Monday, October 31, 2011

Third Quarter 2011 Real Estate Report

A ‘qualified-buyers' market’

Last month my neighbors put their house on the market and sold it in just three days.  They had multiple offers, and they obtained their listing price. Their quick-sale experience, however, was not that unusual for sellers during the month of September. Four of the nine houses sold in Madison Park that month went from listing to sale in fewer than 30 days, and the average number of days on market for all of the houses sold was just 91.

There was a clear-cut relationship between the quick selling properties and those that were least discounted from their initial offering prices. The quick sellers averaged a 2.4% difference between the listing price and the sale price, while the five slower-selling houses (one of which sold after 375 days on the market) were discounted 14.6% on average.

What’s the lesson, if any, from all of this?   Dave Hale, manager of Windermere Real Estate’s Madison Park office provides this insight: “For the well-priced, market-ready listings there are buyers.”  In his opinion, we are now experiencing a two-tier market, with one tier composed of properties that are “realistically” priced and the other tier priced out of line with market conditions.  A major factor that’s impacting the market, he notes, is a lack of inventory.  Indeed, there are only 76 properties currently on the market, compared to 94 at this time last year and 91 the year before.

Last month one seller accepted a 30.4% discount from the initial offer price after his house had been on the market only 77 days.  This quick acceptance of market realities was not typical of sellers, however. During the last quarter, seven houses were sold after more than 200 days on the market.  Six of those sellers took major hits relative to their initial expectations, accepting an average discount of 20.9%.   One seller, whose house was on the market for over 500 days, was ultimately rewarded with a relatively small 10% discount from the initial offering price.  Proving, apparently, that patience can be rewarded in selected circumstances.

Here is how the sales played out in the market during the third quarter:


Sales:  28
Median Sale Price:  $1,420,000
Average Sq. Ft.:  3,746
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $412
Average Days on Market:  136
Average Discount from List Price:  10.7%


Sales:  6
Median Sale Price:  $535,000
Average Sq. Ft.:  1,035
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $417
Average Days on Market:  175
Average Discount from List Price: 7.3%

The most expensive house sold during the quarter was a 3,200 sq. ft. 1940’s Cape Cod waterfront home in Washington Park, which after 251 days on the market sold for $4,400,000.  That was an 11% discount from the initial offering price of  $4,950,000.  Only seven of the 28 houses sold in Madison Park during the period had sale prices of less than $1,000,000.  Eight houses, meanwhile, sold for $2,000,000 or more.

So what’s the “take away” from all of this statistical information?  Are we on a roll—or is it something less?  Windermere’s Hale thinks the local market is now stable, telling us, “It’s my personal feeling that the worst is over.”  Indeed, the 34 homes sold in Madison Park during the third quarter represent a 35% improvement over the 22 sales during the same period last summer.   So in that respect, at least, things seem to be on a more even keel, with between 10 and 13 homes sold every month this year beginning in May.

But with interest rates and inventory now at historically low levels, will we soon see some upward pressure on market prices?  That’s the question that potential buyers, potential sellers and real estate professionals are grappling with.  Hale doesn’t pretend to know the answer.  What he does believe, however, is that for the “qualified buyer” now is probably the best market in the last ten years.

Here’s a look at the current inventory in Madison Park (Broadmoor and Washington Park included):


Listings:  55
Median List Price:  $1,875,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  3,720
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $504
Average Days on Market:  125
Percentage with Price Reductions:  38%
New Listings:  15
Pending Sales:  10


Listings:  21
Median List Price:  $550,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  1,106
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $497
Average Days on Market:  116
Percentage with Price Reductions:  52%
New Listings:  4
Pending Sales:  2

Of the 55 house listings, there are only four on the market that are really priced under $1,000,000 (unless you want to be literal and include the four houses listed at between $950,000 and $995,000).  So Madison Park’s reputation as “pricey” is certainly not endangered.  The most expensive house on the market is a $7,950,000 “1930’s French-style estate” in Broadmoor.  It has more than 10,000 sq. ft of living space on a half acre.  Four of the other five most expensive houses in the market, however, are located in Washington Park, ranging in price between $6,335,000 and $7,895,000.  The least expensive listed house is a “charming rental house” built in 1928 and located north of E. Madison St.

Condo prices, meanwhile, range from $1,75000 for a 2,100 sq. ft. unit in Washington Park Tower to $224,950 for a 595 sq. ft. unit in the condo building just south of Madison Park Beach.

The peak selling period for real estate has just ended, but there could still be a surprise before the year ends.  Last year an incredible 16 sales occurred during December, making up for a fairly lackluster couple months earlier in the quarter.  With only 12 pendings at the end of third quarter this year and only 76 listings, it will be tough to end 2011 in such a spectacular fashion.  At this time last year there were almost 100 homes on the market.

[Photo is of 1821 41st Avenue E., a 2,300 sq. ft. house priced at $759,000, listed by Cathy Millan, Windermere Real Estate. This house went pending after only two weeks on the market. Photo by Matt Edington.  Thanks to Wendy Skerritt of Windermere Real Estate for sales information used in this report and to Redfin for listing data.]

Saturday, October 29, 2011

News on the culinary scene

Hot on the heels of Seattle Magazine's choosing Maggie Savarino of Madison 
Park Conservatory as one of Seattle's Next Wave of Tastemakers, City Arts has just placed MPC's head chef and owner on the cover of its November issue, with an inside article entitled, "Live to Eat: Cormac Mahoney Cooks What He Wants."  Well, no duh.  The critical reviews of the end result of that cooking, by the way, have been pretty uniformly laudatory (see here, here, and here).  City Arts' piece, incidentally, includes some direct quotes from Mahoney that are clearly intended for mature audiences. When they come our way, Madison Park Blogger always screens these profane Mahoneyisms from the eyes of our sensitive readers. City Arts follows a more candid policy. Caveat lector.

Also noteworthy this week is a report from the recently opened Cafe Parco: the restaurant has just been granted a "temporary pre-approval permit" to serve "adult-type beverages."  During Cafe Parco's first two weeks, it's been a case of bring your own vino. But that's no longer the only option.  By the way, the restaurant's on-line reservation system is now up and running.

[Madison Park Conservatory is located at 1927 43rd Avenue E., and Cafe Parco is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E.]

Madison Park Number One for trick-or-treating

Local news reports last week played up the fact that Zillow's annual list of best cities for tricking or treating showed Seattle in the Number Four spot (after San Francisco, Boston, and Honolulu).  Within Seattle, however, it's Madison Park that gets the nod from Zillow as the best neighborhood for trick-or-treaters, followed by Queen Anne, Ballard and Laurelhurst.  Zillow didn't provide any details on its methodology, but in past years it's been speculated that Madison Park ranks high because of the larger average size of the treats handed out on Halloween (full-size candy bars in some cases!).  Whatever the reason, the neighborhood certainly enjoys a good Halloween reputation, with a lot of out-of-area trick-or-treaters making the rounds here each year.

This is just a reminder that Halloween gets off to an early start on Monday afternoon, with many area businesses (some of them members of the Madison Park Business Association, and some not) handing out treats to deserving kids from 3 until 5 pm.  The event is sponsored by the MPBA and the Madison Park Cooperative Preschool.

[Graphic courtesy of Photobucket.]

Is that you, Watson?

We are happy to report that the long-time-missing black cat, Watson, the subject of many "Lost Cat" notices posted around the neighborhood, has at last been found!  We were glad to learn yesterday that after over two months roaming the 'hood, Watson is now safely back at home--just in time for Halloween.  He was discovered this week in the vicinity of the house where he was being cat-sat at the time of his disappearance.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Saga of the Bees (Part II)

We left our readers with a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of our first installment of “The Great Summer Bee Caper.”  It’s been so long since we ran the story that readers may be forgiven for having forgotten the details of our not-quite-Hitchcockian tale.  It all began with the sudden arrival of a honeybee swarm in the neighborhood, and it ended (or at least our narrative did) with the bees swarming up 42nd Avenue. Our intrepid ‘bee wrangler’ from Fremont, Patti Loesche, was charging after them in her car.  Here, we pick up the story:

What Val Ellis may have been thinking as she watched the bees make their escape from her front yard has not been recorded (that’s her in the photo above, observing the mass exodus from the other side of the street).  But it’s a safe bet that she was relieved to discover that the lovely ceanothus bush located just ten feet from her front door was being rejected as the ultimate destination of the madding swarm.

We know exactly what beekeeper Patti Loesche was thinking, however, as she jumped into the car to begin her hot pursuit: “I was sure I would run into those bees again at some point. I knew they were looking for a new home.”

As she followed the swarm up the street, the main body was lost to sight; but as she rounded the corner of E. Lynn and headed toward Lake Washington, she encountered “something like a scene from an Armageddon movie,” she says. “I had no detective work to do.” What she saw was one woman running down the street in mad flight while two other women were frozen in place with horrified looks on their faces, pointing to a tall cedar tree at the North end of the waterfront park.  Looking up to where the women were pointing, Patti saw that the bees were safely ensconced high in the tree.

Though not perfectly equipped for the assignment, Patti set to work. The goal: entice the bees into the artificial hive.  It’s not a simple process, nor a quick operation.  Getting honeybees to settle down in a new hive takes some gentle coaxing and a lot of patience.  Not to mention more than a little stamina.

Patti set her ladder up against the base of the tree, climbed up, and got to work.   Work, in the case, meaning holding a box of wooden frames next to a giant swarm of bees and hoping that they’ll decide (in the words of Patti Loesche) “Oh, here’s a good place!”

Soon, some of the bees started inspecting the box.  “Once they do that, everyone goes in,” Patti says.  “The bees were very calm, and many were on top of the box fanning their scent to bring the other bees in.  Because of this, I believe that the queen must have gone in, though I did not see her,” she notes.

Though it became a tedious, backbreaking, box-holding endurance test for Patti, many of the bees finally coalesced into their new location after about an hour. She then vigorously shook the tree branch and a few thousand more bees landed in the box.  During all this time she had been perched about 15 feet up the cedar tree. “But by now I had bonded with the swarm, so I was willing to wait on them for awhile.” It’s not a procedure she says she would recommend to anyone, however.

After about two thirds of the bees were in the box, she took it farther down the tree and set it on a lower ladder.  It was getting late in the day, and under normal conditions she would have left the box overnight.  Given its location in a public park, however, she decided this was not such a hot idea.  So after waiting a bit longer for more of the bees to enter the box, she closed the entrance, considering the bee-capture operation a job well done.  She estimates she collected around 80% of the bee swarm.

From that point it was just a matter of clearing up the equipment, getting the hive into the car, and setting off with the swarm for its new home in Fremont.

And the bees?  They’re doing just fine, according to Patti.  “It was a huge and robust hive,” she says, though the swarm’s queen apparently diappeared sometime after entering the box.  Fortunately, Patti was able to successfully combine the new hive with an older one in her backyard apiary (she currently has a total of five hives, including two located in a neighbor’s yard).

“Just what were those bees doing swarming in Madison Park?” we asked.  “It’s an absolutely natural event,” Patti reports. “Bees swarm one or more times a season, either to reproduce or because they’re overcrowded. This swarm occurred right when it’s supposed to.”  She believes it came from someone’s hive, probably one that had become overcrowded, forcing the bees to move on.

And as for Val Ellis’s ceanothus bush (shown above), was it really a likely place for the bees to find a new home?  “Not at all,” says Patti. “They were just resting there while deciding where to relocate the colony.”  She notes that the swarm could have moved on into the Arboretum or possibly into a crevice at someone in the neighborhood’s house.  “Scouts had been sent out,” she notes, “and I could see that the bees were beginning to dance on top of the swarm faster and faster.  I knew they were going to make a move.”  It just occurred a bit sooner than she had planned.

In the end, however, the Day of the Bees in Madison Park ended well for just about all involved.  The folks on 42nd Avenue got a dose of excitement without any fallout; the beekeeper got another honeybee swarm to add to her collection; and the bees, for the most part, found themselves in a fine new home.

But not quite all of them.  On the day following the mass honeybee emigration, a few lost and forlorn bees were still to be seen flying around in aimless circles near the cedar tree. If they could’ve, they would’ve cried, “Wha happa?”


Thanks to Patti Loesche for sharing her photos and telling us the Rest of the Story.  Patti has been a beekeeper for about four years.  She says she got into beekeeping because a friend was doing it and it was fascinating to see how orderly and coordinated those thousands of bees could be: “I just love watching their behavior.”

[Photo of Val Ellis watching the bees vamoose by Sara Perkins.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MLK School sale not illegal

For the benefit of our readers who missed the story in the major media, we note that the Washington State Auditor has determined that "the Seattle Public Schools followed state law and district policy when the School Board voted last year to sell the former Martin Luther King Elementary School to the lowest bidder."  That, according to the Seattle Times in a copyrighted story today.

The Auditor, however, did not opine on the wisdom of the policy that allowed for an outcome that lost the School District millions of dollars it would have received if selling the abandoned building to the highest bidder, The Bush School.  The Auditor's job was simply to look for violations of law and due process.

It's ironic that we find ourselves linking to the story in the Seattle Times, given our stated position that the paper's failure to properly cover this story in the first place might have been partially responsible for the questionable outcome.  That feeling led us for the first time in the two-plus year history of the Madison Park Blogger to leave our journalistic perch and descend into out and out editorialism.  Or was that a step up?

Monday, October 24, 2011

MPC's Maggie Savarino: Poised to be notable

She's one of those rare folks who both live and work in Madison Park. Maggie Savarino, former food-and-booze columnist for Seattle Weekly, is known to many of us as the front-of-house manager, concoctor of drinks, and sometime bartender at Madison Park Conservatory.  She's also, in the opinion of Seattle Magazine, one of nine people "poised to become the Seattle dining scene's next notable names."  In other words, she has the honor of being in the City's "Next Wave of Tastemakers."

The November issue of the magazine, just out, cites Savarino for "her upstairs bar menu of tinkered, tinctured cocktails and other creative libations," noting that these are "a welcome discovery at an already impressive restaurant." Seattle Magazine also discloses that Savarino recently authored a new book, The Seasonal Cocktail Companion, which will be published next month by Sasquatch Books. Subtitled, 100 Recipes and Projects for 4 Seasons of Drinking, the book, in the words of foodblog, "contains DIY projects, including root beer bitters, booze-soaked cherries, and make-your-own 'cellos beyond the standard lemon variety. As the title suggests, the book is organized by season, with at least one drink recipe for each project."  DIY, for the uninitiated, is Do It Yourself.

We caught up with Maggie last week in MPC's upstairs bar, where she not only is responsible for creating the drink menu but also tends the bar on Wednesday evenings. She was modest about her newfound status as a tastemaker and somewhat bashful about getting her picture taken. But she was not shy about talking up her new book or touting the Conservatory. With regard to the book, she reports that her goal in writing it was to demystify the subject.  She accomplishes this by providing cocktail recipes, tips, tricks, and ideas (including how to winterize tequila).

With regard to the restaurant, she notes that there is a new bar menu upstairs, just introduced, which includes some interesting and tasty items not part of MPC's regular fare (such as "a burger of our very own," a grilled cheese/smokey tomato soup combination, and a grilled beef tongue with housemade pickles).  Happy Hour, by the way, is from 4 to 6 pm.

Another thing, she says, is worth noting: Tako Truk is back, at least in abbreviated form.  Chef/owner Cormac Mahoney reintroduced the specialty-taco concept at MPC earlier this summer as the Sunday night cuisine (4-8 pm).  It's an informal, family atmosphere downstairs, Maggie says, with no reservations taken and a menu consisting of interesting, unexpected and tasty tacos (including the popular Coco Piggy).  If you wanted to, she says, you could probably be in and out in twenty minutes (though you probably wouldn't want to).  In addition, there's fun upstairs for the 21-and-over crowd (featured on November 20, for example, is guest DJ Kurt “The Godfather” Bloch of Too Many Bands to Mention).  Details of the Tako Truk experience are available here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Police Blotter 10/15/11

Madison Park: Crime backwater

The neighborhood is experiencing its typical end-of-summer slowdown in criminal activity, as evidenced by the above map, which shows reported crimes in Madison Park during the 30-day period, September 16 through October 15.  When we contacted the Seattle Police this month to get background for this report, we had virtually nothing to ask about.  While we're hardly crime free here in the Park, it's certainly the case that in relative terms our community remains something of an oasis within the urban jungle.

Of course, if you're the unlucky soul who had his house broken into or car stolen, you may not take such a sanguine view of the matter. While we almost made it through the period without a single burglary, there was one such incident reported: on the 3800 block of E. Crockett St. on September 16 (the star-burst icon on the map).  An "unknown suspect" forcibly entered the residence while no one was at home and stole a computer, two iPods, one iPad, and some cash.  One car, meanwhile, was stolen, that incident occurring on October 13 on the 2400 block of 41st Avenue E.

The only other crimes of note were the theft of a purse from a local restaurant (the victim having left her purse behind and the staff not being able to locate it later), and thefts from properties located on the 1900 block of 39th Avenue E. (on October 11) and 1700 block of E. Galer St. (on October 5).  There were no car prowls in Madison Park proper, although ten such incidents were reported in the Arboretum or nearby during the period.

There was one disturbance investigated by the police, which happened on the 4100 block of E. Madison St. on September 27 (the black mask icon on the map), but the incident was pretty tame.  The "victim" reported to police that a person known to him approached him and yelled at him, acting aggressively before leaving the scene.  The complainant simply wanted the altercation documented, which the police obligingly did.

As we said, not much to report.   Let's hope it stays that way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Halloween is the day to trick or treat

For some reason unknown to us, the Madison Park Business Association occasionally schedules its annual Halloween Trick or Treat event on a day other than Halloween.  But this year, the big to-do is actually going to happen on Halloween Day. That means that neighborhood kids can dress up and present themselves for tricking or treating purposes at area businesses on Monday, October 31, from 3 until 5 pm.

Again this year, the Madison Park Cooperative Preschool will be taking pictures of the little tricksters at McNae Triangle Park (in front of Bing's) throughout the event.

[Upper graphic by artist Linda Apple.  Photo by Melynda Warner.]

A glimpse into the past

Our posting last week on the death of Governor Albert D. Rosellini elicited an email from Madison Park photographer Bob Peterson, with this photo attached.  Peterson describes the shot, taken in downtown Seattle during the 1960 U.S. Presidential campaign, as his very favorite picture of Governor Rosellini.  The photo shows an open convertible carrying Senator John F. Kennedy in a cavalcade along Fourth Avenue, near University Street (that's the Olympic Hotel in the background).

The Governor, seated next to the future President, is looking mighty pleased (perhaps anticipating his own re-election that fall).  While Rosellini carried the state, Kennedy didn't do so, as Washington went Republican in the presidential contest that year. Seated in the backseat on the other side of Kennedy is probably the First Lady of the State, Ethel Rosellini.  In the front passenger seat is Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson.

Though the car of choice for this ride down Fourth Avenue was a Buick, Governor Rosellini was a Cadillac man himself, in later years tooling around the neighborhood in a big white car of that make, license plate reading "GOV ADR".

[Photo by Bob Peterson.  Click to enlarge.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More critical mass for the retail core

Another retail establishment arrived in "The Village" late last week, adding depth to Madison Park's shopping district and helping to reinforce 43rd Avenue's role as part of the district's retail scene.  Park Bench Gifts, a couple months in the planning, officially opened for business on Friday in the Villa Marina building.

Manager Jan Yoder reports that Day One interest from passers-by was strong, and she says she's optimistic that the new store will quickly find its niche.  She describes the shop's merchandise as being primarily home decor, accessories, and seasonal items (such as the Halloween and Thanksgiving things currently on display).

It's a pretty small location from which to operate, and the 400 or so sq. ft. of retail space is unusually configured to boot.  But the store seems to work well in the cozy space, with plenty of room for displays and a nook-like feel for each of the two sections of the shop.

The new store is owner John Sheard's third retail operation in Madison Park (the others being Cookin' and Red Wagon Toys).  With the arrival of Madison Park Gifts in the building, Villa Marina's available retail space is now full.

Madison Park Gifts is located at 1928 43rd Avenue E. Store hours are 10 am to 6 pm, Monday-Saturday, and 11 am to 5 pm on Sunday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Free cupcakes at New York Cupcakes Saturday

Though the store actually opened in early September, the official Grand Opening of New York Cupcakes' Madison Valley location will occur tomorrow, with the store giving away 500 mini-cupcakes as part of the celebration.  In addition, there will be  a charity raffle for the grand-prize giveaway, The Ultimate Cupcake Birthday Party, where New York Cupcakes will throw a party for one lucky individual and 24 of his or her closest friends. The party will include cupcakes made by NYC, cupcake wrappers by Bella Cupcake Couture, invitations by local artist Jessie Olsen of Cakespy, flowers by Toppers florist, a photo booth by Art of Subtlety, and a $100.00 gift certificate to Common Folk Co. for the birthday person. Raffle tickets will cost $1, with all proceeds benefiting St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

There will also be hourly prizes awarded during the celebration, which begins at 10 am and ends at 5 pm.  The raffle winner will be announced promptly at the end of the Grand Opening, according to owner Lisa Waxman Johnson.

New York Cupcakes is located at 2711 E. Madison St.

SR 520 closes again this weekend

Well, they couldn't close the floating bridge often enough or long enough, it seems, to get all of the necessary and immediate Eastside demolition and reconstruction done during the summer months (there have been four separate weekend closures so far), so these closures have now extended into the fall.  At least tomorrow's closure will not occur until after the Husky game's return-home traffic has disbursed.

At it stands now, 520 will be shut at 8 pm on Saturday, from Montlake Boulevard to I-405 in Bellevue. Lanes will reopen by 5 am on Monday. 520 will remain open between I-5 and the Montlake Boulevard off ramp.  According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), work this weekend includes installing 24 huge concrete girders for a new overpass at Evergreen Point Road in Medina and creating a median work zone for future improvements east of 84th Avenue Northeast.

This is hardly the last of the planned weekend closures.  WSDOT noted in its press release yesterday that the "closures are limited to to no more than 20 weekends during the next three years." Information on all of this is available here.

[Photo by Tom Case, Great Beyond, on Flickr.]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Italian makes a comeback in Madison Park

By Bryan Tagas

I first met the Celinda Norton, chef/proprietor of the soon-to-arrive Café Parco, when I accosted her on a Madison Park street corner earlier this summer.  Recognizing her from afar (I’d seen her photo online), I made a mad dash down the street, deftly sprinted across an intersection—not quite knocking down a couple of probable Park Shore residents in the process—and “introduced” myself.  I gave her and her entourage my very best imitation of the demanding/pleading/cajoling style that Barbara Walters does so well: I simply insisted on a pre-restaurant-opening interview.

Fortunately for me, Celinda proved to be a much more gracious person than I.  She immediately agreed to the interview, never so much as hinting that she didn’t have a clue who I was or where Madison Park Blogger might fit into the scheme of things here in the neighborhood. I simply told her the truth: there are few things (perhaps no things) that my readers would rather hear about than the opening of a new food establishment in Madison Park.  

Since she was game, we met up a couple weeks later—and over a glass of wine she provided me with the details for this backgrounder. Cafe Parco makes its debut tomorrow.

Cuisine: ‘Not Spaghetti Italian’

Although Café Parco is Celinda’s eighth restaurant, she says she’s finding the move to Madison Park to be a bit more of a transition for her than her other ventures have been.  For one thing, she’s already discovered that this is a neighborhood where everyone seems to both have an opinion and be willing to walk right in and share it.  These unsolicited (but, she says, welcomed) ideas about how the new restaurant should operate don’t necessary mesh with one another, it turns out. “There seem to be many 'food factions' at work in Madison Park!” she reports.  

What she wants to make clear from the start, however, is that Café Parco will be an Italian restaurant.  In other words, don’t expect to see the new menu trying to duplicate any of the dishes that were staples of the longtime predecessor on the site, Madison Park Café.  French cooking is definitely not what the new place is all about.  Neither are we talking “spaghetti house,” she declares.   When asked to sum up the new cuisine, she responds with the term, “New World Italian.”

That naturally raises the next question:  What typifies this style of Italian cooking?  “Well, it isn’t just pasta, for one thing.  It’s about the integrity of ingredients and not overdoing it.  You allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.”  She notes that “the breadth of Italian cuisine is amazing” and adds that she has been following the trends in Italian cooking for several years (also, this is also not her first Italian restaurant).  “The cuisine of Italy is based on tradition and quality of ingredients.” she told me.  “In recent years Italian chefs have embraced change. Not so long ago it was considered nearly a cardinal sin to change a historic recipe or presentation. Once the new trend toward creativity began to shift, it was adopted with gusto. The spirit of Italy lives on; fresh, quality ingredients, the best the season has to offer, are at the heart of every dish. Combinations may change but the integrity lives on. My menus will exemplify this. I will be working with the best items sourced locally. You will find familiar herbs and spices woven through my Italian-styled creations.”

Celinda says that while she has thousands of cookbooks, she doesn’t necessarily follow all of the instructions.  She likes to experiment and create.  One of the things she reports she’s working on right now is smoke--to be used, for example, to create smoked tomato sauce or lightly smoked cabbage.  A recent addition to her cookbook collection, Smoke and Spice, is co‐written by a woman of Italian heritage, and Celinda says she was intrigued by the author’s use of smoke in dishes from her family recipes. 

Celinda reports that her menus will always be changing.  Her intention is to keep it fresh, she says.  But what, exactly, will be on the opening menu at Café Parco?  Here are some possibilities: Crespelle, braised rabbit filled Italian crepes, maybe NW-foraged chanterelles in roasted tomato cream over crostini, a roast duck breast entrée featuring house made Cappellini tossed in duck fat with orange, Castelvetrano olives, caramelized shallot, fresh thyme and sea salt.  Her favorites on the lunch menu are the Rosemary ham on foccacia with pickled mustard seeds and confit of apricot and fennel or the simple indulgence of house-made Papparadelle tossed with smoked tomato sauce and Parmigiano. She predicts the Pasta al Forno will be a tremendous hit, describing it as a baked Italian-style “mac and cheese. 

The price point for the Café she describes as “reasonable,” placing the lunch entrees in the $12-$15 range and the dinner entrees in the $15-$25 range.

‘You will almost always find me in the kitchen’

Café Parco will very much be about Celinda Norton and her culinary vision.  “Ignore the ego,” she told me, “but I am good at what I do.” Although she says she will be wearing a variety of hats in the new establishment, the chef’s hat for her is by far the most important, “since for me, the food aspect is the most fun.”  This is one restaurant that will be “run from the kitchen,” she assures us.  Not that there is anything wrong with doing things another way, she adds, “But I will be the chef, and I really can’t imagine being dependent on someone to create the dishes and do the cooking.”

She says she’s expecting to work 16-hour days if necessary and believes her first day off will probably not arrive until sometime in January.  Even with the hard work, however, she says she enjoys the challenge:  “I love it.  It comes natural to me.”  After all, she’s been through this many times before.  She started her first restaurant in Longview in 1979.  Five successor restaurants in Longview followed that initial foray, before she moved to Seattle in 2003 to start 94 Stewart.  Her restaurants’ cuisines have included Northwest, Italian, Mediterranean, Asian fusian, and even a dabble in “South of the Border.” 

Helping her at Café Parco, in what is clearly a Norton family endeavor, are her two children, Lindsey and Nic.  Lindsey, who her mom describes as a good cook who will provide some help in the kitchen, will primarily be up front serving (“Lindsey is a phenomenal server. She has superb knowledge of food and wine. She also is quite the entertainer. A guest once told us he asked for her section, just to watch her work. He called it Lindsey Vision”).  Nic, meanwhile, will be the restaurant’s General Manager.  She describes him having great “front of house” skills, in addition to which he is both a solid techy and “remarkable” cheese steward. He can wield a hammer, too, having more than a little to do with the building’s remodeling, currently underway.  Anyone stopping by over the last few weeks has seen Nic, Lindsey and Chef Celinda all working madly to get Café Parco of the ground.

Reconfiguring the spaces

Madison Park Café was known for its cozy indoor atmosphere on cold days and its great outdoor seating on those rare warm days.  Café Parco will have more room in both its interior and exterior seating locations.  The intent, Celinda tells us, is to create new outdoor seating both directly in front of the restaurant (by extending the existing patio to the area along the sidewalk) and—ultimately—on the deck where the front door was located.  The new entrance to the Café Parco will be where the side door had been.  Remodeling of the interior will add another couple tables to that space as well.

The kitchen, meanwhile, has been expanded by moving the dishwashing operation downstairs (not very efficient, admittedly, but the only way to free up needed space, says Celinda).  The kitchen will be more enclosed than it was (mahogany glass doors and bookshelves are being installed to block unwelcome light and sound from the reconfigured new dining room).  While the hope had been to enlarge the cooking area and have a much larger hood, that has proven to be prohibitively expensive, so “We’ll just have to make do.”

Celinda says she’s looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen and is willing to make changes as she gets experience with the neighborhood and learns its tastes.  Some things may work well; and others, not so much.  “I can’t possibly make everyone happy,” she says, “but I can try.” 

[Cafe Parco will be open for lunch each weekday beginning tomorrow, Friday, October 14. Dinner will begin next week, and weekend brunches will follow thereafter.  For details, including hours of operation, check the Cafe Parco website (click here for details about the lunch menu).  Cafe Parco is located at 1807 42nd Avenue E.  (Phone: 328-4757). Note that Cafe Parco does not have its liquor license in place yet (though that should happen "soon").  In the meantime, Chef Celinda recommends that those who wish to have wine with dinner purchase a bottle at Madison Cellars (4227 E. Madison St.) and bring it along.]   

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Our memorable visit to the ‘other’ Madison Park

My wife, Margo, and I just spent several sun-filled days in the city of New York, which explains the lack of postings on this blog during the interim. We were in the Big Apple to attend the opening-night reception at a Chelsea art gallery, where Margo is participating in a new show of abstract art.  The event itself was rewarding and fun; but as it turned out, it was not the only “peak life experience” that we got to enjoy while in Manhattan.  As a collateral benefit of our being “In Town,” we were also able to engineer something of a culinary coup--one that involved another Madison Park.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Seattle’s Madison Park is not the only Madison Park on the planet.  This blog subscribes to a daily feed that provides updates showing any new Internet posting that uses the term “Madison Park.”  So that’s how we came to know that Madison Park is also a musical group, a public high school, a park in Roxbury (MA) in Madison (WI) and in Santa Ana (CA), as well as a neighborhood in Charlotte (NC), among other things.  New York does not have a Madison Park; but what it does have is a Madison Square Park, located right in the middle of Manhattan (in the Flatiron district). And that neighborhood, it seems, is referred to by New Yorkers as simply “Madison Park.”

While there’s a spectacularly unsuccessful high-rise condo project in the area, known as One Madison Park, there’s also a spectacularly successful restaurant there that takes its name from the same park. That trendy establishment is Eleven Madison Park, which is by far the most likely “Madison Park” to be mentioned in the press on any given day, completely overshadowing any references to Madison Park-Seattle.

Just the week before our arrival in NYC, Michelin awarded three stars to Eleven Madison Park, making it one of only seven restaurants in the City to be so highly rated. That same week, Zagat confirmed Eleven Madison Park as one of “New York’s Top Ten Restaurants” for this year.  Though getting into Eleven Madison Park without a long-in-advance reservation is well neigh impossible, we decided to walk down to the place, take a look, and see if we could talk our way in for lunch.

Though we undoubtedly appeared as though we’d just blown in from somewhere remote (we had), we were nonetheless greeted at Eleven Madison Park by a poised and courteous front-of-house staff that gave every appearance of having been waiting breathlessly just for our arrival.  When politely asked “How are you today?” Margo spontaneously began describing the trauma of coming to New York for her big art show but discovering on landing that her luggage had not arrived with her. (Here, an aside:  Alaska Airlines touts its guarantee that your bags will appear on the carousel within 20 minutes of your plane's arrival or you are entitled to a $20 gift certificate or 2,000 frequent-flier miles. However, when your bags don’t make the plane at all—showing up at the hotel 40 hours later, in our case—you apparently get nothing.  Not even an apology!).

Anyway, following her tale of baggage woe, Margo then launched into a story (quite true) about how one of her chef friends once did a stage (look it up) at Eleven Madison Park.

While she worked the left side of the house, I was working the right side, mentioning to a couple of young, eager-faced restaurant staffers that Margo and I live way, way Out West in the “other” Madison Park, that I write the neighborhood blog, and that while Eleven Madison Park ranks Number One on the “Madison Park” Google search, my own blog, Madison Park Blogger, ranks way down there at Number Eleven! Margo and I each ended our separate, overlapping pitches with how much we, for all these many reasons, wanted desperately to experience Eleven Madison Park.  Having smiled and nodded appreciatively throughout our performance, the hostess then, without missing a beat, cheerily informed us that the restaurant was “full.”

Nevertheless, she let us in.

And not only that, the staff then gave us the kind of attention that, if we hadn’t known better, would have easily led us to conclude that they had mistaken one of us for somebody important.  For good reason, Zagat describes EMP’s service as “world class” (“even the busboys have Cornell degrees” is the quote).  The wait staff was super-attentive, yet not intrusive.

And the setting for all of this high-end professional courtesy is an art deco masterpiece, a huge 1930’s hall described, again by Zagat, as “majestic.”  It’s a beautiful space done in tones of orange and brown--with flowers, fixtures and lighting that all just works to create a magnificent venue in which to enjoy the service—and, of course, the food.

The cuisine at Eleven Madison Park is classified by some as New American, and by others as French, but whatever you call it, it’s fantastic.  We ordered lunch from an eclectic four-course prix fixe menu, and we spent a full three hours consuming it, along with all of the assorted hors d’oeuvre, amuses, and other delights that came our way. Partway through the meal we were invited to go into the kitchen to view the action, hear the EMP story, and watch while one of the chefs prepared a special passion-fruit daiquiri just for us (this involved, as part of the show, her literally whipping part of the concoction in an a bath of liquid nitrogen).

Since I am far from qualifying as a food writer, I would do an injustice to the fabulousness of the cuisine to try to describe it in detail.  But “unexpected” and "adventurous" are terms that Eleven Madison Park takes to heart, and “artful” is the word used by many food writers to define chef Daniel Humm’s wizardry.  Here are some examples of the cuisine:  crab roulade wrapped in avocado, lobster knuckles sweetened with figs, and smoked sturgeon sabayon served in an eggshell.  One reviewer describes the food at Eleven Madison Park as ranging from “very good to breathtakingly delicious.”  And that was certainly our experience.

Chicken Breast Basquaise (from Serious Eats Review)  

At the end of the meal, as Margo and I were basking in the afterglow of our amazing culinary adventure, one of our bright-and-enthusiastic servers quizzed us on how the East Coast Madison Park stacked up against the West Coast version.  Which one, she asked, did we now most appreciate?

Hard to choose!

[To read a great review of Eleven Madison Park, see Frank Bruni’s four-star take on the place in the New York Times.  Chef Daniel Humm, who Margo and I got to meet while we were enjoying his food, will be in Seattle next month to promote his new Eleven Madison Park cookbook, to be published on 11/11/11.  (Third photo from the top is courtesy of Urban Spoon. Video is from]

Meanwhile, on display at Montserrat Gallery, Chelsea:

"Collapse of the Colony" by Margo Spellman, mixed-media triptych. Montserrat Gallery is located at  547 W. 27th Street, New York City.  On display through October 22.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Governor Rosellini dead at 101

Albert D. Rosellini, 15th Governor of the State of Washington and longtime Madison Park resident, died today, according to the Associated Press.  The Seattle Times reported the cause as complications of pneumonia.

Son of Italian immigrants, Rosellini, a Democrat, was elected Governor in 1956, re-elected in 1960, and defeated in 1964 by Republican Daniel Evans.  He made further tries for elective office, as King County Executive in 1969 and for Governor again in 1972, before retiring from politics.  He then worked as a lawyer, consultant, and beer distributor.  The Governor lived, until just a few years ago, in a house on 43rd Avenue E., north of E. Madison Street.  His wife, Ethel, died in 2002.

An excellent review of his life can be found at  With Rosellini's death, there are six current and former Governors of the State living, the oldest of which is Daniel Evans, born in 1925.

[Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seen or heard in the 'hood

John Gallen moves on

According to The Attic's Mark Long, "Johnny" Gallen began his several-decade career at Bert's in 1966, with a job sweeping floors. When the store's linoleum was replaced with carpet the following year, Gallen moved on to other duties, ultimately assuming responsibility as Bert's "flower guy." In his twenty-year role of flower buyer and plant expert at the store, he was well known to a couple generations of flower lovers and gardeners throughout the neighborhood. 

After "retiring" from Bert's in 2006, Gallen continued to be seen in Madison Park, where he had been a longtime resident.  Gallen recently moved to Aurora, Colorado to live near his family, reports Long, who believes that Johnny's departure represents "another passing of the torch" in the neighborhood. Long, who arrived at The Attic in 1989, remembers only Tina's on Madison, Madison Park Jewelers, Madison Park Hardware, Scoop du Jour, Anne Marie Lingerie, Choppers, the Red Onion, and Salon in the Park as other Madison Park businesses that were in operation then and which are still here today.  Oh, and of course, Bert's Red Apple itself.

Ready for an Italian Renaissance?

Anyone wandering past the new Cafe Parco over the last fews weeks couldn't help but notice that things are happening there, both on the outside and the inside of the former Madison Park Cafe space. Chef/proprietor Celinda Norton and her crew (consisting primarily of family members) are working away madly in the hope of getting the doors open at the new neighborhood eatery within the next week or so (perhaps October 10).  

Those interested in seeing what's going on inside can check out Cafe Parco's blog to view some interior construction photos.  In a recent email to Chef Celinda fans, son Nic reports that the restaurant's menus have been posted online (see them here) and mentions that there has been something of a snafu in getting the liquor license approved (hopefully a problem that's resolvable before opening, but maybe not, he warns). 

By the way, we have an "exclusive" interview with Chef Celinda that we will be posting at about the time of Cafe Parco's opening.  Stay tuned.

New benches become official

Though Madison Park Blogger crassly overlooked a little side-ceremony that took place during Madison Park Art Walk last month, we're rectifying the oversight. The new stone benches next to the Bank of America parking lot were officially inaugurated with speeches and a ribbon cutting on Art Walk's opening night. Doing the honors (twice, since the cameraman was asleep at the switch) were these two photogenic girls, who performed their roles with energy and grace.  We failed in our reportorial role in getting their names, unfortunately.  But didn't we perhaps see those two in the Kid's parade last July?  

The long-in-the-making bench-installation project was a joint effort of neighborhood volunteers, the Madison Park Business Association, and Bank of America.  

Hey, you can't please everyone!

The benches in McNae Triangle Park, in front of Bing's, were considerably spruced up this summer when volunteers pressure washed and repainted them in a burst of civic do-goodness (do-gooderism?).  Anyway, we understand that a lot of work went into the refurbishment; and we're told a lot of thought went into the choice of colors. Theses efforts, we're sure, have been appreciated by users and passers-by alike.

It just figures, however, that the new color combination for the benches (orange and green) would not get a thumbs-up from everyone in the Park.  Do we ever agree about anything?  Someone (we know who, but won't say) scrawled a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me message on a waste receptacle near the benches, apparently appalled over the shade of orange used (or maybe it was simply a complaint about the color orange in the first place).  In any event the message was quickly erased by someone who evidently thought that the real travesty was the graffiti.

This and that

We've noticed what we think is an interesting convergence of two groups which are each planning to descend upon the general area this Sunday, October 9.  One of the get-togethers is the monthly "meet and greet" at Tully's of the Seattle & Puget Sound Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Group; and the other is the Meditative Tree Walk for International Peace in the Arboretum of the Seattle Druid Meetup Group.

Seen on a bumpersticker on a truck parked in Madison Park:

Stop Organized Crime:  Don't Re-elect Anyone!

[Thanks to David Hutchins for the photo of the refurbished park benches in front of Bing's.]

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lesser Madison Park

Commentary By Bryan Tagas

Columnist, author, and Madison Park resident Knute Berger (aka Mossback) wrote a cute piece several years ago (“Coffee talk in Madison Park”) in which he declared, somewhat tongue in cheek, that people living in the neighborhood could be divided into two principal camps:  those who choose to get their java at Starbucks and those who are aficionados of Tully’s.

Starbucks customers, he wrote, “seem a little more groomed, more LA, more SUV.” He described the upscale coffeehouse as bustling “like a cross between a busy ski lodge and a place where people in office-casual dress take meetings” or perhaps “run their empires from their laptops.”

The much smaller and cozier Tully’s, in contrast, he viewed as the kind of “neighborly” place where groups of old friends might meet in an atmosphere embodying “some kind of older, village version of Madison Park.” He saw the place as being “old tennis shoes” versus “tennis club.”

In summing up the dividing line within Madison Park, Berger determined that the neighborhood “still carries some shades of class difference, between the upper middle class and the rich; between old-timers and newcomers, between people who seem to prefer an older, unpretentious Seattle and a slicker, more professional one.” And in their choice of coffeehouse, Madison Parkers may be making a statement that is more than just about the quality of the coffee. “It strikes me,” Berger concluded, “that the self-sorting in Madison Park suggests there is something sociologically important going on in these places. It's where people can quietly announce their class identification and aspirations.”

While Berger’s class-based assessment of the neighborhood is not without merit, it misses (or, at best, skirts) the principal issue that really defines Madison Parkers. The chief fault line within Madison Park, in my opinion, is the one that runs between the “Lesser Madison Park” crowd and the “Improvements Should Be Made” agitators. This ongoing “status quo versus change” conflict forms the backdrop that defines most of the struggles over proposed “improvements” to the neighborhood.  And while Tully’s patrons might be more likely to be found in the “keep Madison Park as it is” group, there are plenty of Starbucks-coffee drinkers who are also solidly on the front lines with the stand-paters. Simplistically, the defining issue of this Great Divide can be summed up as Madison Park for Madison Parkers! versus Madison Park for Everybody!

The view from East Lynn Street

The current brouhaha over the possible removal of the chain-link fence at ‘Swingset Park’ (aka Madison Park Beach North) provides an appropriate jumping off point for a discussion of how the fault line works. Someone (in this case someone from outside the neighborhood) proposes that an “improvement” be made to a Madison Park venue: restore waterfront access by eliminating a fence that for many decades has created a barrier between Lake Washington and the public.

Residents then react, making a couple dozen comments on the proposal on this blog or in emails.  The lines are drawn:  Open things up or keep things closed?

There are, admittedly, legitimate safety concerns about the fence removal.  Unless the original beach is restored, the riprap will still limit access to the water and will certainly be a potential hazard for children (one that insurers might define as an “attractive nuisance”). The water is several feet below the level of the grassy surface of the park; and at the bottom of the riprap, the water is filled with jagged rocks. But safety concerns are not predominant in the thinking of certain Madison Parkers, who are more focused on the potential disruption to the neighborhood that could be caused by opening that stretch of waterfront to the public.

Though the fence, with its blackberry-bush overgrowth, is an eyesore and an imposition on an otherwise pristine landscape, some neighbors are taking a clear position:  “We like it like that!”  They say they are worried about the parking situation in the area if the fence comes down and people from outside the neighborhood discover another lakeside access point.  And then there are those concerns about possible nighttime crime and the loss of the quite, secluded, neighborhood feel of the park.  But are these legitimate issues or just manifestations of what might be termed the “Lesser Madison Park” mentality?

“Keep the bastards out!”

Curmudgeon and longtime P-I columnist Emmett Watson (now long dead), was well known in the last century for half-seriously championing the concept of a “Lesser Seattle.”  Watson’s proto-movement was an anti-outsider, anti-Chamber of Commerce reaction to growth, so-called improvements, and the establishment’s civic-booster mentality.  Watson, who had his own connection to Madison Park, claimed to believe that it would be best if the City didn’t try to attract any new residents (hence his creation of the official Lesser Seattle slogan, shown above).  

Even through Lesser Seattle may be dead, Watson’s legacy seems to live on in Madison Park, where a preservationist and anti-outsider mentality is often coupled with a feisty leave-us-alone stance.  The neighborhood’s grand dame, Lola McKee, once summed up the attitude (which she didn’t necessarily admit to subscribing to) this way: “Let me pay my taxes, then leave me alone.”  In order to discourage visitors, T-shirts were once supposedly printed up with “It’s Always Raining in Madison Park” emblazoned on them.  There’s an anti-City of Seattle component to all of this as well. Madison Park is one of the very few neighborhoods in Seattle that takes pride in the fact that it has never adopted a comprehensive neighborhood plan, while bureaucrats from City Hall are often viewed here with intense suspicion.

Many in Madison Park are wary of any change that would potentially draw more people to the neighborhood. At a public meeting a couple years ago one resident used the term “those people” when describing the kind of visitors to the Park who might ride the bus in, or bring their home barbeque to the beach in the back of their pickup. Sometimes on hot summer days, visitors park on the public streets in front of our houses.  Perhaps this kind of behavior should not be encouraged.

This Lesser Madison Park thinking sometimes immobilizes the neighborhood’s “establishment,” such as it is. For example, the rehabilitation and improvements made two years ago to Madison Park (the City park, that is) were the result of the organizing and fundraising efforts of a group of residents, Friends of the Park, who joined together in common cause. It could have been—but was not—a project of the Madison Park Community Council. From the Lesser Madison Park perspective, the proposed improvements might have resulted in more people coming into the neighborhood, potentially creating problems of parking and crime.  At least some on the Council apparently bought into that view. Let’s keep the old park the way it is!

Another example of “establishment” immobilization is the time several years ago when some residents of Madrona wanted to re-open to the public Madison Park’s E. Mercer St. waterfront road end. They proposed that the City revoke the private-use permits of the neighboring private property owners. Madison Park’s own Council, however, was reportedly the only one in the area that did not come out in favor of the plan. Effectively, the neighborhood’s representatives could not agree to the position that opening publicly owned space in Madison Park to the public was an inherently good thing.

Lesser Madison Park, it should be noted, does not equate to “make no changes to the Park.”  After all, there have been many recent improvements to the neighborhood (such as the McNae Triangle Park in front of Bing’s, the BofA parking lot benches, and the “beaver lodge” road end) that are the result of people banding together to enhance the community.  These projects are generally not controversial since they are unlikely on their own to attract additional visitors to the Park. They fit more into the category of improvements that residents, primarily, can enjoy. Lesser Madison Park advocates and boosters alike are able to work together on these kinds of projects without shifting the fault line.

But when it comes to bigger changes, something that would get the attention of a much wider audience, the division within Madison Park becomes much more pronounced. This controversy over a new public waterfront-access point is therefore not surprising, since we do not have consensus on what kind of a neighborhood Madison Park really is.

Inclusive or exclusive?

There are 5,000 of us living in Madison Park; and short of our doing a formal survey, there is just no way to know for sure what we think our neighborhood should stand for--if anything. Whether Madison Parkers predominantly see the various neighborhood “improvements” as an inherently good or bad thing is a mystery; and frankly, our representatives on the Community Council are simply not in a good position to know. Does Madison Park embrace “outsiders” or are we just threatened by them?

While we may really be the elitist, keep-it-all-to-ourselves kind of neighborhood that our detractors claim we are, I’d like to think we’re better than that. The choice before us, I believe, is this:  Do we as a community wish we were more like our exclusive enclave, Broadmoor, with its perimeter walls and gate guards? Or are we a neighborhood that believes in sharing with other Seattleites the very amenities that help make this Village by the Lake a joy for those of us lucky enough to live here?

How we answer that question will certainly do far more to define each of us as Madison Parkers than our preference for where we purchase our morning coffee.

[Thanks to Richard Carl "Dick" Lehman for the use of his cartoon, above.]