Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tina’s celebrates 30 years

If there’s such a thing as a destination fabric store, Tina’s on Madison surely fits the category. In its three decades as a mainstay of Madison Park’s “Village” the store has become known to many Northwest fabric aficionados as the place to get what you need. And it’s not just fabric you’ll find once you wade into Tina’s, it’s also tassels, trims, ribbons, beads, and sewing supplies. It may not be everything, but it’s pretty much everything that’ll fit. Vogue Patterns had this to say about the store in a recent issue: “If you’re looking for a neatly organized store, this isn’t the place—if you’re looking for something great, it definitely is.”

Store Owner Tina Brown is a major presence in the local business community and a long-time resident of the Park. Given her prominence, she is surprisingly shy about herself (“No pictures of me, please--this is a story about the store!”), but she’s certainly not embarrassed to have publicity for her now-venerable Madison Park shop. And in this, the store’s 30th Anniversary month, she has nothing to complain about—at least not in that regard. In addition to Vogue Patterns’ favorable write up on the shop this summer, a fabric from Tina’s was recently featured by local “lifestyle and entertainment expert” Kelley Moore in a KING-TV segment, Yelp called to congratulate the store on its perfect record of five-star reviews, and Google showed up to do some on-location filming in the shop (we’ll have more about that in a future posting).

So what’s the secret to the success of Tina’s? Tina attributes it to her ability to keep up with fashion trends and to understand what her customers want. To keep up, she attends the international textile shows regularly, she visits high-end boutiques to see what’s new, she pays close attention to what’s happening in Europe, and she buys for her market. ”If I had another store I would buy different things,” she says, “but I’m not going to buy something because it’s cute—I’m buying for my customers.”

And what do her customers want? “They want new things—and they want proof it’s new!” she tells us, adding that it keeps her on her toes. When she started thirty years ago she had just come off a career with the Singer Corporation. Surprisingly, given how far she’s come, she began her sewing store with absolutely no fabric. But that all changed fairly quickly, and Tina’s is now known for carrying fabrics of all kinds: a little fleece, a bit of flannel, some embroidered silks--you name it.

As pointed about by one reviewer on Yelp, though the store may look disorganized, Tina nevertheless seems to know exactly where everything is. “It may not be neatly stacked,” she says, “but it’s all here.” The chaos, however, is definitely part of the charm for many visitors to the store, sort of a search for treasure with Tina as your guide. The Seattle PI once summed it up this way: “It’s a bit of an East Coast experience right in Madison Park.”

[Tina’s on Madison is located at 4232 E. Madison Street.]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Real Estate Report: August/September 2010

The market’s turned, but not by much

There’s really no getting around the fact that as we head into the fall the Madison Park real estate market is doing no better than just holding its own. Although the late spring and early summer months seemed to augur a resurgence, the late summer numbers show a decline in sales, an increase in the days on market for sold homes, and higher discounts being accepted by sellers.

It probably doesn’t help any to know that our situation is mirrored by the Puget Sound real estate market as a whole. The Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS) recently reported, for example, that in September King County home sales were down 27% over the previous year, while pending sales were down 26% and inventory levels were on the increase. For our neighborhood, however, October inventory levels are about the same as last year’s, but home sales in August and September were down 16% over the same two-month period in 2009.

Broadmoor experienced the biggest comedown during the last two months of summer. While nine home sales had occurred there in June and July, the MLS reported not a single sale in Broadmoor during August and September, though the King County Assessor reported two non-MLS sales. With these included, Madison Park overall had 16 sales during the two-month period. This eight-sales-per-month average is still well in advance of the sales level experienced during the market’s trough, so we can take comfort from the fact that buyers, sellers, agents, and financing sources are continuing to find ways to get deals done.

Here’s a look at the August/September numbers from the MLS:


Sales: 3/5
Median Sale Price: $960,000/$1,450,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 2,737/4,121
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $390/$362
Average Days on Market: 36/264
Average Discount from Original List Price: 10.4%/10.1%


Sales: 4/2
Median Sale Price: $496,500/$605,000
Average Sq. Ft.: 1,094/1,475
Average Price per Sq. Ft.: $453/$374
Average Days on Market: 219/408
Average Discount from Original List Price: 7.4%/18.8%

There are currently seven properties on the market, four houses and three condos, which have been for sale for more than 500 days (including two that exceed 1,000 days). On the opposite end of the spectrum, 34 listings were added in the last 60 days, representing 36% of the properties for sale in Madison Park. The chances of selling a house quickly continue to be significantly higher for the bottom end of the market than for the upper end. The houses listed at $1.5 million or less this month have been on the market for an average of only 89 days, while those listed above that level have been available for 182 days on average. The most expensive listing is for a 10,000 sq. ft. house in Broadmoor, listed at $11,950,000. The least expensive house is a 1931 Madison Park cottage listed at $590,000.

As noted, inventory is not higher today than it was at this time last year, and it remains in line with levels seen earlier in the summer. For the Seattle market as a whole, inventory levels are actually rising. Possible market stagnation is the implication of increasing inventories coupled with a decline in pending sales (down 30% in Seattle during September, year over year). However, there also could be a seasonality factor at play, according to some local real estate professionals. Expect slower sales through the winter, with a pick up in the spring. That’s at least the hope.

This is a current snapshot of the Madison Park market (Broadmoor and Washington Park included), as provided by Redfin:


Listings: 64
Median List Price: $1,795,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 3,670
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $489
Average Days on Market: 147
Percentage with Price Reductions: 33%
Pending Sales: 7


Listings: 30
Median List Price: $435,000
Median Sq. Ft.: 1,091
Median Price per Sq. Ft.: $399
Average Days on Market: 197
Percentage with Price Reductions: 50%
Pending Sales: 3

As we’ve noted previously, Madison Park’s real estate market is really too small for a year-over-year comparison of house sales prices to be of much value. However, for the wider local market (including Capitol Hill, Madrona, and Montlake), the MLS reports that in September the median price of a sold house was up 34% over the previous year. Obviously, this is an anomaly. At the same time, the number of sales was off by 33%, and pending sales were off by almost 50%. This wider market, however, is probably much more impacted by the end of the federal tax credit program for home buyers than our neighborhood is. Only 16% of the houses for sale in the Park this month are listed at below $1 million, which is now a pretty typical pattern for our rarefied market.

[Thanks to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate for her help in compiling the sales data. Listing data courtesy of Redfin, using information from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

[Photo: This 2005 contemporary home located at 2319 38th Avenue E., in the Canterbury section of Madison Park, is listed at $1,699,995. A Broadmoor Golf Course fairway abuts the house’s backyard.]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Did Madrona arsonist make an attempt here?

Seattle Police are reportedly investigating whether the suspect who burglarized and then burned a house in Madrona last week was responsible for an earlier attempt to do the same thing in our own neighborhood. That’s the word, at least, from a victimized Madison Park homeowner who wishes to remain anonymous. His story provides us with one of those yes-it-can-happen-here wake-up moments.

Our informant reports that he and his wife returned to their Madison Park bungalow on Sunday afternoon last weekend and found that their garage had been opened in their absence. Noticing also that the back gate to their yard was ajar, they soon discovered that their basement door had been broken into. A propane heater from the garage had, for some reason, been moved into the basement. But strangely, a laptop and cell phone which were sitting in plain sight had not been touched, and nothing else had been stolen from the house either.

Given the muddy footprints going up the steps, it seemed apparent that the perpetrator had been scared off by the return of the homeowners. They considered themselves the victims of a foiled burglary and dutifully reported the incident to the police.

A couple days later, however, they heard the story of the Madrona arsonist. On Monday morning last week, a man had knocked on the door of a Madrona residence and asked the homeowner for permission to look around his yard for a missing ball. The unsuspicious homeowner not only gave permission for the search, but he then left the house. Shortly thereafter, the house caught fire. The fire department later determined that the fire had been deliberately set in the basement, and police believe that the purpose was to cover up a burglary.

The police also think that the perpetrator was using the lost-ball story as a ruse for determining whether anyone was at home in the houses he targeted for his crimes. Prior to the arson in Madrona, it appears he had used the same tactic on another homeowner in the neighborhood. In that case, however, the potential victim did not leave the premises and the suspect moved on after retrieving his ball.

The Madison Park couple had already been thinking there was something strange about their propane heater having been moved by the burglar into the basement. But the story of the arson in Madrona gave them further food for thought. They had already discovered a rubber ball in their yard that they had never seen before. Suddenly, the implications became clear. The police were brought back for a second look; and according to the homeowner, they took the ball away for DNA testing and dusted the premises for fingerprints.

What now appears to be a possible foiled arson attempt in Madison Park is a cautionary tale for us all. The homeowner certainly thinks so, which is why he shared his story with the Madison Park Blogger. “If we had stopped for a burger before returning home that Sunday,” he says, “we might have come back to a burning house.” He’d been thinking about installing a home security system before this incident, but that’s now a decision that has pretty much been made for him, he told us.

The Seattle Police have what they consider to be a very good sketch of the alleged arsonist (that’s him above), based on the descriptions given by the two Madrona homeowners who had lost-ball conversations with him. He is described as “a black male with a medium to dark complexion, 18 to early 20′s, 5’11″ tall, 150 lbs., athletic build, and hair in corn rows.”

This is the Madrona home he allegedly burglarized and torched:

[Sketch courtesy of the Seattle Police. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Fire Department.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short takes No. 10

Madison Park Conservatory: getting close

Since neighborhood favorite Sostanza went dark in July, many Madison Park gourmands have been waiting with eager anticipation for news about its replacement, Madison Park Conservatory. Co-owner Cormac Mahoney added to the buzz last week by making the rounds of Village shops and charming the owners—or at least several of the female ones. We heard all about it, of course, and that prompted us to go direct to the source and ask the really important questions: when is the place opening and what can we expect to see on the menu?

As to the when, Mahoney says he’s expecting a late November or early December start date for the new restaurant. As to the rest? Well, he promises to divulge all (or, more truthfully, he agreed to speak with us and tell us something) within the next couple of weeks. Construction is quite obviously underway (the dry wall was delivered last week); and Mahoney confirms that, indeed, the fireplace is now a thing of history. But that’s about all of the news we could get out of the guy. Except for one other, not insignificant, fact. He reports that he’s moved to Madison Park from his abode in Eastlake, thereby making him one of the very rare—four or five at best—local business owners who are also residents of the Park.

While we’ve still got hope for a meaningful future dialog with Mahoney, all we’re left with today is this teaser: “Please be satisfied,” he says, “with our current mantra: we will be a Seattle restaurant serving delicious plants and animals with a squeeze of lemon.”

Did we mention the bit about his being young and charming?

MLK sale to FAME approved

As expected, the Seattle School Board (technically, the Seattle School District Board of Directors) last night approved the sale of the Martin Luther King Elementary School site in Madison Valley to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The vote was 5 to 2. Based on the emails we’ve received, as well as on comments left in response to our blog posting on the subject, the School District’s action is highly controversial, both in our neighborhood and in Madison Valley. For whatever reason, we’ve not heard from First A.M.E. or from any of its supporters since the story broke.

‘Honey’ declared a dangerous animal

The Washington Park Pit Bull which allegedly attacked three women on one day in August, has officially been designated as a “dangerous animal” by the Director of the Seattle Animal Shelter. As a result, an administrative process will now begin during which the owner can appeal the decision. Unless the appeal is successful, Honey, the tan Pit Bull (or Pit Bull mix) will no longer be allowed within the City limits. She is reportedly now living in West Seattle.

Rejuvenation anyone?

Just next door to the new Madison Park Conservatory is Spa Del Lago, into which former Madison Park resident Dr. Teri Burnett recently moved her practice. Although a plastic surgeon with nine years of experience in using more-invasive procedures, Burnett is now specializing in some less-intrusive approaches to helping people look younger: Botox, dermal fillers, and wellness supplements. You can get the details on her no-surgery/no-pills program by checking out her Facebook page, Get Young MD. Spa Del Lago is located at 1929 43rd Avenue. E.

[Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E. Photo of Spa Del Lago courtesy of Get Young MD.]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bush School loses out on MLK Elementary bid

It may come as a bit of a shock to some Seattle taxpayers to learn that the School District, which is currently asking voters to approve a new $48 million tax levy, is planning to turn down several million dollars that it could have realized from the sale of the Martin Luther King Elementary School site in Madison Valley, located just on the doorstep of Madison Park (3201 E. Republican Street).

As we reported this summer, the school was closed in 2007, and the District later decided to declare the property “surplus” and sell it. Bidders submitted proposals to the District earlier this year; and it now appears that the lowest bidder will be declared the winner, meaning that the Seattle Public Schools will walk away from millions of dollars that it could have obtained by accepting the highest bid. Moreover, some neighbors of the MLK site express concern that the winning bidder does not have funds either to make needed structural upgrades to the building or to operate the property once it takes possession. When you add to all of this the fact that the winning bidder is a church which is getting the money to buy the property from State taxpayers, you have the makings of a controversial situation. Curiously, this story has not been picked up by the media, other than the neighboring Central District News blog, which covers Madison Valley.

This is where the situation stands today. On Wednesday evening, the Seattle School Board is expected to accept the recommendation of the Superintendant that it approve a $2.4 million sale of the MLK site to the First African Methodist Episcopalian Church (FAME), located at 1522 14th Avenue. This is in spite of the fact that the highest bidder for the property was the neighboring Bush School (3400 E. Harrison St.), which had submitted an offer valued by the District at between $3.0 million (to purchase the building) and $5.6 million (the net present value of a proposed 99-year lease of the site). Bush and a second bidder, Citizens for a Community Center at MLK (CCC@MLK), a non-profit group which bid $2.5 million, thus lost out to FAME, a tax-exempt religious organization which is benefiting from $2.4 million in funding by the State legislature in support of the purchase. By approving the sale to FAME, the School Board will be accepting a $3.2 million discount from the real value of the property as determined by the market.

But is there more to the story than this? An insight into the District’s thinking is provided in the Superintendant’s recommendation to the Board, which states that the First AME Church bid should be accepted “because the value of keeping the building available for support of youth education and social services creates an intangible benefit to the community which outweighs the financial gain offered by the higher-priced [Bush School] proposal.”

The School Board’s standard for the sale of the school was originally established as “the highest bid wins, unless one or more firms meets [sic] requirements for Youth Education Center or providing social services.” If a bidder agreed to devote 50% or more of the building space to support youth education or governmental or social services, the Board allowed for that bid to receive “special treatment.” School staff estimated that FAME proposed to use 60% of the site for “youth education activities,” the Bush School (which planned to tear the building down) proposed allowing community use of their new soccer field for a minimum of 1,000 hours per year, while the CCC@MLK said it would devote 54% of the total space to youth services and another 19% to social services. The District’s staff quantified the “value to the community” of having FAME control the space as $50,000 per year, versus $23,000 for the CCC@MLK proposal, and $20,000 for the Bush proposal.

One of the issues raised by the proposed sale to FAME is the fact that there is a statutory requirement that the School District achieve at least 90% of “fair market value” if it permits a community organization to acquire school property. Because there is a recent appraisal of the MLK property valuing it at $2.4 million, the staff concluded that the sale to FAME meets the statutory requirement.

The School District’s position is that the value of the property is set by the appraisal and not by the bidding process. The clear implication of this point of view is that the Bush School was willing to pay a huge premium over what is a “fair” market price for the property. Bush, incidentally, originally offered $3.7 million for MLK, and the net present value of Bush’s initial long-term lease proposal was pegged by the School District at $9 million. Bush later revised its offer downward as a result of several factors, including “changes in the competitive landscape of the property.” Meaning, presumably, the fact that other bidders were publicly known to be offering far less.

When the FAME offer was first submitted this summer, a question initially raised by school staff was whether or not a sale to a religious organization violates statutory or constitutional requirements. Ron English, a lawyer with the District who was the principal staffer for the MLK bidding process, concluded, however, that “there is no prohibition against public agencies doing business with religious institutions, only that they not be given preference.” He told us that “the selection criteria were neutral in that regard, so there is no problem.”

Bush School seems to be accepting its apparent loss with good grace. Frank Magusin, Bush’s Head of School, when asked about the apparent outcome, said "we are disappointed by the recommendation to sell the property to First A.M.E. Church, since we thought our proposal provided the greatest overall benefit for the district, the immediate neighborhood, and the broader Seattle community, while at the same time offering much needed support for our educational program." He adds, however, that if FAME acquires the MLK property, “we will welcome them to the neighborhood and hope to find ways to work together with them to support their youth education programs.”

CCC@MLK, meanwhile, has protested the District’s upcoming sale of MLK to FAME. Adrienne Bailey, President of the group, said she believes “there was impropriety and hypocrisy” in the School Board’s process. The staff’s analysis of the FAME bid was flawed, she said, and the CCC bid was “scrutinized to a higher standard than anyone else’s bid.” The bottom line from her point view is that the “District is choosing the lowest bidder with the least amount of services.”

The Madison Valley neighborhood group had been hoping to create a community center in the space, offering lifelong learning classes, community meeting space, "an incubator work space for small and grass-root groups and organizations," a computer center, a public playground, and services for youth, families and veterans. “We’re bringing quality and we’re bringing collaboration with other major institutions, such as Bastyr University and Spectrum Dance,” she said.

What FAME promised the School District is an array of youth and adult programs, including dance and fitness classes, sports programs, educational classes and workshops, daycare, and “other community activities.” The District gave the nod to FAME at least in part because of its greater emphasis on youth programs. Bailey, however, believes that the programs FAME has offered are not as well developed, documented, or thought out as CCC@MLK's. She wants to be able to have both groups present their proposals to the full School Board in an open meeting “so the public can see what is fully being offered with documentation." In her opinion, FAME does not have the "money, resources, or expertise" to be able to operate the building once it takes possession.

Did the District do any analysis to determine the likelihood that either of the competing groups (CCC and FAME) had the resources to be able to bring the school up to seismic standards, maintain the building,and pay for the operations of the facility once in control of it? The answer from School District staffer Ron English is “we did not do a separate analysis.”

It is unlikely that Bailey’s group will get the chance to make the hoped-for presentation to the School Board at its Wednesday session. The Superintendent denied the CCC@MLK appeal earlier this month, paving the way for the Board to act. “I felt they were saying give up and go away,” Bailey told us.

Some MLK neighbors, meanwhile, have expressed concern over the potential negative impact on neighborhood property values of having FAME operate its programs at the site. One resident recently emailed her neighbors expressing the view that "FAME brings nothing to the neighborhood, whereas the Bush proposal brings a much needed playfield and playground." Another neighbor, also in a broadside email, questioned whether the Board's acceptance of the FAME offer might "violate a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers." But as one MLK neighbor admitted, there may also be socioeconomic and racial tensions that play a role in the some of the opposition to FAME's sudden arrival in the neighborhood.

Is the sale to FAME a foregone conclusion? Probably so. Blogger Melissa Westbrook (Save Seattle Schools), a long-time observer of the School District’s modus operandi, has this to say about the situation: “The CCC[@MLK] said that ‘the district analysis was flawed.’ That would certainly not be the first time that has ever been said about staff analysis. However, as we know, the Board has never gone against anything that the Superintendent has recommended, so I’d say it’s done.”
[Editorial aside: we attempted to get FAME's take on the situation but were told by the Church that only the Pastor, Carey Anderson, was authorized to speak to the media on the subject. He did not respond to our requests for comment.]

Friday, October 15, 2010

Police beat, an update

Columbus Day burglary foiled by alarm

McGilvra’s Bar & Restaurant was on the receiving end of an unwelcome early morning visit by one or more burglars on Monday. At 4:40 am the perpetrator(s) removed the pins from two of three hinges and then ripped the back door from its frame. Apparently intent on liberating cash from what they thought was a safe near the bar, they entered the pub and quickly found and cut the wires to the alarm system. But from that point forward, it seems that things went awry. What might have looked a bit like a safe—at least from a distance—was really a mini-refrigerator. And that disabled alarm turned out to have a back-up system which, according to pub owner Peter Johnson, is very loud inside the premises and can also be heard outside.

It appears that the would-be burglar(s) panicked, leaving in a hurry when realizing their mistakes. Nothing was taken in the raid, says Johnson, though the mini-frige was moved a couple of feet from where it normally sits. Johnson says he’s surprised that they didn’t at least grab a bottle or two of booze. He figures he got off lucky this time. Most break-ins of businesses in the Village occur through the alley side, although there was one notable exception last year, when Madison Park Hardware was entered through the front.

KOMO manufactures some news

Although several neighbors have asked whether there’s been an uptick in residential break-ins recently, there doesn’t seem to be any statistical evidence to support their concern. Any generalized unease about home burglaries, however, has certainly not been assuaged by KOMO TV’s recent hyping of one particular example here in the Park.

On Tuesday evening, the TV station decided to play up the case of a supposedly suspicious man seen in the neighborhood, a guy who wore an orange safety vest as though he was some kind of worker but, in hindsight at least, seemed to have been a likely suspect in a residential burglary. KOMO trumpeted its upcoming coverage with “teasers” during the early portion of the news, implying that orange-vest-clad men were on a burglary spree here in Madison Park: news at 6:30!

When the “Live from Madison Park” story was finally reported at the top of the 6:30 news segment (with cameras and reporter positioned for full effect on McGilvra Boulevard), it turned out to be about an incident we reported on this blog many weeks ago. KOMO’s reporter didn’t mention that, by then, the case they were covering with so much fanfare was exactly a month old. The idea that homeowners should be suspicious of men in orange vests was a bit much, frankly, given that no one actually saw the burglary occur and no one at the time thought the vest-clad man was suspicious enough to warrant calling the police.

Which, of course, was the point made by the victim, who was interviewed for KOMO’s piece. She reiterated the comments she had made on this blog, namely that neighbors need to be more vigilant—and if they see something suspicious they should report it immediately.

In ending his story, the KOMO reporter stated that “Seattle police say they have not seen a pattern of thieves using vests to confuse neighbors,” a fact apparently overlooked by KOMO’s news anchors when hyping the story. We, at least, know better.

Referral made in sexual assault case

The Seattle Police have confirmed that the detective investigating the incident involving an alleged sexual assault at the Seattle Tennis Club this summer has now forwarded the case to the King County Prosecutor for consideration of charges against the alleged assailant.
[Middle photo: the alley side of McGilvra's, located at 4234 E. Madison St.]

“Gateway to Chile” opens this weekend

Though it clearly has a ways to go before it becomes the “eye-catching display of colorful Chilean plants” that it’s ultimately intended to be, the Arboretum’s newest installation, Gateway to Chile, is about to get its official public unveiling. On Sunday, October 17, the public is invited to the inauguration of what’s certainly the most ambitious replanting project undertaken in the Park for several decades. This garden represents the first phase of a much more ambitious Pacific Connections Garden project, part of the Arboretum’s twenty-year master plan.

Located on a Lake Washington Boulevard hill near the Arboretum’s Madison Street entrance, the newly planted Chilean garden will need a bit of time to mature and fill the space available before looking anything like the graphic below.

Even so, the project, which began in July, has totally transformed what had previously been an overgrown hillside. Part of that vegetation overgrowth had obscured the Holmdahl Rockery (right at the corner of Lake Washington Boulevard and Arboretum Drive), which is also being restored as part of the Gateway to Chile installation. A further portion of the Chilean forest will be planted later this year, followed by a New Zealand “focal forest” to be installed in 2012.

Funds for this project were partly provided by the City’s Parks and Green Spaces Levy, with additional monies raised by the Arboretum Foundation. The Washington Park Arboretum is jointed operated by the City, the Foundation, and the University of Washington. More information on the project is located here. This Sunday’s inaugural event begins at 1 pm (2300 Arboretum Drive E.).
Gateway to Chile opens, coincidentally, during the very week when the world’s attention has been focused on the rescue of the Chilean miners. When ground breaking occurred at the Arboretum site during the summer, the Chilean earthquake disaster had just occurred, bringing Chile to the forefront of the world's consciousness.
[Illustration courtesy of the Arboretum Foundation.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halloween in the Park begins early

It’s apparent from the emails we’ve been receiving and the Google searches that have been landing on our blog recently, that parents want to know what’s up with Halloween in Madison Park this year. The spooky day occurs on Sunday, October 31, but here’s everyone’s big question: when, exactly, are our friendly neighborhood shops going to be forking over treats to all our little tricksters?

To get the answer, I went straight to the top, asking Madison Park Business Association President Terry Short for the lowdown. His answer is that the annual “Madison Park Halloween Party” will be held the day before Halloween, on Saturday, October 30, from 3 until 5 pm. Most Madison Park businesses will be participating, and—as usual—pictures will be taken of trick-or-treaters at the Triangle Park in front of Bing’s (4200 E. Madison St.) as part of the Halloween festivities. The party, as always, is sponsored by the MPBA, being joined this year by the Madison Park Cooperative Preschool as co-sponsor.

Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, October 27, Madison Park’s own IndieFlix will be hosting a “Spooky Movies in Madison Park” event at Starbucks (4000 E. Madison St.). Everybody (or, rather, those aged ten and up) is invited to share in complimentary wine (for those of age), light hors d’oeurves, and other goodies while watching four short-and-spooky movies. There will then be a vote for Best Picture. The fun begins at 6 pm, and the movies will run from 7 until 7:30.

Finally, Cafe Flora in Madison Valley (2901 E. Madison St.) is sponsoring a free Pumpkin Decorating Party (no carving), with pumpkins provided by Tonnemaker Farm and art supplies provided by Thrive Art School. There will also be free cinnamon bites from Cafe Flora and free cider provided by Rockridge Orchards & Cidery. Kids are encouraged to come in costume, Saturday, October 30, from 9 am until 2 pm.

[Halloween graphic by Eric Pigors.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pit bull attack gets a reaction

This is Madison Park, a great walking neighborhood. A place, in fact, where residents and visitors expect to be able to stroll on a lovely summer’s day without fear or concern. So when an incident occurs that shows us our tranquil little community is not always as safe and comfortable as we’ve complacently believed, it’s a bit shocking. And it’s definitely a story.

The recent report of multiple attacks by a neighborhood pit bull on unsuspecting passersby presents us with a jarring case in point. While the attacks themselves are certainly alarming, their possible cause and what’s happened (and what hasn’t happened) in their aftermath are proving to be additional sources of concern for victims, neighbors, and dog lovers alike.

The registered owner of Honey, the Pit Bull in question, has not provided us with any insights into his own thinking. Though his wife requested that we delay posting our story for 24 hours so she could provide us with a written statement, she did not do so. The owner’s son, however, has responded; and what he’s had to say about the case, as quoted in our original story and in comments he later posted to the blog, is controversial at best.

First, the issue of responsibility. The son, who was the caretaker for the dog while his parents were away on vacation, admits that both Honey and a companion dog were left on their own at the Washington Park house for at least a week, with only daily visits by him to check on their condition. He told us that Honey had been well secured but had dug a “seven feet by four feet” hole in order to escape from the fenced back yard.

One of Honey’s victims (we’ll call her Jane) has a problem with the owner’s assumption that a Pit Bull left on its own for an extended period would not pose a potential threat. “Dogs get out,” she told me, “and a Pit Bull is a risky type of animal.” Jane noted that Pit Bulls have been bred to fight. “It’s in their DNA to attack,” and an attack is a particular risk when the animal is frightened, she said. Given the dog’s history, “she was probably always scared in situations where she was uncontrolled. She seemed frightened, and she attacked.”

In spite of having been injured, Jane is somewhat sympathetic to the dog’s owner, who she believes certainly didn’t want this outcome. But she’s particularly sympathetic to the dog: “Her situation was created by a human who abused her in the first place and then by an owner who allowed her to get out and become frightened,” she said. “The dog is a victim here too.” She believes that Pit Bull owners have a responsibility to protect the public and says the City should impose special requirements for people who want to keep Pit Bulls.

The most seriously injured victim of the attacks, whom we are calling Carol, totally agrees with that last point. She thinks Honey’s owner acted irresponsibility and that the City compounded the problem by what happened after the attacks. "They should never have let that dog out," she told me. As we reported, the City returned Honey to the owner’s son ten days after having impounded her. According Seattle Animal Shelter supervisor Ann Graves, the City had to do so because there is no law allowing for a dog to be held while the Shelter’s “dangerous animal” assessment is underway. A ten-day quarantine period is required under the law in order to check for rabies, but that’s it.

In this case, the “dangerous animal” investigation was only completed last week, the recommendation that Honey be declared dangerous is still under review by the director of the Animal Shelter, and due process for the dog’s owner may take several more weeks to play out, according to Graves. In the meantime, Honey is somewhere in West Seattle and under no special restrictions resulting from the attacks. Carol’s response to all this: “I think the City screwed up. If that’s the law, the law needs to be changed.” She said she’s talked to people living near Honey’s house and they told her that the dog was loose on other occasions. Neighbors confirmed this when we asked, but noted it was unusual for Honey to be out unsupervised. What was usual, they said, was for Honey to be off leash whenever she was out with her family. One neighbor told us that “it was terrorizing” when it happened, so she and her kids avoided being in proximity to the dog.

The owner’s son, who says he now has the dog in his care fulltime, questioned why this is a story for the Madison Park Blogger, given that the dog is currently living with him in West Seattle and is no longer a danger to anyone in our neighborhood. From Carol’s perspective, that question totally misses the point. The issue now is whether people in West Seattle are safe, she says.

Ultimately, the City’s process will result in a decision in Honey’s case, likely one that will force her owner to either euthanize the dog or place her in a secure facility. “Owning a dangerous animal in the City is against the law,” says the Animal Shelter’s Graves, so once such a determination is made—assuming it is upheld if appealed—the dog can’t remain inside Seattle’s boundaries. Criminal charges are also a possibility, she noted.

In the meantime, we understand that some of the victims have approached the City to discuss changing current law. It’s possible, we’re told, that at least one member of the City Council may get involved in this case. Since the Pit Bull story broke, we’ve noticed a fair number of hits to our website coming from the “” server, so someone in the City is apparently paying attention. “These attacks do raise a question for the community,” said Jane, Honey’s second victim. “This was a more frightening experience than I ever would have expected it to be,” she told us. “I feared for my life, and it affected me for days.”

[Editorial aside: We promised we would be discussing both “breedism” and Pit Bull attack statistics in this posting. However, the son’s owner, in the “Comments” section of our last posting, seems to have retracted his earlier statement that the “fuss” over the attacks was because of the dog being a Pit Bull and not because of the severity of the attacks. So we’ll leave a discussion of “breedism” aside.

With regard to attack statistics, it appears that has the most authoritative information available on the internet, although its information is based on media reports. The site states that in 2009 there were 32 fatal dog attacks in the U.S., with 44% of these being by Pit Bulls. The site notes that over 500 cities and other jurisdictions in the country ban Pit Bulls. “Unlike other dog breeds, Pit Bulls frequently fail to communicate intention prior to an attack. They possess a lethal bite style (hold and shake) and a ruinous manner of attack.” For the first six months of 2009, apparently the most recent statistics available, there were 318 Pit Bull attacks reported in the media, involving 388 victims. Of these, 64% suffered severe injuries, 4% having one or more body parts severed, and 2% being killed outright. Children under the age of 5 suffered 84% of the most severe injuries.

This is a quote from Farber Law Group, a local firm specializing in personal-injury work: “The data also show that 68% of the Pit Bulls that attacked were not on their owner’s property [and that] Pit Bulls escape their owner's property and bite people at a higher rate than other dog breeds.”]

Photos of the friendly and not-so-friendly Pit Bulls, above, are culled from the internet. The friendly-dog photo is courtesty of Missouri Pit Bull Rescue.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Police Blotter 10/9/10

It’s always something

Those who were wishing for a reprieve from neighborhood crime simply because summer was ending have yet to see those hopes realized. We continue to have our share of break-ins (of both homes and cars), stolen autos and, of course, the occasional death threat. More on all that in a minute.

First, however, here’s an epilogue to a crime we told you about on our last Police Blotter where the whole thing was captured on the homeowner’s video-surveillance system. In that incident a burglar entered the garage of a Washington Park home during the night and made off with a purse that had been left in a car. Within minutes, the thief apparently tried to make use of a Visa card found in the purse, but was not particularly successful. The victim posted a comment to our blog (she was one of two crime victims who happened to write in last month). Since many MPB readers may not click on the “Comments” link at the bottom of blog postings (therefore not benefiting from the feedback provided by other readers), here is what Lauren, the owner of the purse in question, had to add to our story:

“I was the person who had their house broken into and caught it on video. The guy called Rover’s the next day and asked how much I had on my Rover’s gift card. Rover’s called me to tell me someone had called trying to use my card. The guy then called back, made a reservation, showed up, and Rover’s NEVER called the cops on him when he arrived to use my stolen card. Nice. Really nice.” It would have been poetic if this story had turned out just a bit differently. Rover's, of course, is that very upper-end French restaurant in Madison Valley (2808 E. Madison St.).

The second crime victim who added a comment to the Police Blotter was the homeowner and burglary victim whose neighbors saw someone suspicious in the area but didn’t take any action. Here’s his commentary on that inaction: “If it looks like a rat, walks like a rat, smells like a's probably a rat. CALL THE POLICE!!! The police will respond and question someone suspicious. If the person is doing nothing wrong, there is no harm done. However, once contact is made with a would-be thief, an identity can be made and potential burglaries avoided.” To which he adds, “Keep a record of serial numbers for your property. Secure your homes better and use your alarm if you have one. I'd like to think we're all a little smarter on our block now.”

Here’s what’s been happening, crime wise, in Madison Park over the past three weeks:

Cars were broken into on the 3700 block of E. Blaine Street on 9/19, on the 1300 block of Lake Washington Boulevard E. on the same day, on the 600 block of 36th Avenue E. on 9/28, and on the 1600 block of 43rd Avenue E. on 9/30. Cars were stolen from the 2000 block of 42nd Avenue E. on 9/21 and from E. McGilvra Blvd., somewhere near the Seattle Tennis Club, on 9/28.

Property damage, meanwhile, was reported at a business in the 2000 block of 43rd Avenue E. on 10/2, and incidents of graffiti were reported on the 4100 block of E. Madison St. on 9/21 and on the 1900 block of 38th Avenue E. on 9/27.

A homeowner used the Seattle Police Department’s on-line reporting system (called CORP) to report a theft from his or her home, located in the 2300 block of 38th Avenue E., on 10/6. Three home break-ins were also reported to the police the old-fashioned way. One of these burglaries occurred on the 800 block of 36th Avenue E. on 9/19. A day or so later, a burglary also occurred on the 1900 block of 37th Place E. In that incident the victim reported that someone entered his garage while it was open (and while the victim at home), taking his leaf blower, cordless drill, and toolbox.

Another burglary took place on the 4200 Block of E. Blaine St. on 10/2. This was a forced-entry affair, with the burglar entering through a living room window. To quote from the police report: “The window had been left slightly ajar in order to air out the residence, which was afflicted with food odors due to a defective refrigerator. The suspect(s) accessed the residence by removing the window screen. Upon entry, the suspect(s) stole the victim’s purse, which…would have been visible from the outside of the residence if the suspect(s) had looked into the window.” Also stolen were three bottles of wine, two bottles of tequila, a bottle of Pravda vodka, and a bottle of Tanqueray gin. Since the stolen purse contained the victim’s keys (in addition to her cell phone, cash and credit cards), the police advised her to rekey all of the locks in the residence. The home's dog-alert system, unfortunately, was deactivated at the time of the crime. Quoting the report: “Her basset hound was sleeping on the upper floor and did not detect the burglary.”

We end with two reported cases of “harassment” in our neighborhood. Someone on the 2300 block of 43rd Avenue E. called the police to report receiving unwanted messages on Facebook! (The police advised the victim on how block such messages). The second harassment incident could be more serious, but probably isn't. A business owner on the 4100 block of E. Madison St. reported that he had received an indirect death threat from a former employee. By “indirect” we mean that there was no actual evidence of a death threat, just the idea someone had that the former employee could be mad enough to want to kill his onetime boss. This possibility was apparently raised by a former lawyer of the employee’s, who spoke to the employer’s lawyer about his concerns. Into the “Inactive” bin is where the police have placed this lawyer-to-lawyer, not-quite-even-hearsay report.

[Key to crime-map symbols: starbursts represent burglaries, solid cars represent car thefts, un-solid cars represent car prowls, spray-paint cans represent property damage, upraised hands represent shoplifting, dollar bills represent thefts, handcuffs represent arrests under warrants, and red exclamation points represent cases of harassment. This map covers the period from September 19 through October 7.]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Madison Park Pit Bull attacks three women

but is returned by Animal Control to its owner

On the afternoon of August 21, on a quiet street in the Washington Park neighborhood of Madison Park, two women were attacked by an unleashed Pit Bull. Both of the women were bitten, one badly enough to require a trip to the emergency room. Later that afternoon, another woman, while walking with a friend on the same street, was viciously attacked by the same roving dog. She too ended up in the emergency room, injured so severely that she was unable to return to work for a full month.

Although Seattle Animal Control was able to capture the offending dog, it proceeded to release the Pit Bull back to its owner after just ten days, telling the victims that in spite of the dog’s multiple unprovoked attacks there was no legal basis for continuing to hold the animal. Today, more than six weeks since the attacks occurred, the City has still placed no special restrictions on the released Pit Bull, and no criminal charges have been filed as a result of the attacks.

That’s the broad outline of a story that is disturbing—at least to the victims—on many levels. But there’s yet another surprising aspect to this tale. Under Seattle ordinance an owner can be fined only $269 for allowing their dog to bite someone. Yet the maximum fine for allowing a dog to be on a City beach is $500. So while the Pit Bull’s caretaker is being cited for allowing the dog to bite three people, he apparently would have faced a potentially higher monetary penalty if he’d been cited instead for three trips with the dog to Madison Park Beach:

The August attacks occurred on 39th Avenue E., on the block between E. Prospect and E. Highland Streets (shown in top photo). The victim most seriously injured that day is a Montlake resident and trauma nurse at Harborview Medical Center. She prefers that her identity not be disclosed, so we’ll call her Carol. This is her description of the attack: She and a friend were walking along the sidewalk at about 5:30 in the afternoon when they came upon a dog lying in the grass. She said “Hi Doggie” as she walked past the dog, and the dog immediately attacked her. She was severely bitten on the lower right leg, causing her to bleed profusely (that’s her injured leg in the photo below, shown three weeks following the attack).

Carol states that the dog appeared ready to make another attack, but finally ran off when nearby homeowners came out to help her and her friend. According to medical records, she suffered a three-inch laceration and multiple puncture wounds and was treated at Harborview. Because of pain and a resulting infection, she was unable to return to her nursing job until recently. She reports suffering some nerve damage as a result of the bite.

Carol says that when the Seattle Police arrived at the scene on the day of the attack officers told her she was not the first person to be bitten at that location that day. Indeed, about an hour earlier two women walking along the same street were attacked by a dog that they later identified as the same tan Pit Bull that bit Carol. According to the report of one of the victims, the dog suddenly attacked her and bit her deeply on the right calf as she walked by a hedge. The dog then attacked her friend, though the friend was able to shake off the dog and was not as seriously injured. The bleeding victim was transported to the emergency room of the University of Washington Medical Center, where she was given several stitches.

After the second biting incident, Seattle Police discovered the Pit Bull and followed it to its house, located just two blocks from the scene of the attacks. The dog was later identified by Animal Control as “Honey,” a three-year-old female Pit Bull (also designated in some documents as a Pit Bull mix).

The investigative report of the Seattle Animal Shelter (aka Animal Control) provides clues as to Honey’s behavior and that of another dog, a Rottweiler mix, staying at the same residence. The second dog was also off leash, but was not involved in the attacks. According to the report, this is what officers discovered at the house: “There were at least 20 piles of feces in the backyard, a dry and empty dog bowl, and an empty bag of dog food. The back door to the home was open. There was much clutter, debris, and flies near the back door to the home. There were no dog houses and no water available for the dogs.”

After police “cleared” the house, Animal Control officers entered and took photographs, reporting that “the inside of the house was very cluttered and there was a lot of debris and garbage everywhere, on all three floors plus the basement. There were two overflowing litter boxes…and the animals appear to be abandoned.” Photos included with the report show places in the house where animals appear to have dug up the carpeting. Officers eventually discovered some cat food and water in bowls in another part of the home. The officers felt that the Rottweiler was emaciated, so they impounded it, as well as Honey, and posted a “Cruelty Notice” at the residence. According to Ann Graves, an enforcement supervisor with the Seattle Animal Shelter, such a notice requires the animals’ owners to correct the deficiencies noted.

As required by Seattle animal-control ordinance, Honey was held in quarantine for ten days; and when evidence of her rabies vaccination was provided, she was released. Carol, the nurse most seriously injured by Honey, says she was outraged when she learned that such a dangerous dog has been allowed back into the community. But according to Graves, that’s how the system works when there is no previous record of an animal biting someone, as was the case here. The fact that three biting incidents may have occurred on the same day does not change the situation, she said. Administrative due process is still required before the offending dog can be taken from an owner.

The son of Honey’s owner contacted us to state that he had been taking care of the two dogs while his parents and sister were on vacation. He said he visited the Washington Park house once a day to water and feed the animals. He reported that Honey is now owned by him and is living with his family at their home in West Seattle. He added that he has not received any reports from Animal Control and was therefore unaware of the details of the alleged attacks. He admitted that Animal Control had issued citations to him because of the biting, but he said he intended to contest or mitigate the charges.

He told us that he didn’t understand how it was possible that the dog had bitten anyone, since Honey was generally afraid of strangers and would run the other direction if anyone approached her. This was a legacy, he said, of her time with her first owner, who used to beat her regularly. Honey was a rescue dog that had lived with the family in Washington Park since about February 2009, he told us. “She is a completely sweet dog who sleeps with me,” and “she doesn’t deserve to be destroyed.” He added that if people were attacked “it wasn’t a purposeful act or an expected result.”

In addition to the controversy over the City’s handling of this dangerous-dog situation, the owner’s son provides us with more food for thought by stating that in his opinion the “fuss“ by the victims and Animal Control over Honey’s alleged biting is really the result of “breedism” (which is apparently something akin to racism). He told us that if the dog involved had been anything other than a Pit Bull, “we wouldn’t be talking today.”

Meanwhile, the Shelter’s Ann Graves has confirmed to us that she will be recommending that Honey be declared a “dangerous animal.” An overview of the potential implications of that action, commentary by Honey’s victims, a report on Pitt Bull-attack statistics, and a discussion of “breedism” will be included in a related posting later this week.

[Editorial aside: The victims, whose names are not part of the public record, requested that their identities not be disclosed for purposes of this story. We honored their requests. The family of the attacking dog, Honey, also requested anonymity in this posting. Their names are part of the public record, so acceding to their request was a difficult call. In the end, we determined that our responsibility as a neighbor trumps our responsibility as a journalist, at least in this limited instance. Madison Park Blogger, after all, is a neighborhood blog—not a sensationalist rag. We do, however, reserve the right to change our mind on this “anonymity-for-guilty-neighbors” decision as the case moves forward.]

Photo of Honey from Seattle Animal Shelter investigative report.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Madison Park Hardware is being sold

Lola makes it official

To many of her longtime customers and friends, it’s been an open secret for many months that Lola McKee was in the process of selling the suspended-in-time neighborhood hardware store that she and her family have owned and operated here for the past 54 years. But as anyone who knows Lola knows, she likes to do things in her own way and in her own time. So we’ve held off on reporting the story until Lola was good and ready to make the formal announcement. Late last week she agreed that the time has come to confirm the news. The store is being sold, subject only to signatures on the final agreement. “We’re still playing with the lawyers,” she told us, but really it’s a done deal.

However, before anyone gets too torqued about the sale (the idea of which will certainly be disturbing to many), take heart. After the sale is concluded—probably in the next week or two—Madison Park Hardware will continue to exist in pretty much its current form. And it will still be a local establishment. The new owner, Adam Hagan, is a fifth-generation Madison Parker whose parents, Susan and Jim Hagan, and grandparents, Mitzi and Bernie Hagan, still live here in the Park. Moreover, the store will continue to be something of a family affair under the new management. “Adam’s mom is going to do the bookwork,” says Lola (“I’m training her”), and Adam’s dad will be filling in at the store when needed. For many many years, Jim Hagan has been the “Mr. Fixit” of the community, so it’s a natural extension for him to dispense advice and match customers with the right solutions in the store. For that matter, Adam himself is hardly a stranger to the store, having worked there during both high school and college.

Lola’s decision to sell the folksy store was driven by several factors: she turned 85 this year; her son Scott, who had been a principal player in running the store, died unexpectedly last December; and her daughter Jeri (known to all as Cookie) does not want to take over store management (“I’m already working 60 hours a week,” she says). So selling the store became something of an imperative.

One big question, however, was whether anyone would want to buy the store under the terms that Lola was hoping to sell it. From the very beginning, she says, her goal was to preserve Madison Park Hardware: “I wanted someone who would keep it a hardware store, who would keep the current employees, and who would care about the neighborhood.” Although she had several offers to do other things with the space, she stuck to the idea that it should remain a hardware store and be owned locally if possible. The end result, she says, is “the absolute best I could have got.” To which she adds, “I know Scott would be really happy.”
Adam, who is 39, has been working in the store since January, just a few weeks after Scott’s death. His previous job was with a development company. He says that after fifteen years away from the store, “coming back was just like riding a bike.” Growing up in Madison Park, Adam attended McGilvra Elementary and later, Roosevelt High School as part of the school district’s bussing program. He’s a graduate of the University of Washington. With regard to what he knows about hardware, fixing things, and home projects he says “What I didn’t learn from my dad, I learned from Scott.”

While the store itself may not be changing all that much, the new and old store owners make quite a contrast, both in appearance and personality. Lola is quite short, while Adam is extraordinarily tall. Adam is relatively youthful, and Lola is, well, very very experienced. Lola is a woman of many well-chosen words, and Adam is definitely a man of few words. In fact, we accused him one day of being closed mouthed in our presence, assuming it was because of our reportorial role. “No, I’m always this way,” was his retort.

But while he may not say a lot, he certainly doesn’t have any problem articulating his vision for the store, which is one that many Madison Parkers will take comfort in. “The goal is to keep the shopping experience the same,” he tells us. “There will be some changes behind the scenes; but walking in, you shouldn’t notice a difference.” The current employees will remain, and the look and feel of the store will be retained. “It’s important to me that we have something that stays like it's always been here in Madison Park,” he says. “Hopefully, the community will continue to support the store.”

For her part, Lola says, “I have high hopes about the store. It will be fine.” And with regard to her personal plans? “Oh, I’ll be in the store from time to time as Adam needs help,” she says, noting that she’s only selling the business, not the building. So she will continue to be a Madison Park business owner, now of the landlord variety. She says she expects to continue her involvement with both the Madison Park Business Association and the Community Council. But the only upcoming event on her calendar, she reports, is her trip to Hawaii in December. Her daughter Cookie, meanwhile, will be moving in with her as soon as Cookie sells her own house.

From her vantage point behind the store (she lives just across the alley), Lola will be able to easily monitor the progress of Madison Park Hardware under its new regime. This apparently doesn’t intimidate Adam, however. In fact, he says he welcomes Lola’s role as an advisor. “She’s the best one at restocking,” he notes, "and at telling us what we’re doing wrong.”
[Madison Park Hardware is located at 1837 42nd Avenue E. We will post a retrospective later this year on Lola’s long tenure at Madison Park Hardware. In the meantime, we invite you to share your thoughts on this significant piece of neighborhood news. You can do so by clicking on “Comments” below.]