Thursday, July 30, 2009

Which of these people called in sick today?

It seems that during this week’s unprecedented heat wave, the blog for virtually every Seattle neighborhood lucky enough to have a beach has featured at least one photo of overheated beach goers frolicking in cooling azure waters. So why should we be different?

Madison Park resident David Hutchins chose to forgo some or all of his frolicking in order to record the beach scene for us at Madison Park this afternoon (thanks Dave).

As far as we know, there were no sightings of Ursula Andress at the beach today, though there well may have been some "sugary eye candy" in evidence.

Update on girl injured at beach yesterday

It appears that the 14-year-old girl who was rescued from Lake Washington yesterday was not even diving when she passed out and hit the water. According to Seattle Fire Department spokesperson Helen Fitzpatrick, the girl was on the diving platform and did hit the water, but the girl does not remember jumping from the platform and it is not even clear that she was on the diving board before the incident occurred.

Although unconscious when she was pulled from the water, the girl regained consciousness just as CPR was being started by a Good Samaritan. She was rushed to Harborview late yesterday afternoon for evaluation and is now doing fine, according to Fitzpatrick.

Get out the earplugs & doggie tranquilizers

It's Seafair time again, and the U.S Navy's Blue Angels will be practicing at about roof-top level over the Park today, beginning at around 9:45 and continuing until noon. Another practice will occur this afternoon sometime between 1:15 and 2:30. Practices tomorrow will be on the same schedule.

The Blue Angels have two performances this weekend, beginning at about 1:00 pm on both Saturday and Sunday. So be prepared.

[Photo courtesy of the Blue Angels Official Site.]

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Girl injured jumping off diving board

Seattle Fire Department and Police units raced to the Madison Park beach late this afternoon to aid a girl who apparently hit her head while diving off one of the diving boards at the beach. It was unclear whether she hit her head on the diving board or became unconscious as a result of doing a belly flop into the water.

KOMO-TV, which provides the picture of the scene above, reported on its website this evening that the girl was not conscious after being rescued from the water by one of the lifeguards and had not regained consciousness after CPR was performed. However, a later report on KOMO's evening news stated that she was conscious before being transported to the hospital.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So what's up with this green beach gunk?

It seems that every year, as the weather starts to get warm, our Madison Park beaches begin to accumulate quantities of a green odoriferous material that could cause us to wonder if there might be something wrong with the health of Lake Washington. The problem is more apparent at the constricted road end beaches than at the Park beach, but green water is definitely a part of the annual beach scene here from June to August. So what is this stuff?

I contacted Dean Wilson, King County Senior Water Quality Planner, to find out. Here's the executive summary of our conversation: not to worry. It may be stinky, and it may be tough to get out of your dog's fur after a beach swim, but green is good--or at least in this case, not bad. It's simply green algae which is both common to the Lake and non-toxic.

Wilson explained that there are basically two types of green algae that may be contributing to the green build ups in the Lake. One form of these Chlorophytes is Oedogonium (shown at right), and the other is Spirogyra. Unlike some forms of blue-green algae, the green algae that grows in Lake Washington does not produce toxins. Blue-green algae is not unknown in Northwest lakes, however. In 1997 there was a blue-green algae problem in Lake Sammamish, for example. Wilson does not believe that Lake Washington has any toxin producing algae at this time. "We've been monitoring for toxins at the beaches on Lake Washington and we haven't seen anything yet," he said.

So what causes the algae to accumulate and wash up onto the beaches? The answer is that both green algae types grow as filaments which attach to rocks and the bottom of the Lake. When these filaments grow too long they can break off as a result of wind and water action. It is generally in late July when these accumulations are greatest in Lake Washington, just in time for Seafair.

While decomposing piles of washed-up algae can be unsightly and stinky, they pose no health risk and are not evidence of an unhealthy Lake. Ironically, the high water quality of Lake Washington may be the cause of these green-algae accumulations. The higher the water clarity, according to Wilson, the greater the amount of sunlight penetrating lower into the Lake, resulting in increased levels of algae.

Believe it or not, green-algae accumulations have been recorded of up to ten inches deep on some Lake Washington beaches in past years. Not at Madison Park, fortunately.

[Oedogonium photo courtesy of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. Beach photo is of the road end beach at 4299 E. Lee Street in early July.]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What next for the “notorious” Deano’s site?

It’s been a solid year since Madison Park resident Jeff Mueller and his partners permanently leveled the blighted Madison Street block that had housed the skuzzy Deano’s nightclub (aka Club Chocolate City). In undertaking this “public service” demolition, Mueller and his company, JC Mueller LLC, earned both the thanks of those of us who regularly drive through the area and, presumably, the undying gratitude of those who actually live there.

Before its implosion, Deano’s--almost universally referred to in press reports as “notorious” or “infamous”--was the scene of police activity virtually daily. The alternative newspaper, The Stranger, described the site as a “convergence zone for drug sellers and crack addicts.” According to the Madison Park Times, the block was a “magnet for criminal activity,” known for its drugs, prostitution, loitering and the occasional shooting. In preparation for the upcoming redevelopment, both Deano’s Grocery and Club Chocolate City were closed in 2007, leading to a decline in criminal activity in the area.

When Mueller rescued the neighborhood (which is called Miller Park by area residents), it was not altogether an altruistic exercise. The plan in 2008 was to follow the demolition with construction of a mixed-use residential building on the 2026 E. Madison Street site. Construction was to begin next month. Mueller’s companion project across the street at 2051 E. Madison Street (former site of the Twilight Exit) was originally scheduled to get underway even earlier. Obviously, construction has not begun; and what we have at the intersection of E. Madison and E. Denny Way is a giant fenced-off dirt lot on one side of the street and a group of vacant buildings on the other, not that anyone is really complaining.

Most of us probably do not have so expansive a view of Madison Park’s reach as to believe (like the landlord of The Summit at Madison Park, which houses the Safeway store) that our community actually reaches up into the Miller Park neighborhood. Because of its proximity, however, I suspect most of us in Madison Park probably are interested in knowing the current status of both Mueller projects. So I decided to find out what’s happening.

As recently as last October, Mueller was being quoted as saying he didn’t expect the national credit crunch to delay either project. That was then. By early 2009, the markets had drastically changed and it was apparent that financing was far from assured. Mueller tells me that both projects are on track in every way except for the financing. “In October we had sources for the financing,” he says, “but they sort of vaporized. Now we’re waiting for the financial markets to stabilize. We could get a loan today, but the terms would be onerous.”

Mueller believes that both projects continue to be economically viable, especially if the costs of construction come down. These had been high relative to historic levels, he says, but expectations are that the financial downturn will lead to lower construction expenses as contractors compete more fiercely for the work that’s available.

In the meantime, both projects continue to move forward on the pre-construction track. In May the City issued a permit for development of the Twilight Exit site. This project, designed by the Mithun architectural firm, is a 95-unit apartment building which will also have about 6,500 feet of retail space:

Unless the existing buildings were to deteriorate in some way, Mueller says, it is not the plan to tear them down before project financing is in place.

Across the street on the Deano’s site, cleanup continues on what was a very contaminated site. Most of that work has been completed, Mueller says, and he expects the City to issue a master use permit for the site late this summer or early fall. On this, the larger site, a 222-unit apartment building, designed by Weinstein AU, will be constructed:

The building will have 9,500 sq. ft. of retail space and, like the companion project across the street, underground parking.

Both projects are designed to provide “workforce” housing, apparently consistent with the target market for The Summit at Madison Park, across the street. Mueller reiterated to me what he’s said elsewhere about never having felt that the sites could support condos, a market he believed was about to implode—which it did.

But what about adding 317 new apartment units at these sites (plus another 92 units at 2203 E. Union St., Mueller’s third area project)? Mueller believes the economics of all three buildings still work. He notes that about 400 new residential units are currently under construction and will soon be coming on the market in the general vicinity. (There are also 48 brand new “rooming house” units coming on line, about which The Stranger has an interesting article: “Thinking Small”).

To date, the apartment market has held up surprisingly well in Seattle, he notes, and he believes that the location on Madison is excellent in terms of access to Downtown and the now-trendy Pike/Pine neighborhood. It’s a fact, nevertheless, that several already-completed apartment buildings not far from Mueller’s sites (including The Summit) are not yet fully leased. If the economics still work, as Mueller believes, it probably won't be at anytime in the immediate future.

So what’s his best guess for when construction will begin? “I can’t say it’ll be next year,” he says, but it could easily be the following year. “We would begin building as quickly as the markets will let us,” he adds, “but I can’t say we’re in a hurry.”
[Photo of the 2026 E. Madison building courtesy of Mithun; photo of the 2051 E. Madison building courtesy of JCMueller LLC, via the Miller Park Neighborhood Association site .]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vanity blogging as a public service

Ever since I started writing this blog, my wife has been discovering articles on blogging and suggesting that I read them. Sometimes I do.

A few weeks ago she gave me one titled “Six Critical Factors for Successful Bloggers” or something like that. Just offhand, I can’t remember what all of the critical factors were; but I do remember that they included find a niche, be interesting, and post regularly. However, the Number One factor, and the one I violate almost daily, was keep it short.

This week happens to mark the three-month anniversary of Madison Park Blogger, and I think this is a good point for me to reiterate my purpose, including my rationale for NOT keeping it short.

It’s a joke among those who follow the blogosphere that most bloggers have a readership of one. Blogging is, for many, today’s version of what was once called the vanity press. Nowadays, with desktop publishing and Kindle, anyone can be a published author. And with blogging becoming virtually effortless, anyone can broadcast his or her opinions to the world. Whether a blogger’s musings are consequential, however, depends on there being an audience willing to listen.

A recent article in the New York Times (“Blogs Falling in an Empty Forest”) states that blogs have a higher failure rate even than restaurants. “According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.”

Just across the water in Laurelhurst, on approximately the two-month anniversary of his blog, my onetime blogger colleague, Mike Mathieu, made the decision to shut down LaurelPost. This is him, I believe, as he got ready to throw in the towel:

His stated rationale for ending it all was that with an average of only 80 readers per day, it just wasn’t worthwhile to keep going. Laurelhurst thus lost an opportunity to have an alternative source (perhaps an only source) of timely news about the community.

Right now Madison Park Blogger has an average daily readership of 50, and there have been about 200 unique visitors to the site since inception (this figure is based on the number of people who have viewed my profile, not something anyone would probably need to do twice). Laurelhurst and Madison Park have similar demographics, I suspect, and a roughly equal base of potential blog viewers. Yet unlike Mike, I am not disheartened at my site’s level of readership. We have experienced slow but steady growth in our first three months, and I expect that to continue as more potential readers become aware of this site. For me, blogging is fun—and it gives me a sense of purpose to know that I am performing a useful service for those who choose to read my posts.

What I mostly write about is what I myself would want to read about if only someone else would write it. I’m interested in what’s happening in my neighborhood and down the road. I want to know about local issues that may affect me, and I want to know what’s happening with the businesses in our area. I want to hear about criminal activities that may impact me, and I’m interested in knowing what’s going on in the real estate market here in the Park. I care about preserving the things that make Madison Park the special place that we all enjoy, and I am curious about our history as a community.

My friends at Next Door Media, owners of the blog and several other for-profit blogs in the Northwest quadrant of the City, state their mission this way: “We produce original journalism that struggling newspapers are increasingly unable to provide." Though I am an amateur, I have the same mission. My objective is to cover stories I think Madison Park residents will find interesting or important, or both. And if it requires a lot of words to cover the story in depth, the length of the posting will do justice to the story. This journalistic approach is atypical of bloggers, but I am hardly the typical blogger. Just call me the Madison Park Essayist.

Thanks for being along for the ride. I appreciate the support and kind words of the many people who have taken the time to give me their feedback. Please keep your comments and suggestions coming.

Bryan Tagas

(By the way, my wife tells me that she doesn’t always read my posts. They’re just too long.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

'Sugary eye candy' at Madison Park beach?

This is amusing. In a story posted this afternoon, the national website (“Insider Source for Everything Local”) anointed our beach as the “safest bet for the best (and least) in beach fashion,” at least compared to other Seattle beaches.
To illustrate their point, they used a photo of a scantily-clad Ursula Andress from the 1962 James Bond movie, Dr. No. She’s seen standing on a beautiful, sun-soaked beach—which in reality is the beach at Laughing Waters Estate on St. Ann’s Bay in Jamaica.

But never mind, our beach is just as exciting. Referring to the “mad beach” as a “small gem,” our author goes on to wax lyrical: “All beautiful walks of life are represented in this sunny little utopia. There is far more sugary eye candy that most any other beach in the area, and it can be quite sexy. The less clothes the better is the fashion de jour [sic]. Patterns such as polka dots and itsy bitsy bikinis adorn most of the princesses who rule this kingdom, and a heavy dose of American Apparel and H&M is apparently what the doctor went and ordered.”

Well, it goes on from there. I suspect that if the author actually made it to Seattle, he was not at the beach on that gray day last week when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were frolicking there and playing in the park. I understand that when the Sisters slid down the slide a little more was exposed than most observers expected or wanted to see. But that’s just hearsay.

Those wishing to read the full story on how great our beach is can do so here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Short takes

Don’t eat and run at Bing’s

The call went out over the police channel one afternoon last week that a couple of diners at Bing’s Bodacious Burgers (4200 E. Madison St.) had exited the establishment without paying the tab (to be fair to them, they did plunk down a $1 bill before dashing). This kind of fraud, known as dine and ditch (aka running the check), may work in some restaurants, and it may even have worked a time or two at Bing’s. But not on this day.

Although the police had been called and a description of the scofflaws had been broadcast, it was quick action by Bing’s owner, Stan Moshier, that got the situation resolved. Stan is not only lean and lithe, but he’s also a big-time runner. Let's just say that our diners picked the wrong guy to try to stiff. So though the miscreants had a bit of a head start, Stan was still able to run them down and extract the requisite payment. A “never mind” call was placed to the police stating that, actually, the patrons had paid their bill. As one of Bing’s wait staff put it to me, “Stan wasn’t interested in making trouble; he was just interested in getting paid.”

No word on whether the couple also paid the tip.

SFD water-rescue team descends on the Park

At a little after 10:30 Sunday night sirens were heard blaring down Madison as multiple Seattle Fire vehicles raced to the Park for what was expected to be a major water-rescue operation. There had been a report of a distressed swimmer in Lake Washington off of the 1800 block of 43rd Avenue. E. I understand that the thirteen Fire Department units dispatched for this mission, including two ladder trucks, made quite a din in the neighborhood; but I slept through the whole thing.

Fortunately it turned out to be a false alarm. There were swimmers in the water, including some noisy ones, but none that was in any trouble. Weren’t thirteen aid units a bit of overkill, I asked? Not really, the SFD public liaison officer replied. When it comes to a possible water rescue, the department does not take half measures.

No argument here.

We're not alone

Last month we did a story on aggressive door-to-door magazine salespeople ("They're baaaack!!!") based on the experiences of my neighbors in past summers. I am happy to say that I have not received reports of any Madison Park incidents this summer. But such is not the case in other neighborhoods, unfortunately. Recent police reports show that overly pushy magazine hustlers are working parts of the the City, and KOMO-TV posted a Herb Weisbaum story on the subject today: "Door-to-door magazine sale scams out in full force."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

June Real Estate Report

Home sales up, pending sales strong

There appears to be solid ground for optimism that the worst may be over for the real estate market in Madison Park. Home sales accelerated significantly in June, with the King County Assessor reporting ten homes sold in Madison Park during the month, an increase of 67% over the rather dismal six sales recorded in May. For the first five months of 2009 there was an average of only seven sales per month, so June’s sales figure represents a dramatic improvement.

But is this an aberration or do June’s results appear to be part of a new positive trend? Looking at average monthly home sales by quarter for the past 15 months certainly makes it appear that the market has bottomed out and may be on the rebound (click graph to enlarge):

Fueling an optimistic outlook is the fact that as of last week there were already nine Madison Park homes listed by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service as somewhere in the closing process (known in the industry as “pended” or “pending”). And the outlook appears even better if you are super inclusive and count the Madison Lofts (2914 E. Madison Street) as being within Madison Park and not over the line in Madison Valley. Six Madison Lofts condo units are pending sale, which if counted would raise the total pendings to 15. I am told that historically, 90% of pendings normally close.

Most of the real estate agents I talked to are cautiously optimistic, but few of them are willing to be quoted on the record that they believe the tide has turned. One of the big issues facing buyers is obtaining financing. This is especially true at the $1 million sales price and above, according to Ron Sparks, Marketing Vice President at Coldwell Banker Bain. He notes that banks appear to be reluctant to lend, and when they do lend the standards for approval are substantially higher than they were at the height of the market. He says he has personally seen at lot of arbitrary decision making by banks, and some buyers have been forced to find their financing from non-traditional lenders or even to go out of state to find a willing bank. “People who are highly qualified and should be allowed to buy are being kept from doing so,” he says. “It’s stalling the recovery, frankly.”

Nevertheless, deals are evidently getting done. Based on June’s sales, Madison Park’s absorption rate (the number of months it will take to sell the available inventory of houses on the market) has declined from 17 months in May to 12 months now. There are currently 119 properties on the market in Madison Park (including Broadmoor and Washington Park). And as was true last month, the homes for sale are substantially larger and more expensive, in general, than the typical Madison Park home.

Here’s a graphic showing the progression of home values, starting with Zillow’s estimate $1,010,000 for the median value of all homes in Madison Park (single family and otherwise) and concluding with the $1,606,000 median listing price for the homes currently on the market (click graph to enlarge):

Zillow estimates that the median Madison Park home has 2,049 sq. ft. (this figure includes condos and townhouses). Believe it or not, seventy percent of the houses listed for sale in the Park boast 3,000 sq. ft. or more, and almost all of them are located in Broadmoor or Washington Park.

Here’s a snapshot of the current listings in the Park (based on data from Redfin):


Listings: 88
Median Asking Price: $1,990,000
Median Square Footage: 3,680
Median Price per Square Foot: $541
Average Days on Market: 102
Percentage with Price Reductions: 39%


Listings: 26
Median Asking Price: $525,000
Median Square Footage: 1,131
Median Price per Square Foot: $464
Average Days on Market: 122
Percentage with Price Reductions: 50%


Listings: 5
Median Asking Price: $449,950
Median Square Footage: 1,200
Median Price per Square Foot: $375
Average Days on Market: 50
Percentage with Price Reductions: 40%

(As we cautioned last month, take with a grain of salt the figures for days on market and the percentage with price reductions. Many of these units have been on the market in the past, were withdrawn and later put back on the market. They thus get treated as new listings.)

Shown below is a 1939 five-bedroom view house in Washington Park (610 Hillside Drive E.) which represents a prototypical house currently on the market in the Madison Park area. Its $1,695,000 asking price is just slightly higher than the $1,606,000 median price of all homes currently listed for sale, including condos and townhouses. This listing of Kathryn Hinds, Windermere Real Estate, was recently reduced by $200,000. Its original list price, over a year ago, was $2,795,000.

The most expensive home sale last month was of a 4,020 sq. ft. 1939 four-bedroom house in Broadmoor (2110 Waverly Way. E.) which sold for $2,675,000. As a side note, the $3 million rambler located in the Reed Estate, which I mentioned on this blog last month as the “gracious and elegant” other home for sale there (“A glimpse beyond the gates”) is one of the nine homes on the list of currently pending sales.

It appears there have been no foreclosures in our market, although I have learned anecdotally that there may be one short sale in the works. Short sales are situations where a home owner sells at a price less than the amount owing on the mortgage. This kind of transaction obviously involves approval by the lender and takes much more time to close. I understand that a speculative developer with an unsold condo in our market may now be having that kind of discussion with his lender.

To put the Madison Park market into perspective, Coldwell Banker Bain did some absorption-rate comparisons for me based on pending sales. The numbers seem to show that the overall Seattle market is definitely heating up at a faster rate than ours:

Seattle Listings: 1,902
Seattle Pendings: 801
Absorption Rate: 2.37 (Months of For-Sale Inventory)

Madison Park Listings: 119
Madison Park Pendings: 9
Absorption Rate: 13.22 (Months of For-Sale Inventory)

If the pending Madison Lofts sales are included, Madison Park’s absorption rate is 7.93. It’s also worth noting that within Madison Park there is a huge disparity between Broadmoor’s 31 months of inventory and the inventory level for the rest of the market. The case of Broadmoor provides an easy way to understand the concept of absorption rate: there are 31 houses for sale, with only one sale pending. At that rate it will take 31 months to clear existing inventory, an absorption rate of 31.

Putting the Seattle and Madison Park numbers into context, CBBain’s Sparks notes that at the height of the market the Seattle absorption rate was on the order of 2.0. For 2008, he estimates the rate had risen to 5.0. So while Madison Park has certainly not fully recovered, at a current rate of 2.37 the Seattle market has actually made a remarkable comeback. The Eastside’s current 3.54 absorption rate is also a pretty good indicator of a market turn, he believes.
Kathryn Lister, also of CBBain, believes that for the market to return to normal at the upper end, some things still have to change. “There is definitely a disconnect between people’s desire to make a purchase and their ability to get it done,” she said. There is also buyer nervousness based on market perceptions, she says, and some pretty serious problems in getting appraisals done and accepted by lenders. In the past she notes, most upper-market sales involved bridge loans, which are just not available in the market today. Speculative buying, which once drove a part of the market, is certainly no longer accepted. Many sophisticated buyers are taking a wait-and-see approach, still sitting on the sidelines, she believes.

Sparks sums the situation up this way: “The sellers had been driving the market up artificially, and now the buyers are driving it down artificially.” Ann Henderson, a realtor with Windermere, adds that there’s another factor also at work: seller misperception of where the market is. “I think that about 50% of sellers just don’t get it,” she says. “They think their house is still worth what is was, or is even appreciating!” So it’s not only a problem with buyers, it’s a problem with sellers—and, of course, mortgage bankers.

The bottom line of this report is that Madison Park’s level of housing inventory remains high; and while the situation does seem to be improving, it will probably take a few more months for us to be able to say whether what now appears to be an upward trajectory is not just a momentary summer blip.

[The photo at the top of the page shows a new listing this week of 1443 McGilvra Boulevard E., an extensively remodeled three-bedroom 1927 cottage, a listing of Windermere’s Mary Snyder. Priced at $1,250,000, it is one of the more inexpensive houses currently on the market in Madison Park.]
A note on methodology:
The real estate market analyzed in this report covers Sub Areas 6 (Broadmoor) and 7 (Madison Park and Washington Park) of Area 14, as designated by the Office of the King County Assessor. This is essentially the geographic territory defined in the description at right of the “Madison Park Blogger Coverage Area.” Differences between the median figures used above and those of Zillow, as shown on its site, result from the combining of the two Sub Areas, which are separately analyzed by Zillow but are not broken out for purposes of this report. Broadmoor represents 18% of the total residential units within Madison Park and is weighted accordingly. Also note that the term “homes” generally refers to single-family houses, condos and townhouses, whereas “houses” refers only to single-family houses.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A great day for a swim

I have to admit that I totally missed the boat on this one, because when my neighbors asked me this morning why the area was completely parked up well before 9:00am, I didn't have a clue. (Obviously, I'm supposed to know about these things.)

So I rushed down to the Park where I discovered that all of the hullabaloo was about the 10th Annual Fat Salmon Open Water Swim, a race involving 300 or more swimmers all heading to the beach at Madison Park. Actually it was two races, a 1.2 miler and a 3.2 miler, beginning at Denny Blaine Park and the Day Street Boat Ramp (by the I-90 floating bridge) respectively.

With the Lake Washington water at a balmy 66 degrees (at least at Madison Park beach), some of the swimmers this year elected to swim without wetsuits.

In case you're wondering about where the "fat salmon" comes into the picture, take a close look at one of the race winners receiving the prize:

I don't intend to be caught flat footed with regard to the next major swim race having Madison Park as its destination. On Wednesday, August 19, the 12th Annual Swim for Life Across Lake Washington will begin at 7:30am in Medina and finish up 4,000 meters (2.5 miles) later on our beach. This is a benefit for the Puget Sound Blood Center. More information is avaialble here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Celebrate the Arboretum with a picnic

If you haven't been paying attention, you may be blissfully unaware that the Washington Park Arboretum is this year celebrating its 75th Anniversary, with events commemorating the 1934 founding of the Park scheduled throughout the year. One such event is tomorrow's "Olde Time Picnic" to be held in the Park's Crabapple Meadow from 11:30am until 2:30pm.

While it is true that you have to bring your own picnic to this affair, free hot dogs and ice cream will be provided. In addition, there will be musical performances, a display of Model A autos, and field games. Picnicers are encouraged to wear vintage clothing of the 1930's. Additional information is available on The Arboretum Foundation website.

While the Arboretum was officially established in 1934 by an agreement between the University of Washington and the City of Seattle, the actual work of designing and planting the 230 acre park was not begun until several years later. This lovely neighborhood amenity for those of us living in Madison Park boasts over 10,000 individual plants representing 4,400 or so species. For those interested in knowing more about the history of the Arboretum there is more background that you could possibly want at the UW's site, including some interesting early pictures and maps.

Saturday's event is co-sponsored by the Arboretum Foundation, the UW, and Seattle's Parks and Recreation department.

[The above photo is courtesy of hopeisalot, uploaded last month on Flickr.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Meet the candidates

Actually, as far as I know, only one of these guys is an actual candidate. I am shamelessly using a picture of our publicity-crazed mayor surrounded by Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence as a teaser to get your attention for a serious subject. The idea isn’t even original, since I stole it from the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog. But I bet it’s effective, since you’re reading this aren’t you? The serious subject I have in mind is a pair of upcoming candidate forums (or, more correctly, fora).

The first forum actually does involve our mayor, who reportedly is scheduled to be present for the Seattle Candidate Forum presented by the Capitol Hill and Central Area communities on Monday, July 27, 6-9pm at Mount Zion Baptist Church (19th Avenue E. & East Madison Street). In addition to the mayoral candidates, city council and school board candidates will also be introduced and grilled. More information is available on the CHS blog: Central Area & Capitol Hill Election Forum.

In case your interests are limited only to the school board race for our district, you will have your chance to see and interact with School Board candidates for the District Five position this coming Monday, July 20, at the Garfield Community Center (2323 East Cherry Street). There are three candidates challenging the incumbent, Mary Bass, for this position. Details on this event, which begins at 8:30pm, are also available on the CHS blog: “Central Cluster” School Board Candidate Forum.

As far as I am aware, no candidate forum is planned for our neck of the woods; so these may be your only opportunities to see the candidates up close without having to drive to Ballard or somewhere equally inconvenient to do so.

[Photo courtesy of faustOmatic via Flickr]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Not your mother's conclave

For those who may have wandered by the Park yesterday morning around 10 and wondered what the heck was going on with all of those unusually dressed, face-painted outres clogging the beach, the answer is provided by Seattle Gay Scene's website. All of the commotion, as it turns out, was simply due to the opening of another summer convention in our fair town, although the group involved is really rather unconventional. It seems that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence's 2009 International Conclave ("Retreat in the Emerald City") is underway all this week--and the kickoff for this, the 13th annual event, was an "opening/blessing/picnic" at Madison Park on Monday. I am sorry that I was at work yesterday morning and unable to film what must have been a fun and atypical-for-Madison-Park event.

There are plenty of activities being held during the rest of the week, so you will have fresh opportunities to see these performers in action, including two "Duck Tour" buses filled with nuns on Saturday. A lot of the action, naturally, will be on Capitol Hill, with details on the SGC's website. For those who are unaware of the Sisters, I quote from the website of their local chapter, The Abbey of St. Joan: "We are an order of Twenty-First Century nuns dedicated to the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt. We work to raise money for AIDS charities; fight for queer rights and visibility; do safer sex outreach; and strive diligently to keep our sense of humor, never taking ourselves so seriously that we forget to have fun." Let's just say the sisters are in no way connected with the Catholic Church:

Madison Park, by the way, seems to have the reputation as a gay-friendly neighborhood. For those not in the know, the area just to the north of the Madison Park Bath House is considered the gay area of the Park, although straights occasionally do wander in, especially on the weekends. A gay website, in fact, refers to Madison Park is an excellent place for a "gaycation." I don't think we are quite as popular, however, as Foster Island.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cactus! is expanding (again)

In a bold move that is counter to much of what’s happening elsewhere in the Seattle restaurant trade, Cactus! is about to extend its presence in Madison Park by taking some of the space vacated earlier this year by the Yankee Peddler. On Friday, the City approved a construction permit allowing the restaurant to make alterations to approximately 400 square feet of the space contiguous to its location at 4220 E. Madison Street.

Owner Bret Chatalas tells me that the planned remodeling will involve moving part of the kitchen into the new space. The principal advantage of this will be to create a better work environment for the employees and a more efficient operation. Expansion of the kitchen may also allow for a future relocation of the tapas bar into what is now part of the kitchen area, freeing up space in the front for 5-10 more seats. As anybody who has tried to get into Cactus! on a summer evening knows, the Mexican/Southwest themed restaurant remains very popular in spite of the current economic downturn.

At a time when some restaurants are really feeling the pain, and others such as Oceanaire and the Union Square Grill are shutting down entirely, Cactus! has a proven concept that continues to withstand the test of time. This Madison Park mainstay has been described by The Seattle Times as a “screaming success” since it opened in 1990. At least partly due to space constraints at the Madison Park location, Cactus! spawned two sister restaurants, one in Kirkland in 2002 and one at Alki in 2006. Anecdotal evidence is that all three locations continue to pack ‘em in, and Chatalas confirms that things continue to go well for each of the restaurants.

Cactus! Madison Park has already undergone one major expansion, when in 1999 it annexed the retail space one door to the north of its initial location. Now the restaurant is moving into space that is one door to the south (though the actual door and front of that space are now occupied by Red Wagon Toys). “I made the decision to make an investment in the future,” says Chatalas. “It was now or never.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We love a parade!

This was the scene at noon today as the annual Children's Parade got underway for the ten-minute march down E. Madison Street to the Park.

Perhaps because of the fantastic weather, the turnout this year was a lot higher than last, according to Terry Short, Madison Park Business Association (MPBA) President (and parade marshal).

The Seattle Police and Fire Departments were active participants, as usual, with a firetruck leading the parade and the police providing traffic control and security. Police Sgt. Jay Shin agreed that the parade drew more participants than in past years. He estimated the total crowd at about 300 people.

There were a lot of kids riding bikes or being pulled in wagons:

A few of us really dressed for the occasion:

And in addition to the numerous dogs who promenaded, there was a gentle pony and a very well behaved billy goat:
And of course, at the end of the route everyone got the opportunity to chow down. All in all, it was a picture-perfect day in the Park.

Thanks to the MPBA for its sponsorship of this excellent event. It is one of the things that helps differentiate Madison Park from many other Seattle neighborhoods, where public spiritedness and community connection have become little more than ideals of the past.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pedestrians and trees learn to coexist

For those who missed the front-page story in the Seattle Times today (Trees versus Houses), there is quite a brouhaha in Madrona right now over an attempt to move two historic Craftsman houses out of the neighborhood in order to make way for expansion of the Epiphany School. Trees would have to be cut (or temporarily moved) along the E. Howell Street escape route, and the affected homeowners are objecting.

Some of us remember that in our neighborhood six years ago there was a slight controversy, quickly resolved, about moving an historic house up 39th Street E. from a lot several blocks south of Madison to one several blocks to the north. In that case, no trees had to be temporarily relocated, but many trees did have to be cut back significantly along the street. The homeowners went along, and the move proceeded without a hitch.

Which is not to say that we are laid back about our trees here in the Park. Far from it. When the sidewalk repairs began last year in the business district along Madison, many residents became incensed at the idea that tree roots would be cut and some trees potentially removed in the process. Although the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) and the City made every effort to publicize the sidewalk improvement program, everyone was not aware and many were not on board when work began in the area around Bert’s, Tully’s and what was then the Washington Mutual branch.

Jim Hagan, a member of the Council, worked closely with the City on the project. The big problem, he said, was that people were being injured because the sidewalks were cracking and buckling as the result of tree-root encroachment. There have been broken arms, hips and wrists reported as a result of sidewalk falls by pedestrians, he said. And in one case, a person actually lost an eye. It had become increasingly clear that something had to be done to improve pedestrian safety in Madison Park.

The non-profit group Historic Madison Park made the first request to the City for a grant to improve sidewalks along Madison. Both the MPCC and the local business community were enthusiastic about the idea and the three groups agreed to form a streetscape committee to decide where to utilize the grant dollars. According to Hagan, committee members walked the street and concluded that the area in front of Washington Mutual was definitely the worst stretch of sidewalk. Drainage was a problem, and several trees (whose roots could not be pruned without killing the trees) would have to be removed. Although a lot of people were then up in arms, the project moved forward successfully--and last fall three replacement trees (paperbark maples) were planted in front of the Chase branch:

With that success, another grant was applied for and the second-worst area (in front of Scoop du Jour) was tackled. Some residents were upset to see the City’s official notices on the trees that they might have to be removed:

But in the end, all of the trees were saved, although some roots were pruned. In some places a special sidewalk was installed that will hopefully allow for the growing roots to have less impact than they would have on regular pavement:

According to Hagan the next area of concern is in front of Starbuck’s, where at least one tree will have to go. Later, the area in front of the Wells Fargo branch will be the target. The City, he said, has been very supportive of the community’s efforts. He noted that the City arborist would only agree to remove a tree if there was no other reasonable solution. But occasionally a big old tree must be sacrificed. As Hagan notes, “sometimes pedestrian safety outweighs a tree.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Villa Marina project dead for now

The plan had been to tear down the existing Villa Marina apartment building (1928 43rd Avenue E.) and the building directly to the north of it, replacing both with a new three-story, ten-unit condo building. The owner, Lakeside Capital Management, filed an application for the project as recently as February. But the “Proposed Land Use Action” sign came down today in recognition of the fact that the project has become the victim of changing market conditions. Lakeside’s managing partner, Dennis Daugs, confirmed that the project is on hold.

To say that there is currently an oversupply of condos in the Puget Sound region would be putting it mildly. Just down the street at 1611 43rd Avenue E. the developer there has been unable to unload three high-end condos during the year since that building was completed. In real estate, as in so many other endeavors, timing is everything.

Regarding the Villa Marina apartments Daugs had this to say: “We work next door and have become accustomed to the old building. It certainly is closer to the end of its life than its beginning, but we have spent a lot on deferred maintenance since we acquired it a few years ago and will continue to improve it any way we can.”

The Madison Park Community Council had hoped to work closely with Lakeside on the Council’s long-term plan to close the E. Madison Street road end to cars (see Park to extend into Madison Street road end). If the Villa Marina project had needed any variances, the community might have had some additional leverage in the negotiations. Daugs told me, however, that Lakeside remains committed to improving pedestrian traffic around the site and to improving the streets and sidewalks of nearby businesses. During the ten years that the company has owned the Villa Marina, Lakeside has spent over $50,000 on maintenance of the Madison Street road end, including the removal of two overgrown trees, he noted.

While the Villa Marina project may be on long-term hold, the project could still someday be revived. I understand that rather than being destroyed, the land-use sign is being stored in the basement.

Short takes

No Arboretum fix: The City has no plans to install a left-turn signal southbound on Lake Washington Boulevard E. at the intersection with E. Madison Street. As many of us know from personal experience, exiting the Arboretum becomes a bit more difficult in the afternoons (especially on Sundays) as traffic backs up behind motorists who are trying to turn left onto Madison. The question of fixing this problem was raised this week by a reader of the news site, and it was answered by Brian Kemper, the Seattle DOT’s manager of traffic signal operations.

The problem, according to Kemper, is that the left-turn lane itself is too short, and to make the lane longer would require taking additional land from the Park in order to widen the street. In the City’s official opinion, the fact that drivers may sometimes suffer a small delay is not a big price to pay for keeping the Park entrance as it is.

Sidewalk sale beings tomorrow: The Seattle Times' site,, has a brief article covering the details of Madison Park’s upcoming sidewalk sale. The story cites Lola McKee of Madison Park Hardware as the source for the estimate that this is the 29th year for the annual event. McKee receives her proper due as “unofficial matriarch of Madison Park.”

The beach is clean: King County’s regular weekly testing of the beach at Madison Park last week showed a return to normal levels of fecal coliforms. The decline was to a count of 47 from a high of 470 two weeks previously. Fecal coliforms are a group of intestinal bacteria that are routinely used as an indicator of sewage pollution in water, and as an indicator of the human health risk.

Correction: This is a first for my blog, but I have to admit to having publicized some false information in a past blog entry (Watchers in the park and other weird crimes). In fact, I may have even been a little bit sensationalist without cause. The Seattle Police report that the incident involving the guy who supposedly stabbed himself in front of a bunch of kids on Madison a few weeks ago did not happen. It is true, according to the Seattle Police, that a man was discovered bleeding from a chest wound by a bunch of kids, but he did not stab himself. His injuries, in fact, resulted from a botched home burglary when the man cut himself on the window he broke to gain entrance to a Madison Park house. He was arrested and treated. This is a good object lesson for me about using hearsay information on my blog, a newsgathering method not to be repeated.

Monday, July 6, 2009

They're baaaack!!!

Every year at about this time a swarm descends upon Madison Park and doesn’t leave until the neighborhood has been picked pretty clean. Those of us who are so unsuspecting as to answer our doors during this period may find ourselves accosted, badgered and sometimes even intimidated into doing something we really don’t want to do: buy some magazines. The swarm of which I speak, of course, is that thundering army of extremely aggressive door-to-door magazine-subscription salespeople, whose arrival in Madison Park in the summer is about as predictable as the return of the swallows to Capistrano. For the record, it’s magazine time again.

These solicitors are intensively trained before being flown into our midst, usually arrive from someplace in the Midwest (they are never from Seattle), and stay in town for a pre-set period before moving on. They fan out to the various neighborhoods in the afternoons and early evenings and report back to the boss at the end of the day. I have been told in past years that Madison Park is considered one of the best neighborhoods in which to work this trade.

On Friday I got to spend some quality time with one of these salespeople (I, stupidly, was out working in my garden and had no ready means of escape). Her name was Kari and she told me she was part of a group of 80 that had landed in our fair city during the week. She was from New York, and she started her spiel by telling me that a neighbor of mine said I was a nice person (that should have disarmed me). She stated that she was a “youth motivator,” so I asked if her motivational work had anything to do with selling me magazines, and she admitted that that was the case. Although I made it clear that I wasn’t buying, she still worked me over for a good 15 minutes or so. On leaving she asked both if she could shake my hand (yes) and whether I’d be interested in providing her with some assistance even though I wasn’t buying any magazines (no).

She was very friendly, personable and not intimidating in the least, but I can assure you this is not always—or even usually—the case. Many of the people in these programs are former felons, and there have been occasional problems reported in the past of violent behavior by magazine salespeople in Seattle. One of my neighbors felt threatened enough to call the police last year. A couple summers ago I was approached by a very large and physically intimidating guy who told me “I am not going to take no for an answer.” That was kind of scary. But the worst experience was with a woman several years ago who called me a racist and screamed obscenities at me for not buying anything. These belligerent tactics have been reported this year in other cities.

A word to the wise: If you do buy any magazines take note of the fact that under terms of the contract you will be required to wait 120 days before claiming a refund if your magazines do not arrive. And your chances of getting a refund are about 50%, based on my own personal experience (yes, I’ve given in and subscribed, though I have never gotten an actual magazine in the mail as a result). Note also that these door-to-door companies usually shut down after authorities get a lot of consumer complaints, and the owners simply start up a new company in another state and just keep operating. If all that is not enough to deter you, I suggest you compare their magazine prices with the cost of a subscription ordered online.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bright addition to the ‘hood

Red Wagon Toys just managed to get its door open in time for the holiday this weekend, the smell of fresh paint still in the air. The toy store, located at 4218 E. Madison Street (next to Cactus!), takes over much of the space vacated by the venerable Yankee Peddler, which shut its doors in March after over 50 years in business. The toy store is the latest venture of the folks who bring us Cookin’, the great kitchen store two doors down the street.

Red Wagon Toys helps fill a void left by the exit of Izilla Toys, which decamped from the general neighborhood last year when it moved from Madison Valley to Capitol Hill. Its space in that little house on Madison was temporarily taken by a massage parlor/bordello, whose business was severely impacted by a police raid late last year. Fast Frame rehabilitated the space and moved in last month.

Happy Fourth of July!

Though the residential streets of the neighborhood seemed semi-deserted yesterday (most of the residents apparently having left town for the holiday) the beaches were packed. This was the afternoon scene at Madison Park:

And at the Seattle Tennis Club:

The Park scene will be even more lively next weekend, with the annual Children's Picnic Parade on Saturday (staging begins at 11:45 in front of the Wells Fargo branch). Madison Park Days and Sidewalk Sale begins on Thursday and continues through Saturday.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Reports from the East Precinct
June 22 - June 30

Bank robber caught red handed: There seemed to be something suspicious about a man who walked out of the Chase branch on Capitol Hill (1204 Broadway) one afternoon last week. He was covered in red dye, and his jacket seemed to be spewing a red powder of some sort. The man, obviously upset by this state of affairs, threw his jacket onto the ground and proceeded down the street, but not before being seen in the act by a very observant witness. A police parking enforcement officer just happened to be in the area and was approached by the witness, who explained what he had seen and then took the officer to where the jacket had been discarded. The officer broadcast the description of the suspect on her police radio a few moments before another broadcast was heard stating that Chase had been robbed by a man fitting the description.

Coincidentally, the captain of the East Precinct, Paul McDonagh, happened to be in the area and noticed the suspect walking down the 800 block of Pike Street. He and another officer apprehended the dye-stained man, who then got a free ride to the King County Jail. Believe it or not, less than a year ago a bank branch on Broadway just one block from of Chase was robbed by a different man who suffered the same bad timing. In that case, Sgt. Jay Shin was walking down the street when he noticed a man carrying what seemed to be smoking incense. On a closer observation, however, Sgt. Shin realized that it was an exploding red-dye pack, often slipped into the cash given to unwitting bank robbers by tellers. When Sgt. Shin apprehended the man, the suspect refused to let go of the money in spite of the fact that his hands were being burned by the smoking dye pack. At the time of the arrest, there were no reports of any bank having been robbed in the area. But shortly thereafter, the report came through—well after the police had their man. Incidentally, the last name of the suspect in last week’s robbery, Poor-Bear, was transposed as “Poor-Boy” in the police report, which pretty wells sums it up.

Red flagging leads to arrest: The Bank of America branch located on the 1300 block of E. Madison Street was the scene last week of a forgery arrest after a woman attempted to cash a stolen check. The teller was alerted to the possible fraud by the fact that the suspect had a “red flagged” account, one where suspicious activity had previously been detected by the bank. A little checking by the teller confirmed that the check was invalid, and 911 was called. The suspect claimed that it was all an innocent mistake. She stated that she was owed some money by a man (whose name she claimed not to know) who wrote her the check and then waited with a couple friends in his car for her to cash the check. Surprisingly, the men were nowhere to be found when the police went to investigate her story. The suspect was booked into the King County Jail.

Water tower rip off: The Parks department last week reported that someone had stolen an “exhibit” from its display case on the top floor of the Volunteer Park water tower. Although the value of the object was listed as $9,000, the police report was curiously deficient regarding what exactly the exhibit consisted of. Some copper piping, perhaps? Whatever he took, the perpetrator left no fingerprints at the scene.

Rooms with a view: Police were called to the 400 block of Belmont Avenue E. last week to investigate a chainsaw-wielding crew that was cutting the top branches of several trees which appeared to be on City property. The tree cutters had no permit to cut and no business license, but they claimed to have been hired by the owner of an apartment building at that location. When contacted, the building owner reportedly told the officer that he had hired the men to cut the lower tree branches because they had been hitting him on the head. He also claimed to have a letter from the City stating that the trees were on his property. The officer noted that the trees his crew was cutting did not have low-hanging branches, that it was the tree “crowns” that had been removed, and that all of the tress clearly appeared to be on City property. Additionally, the removal of the trees' branches had a beneficial effect on the apartment building since it appeared to create a view and sunny conditions for the top floor. The case was turned over to the City Arborist for review and possible action.

Do I know you?: On June 25 a man came into the precinct station to report that he had been at a downtown club when a stranger came up to him, embraced him, and began hugging him. When the man told the stranger that he did not know him, the guy backed off, apologized and walked away. Only later did the victim notice that his cash and driver’s license were both missing from his pocket. Unfortunately, the perpetrator was nowhere to be found once the theft was discovered.

Patient discharged directly to jail : The police were called to Harborview on Monday to deal with a female patient named Misty who got testy when denied some juice and crackers by the discharging nurse. After calling the nurse a choice name or two she spit in the nurse’s face, according to the victim and a witness. The police did not buy Misty’s story, however, that she may have accidentally spit some blood on the nurse while simply talking to her. They helped Misty complete her hospital discharge as well as her admission to the ”KCJ” (King County Jail).

There were several armed robberies in the central area during this period, including one where the suspects were apprehended by East Precinct officers. Madison Park itself was quiet, with only a car prowl and a petty theft reported during the period.