Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Destruction and renewal in Madison Park

Those doubting the vibrancy of the housing scene in Madison Park would certainly change their perspective if they stood at the intersection of McGilvra Boulevard E. and E. Newton Street.  From that vantage point, they could glance in almost any direction (well, three out of four) and see an active construction project underway-- or perhaps even two.  Within 100 paces of this intersection, there are in fact five separate houses either being built from the ground up or in the process of major renovation.  The cycles of destruction and renewal in Madison Park continue unabated.

We once speculated, incorrectly, that speculative construction in the neighborhood might be coming to a halt due to the economic downturn.  While things did slow for a while, it’s been clear for many months that Madison Park continues to be an attractive place for residential developers.  At least three of the houses under construction near this intersection appear to be speculative, including two houses being built by Chaffey on what was apparently once the site of a single residence.   At the same time, there are at least two other projects within easy walking distance where speculative builders are also replacing a single residence with two new homes.

This is one of two Chaffey-built homes under construction at E. Newton St.

On a quick recent drive through Madison Park we counted 19 homes in some stage of construction or massive rehabilitation.  Most of this activity is a “North of Madison” phenomenon, with at least 14 sites active on the north end of the neighborhood, including two in Broadmoor (though, as we know, nothing of a speculative nature is allowed in this gated community).

Not every project currently underway in the neighborhood, however, involves a complete teardown and replacement of an existing structure.  In fact, of the six houses being constructed near E. Newton and McGilvra, one is a major rehab and another is only a partial teardown.  The new owner of one of these houses emailed us to say that while his new house will have an additional story added to it, the bones and outline of the old house will remain--and the finished home will be a traditional house designed to blend into the neighborhood rather than being one of those new, modernistic boxy structures that are somewhat controversial.

These neighboring houses are both being more than just rehabilitated

Next door to this particular house, a derelict home that has been something of a neighborhood eyesore for years is about to be thoroughly reimagined.  We are told that the new structure will also be in a “traditional” style when completed, though much larger than the existing brick home built in the 1940s.  That’s the way of neighborhood, of course.  The original house contains only 1,600 sq. ft.  The new one will have at least double the space, with the existing first floor being demolished and two new stories plus a detached garage built on the 6,000 sq. ft. lot.

Two major homes are currently under construction (or soon to begin) along Lake Washington, one along 39th Avenue E., in the area just north of “Hidden Beach” (the E. Harrison St. road end), and the other just south of the E. Highland St. road end.  Both of these will, necessarily (given the cost of the land) be major structures.  And speaking of which, that very noticeable construction project underway along McGilvra Boulevard, across the street and just north of the Seattle Tennis Club, is replacing a 1,300 sq. ft. structure with a four-level 4,300 sq. ft. structure, not including the new home’s 760 sq. ft. garage and an equally large deck.  This is the site of a foreclosed home, lost by a speculative builder when the money ran out.  Out of loss, sometime comes opportunity. The new owners appear to be building a home for their own occupancy.

A megahome replaces a cottage at 1115 McGilvra Boulevard E.

The relatively high level of construction activity in Madison Park can likely be sustained if macroeconomic conditions do not deteriorate.  We know, for example, that there are several houses in the neighborhood that were purchased in the last few years for the purpose of future development.  The timing may now be right.  Additionally, some recent home sales and at least one currently in the works are to speculative builders. Although the neighborhood---especially north of Madison Street---has seen significant gentrification over the past decade, there are still plenty of smaller homes on expensive lots that will be ripe for demolition or rehabilitation in the near future, either by speculative builders or by those who want to transform the property and create their own dream home.

The modern history of Madison Park, like that of many other Seattle neighborhoods, has been one of ongoing—though sometimes sporadic---destruction and rebuilding. Whether we welcome this change or deplore it, it is definitely something we better get used to.

[Upper photo by Lisa V. Taylor shows demolition last month of a 1940's duplex on the 2300 block of McGilvra Boulevard E.  Photo of 1115 McGilvra Boulevard E. construction from King County Assessor's Office.]

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Missing child report draws big police response

At about 5:30 on the afternoon of Friday, November 16, a succession of police cars began racing into Madison Park from various directions, sirens screaming. They converged at the intersection of E. Madison St. and McGilvra Boulevard E., though their purpose for being at the scene was apparently not obvious to those passing by. Several readers later asked us what exactly had been going on.

Though we were able to find a "missing person" report for about that time on the Seattle Police Department's Twitter feed, there was no indication on the SPD's crime map that any criminal activity had taken place in the general area at that time.  So we called the SPD's public information office for an explanation.  According to Detective Jeff Kappel, the massive show of force resulted from a report by the mother of a McGilvra Elementary student that her child had not returned home from school. Although the six-year-old boy was later reported as being on a bus, police protocol for missing child cases, according to Kappel, required a "multiple unit" response in order to "securely reunite the boy with his mother."

It was a school-bus driver who had confirmed to authorities that the boy was on his bus, said Kappel, and the bus was on route to the Madison & McGilvra location when police units were called to the scene. The protocol in such cases is for the police to "put eyes on" the missing kid and be sure that the story checks out.  Multiple squad cars are needed in such cases, says Kappel, because "if there are bad guys, they tend not to resist when there's an overwhelming show of force."  In this case, no bad guys.  The boy was reunited with his mother, and, in Kappel's words, "everything worked out in the end."

[File photos.]

Saturday, November 24, 2012

McGilvra Students Send Holiday Cheer to Soldiers in Afghanistan

Guest Posting By Regina Brown

In honor of Veteran’s Day and the upcoming holidays, the McGilvra Elementary School’s Student Council took on a special project -- personal care packages for Lewis-McChord soldiers who can’t come home for the holidays.

Kicking off the care-package drive at a school-wide assembly, ten students from the K-5th grade student council stood up in front of their classmates and gave a moving presentation about history, war, and what it means to be a veteran. Sergeant Morales, a local army recruiter who has spent two rotations in Iraq, talked about how much it means to the soldiers to receive these packages and messages of good wishes – especially from non-family members.

Armed with a wish list from the soldiers, the students got to work and soon the bins in the McGilvra school office were overflowing with donations including Halloween candy, Starbucks & Tully's coffee, notebooks, shower gel, and hand-warmers. In addition to the gifts, each class wrote personal cards to the soldiers.

“The student council did a fantastic job presenting the meaning of Veteran’s Day to their classmates, “ said Season Hamilton, Community Outreach Chair with the McGilvra PTA. “It was amazing to see all of the kids respond with such enthusiasm. We hope to do something like this every year.”

Forty boxes were packed up Thanksgiving weekend and shipped out to Afghanistan where they will be delivered by jeep to 118 young men and women from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. For more information on sending care packages to Washington-based soldiers serving overseas, contact Sgt. Morales at: SFC Rafael A Morales, 
U.S. Army Recruiter, 10706 5th Ave, Ste. D, 
Seattle, WA 98125

[Photo by Season Hamilton. Back row: Isabelle Hanson-Carlsen and Sergeant Guerzon. Front row: Drake Wright, Sophia Christothoulou, Emma Brooksbank.] 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Whither the Tully's crowd?

Since the closing of the neighborhood Tully's in early October, many of the coffee shop's onetime aficionados are feeling bereft.  We understand, though we have not seen this with our own eyes, that a few regulars can now been seen gracing spots at the neighborhood Starbucks, perhaps with some discomfort.  Others are turning up for their fix at Madison Park Bakery or other existing local coffee purveyors.

But knowing the Tully's crowd as we do, It seems unlikely that many of them are now driving, biking, or bussing to some far-off Tully's location in order to enjoy their brew (the nearest Tully's is almost two miles away, at 746 19th Avenue E. on Capitol Hill). Instead, they are hoping for another neighborhood alternative to take up the slack, perhaps on the very site of the previous Tully's location.

That hope may be in vain, however, since Tully's already was the most significant neighborhood alternative to Starbucks--and in the end the economics of that strategy (and coffee niche) just didn't work here.  We've been told by several area merchants who've looked into the matter that the landlord is expecting a level of monthly rent equal to or even higher than what Tully's had been paying.  A coffee shop is therefore not a likely outcome unless it is coupled with some other economically viable enterprise (no, not a bookstore).

But don't think that there still might not be viable alternatives here for the former patrons of Tully's.  As we noted in our posting on Madison Kitchen, the soon-to-arrive replacement for Park Place Deli, one aim of the new operator is to provide a combination of high-end coffee, good seating, and a strong vibe that may attract some of the neighborhood coffee-house crowd, Tully's or otherwise.

We also received a tip that Madison Park Bakery is looking into stepping up the competition on the local coffee scene. Owner Karen Hofman confirmed the story, saying she and her husband are considering expanding the seating area of the bakery to enhance the ambiance and encourage more of the sit-down trade, including coffee drinkers.  She cautioned however that the planning is in the early stages--and something she definitely does not want to do is reduce the size of the back-of-house kitchen, which is already small enough.

So hold on, Tully's fans.  All is not lost. There may soon be a couple of new Starbuck's alternatives for you to check out.

As for the old Tully's space, is Madison Park ready for a head shop and marijuana provisioner?  That might just be a more economically viable option than what came before.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

This is not a charity's drop box

To be fair, the drop box that sits next to Bert's Red Apple on 41st Avenue E. has a notice right on the front which reads: "USAgain is a for profit clothes collection company. Deposits are not tax deductable [sic]."  Yet this for-profit company (USAgain, that is, not Bert's) has been accused of misleading unsuspecting (and, apparently, un-reading) donors who don't realize that their dropped-off used clothes, phones and shoes are simply being sold and the proceeds going to enrich the company's owner.

We were unaware of the controversy surrounding USAgain until a reader asked us to investigate why Bert's allows access to its property for the purpose of a non-charitable drop box. Our reader directed us to a November 2009 KIRO-TV investigation into USAgain: "Millions in Clothing Donations Diverted from Charity" (the story can be found here).  As the station concluded, "In reality, USAgain sells the majority of your toys, sweatshirts, shoes and bundles of blankets, to international used clothing brokers in Russia, South America and Africa. It might get to a needy person, but they'll likely have to pay for it."

We asked Bert's about the situation and got the response that the store is well aware that USAgain is a for-profit company and that there hasn't been a single complaint about Bert's providing space for the drop box.  We were told, rather indirectly, that if there were to be complaints the store might revisit the issue.

It appears that USAgain may have cleaned up its public relations act since the two-year-old KIRO report.  The company's website ( presents the organization as an environmental recycler that partners with communities and charities to re-use items that might otherwise end up in a landfill or worse:  "By putting them [used clothes] back in the use cycle we conserve precious natural resources, prevent greenhouse gas emissions and save landfill space. What's more, the clothes are given a second life at affordable prices for people who can't afford brand new clothes. It's a win-win-win proposition."

Maybe so, but there are charitable alternatives to giving used clothing to a non-charity such as USAgain (The Northwest Center, for example). When it comes to getting rid of your old stuff, the Bert's drop box offers Madison Parkers a clearcut case of caveat lector (let the reader beware).

That would be you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

520 closed yet again this weekend

But what about those pontoons?

We usually get invited to the media tours that WSDOT puts on when it wants coverage of the SR-520 bridge-replacement project.  But so far, we've resisted making the trek to Medina to see the show.  Yesterday, those who took the tour were able to get inside the infamous once-leaking-but-now-sealed pontoons and hear directly from state engineers that these concrete behemoths are perfectly safe. The WSDOT story is basically this: some cracking was always expected, since that's what concrete usually does when it cures: cracks. And when it cracks, you seal it. No big deal.

Over four months ago we reported the fact that the initial pontoons showed cracks which WSDOT at the time stated were being repaired as they were discovered. Many months later, KOMO-TV latched onto the story and reported on it in typical sensationalist fashion. The rest of the major media followed, and WSDOT was forced to defend itself and its contractors. Those interested in the full story from the state's point of view can find it here.

The media tour also featured an up-close look at the first of the 55-foot columns that will eventually support the roadway.  These five columns are all on one pontoon (Pontoon W to be precise):

This is going to be one tall bridge (at least at the east end, where Pontoon W is anchored).

By the way, the weekend closure of the "old" floating bridge begins at 11 pm on Friday and will end at 5 am on Monday. Additionally, there will be unrelated cleaning work on the Montlake Bridge over the weekend which will reduce traffic flow to one lane in both directions on Sunday, from 6:30 until 11:30 am.

The view from the inside:  Hey, do you see any leaking?

[Photos courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)]

Monday, November 12, 2012

Upcoming events

Christmas Ship(s) to arrive December 22

The date and time have been set for the annual arrival of the holiday flotilla at Madison Park. The ships will be off the beach between 4:55 and 5:15 pm on Saturday, December 22. The live on-board music will be provided by the Dickens Carolers, the same group that did the honors last year.  As always, neighborhood businesses will be chipping in to provide refreshments for those enjoying the festivities.

Madison Parkers living in proximity to the Seattle Tennis Club may be able to see or hear a preview of what's to come. On November 25 the flotilla will anchor off the STC lawn for a concert from 6:00 until 6:20 pm.

We're sure to receive a missive from Argosy Cruises if we don't mention that the "Christmas Ship Festival" is an Argosy event, details here.

Arboretum Holiday Sale returns December 7 & 8

The annual Arboretum Holiday Sale, "Greens & Gifts Galore," will be held at the Graham Visitors Center on Friday, December 7, from 12 to 5 p.m., and on Saturday, December 8, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The sale will feature eco-friendly botanical decorations, such as locally sourced and sustainably harvested wreaths, swags, and garlands, as well as fresh-cut greens. Additionally, there will be specialty gifts, including gardening and nature books, handcrafted items by local artisans, botanical holiday ornaments by Michael Michaud, miniature terrarium kits, handmade gift cards, Chukar Cherries gift boxes, handmade birdseed balls, and Arboretum honey.

The event is sponsored by the Arboretum Foundation, and all sales benefit the maintenance and education programs of the Arboretum.  The Graham Visitors Center is located at 2300 Arboretum Drive E.

Koulourakia is a traditional hand-shaped, butter-based Greek pastry

Time again for baklava, spanakopita and koulourakia

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption will be holding its annual Holiday Fest Dinner this year on December 1 at the Church (reservations here).  But if a sit-down dinner is not your thing, you can still get some great Greek food by signing up online for the dinner to go (available for pickup on the afternoon of December 1) or for some fresh or frozen items to be picked up at the Church November 30 through December 2. Assumption Church is located at 1804 13th Avenue on Capitol Hill.

[Middle photo: New York Botanical Garden.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

October Police Blotter

Precipitous decline in crime comes with the rain

There's usually a correlation between the end of summer and a leveling off of crime in Madison Park, so it's not surprising--given that the weather definitely moved into a post-summer phase--that October was a month of very low criminal activity. There was only one house break-in and just one car prowl reported during the month, and not a single car theft occurred.

One of the police reports for October involves an incident that turned out not to be particularly criminal, if at all.  On Friday the 26th, at about 4 pm, police were called to investigate a disturbance at the intersection of 38th Avenue E. and E. McGilvra Street (denoted by the blue mask icon on the map above). It's the entrance to the road-end park known to locals as the Beaver Lodge Sanctuary.  The tree-lined path leading to the water is in a secluded section of the neighborhood, just north of Canterbury. Apparently, according to a Seattle Police Department spokesperson, this area is a hotspot for teen parties.

Officers arrived on the scene and discovered a number of teenagers dressed in purple, many of whom immediately scattered into the surrounding streets. One of the officers, however, recognized the situation for what it was: a hazing incident involving Garfield High students (upperclassmen harassing underclassmen).  The principal of the School was called, and both he and his vice principal soon arrived.  Parents were eventually brought in and the students were then shuttled off to their homes.  While no criminal charges were made, according to the SPD, Garfield may have later imposed sanctions on the students involved.

McGilvra and 38th: a teen hotspot. Who knew?

Earlier in the month, on Sunday, October 21, police received a late-morning report of a suspicious character peering into windows of houses on the 600 block of Lake Washington Boulevard E.  An officer was dispatched and he soon spotted the suspect (described as a white male wearing a trench coat and carrying a camouflage handbag). The officer approached the man, who appeared visibly agitated. When the officer asked the suspect if he was carrying a weapon, the man admitted he was. The weapon turned out to be a three-and-a-half-inch fixed-blade knife which was concealed in a sheath attached to a waistband in the "small of the suspect's back."  He was immediately arrested for possession of an unlawful weapon.  Although police tried to track down witnesses who may have seen the man peering into houses, no one was located to corroborate that story.

There was a minor "non-aggrevated" assault (denoted by the red fist icon, above) at our neighborhood Starbucks on October 12.  A man bumped into one of our local bank branch managers a couple of times while the manager was waiting in line to order his coffee. The perpetrator is apparently well known to personnel of the bank in question. He apparently has a habit of yelling "racist" and other impolite terms at the manager when he sees him. On this occasion the man left the Starbucks before police could be called (though a report was later filed).

Finally, the one reported neighborhood break-in took place over the weekend of October 20/21 on the 3700 block of E. Prospect Street. The homeowner reported that there had been a forced entry of his detached garage and that two bikes, worth about $750 each, had been stolen from their bike racks.

[Dollar-sign icons on the above map represent reports of credit card fraud.]

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lola McKee's contributions honored

Anonymous donor funds park bench at Swingset Park

She was called the neighborhood's "unofficial mayor", the "matriarch of the Park", and a lot of other laudatory things during her long tenure as a Madison Park community leader.  But at age 87, Lola McKee, longtime owner of Madison Park Hardware (which she sold in 2010), has slowed down a bit. Though still a resident of the Park (where she and her husband originally came to live in 1956), she's no longer an automatic attendee at the various neighborhood meetings and civic functions where her presence was once assumed and her personality so strongly felt.

We understand that Lola doesn't get out much anymore, but if she choses to do so she can now sit on a bench installed in her honor at Swingset Park and enjoy the newly invigorated Lake Washington view from an easy-access spot near the sidewalk.  The bench, a generous gift of a Madison Park resident who wishes to remain anonymous, was installed by a Parks crew last month and is situated just north of the bus stop at 43rd Avenue E. and E. Lynn Street at what is officially known as "Madison Park North Beach."

The benefactor had this to say about why he chose to commemorate Lola's contributions to Madison Park in this way: "I, like so many I know, so much respect her integrity, her community spirit, leadership, generosity, and good will." He adds that Lola's operation of Madison Park Hardware also exemplified her love and support of the neighborhood. "At the hardware store, it was all about the customer," he says, "long before Amazon made that their mantra." She always was thinking, "How can we better serve the customer with quality products at reasonable cost?"  Not to mention carrying items of low turnover that most stores would not bother with but that she felt someone in the neighborhood might sometime need.

He tells the story of meeting Lola at her store some 40 years ago and asking if she had a particular item in stock. She told him, "If I don't have it, you don't need it!"  But when it turned out that she didn't have the particular item (which was actually a jacket button, not hardware), she found a source that helped get him the match.

Lola was asked if she would like to be photographed for this story sitting on her bench, but she declined because of modesty, according to her daughter, Cookie. We know what she would have said to us if we had asked in person: "Oh no, a shot of me would break your camera!" Because that's what she always says.

Lola's bench is one of two new benches to grace Swingset Park since the fence was removed in late summer. The other bench, along the sidewalk to the south, has this inscription on the plaque set into the concrete base: "Dedicated to Coconut Roman Emperor Dream Maker Valentine - 2012."  At least one other new bench is slated for installation at Swingset Park. The collection of donations for the installation of benches at City parks is a program of the Seattle Parks Foundation, information for which is available here.