Friday, December 20, 2013

Pardon our hiatus

No, we have not called it quits.  We're just taking a bit of a break here at Madison Park Blogger.  We'll be back in all our snarkiness early in the New Year.

We appreciate your support.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

November Police Blotter

Dramatic police action ends well

At about 8:00 pm on Saturday, November 30, multiple police vehicles descended on Madison Park, lights flashing and sirens blaring. The squad cars converged at the intersection of 43rd Avenue E. and E. Madison Street, police exiting their vehicles in anticipation of major action.  The officers believed that an armed and dangerous criminal suspect was on the loose in the area; so they had good reason for creating the dramatic nighttime scene, which was witnessed by numerous apartment dwellers, restaurant and bar patrons, and passers by who filled the sidewalks to watch the drama unfold. SPD had received a call reporting that a shooting had just taken place, the perpetrator had a gun, and he was walking out of his home to turn himself in.  The police discovered their suspect, and with guns drawn they apprehended him. He surrendered peaceably.  That was how the scene played out.

But there had been no crime, no victim, and therefore no suspect.  It was all a potentially lethal misunderstanding.

Since the incident, we have had several inquires from those who witnessed this police action and wondered what actually transpired.  Medic units had been called to the scene to attend the “suspect” and police later escorted the man from the area.

A relative of the “suspect” gave us the story, which we agreed to report without using any names.  The incident was the result of an hallucination by a man who is in hospice care at relative’s private residence. Either because of medication or toxins in his body, we are told, the man came to believe that he had shot someone. He called police to report the crime and gave his address to the dispatcher.  He apparently then left the residence to meet the police.  All of this was without his relative’s knowledge.

When the police apprehended him and he realized he had been experiencing an hallucination the police went to his home, where the relative was about to go out looking for him. With the help of his relative, however, officers quickly figured out the situation and, in the relative’s opinion, “reacted appropriately” given that the “suspect” had been acting bizarrely and holding an object in his hands that the police could not see clearly (it turned out to be a cell phone).  “They were “nice and respectful,” according to the relative.

The man is now back in hospice care at his relative’s home.  We were told that he had never exhibited this kind of delusional behavior before and that measures have been taken to ensure that this is a one-time occurrence.

Crimes of the Month

As detailed on the map above, November was a month in which there were a lot of car break-ins (the non-solid-car icons), a couple car thefts (solid-car icons), graffiti (the spray-can icons) and miscellaneous cases of fraud (the dollar sign icons), mail theft, and just plan theft (dollar-bill icons). Though not designated with icons on the map, the Edgewater Apartments experienced multiple break-ins of storage units on November 30, as well as another break-in on November 26 of a garage used for storing paint and materials, light bulbs and other maintenance items used by workers at the complex. Several thousand dollars worth of items were taken in each of these incidents.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Construction outpaces inventory

Aftermath of teardown at E. Newton and 42nd Ave. E.

Believe it or not, in the topsy turvy Madison Park real estate market there are now more houses under construction than there are houses for sale.  And while there’s probably only a tenuous cause-and-effect relationship between these two data points (the majority of the new houses are apparently being built by people who intend to live in them), this high-construction/low-inventory situation is almost certainly unprecedented.

By our recent count there are at least 19 single-family homes in some stage of construction in Madison Park, five of these in Broadmoor, five in Washington Park, and nine in the rest of the neighborhood.  This does not include the several major rehabs underway nor any of the three or more teardown projects that we understand are soon to begin.

At the same time, there are only 17 houses currently listed for sale in Madison Park, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.   This is an inventory level lower than any we have seen in the five years we’ve been covering the territory.  As points of reference, there were 33 houses for sale last quarter, 38 houses for sale one year ago, and 77 houses for sale in the highest inventory month of the downturn, July 2010.  From that high to the present low represents an almost 80% falloff in houses on the market here.  Where there was once too much competition (from the seller’s point of view, at least) now there’s too little competition (in the probable view of most prospective buyers).  Based on last quarter’s run rate for single-family home sales, nine per month on average, Madison Park now has a two-month supply of inventory.

One of three waterfront homes currently under construction (E. Highland north side)

But before we get into the details of homes sold or currently for sale, let’s take a look at the high level of construction now taking place in the neighborhood.  To start with, there are three major waterfront projects simultaneously underway in Washington Park, two of them adjacent to the E. Highland Drive roadend.  On the north side of the road a classic 1940 Cape Cod structure of about 3,000 sq. ft. is being replaced with a much larger, bigger-footprint residence.

Meanwhile, on the south side of the road, two houses, including the onetime home of Joe Diamond (Diamond Parking), were demolished earlier this year to make way for a 9,680 sq. ft. residence that will ultimately sit on this prime 18,000 sq. ft. waterfront site. A boxy, modernistic home is also being built on the waterfront in the “Devil’s Dip” section of 39th Avenue E., just to the south of the Seattle Tennis Club.

New construction on the south side of the E. Highland road end

To the north of E. Madison Street there are several interesting redevelopments underway.  Two particular shabby structures have been torn down in the past couple of months to make way for larger, modern abodes. The notorious dilapidated shack located on the southwest corner of 42nd Avenue and E. Newton finally bit the dust (as shown in the picture at the top) and will be replaced by a townhouse with two living units. This is a follow-on project by developer Isola Homes, which successfully developed a Madison Park spec home last year on a lot previously occupied by the so-called “Rainbow House.”

The back of the notorious shack at Newton and 42nd (before demolition)

Isola is not the only developer currently building spec houses in Madison Park, however.  Chaffey Building Group continues to buy up cottages and replace them with large, full-footprint structures.  The most recent example is 4101 E. McGilvra, where a 3,304 sq. ft. two-story home is replacing a small and rather unattractive dwelling on a lot just across the street from Edgewater Apartments:

The latest in a row of Chaffey-built residences

There are clearly more Madison Park developments in Chaffey’s future:

Isola is also not the only builder that is creating two residential properties on a site where only one previously stood.  Two houses are going in on the north side of the intersection of E. Crockett St. and 38th Avenue E. in Canterbury.  This is a double lot that was subdivided earlier this year and is being developed by Winfield Homes.

Another two-for-one situation at E. Crockett and 38th Ave. E.

While there are only two completed spec houses currently on the market in Madison Park, it appears that of the 19 homes under construction in the neighborhood, five are apparently intended for immediate sale.  All of the Washington Park and Broadmoor developments are intended for the occupancy of the property owners it appears. This includes one house being built as the personal residence of the developer and his family.

Just built and for sale: 2330 McGilvra Blvd. E.

So, as we noted, it’s not the case the most of the current construction is primarily prompted by the lack of inventory.  Nevertheless, developers continue to see Madison Park as an attractive area for investment, which will tend to further increase neighborhood home values.

Here’s the rundown on the current state of the market:


Listings:  17
Median List Price:  $2,450,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  4,380
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $559
Average Days on Market:  128
Percentage with Price Reductions:  53%
New Listings:  2
Pending Sales:  11


Listings:  4
Median List Price:  $449,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  1,010
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $445
Average Days on Market:  95
Percentage with Price Reductions:  50%
New Listings:  0
Pending Sales:  2

The third quarter, during which there was more inventory, had strong sales, a shorter sales cycle, and increasing home values, compared to previous quarters.  This is the overview:


Sales:  27
Median Sale Price:  $1,295,000
Average Sq. Ft.:  3,155
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $465
Average Days on Market:  72
Average Discount from List Price:  4.62%


Sales:  13
Median Sale Price:  $465,000
Average Sq. Ft.:  1,148
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $485
Average Days on Market:  60
Average Discount from List Price: 4.38%

Also worth noting is that the average discount from original list prices continued to decline.  There were six houses and seven condos sold for list price or higher during the quarter.  If two outliers (with discounts of 20% and 17% respectively) are excluded from the calculation, Madison Park house sellers experienced only a 3.5% discount from their original listing prices, on average, over the three-month period.  Not bad considering that discounts were averaging in the low-to-mid-teens in those bad years for the market, 2010 and 2011.

[Thanks to Laura Halliday 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. Thanks also to Dominique B. for the demolition photo at the top.]

Monday, November 25, 2013

Susan Fujita of Choppers has died

We were sorry to learn today from Leslie Maeda, Susan Fujita's daughter, of the death of her mother:

"Susan passed away peacefully at the age of 73 years young on November 17th, 2013 following a short, but courageous battle with lung cancer. Susan was born to Ichiro and Nobuko Hayashida on Bainbridge Island and graduated from Bainbridge Island High School in 1958. She then went on to pursue a lifelong passion of cosmetology. As co-owner of Choppers hair salon in Madison Park for over 30 years, she met many interesting people and made many friends. Even when she was very ill, she didn’t want to stop working because she enjoyed her clients so much.

She met the love of her life, Melvin Fujita, on a blind date and they were married November 15, 1964. Susan was an avid tennis player and was very close with her group of tennis friends; enjoying many lunches, laughs and travels with them. She loved sports and played volleyball on the JBC team for over 30 years and was a longtime season ticket holder for the Seahawks, Mariners and the Sonics. Susan loved to travel and her adventurous spirit led to many trips with family and friends to over 17 countries and every continent except Antarctica. Susan also enjoyed gardening, cooking, theatre, and entertaining at the Hansville beach house. True to her generous spirit, Susan annually volunteered for the Forgotten Children’s Fund around the holidays.

Susan is survived by her husband Melvin Fujita, and her siblings Tomiko (Hank) Egashira, Hisako (James) Matsudaira, Yasuko Mito, Hiroshi (Loretta) Hayashida, and Judy Hayashida.  Susan also leaves behind her two daughters, Tiffanie Fujita and Lezlie (Dean) Maeda, and her grandson, Oliver Maeda. She was predeceased by her parents Ichiro and Nobuko Hayashida, brother in law Henry Mito, and granddaughter Abigail Maeda. Susan’s warm and caring spirit will be deeply missed by all who were blessed enough to have their hearts touched by her. There are no words to describe the enormous void that will be felt by her family and her extensive circle of friends.

Remembrances can be made to the American Cancer Society."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Neighborhood hit with extensive tagging

As we've reported in the past, tagging is an ongoing problem in the neighborhood, but the scale of last night's vandalism is perhaps unprecedented.  Community Council member Bob Edmiston reported in an email this morning that he counted 40 separate graffiti incidents in the "flat" area of Madison Park, principally in alleys between E. Lee Street to the south and the Edgewater Apartments (E. McGilvra Street) to the north. Garage doors were the principal targets.

Those who have experienced vandalism of their property are urged to report the incident to the police, which is easily on on-line here: Seattle Police CORP.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happening in November

Our newly renovated neighborhood fire station, located at 633 32nd Avenue E., will be holding a re-dedication and open house on Saturday, November 16, from 11 am until 1 pm.  Two years worth of rehabilitation work has, presumably, rectified the seismically-unsound nature of the structure. Fire Station #34 has been in its present location (just behind the Arboretum Court building on the South side of E. Madison Street) since the early 1900's.

As part of the Extraordinary Neighbors Series sponsored by the Madison Park Community Council, lifelong Madison Park resident Jane Powell Thomas will be on deck this Wednesday evening, November 13, to lead a discussion of the history of the neighborhood.  

She brings a wealth of knowledge to the task, having directly participated in much of that history. She is the author of Madison Park Remembered, an affectionate look at some of the houses and families that have graced the neighborhood over the years.  The event begins at 7:30 pm at Park Shore (1630 43rd Avenue E.).

The Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption on Capitol Hill is again taking holiday orders for baklava, spanakopita, kourambiedes and other Greek delicacies for early-December pickup at the Church (1804 13th Avenue).  Details here. There will also be a Bite of Greece event at the Church on December 6 and 7 (free admission).

FInally, this just in: "Cafe Flora is celebrating its 22nd annual Vegetarian Thanksgiving and has created a special four-course menu influenced by the local fall bounty. All courses offer vegan and gluten-free options and a four-course kids menu is available.

Cafe Flora will be open Thanksgiving Day from 1:30-6:45 p.m. Four-courses are $50 for adults and $25 for children, excluding tax and gratuity. Reservations are required and can be made at 206.325.9100. Cafe Flora is located in Madison Valley at 2901 E. Madison St. Seattle, WA 98112."

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mary Henry: 90 years and going strong

This is a shout out to Madison Park resident Mary Henry, who today, we are reliably informed, is celebrating her 90th birthday.  Her friends tell us that she is far too modest to make a big deal about it, but that doesn't stop us from taking note.

Mary wears her nine decades well. She's a spry and intrepid walker (you can see her ambling around the 'hood many days), and if we hadn't been told, we wouldn't have believed her life began during the Roaring '20s.

Mary, a former Seattle Public Schools librarian, is actively involved in the community, most recently being the instigator of the Madison Park Tree Walk. Her civic efforts include archivist of the Epiphany Church, contributor to website HistoryLink, and board member of both the Seattle Education Foundation and the Association of King County Historical Organizations. In her role as a historian, Mary for many years edited the Black Heritage Society Newsletter and was author of the book, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People.

Mary also plays a central role in the the book, Pearl's Secret: A Black Man's Search for His White Family," written by her son, Neil Henry, Dean Emeritus of the University of California-Berkeley School of Journalism. The book tells the compelling story of Mary's family, which traces its descent from the post-Civil War union of a white former plantation overseer, Arthur Beaumont, and a freed slave, Laura Brumley. The "Pearl" of the book's title was their daughter and Mary Henry's grandmother.

"My family's experiences, like those of most black people in America, have mirrored the stresses and strains of our nation's racial history, from slavery to Jim Crow to the integration of the 1960s and on into the complex world of multiculturalism that seems to define the present," Neil Henry writes.  

When Mary moved to Seattle there were only 40,000 blacks living in the town, few of whom were in professional roles. Mary and her doctor husband, John Robert Henry, Jr., would see their share of discrimination here but also be part of a sweeping post-war generational change. As their son Neil notes in discussing his family's experience, "Our lives reflect the kind of unusual but significant progress made by advantaged black Americans over the generations since slavery, despite the hazards of racism and discrimination." Mary and her husband raised four children, one becoming a lawyer and two following their mother into education.  Their story is a big part of Pearl's Secret.

In doing our research on Mary we came across a Seattle Times article where the writer, Jerry Large, noted that Mary came from "that generation of black people for which dignity was paramount," adding "her bearing and her language are gracious and graceful."  To that we can attest.

Happy Birthday, Mary!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wrong turn in Broadmoor

This was the scene in Broadmoor around midnight on Monday after a man who claimed to be driving to Everett crashed his car into two parked cars at high speed, flipping his car in the process.  A witness estimated that the man was traveling at about 50 miles per hour when the accident happened. The photo shows the man's upside-down vehicle, with a fire crew poised in the background. The incident occurred on the 1400 block of Broadmoor Drive E.

Police officers investigating the accident reported that the suspect appeared both drunk and "high on narcotics."  He was Mirandized and later taken to Harborview Medical Center, though he was not seriously injured.  No one else was hurt in the accident.

According to the SPD, the suspect told officers that he had left the "Buffalo Club" earlier in the evening and was driving to Everett when he must have taken a wrong turn and got lost in Broadmoor. The police report notes that the suspect was "several miles from the freeway" when he flipped his car.  A Broadmoor resident we spoke with told us he felt the suspect was probably trying to protect the person in Broadmoor whose home the suspect had been at before the accident.

The suspect was also concerned about protecting himself from his parole officer, telling an investigating SPD officer that he hoped the police wouldn't mention the incident and get him into trouble.   No such luck, however.  Although the suspect was released from Harborview, the case has been referred to the prosecutor.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

September Police Blotter

Another hazing incident, but it was pretty quite otherwise

It was at about this time last year that police were called to the area near Madison Park's "Beaver Lodge Sanctuary" (at 37th Avenue E. and E. McGilvra) to investigate a hazing incident involving Garfield students. Although there were post-event admonishments and disciplinary actions by the school's principal after that incident, it became apparent this fall that those earlier attempts to change behavior did not have long-lasting impact on many students at Garfield. This year's incident, which occurred on the evening of September 27 near and on Foster Island, was bigger and more extreme.  We'll let the the principal, Ted Howard, do the story telling:

"I spent the afternoon with [SPD] Officer Radford and many other officers walking through the Arboretum.  One hundred or more Garfield students were participating in hazing incidents, drinking hard alcohol and beer.  Students were being paddled, had on diapers, eggs were being thrown at students and shoe polish was all over their body.  As students ran and scattered from the scene they caused  at least one,  maybe more car accidents due to running in front of cars.  I was also called a “Nigger” by a student and many other derogatory names."

This is front the principal's email to Garfield parents asking, "Do you know where your son or daughter is?"  He continues,

"I ask that question because I want you to know that we all have a responsibility to keep our kids safe.  We all work hard to make sure they learn life lessons and make better decisions. Tonight some of our students didn’t make good decisions.  If students were there to watch,  cause harm to another student or behave inappropriately this impacts the entire GHS community and puts the GHS community in a negative light."

Howard did more than just ask parents to get involved.  He suspended eleven students for up to 20 days for their behavior.  Nine of these have appealed their suspensions and two others were exonerated and their suspensions lifted.  The school district, according to one report, is developing "new strategies" to eliminate hazing at Garfield.  The existing ones, quite clearly, haven't quite worked.


Meanwhile, crime in Madison Park was in it typical post-summer lull, though the victims probably didn't appreciate that fact.  There was one house break-in, which occurred on the 1200 block of 39th Avenue E. on the afternoon of September 16.  In that incident the victims called police to report that one of them had been in the kitchen of their house when he heard a noise in the living room.  He went to investigate and discovered a black male suspect who had opened an outside door and was about to enter the residence.  The suspect claiming to be looking for a friend but promptly fled the scene though the victim's backyard and ran down the alley to his vehicle, a maroon-colored Chevy Impala, which was parked at E.Lee St. Although the police arrived on the scene quickly, they were unable to track the vehicle, which had fled westbound "at a high rate of speed."  Both victims, one of whom had engaged in a chase of the suspect, said they got a good look at him and would be able to identify him if they saw him again. Interestingly, one of the victims of this break-in had previously had her purse stolen in a car prowl and was advised by police (after the home break-in) that a suspect had been arrested who was in possession of her stolen credit cards.  The suspect in that case, however, had been booked and released before officers could question him about the break-in at the victim's house.  The SPD was, presumably, planning to follow up.

There were also three car prowls reported in the neighborhood during September: one on the 3300 block of E. Shore Drive in Broadmoor on September 7, one on the 3800 block of E. Highland Drive on September 28, and one of the 500 block of Hillside Drive E. on September 17.  Car thefts took place, surprisingly, on the 2300 block of Broadmoor Drive E. on September 1, and on the 2400 block of 38th Avenue E. on September 5. There were also several incidents of credit card fraud (the dollar-sign icons on the map above) and thefts from buildings (the dollar-bill icons).

It didn't happen here (a monthly feature):

"Bizarre-acting male" in "excited delirium" arrest

By Detective Rene Witt (from SPD Blog)

Two officers were transported to [Harborview Medical Center] for minor injuries, following an assault. On 9/6/13, just shortly after 11:00 p.m., officers were on routine patrol when an unidentified citizen flagged them down in the 1100 block of E. Union St.  He pointed out a white male and told the officers that the man was “acting crazy”. At that time the “crazy acting” man approached two people on the street and confronted them. The officers saw the suspect throw a punch at the people. The officers intervened and the suspect took a fighting stance. The officers attempted to arrest the man and he began to fight and throw punches at the officers.  The officers were able to arrest him.  All three went to HMC for treatment. One officer suffered a sore right knee and a cut on his right hand.  The second officer suffered a bruised right hand.

Here's what the incident report had to say about the 31-year-old suspect:

"Based on [the suspect's] behavior, i.e. bizarre, violent, paranoia/hallucination, profuse sweating, disturbance in breathing pattern, superhuman strength, shouting, screaming, keening (animal noises), officers believed he was possibly showing symptoms of excited delirium and having a medical emergency."  According to the Capitol Hill blog, the suspect, after a stint at Harborview, was arraigned, shown to have an extensive criminal record, was wanted on an escape warrant, and was held on $50,000 bail.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

MAD Pizza to close shop

"Committed" to Madison Park no more, exits Sunday

Long a mainstay on the neighborhood quick-cuisine scene, MAD Pizza this morning announced in an email to its Madison Park fans that it will cease being a pizza-purveyor in Madison Park at 8 pm on Sunday, October 20, though the Seattle-based company said it will still deliver pizzas to the Park from its Capitol Hill location.

MAD Pizza has been under increasing competitive pressure in Madison Park since the introduction of The Independent Pizzeria in 2010 and the arrival at this time last year of Pagliacci Pizza in Madison Valley.  Although The Independent Pizzeria, with its craft-style Neapolitan pizzas, may have appealed primarily to a more up-scale audience than MAD Pizza's, Pagliacci (and, in particular, it's home-delivery option) was more directly in competition for MAD Pizza's clientele. Although MAD Pizza attempted to meet the challenge  with some new offerings, it appears that the tide could not be turned.

This, however, is simply speculation, since Mad Pizza didn't provide any explanation in its email for its decision to abandon the sit-down/take-out portion of its operation in Madison Park, and our attempts on Saturday to get a response from the company's management were unsuccessful.

After 18 years in the Park, Mad Pizza will by its many fans (including numerous nannies and their charges) be sincerely missed.

[Thanks to loyal reader Glenn Ader for alerting us to this story!]

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Madison Park: in print and online

Turn-of-the-century "Amusement Center" here

That great website, Vintage Seattle, has unearthed the historic photograph above, which it dates as circa 1907, showing an "amusement center" located in Madison Park. Vintage Seattle was unable to identify the context, but it is almost certainly a photo taken of the "White City" amusement park which briefly flourished in Madison Park during the Alaska-Yukon Exhibition of 1909.

On the 100th anniversary of the incident, we ran a posting on this blog about an elephant that had escaped from "White City" and "rampaged" through Madison Park before being recaptured ("Elephant causes pandemonium in the Park").  For that story we utilized the archives of another great site,  In the photo above (click to enlarge), notice the "Skiddoo House" to the left.  We wonder, what exactly happened there?

And while we're on the subject of historic Madison Park photos, here's another recent entry from Vintage Seattle.  This one shows Washington Pioneer Hall, probably sometime in the early 1950s:

At the time this photo was taken, Madison Park apparently still had at least one water-related commercial business in operation:  on the left side of the building is a sign for "Olympic Boat."

More photos of Broadmoor eaglet

Photographer/bird watcher Larry Hubbell has added some more photos to his website of the offspring of the Broadmoor eagles, which he has named Si'ahl.  The above shot shows the eaglet surveying the territory.  Here's one showing Si'ahl with his father, Albert:

Larry does not limit his photo work to eagle coverage, however.  There are a lot of great shots of other birds and wildlife on his site, Union Bay Watch, as well as a fabulous new shot of Albert.  Check it out.

Washington Park home featured in The Times

The personal residence of architect Roy Lundgren and his wife Laura received high-profile treatment in an article last month in The Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine.  Lundgren designed the home around the couple's large collection of art and artifacts, some of which they have accumulated from their many world-travel adventures.

One of the interesting aspects of the house is that it is designed for "unassisted living," making it user-friendly, though the residence is situated on a small lot and incorporates three floors of living space.  The full article, with many photos, can be found here.

Interestingly (or not), this is the fourth house on this particular Washington Park block to be featured in a local or national publication during the last two years.

[Architectural photos by BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER, Seattle Times.]

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

500,000 pageviews and counting

New milestones for Madison Park Blogger, which hosts this site, reported today that Madison Park Blogger has surpassed 500,000 pageviews, after just four and a half years of posting:

Quantcast, an independent third-party evaluator of site statistics, meanwhile, shows that Madison Park Blogger currently receives over 1,500 unique visitors per month on average (down from over 2,000 for the month ending September 15).  MPB now has 606 subscribers, according to Google Feedburner, which provides our email and reader platform, and there are an additional 248 fans of our new Facebook page.

Thanks for the support!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Events in October

Tour the neighborhood's trees with an expert

Madison Park (the neighborhood) is aptly named, not only for the City park that is our primary attraction, but also for the park-like nature of much of the community that surrounds our park.  Residents of Madison Park live within the warm, green embrace of the many lovely trees that dot the neighborhood, though many of us probably don't take the time or don't have the right sensibility to notice.

Those who do have an appreciation of our natural surroundings, however, will get an opportunity this month to learn more about Madison Park's trees while on a walking tour with someone who does take the time to look and is willing to share his arboreal knowledge.  On Saturday, October 19, Steve Lorton, former Pacific Northwest Editor of Sunset Magazine, will lead the initiated and uninitiated alike on a one-mile educational hike around the neighborhood.

Described by one of his friends as "a poet, story teller and full of information about our local flora," Lorton is longtime resident of the Park; and, from our personal experience, we can add: a friendly and engaging raconteur.  Expect this to be a fun hour-and-a-half walk amongst the trees.

It all begins at the Park Shore Retirement Community (1630 43rd Avenue E.) at 10 am. The tour is free, but donations to the Madison Park Community Council are encouraged.

Halloween treats at neighborhood shops

The annual Halloween treating of neighborhood kids by participating Madison Park businesses will happen from 4 until 6 pm on Halloween, October 31.  (Kids: The tricking part is probably best reserved for use on family and friends, who will perhaps be more appreciative of pranks than shop owners will).  This year there will be a photo booth in the triangle park in front of Bing's for those who wish to preserve the memory of the big day.

Also on the spooky horizon, Madison Park's IndieFlix will be hosting a pre-Halloween screening of "Shorts That Scare Your Pants Off" at Starbucks on October 29, with small bites at 6:30, followed by movies at 7:00.  Free and "super spooky."

New book traces history of male muscularity

Madison Park author David Chapman will launch his newest book, Universal Hunkswith a soirĂ©e of a different sort at Capitol Hill's Elliott Bay Books (1521 10th Avenue) on Saturday, October 19 (7 pm).  By different we mean different: In addition to the traditional light snacks and beverages there will be a choreographed bodybuilding presentation as part of the book launch. The author will also give a brief, illustrated talk on the modern history of bodybuilding in various cultures.

Restaurant Week begins today 

Six Madison Park/Madison Valley restaurants are participating in the annual Restaurant Week this year: Cafe Parco, Cafe Flora, CRUSH, Luc, The Harvest Vine, and Viola! Bistrot.  The event actually occurs over two weeks, with special $28 three-course dinners available October 13 through October 17 and October 20 through October 24. More details here.

[Lowest photo of Burratta Salad from CRUSH.]

Friday, October 11, 2013

Goodbye village, hello 'contemporary styling'

Taking butt ugly to a whole new level

Commentary by Bryan Tagas

Those Madison Parkers who were already bemoaning the loss of what they believe was the "village-like character" of the neighborhood now have something to really wail about: these twin duolithic three-story block houses, which have arisen at the northeast corner of E. Lynn St. and 42nd Avenue E. Village-like, they're not.

In the more than four years that I've been writing about Madison Park real estate, only once have I taken an editorial position trashing the design of a residence. But these challenging additions to the neighborhood practically cry out for a rebuke. In my opinion, this development is a rude imposition on an unsuspecting neighborhood.

Of course when I say "unsuspecting" I'm overstating the case, since even before this property was developed there were a few who warned that nothing good would come of the City's allowing two new houses to be built on what had previously been a single lot. At the request of the property owner, the lot was approved for subdivision in 2010.  That decision was controversial because of a City rule that allows residential lots to be divided into two in cases where the existing property already contains multiple legally rentable structures. That grandfathering applied to this property (4202 E. Lynn Street), on which sat two buildings containing three rental units:

The site as it looked in 2010

What has replaced those relatively charming 1940's bungalows are two giant stucco box structures, each containing almost 3,400 sq. ft.  You can own one for $1.6 million.

Architecturally unredeemed, devoid of street appeal, and sitting like two office buildings suddenly dropped into our midst, these structures might cause even a confirmed libertarian to support creation of an architectural commission with the power to enforce some standard of taste on future neighborhood development.  

"Eyesores" is what one neighbor calls them. "Monstrosities" is another term that readily comes to mind.  And while the buildings are being marketed as having "contemporary styling," for me, at least, this is not about "contemporary" versus "traditional."  It is not even primarily about not respecting the character of the community. It's really about bad design versus good design.

There are plenty of examples scattered throughout the neighborhood of modernistic, boxy structures that many would argue are good examples of "contemporary styling."  A possible case in point:

2032 41st Avenue E.

"Contemporary" does not have to also mean "cringe worthy."  

This development at 42nd and East Lynn now stands defiant. The structures are unkind, uncalled for, and unworthy of the neighborhood.  This is a bad performance from which, unfortunately, we have no exit:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Crossing fix underway

The City takes action

Readers of the frontpage headline in this month's Madison Park Times ("Accident spurs crosswalk improvements") may have had the impression that improvements had actually been made to the pedestrian street crossing in front of our neighborhood Wells Fargo. The serious accident there involving a pedestrian and a bicyclist in late August certainly warranted some changes.

Yet in spite of the fact that the Seattle Department of Transportation had told community leaders over a month ago that there was going to be an "immediate temporary fix" for the crosswalk, there had been no visible evidence of this intent---until today, that is. SDOT crews arrived late this morning to re-stripe the crosswalk and to paint the curbs red so that no parking will occur in the immediate vicinity of the crossing. Poor visibility is being blamed for the accident, which left the pedestrian seriously injured.

According to SDOT's Dongho Chang, what the City's doing today is only a first step in what may be a longer-term project to improve the site.  He said it's SDOT's intention to work with the community to determine what is the optimal way to improve safety at the McGivlra Boulevard/E. Madison Street intersection. "We want to be thoughtful about what we can do to influence people's behavior," he told us. Possible safety measures might include the introduction of in-street planters, curb bulbs, new signage or new lighting. Anything major might require that the community apply for a grant to cover infrastructure costs, he noted.

Curb bubs

[An editorial aside:  Those who did not read the Madison Park Times story in detail may have missed the fact that the injured pedestrian, Dan Miller, a resident of Washington Park, is on the mend and is expected to make a full recovery. Although we learned of Miller's identity soon after running our original story on the accident, several readers who said they knew the Miller family asked that we not disclose what we knew so that Miller and his family could begin the rehabilitation process outside of the spotlight. We honored that request for privacy.]

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The view from here

HIdden Beach

Mother Nature reverses course

After enduring the torrential downpours of last weekend, Madison Parkers were no doubt stunned to find that this weekend was downright balmy, with the sun shining steadily and temperatures rising to the low 70's.

Madison Park Beach

It seemed, though, that there were fewer of us around to enjoy the surprise return of "Indian" Summer, with many residents having gotten out of Dodge for the weekend. Their loss.

The Edgewater

Well, we enjoyed it. Though nothing much was happening in the 'hood, what was happening was all good.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rent versus buy

Is now the time to buy this house?

One of the possible outcomes of the housing market debacle is that young people who once assumed that owning a home was a smart idea may now have come to a different conclusion. After seeing the precipitous decline in housing values brought about by the stupidity of banks and failed government oversight, many Millennials (those who have come of age in recent years) have concluded that a house is not a good long-term investment.  In fact, USA Today recently reported that from 2006 to 2011 the number of 25- to 34-year-old renters grew by more than one million while the number who owned homes fell by almost 1.4 million. If this and succeeding generations perpetuate this trend there will be inevitable consequences for the housing market. At a minimum, if many potential homebuyers opt out of the market, home values will not increase as rapidly as would otherwise have been the case and a higher proportion of total housing units will be rentals than has been true historically.

Renting can, in fact, be more cost effective (at least in the short run) than owning a home.  The situation is different, however, for each geographic market since the relationship between rental and ownership costs depends on the state of the local housing market.  Even well before the housing downturn, it was more cost effective to rent a home than to purchase a home in most major American cities. With the recovery of the housing sector, however, this situation seems to be reversing. But renting is still the more cost-effective option in many U.S. locales.

The real estate analysts at S&P/Case-Shiller report that for the top ten American cities, home ownership lost its position as the better value around the year 2000 and only recovered last year (see chart). According to many real estate experts most U.S. urban markets have now tilted in favor of buying versus renting.

As we discussed last month, many Madison Parkers are renters.  So for those who are renting with the intention of possibly buying a house or condo in the future, here’s a framework for thinking about the 'rent versus buy' decision.

First, start with your assumptions about how fast home values will increase versus how fast rent payments may go up. If the housing market is hot and values are anticipated to move up rapidly, home ownership will obviously be a more attractive option than if the situation is reversed.  Building equity is one of the historic advantages of home ownership, but that only happens in an up market.

The New York Times and several other websites offer online calculators that help make sense of the rent/buy conundrum. Using the NYT calculator in an example where rents are assumed to increase at only 3% per year but home prices are expected to increase by 5% annually, buying is the better option after only two years.

In another example, where rents increase at 2% and home values decrease by only 1%, renting is the better option for the first five years. If you want to live in the home for longer than that, perhaps purchasing it (or an equivalent property) is the better option. These examples both assume a $300,000 home price and a $2,500 monthly rent. The same process, however, holds for any comparison of purchase cost versus rental cost in a particular market.

When looking at costs, home ownership expenses are more difficult to calculate than rental expenses since there are more variables to ownership. Rent/buy calculators require inputs for initial purchase costs (such as down payment and closing costs), property taxes and insurance, utilities, and maintenance. So each of these factors must be correctly estimated for the ultimate output to be valid. It’s something that requires a bit of investigation and thought.  But the effort, at least for those who plan to live their new home for a long time, could well be worth the effort.

Right now in Seattle rental costs are rising at an annual rate of 6%, according to research firm Apartment Insights Washington.  But rents were up a full 3% in the most recent quarter (annualized), so there is definitely an acceleration of rental costs underway in the local market. While the large number of rental units coming on line in the next quarter and in 2014 might offset this trend, the rent option will almost certainly continue to be relatively expensive.

Real estate website Trulia reports that in Seattle it is now 31% cheaper to buy than to rent. The principal reason for the ownership advantage, says Trulia, continues to be historically low mortgage rates and house prices that remain well below their 2007 peak. In making its analysis Trulia assumes that a new homeowner will live in the dwelling for at least seven years and will itemize their mortgage cost to take advantage of tax savings., which disputes the Trulia analysis of the Seattle market, reports that the average cost of home ownership here is $1,509 per month using Trulia’s methodology.  So in theory, for a home or condo in the Seattle area valued at $300,000, for example, any rent greater than $1,509 would cost the renter more than what ownership of the property would cost.

Seattle rents are up almost 50% since 2000, but house prices are up almost 60%

But it’s not all about relative costs. last year provided some food for thought for those considering buying: renting has its advantages.  For one thing you don’t have to fix leaky plumbing or buy a new roof.  If you rent you are not tied down and can easily take a job in another town without concern.  Also if you rent, you don’t have to absorb the risk of declines in property values or suffer long term with such unpleasant circumstances as bad neighbors.  And for certain neighborhoods, renting will always be cheaper than owning.

That’s probably not the case for Madison Park, however, given our history of steady (though recently interrupted) price appreciation. Using the NYT calculator for a median-value Madison Park home, one worth about $800,000 and renting for $3,400 per month, the result shows that only if home prices increase by less than 3% annually is renting a better value than buying (assuming a similar level of annual rent increases).  At only a 2% annual growth rate in home values it would take 14 years to break even on a purchase.  But if the annual appreciation rate is assumed to be 4%, buying the home is a better value after only five years.  And at 6% annual home-price growth, buying makes sense for anyone planning to own the home for a minimum of only three years.

Just to put this all into context, real estate website Zillow recently reported that Madison Park home values are expected to rise 10.1% in the next year, compared to an 8.4% rise for Seattle as a whole. Good news, if proven true, for those who plan to buy soon.

[Photo above shows 2041 McGilvra Boulevard, currently for sale. Lowest chart by]