.

Sometime during the night of August 2/3, while a family on the 3700 block of E. Prospect St. was at home and sleeping, someone entered the house and left it without disturbing the sleepers. The next morning it was discovered that the back patio door of the residence was wide open, but a search of the house turned up nothing missing. There was no evidence of a forced entry, but the victims stated to police that they couldn't remember whether they had bothered to secure either their patio door or their front door when they retired for the night. During the day, when one of the victims went to get her wallet out of her purse, she discovered that the wallet (with its cash, driver license, house key, and multiple credit cards) was missing.

Also on August 2, someone perhaps known to the victim entered her residence through an entry point (unspecified in the police report) that the victim had left open.  She discovered that there had been an intrusion when she discovered an unknown key on her interior stairs and then investigated to see if there had been anything stolen from the home.  Her social security card and a check from her checkbook were both missing. She told police she was suspicious of a person she had recently met who had recently been evicted from his condo and had later left several notes for her on her door.  Police contacted the suspect, who denied any involvement.  The suspect admitted that he had gone to the victim's house and had perceived that the door had been left unlocked but had not entered the premises.  The police officer told the suspect that the victim "did not want to have any more contact with him and he stated that he understood."

Sometime between August 27 and 28, a resident of the 1200 block of 42nd Avenue E. was the victim of the theft of her computer's hard drive from the detached den of her home.  In spite of the fact that she had had "a number" of break-ins in her garage and den area over the previous couple of months, she had not bothered to lock to the door of her den, and there was no evidence of a forced entry.

Another break-in occurred on August 29.  A condo owner on the 2300 block of 43rd Avenue. E. reported that his storage unit had been rifled and multiple items stolen.  He said that the condo doorway was probably left ajar and that the unknown suspect had probably entered through the door and gained entry to the unlocked storage area, where the victim's unlocked storage locker was located.  Later that day, the victim reported that a neighbor had called him to say that some of the victim's papers and one of his bicycles had been dumped onto her property. Although he recovered these items, his stolen Raleigh bike was not found.

One burglary, however, probably didn't involve an unsecured door or window.  On August 15, an apartment dweller on the 1900 block of 42nd Avenue E. reported to police that sometime between July 17 and the date of her report someone had gained entry to her residence and stolen a drawstring bag that contained valuable jewelry.  Police, however, found no evidence of a forced entry, and the victim reported that no one had a key to the unit other than she and her daughter.  The police report noted key bumping as a possible explanation for how the apartment may have been entered (though there was no direct evidence in this case that this is what happened). It was a new term to us, so we Googled it and got an explanation from Wikipedia.  Also known as lock bumping, the technique involves the creation and use of a bump key which works as a kind of master key for all locks of a similar type.  This is perfectly legal when used by locksmiths to disassemble a lock for which they do not have the exact key, but is obviously criminal when used to gain unauthorized entry to properties.

Finally, here's another cautionary tale, as provided by the police report of an incident that occurred on the 400 block of 39th Avenue E. on the night of August 17/18:

Sometime during the prior night, the suspect(s) gained entry to the victim's vehicle...parked in the driveway on the South side of the home. The suspect(s) located the garage door opener inside of this vehicle and used it to open the garage. The garage door is also on the South side of the home. Once inside the garage, the suspect(s) opened and went through some storage closets. It does not appear anything was taken from the closets or garage.Parked in the garage was the victim's [redacted] vehicle. The key to this vehicle was left in the dashboard/ignition and the suspect(s) took the key. The suspect(s) took the garage door opener and key to the vehicle in the garage. It does not appear anything else was taken during the burglary/car prowl. Victim and his family were home and asleep during the burglary. The suspect(s) did not gain entry to the home. The suspect(s) only entered the garage, which is attached to the home.

Other August criminal activity

In addition to the car break-in/garage break-in incident above, there were five car prowls reported during August.  For some reason there was a three-week period with no such criminal activity reported.  But beginning on August 21 that all changed, with two reports about incidents that night (one on the 2500 block of Canterbury Lane E., and one on the 2300 block of 42nd Avenue E.).  A third incident occurred on the 3800 block of E. Crockett St. on August 26, followed by a car prowl on the 4100 block of E. Highland Dr. on August 29 and a similar break-in on the 800 block of 36th Avenue E. the following day.

Two cars were stolen from the neighborhood in August (one on the 2400 block of 41st Avenue E. on August 20 and one of the 600 block of 36th Avenue E. on August 30).  In addition there were multiple cases of theft (indicated by dollar-bill icons on the map above), as well as one incident of mail theft (in Broadmoor) and a case of credit-card fraud at a business on E. Madison St.

Perhaps when the weather changes back to that typical for Seattle at this time of year, criminal activity will decline in Madison Park.  But in the meantime (and thereafter), remember the watchword: vigilance.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The new floating bridge explained

Madison Park to be briefed Thursday evening

We have almost certainly devoted more time and attention to the details of and controversy surrounding the new SR-520 floating bridge than any other blog in the city. So, at least for those who have been paying attention, our readers should by this point be pretty well versed on what's been happening and what's about to come, including the eventual removal of the Arboretum's on and off ramps to 520.

Those who are clueless, however, as well as those who want more details directly from the source, will have their opportunity to become better informed on Thursday when representatives of the State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and the joint-venture contractor (Kiewit/General/Manson) will be make a presentation about the "Floating Bridge and Landings Project" at Pioneer Hall (1642 43rd Avenue E.), beginning at 6 pm. Questions will be entertained and answered, so says the press release. 

This is your chance to become better informed--and it probably will be an occasion as well for some in the crowd to voice their gripes about what's already happening (pleasure-boat lanes being channeled too close to waterfront condominiums, for example) and what's ahead (noise and construction traffic as the new bridge heads east to west).  

WSDOT has some interesting information about what's going on with the project at its project site.  We learned by checking the site today that cells in Pontoon "V" (shown below, sitting off of Medina) were discovered to be leaking ballast water and recently had to be repaired. Five pontoons in total have now made their way from Aberdeen to their approximate final destination on the Lake. This bridge will soon be coming our way.

[Photos courtesy of WSDOT.  Upper photo shows a "fluke anchor" on a General Construction barge.]

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Strange September

It may well have been the last gasp of summer; but if so, the season certainly ended on a particularly fine note yesterday. Though we are now well past Labor Day, the beach at Madison Park was packed on Saturday as temperatures remained above 80 and people flocked to the shore. It was the 48th consecutive day without rain in Seattle, and should this condition last until Tuesday (an unlikely event), we will have achieved an historic record (see Cliff Mass's weather blog for the details).

Though the beach was lifeguard-less yesterday, that didn't stop plenty of people from wading or swimming in the Lake, where the water temperature was most likely around 70 degrees.

Madison Park, as usual, was a popular summer destination this year for many Seattleites, and it was more than just our beach proved to be attractions:

The kids play area of the park, for example, was busy even on some less-than-sunny days:

And "The Village" saw plenty of activity as well:

Summer doesn't officially end until September 22, so perhaps we still have time to get in some more rays this year. But even if there's not a single fabulous, warm and sunny day ahead, we can be still thankful for our surprisingly long run of days when everything in Madison Park seemed bright and fun.  Happy Summer!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Art Walk shines

It was a hot evening in Madison Park last night as hundreds turned out to enjoy the third annual Madison Park Art Walk.  The event kicked off with a reception at Starbucks, and then it was off to visit the 30 neighborhood venues where area artists proudly displayed their works.

There were also multiple forms of musical entertainment provided around the business district, adding greatly to the festive ambiance of the evening.

Those who missed opening night will still have the opportunity to see the art, which will remain at the various businesses through the end of the month.

More photos of the event and of the art can be found on Madison Park Blogger's Facebook page here.  Art Walk is sponsored by the Madison Park Business Association.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another business sidelined

Quite frankly, we have written too many postings in the past year about local businesses falling by the wayside.  So when the sign went into the window a couple weeks ago stating that Park Place Deli was "temporarily" closed, we took the hopeful view that this was really not the end---and therefore not a story. Over the Labor Day holiday, however, a new sign appeared (as many blog readers quickly pointed out) and the message suddenly became clear that if the Deli is going to survive as a Madison Park business, it will not be under the current ownership.  "The Park Place Deli is permanently closed" the sign reads, with contact information conveniently provided in case anyone is interested in buying the operation. "Thank you for these past years of business and kindness."

As we reported in March, owner John McCormick was attempting to turn the deli around after it had developed a reputation among some in the neighborhood as being "just too weird."  There were personnel issues, among other things, that made the business a bit precarious.  McCormick, writing a response to our posting on this blog, admitted that he had acted inappropriately on occasion and was embarrassed by his behavior.  He apologized to the neighborhood, vowing to return the deli to the family-friendly place that it had once been.  Now that quest has ended, and we understand that family members are attempting to arrange a sale.

[Park Place Deli is located at 4122 E. Madison Street.]

Monday, September 3, 2012

Short sales not a major factor here

Before the collapse of the housing sector several years ago, most people (other than specialists in real estate or in mortgage banking) had never heard the term “short sale.” And in those pre-collapse days, if someone had described being underwater on their house, most of us probably would have conjured up images of a flood.  We’re better informed today due to the barrage of press reporting on the millions of homeowners nationally who owe more on their mortgage (or multiple mortgages) than their home is worth in today’s market.  Being “underwater” (also known as being “upside down”) on one’s mortgage has a psychological cost for anyone in that situation; but for someone who can no longer afford to make the mortgage payments, it may lead to the loss of the home through a short sale or foreclosure.  Refinancing is generally not an option.

Looking at the Madison Park market, it appears that neither short sales nor foreclosures are having the kind of impact here that they have had elsewhere in the region.   This is what we would expect based on data compiled by, which shows that for King County, at least, the short-sale phenomenon is most likely to occur in the market segment for homes listed at under $350,000.  Short sales are rare in the world of $800,000-and-up homes, which make up most of the Madison Park market.

An analysis of monthly listing information from real estate website Redfin indicates that there have been 14 properties in Madison Park listed as short sales since the beginning of 2011 (including one vacant lot).  In any normal month during the period, however, short-sale listings represented only between zero and four properties, while the total neighborhood inventory ranged between 49 and 85.  Atypically, in January of this year there were eight different short-sale situations shown by Redfin, though most of those properties were quickly sold.  Today, there are only two short-sale listings (out of a total inventory of 67 condos, townhouses, and single-family residences).

The most expensive short sale that occurred since the end of 2010 was of a $1,705,000 spec house located in Washington Park (the list price, after multiple reductions, was $1,890,000).  Washington Park had at least one other short sale (a house across the street from the Seattle Tennis Club), according to Redfin, while Broadmoor also had two (a $895,000 listing that sold for $840,000 and the other a $950,000 listing that sold for $800,500).  For the respective banks, these sales probably represented quite a discount on the existing mortgage.  That may be a typical short-sale situation, one example of which is a Madison Park home listed at $944,400 (also after multiple price reductions), which finally sold for $762,500.  On the other hand, a $995,000 listing north of Madison Street sold for $985,000.

There were also five condos listed in the short-sale category (three of them located in the Canterbury Shores development, shown below). The final sales prices on theses properties ranged between $250,000 and $300,000.

As noted, there are two short-sale properties currently on the market here, one a townhouse priced at $525,000, the other a waterfront condo listed at $380,000.

It is probable that one or more of the 10 short-sale listings that wound up on the sold list were actually foreclosures.  While a short sale is a somewhat “voluntary” action where the homeowner and bank agree to part company (the seller getting out from under the mortgage and the bank receiving less than the full principal owed), a foreclosure is certainly in the “involuntary” category.  Sometimes what begins as an attempt by a property owner to short sell ends when the bank decides enough is enough. Legal action may then be necessary to gain control of the situation. Another option that is sometimes a last resort for a homeowner is simply giving the keys back to the bank and walking away (a foreclosure avoidance method known as a deed-in-lieu).  Currently, there is a Broadmoor home on the market  priced at over $2 million which apparently fits into this latter category.

Website RealtyTrac shows that while there are only two bank-owned homes in Madison Park at the present time, both of them are located in Broadmoor.  When it comes to the real estate downturn, obviously bad things can happen anywhere.