It may already be too late to save Capitol Hill’s soul, according to graphic designer and Hillebrity Gregory Smith. “I think it’s inevitable that it’ll be completely lost,” he says. “Once all these new [upscale apartment] buildings get filled with people, it’s going to be an Amazon hub — their work campus.”
But an era can end without being erased, which is why Smith, and fellow Seattle Central Creative Arts Academy student Jess Ornelas, will tell the story of Capitol Hill in an art installation at 1515 Broadway: its history, its present, and the hopes and fears of its residents for the future.
Tentatively titled “The Little Building That Could” and/or “Love the Hill,” the project will transform the community college’s “decrepit” building (next to Neighbours) into a site of public education and dialogue.
The Broadway building owned by the college was once home to Atlas Clothing and — for a time — all ages music. In early 2013, CHS reported that Seattle Central had iced plans to redevelop the property. Smith says the school planned to keep the building empty for at least a few years opening up the space for the planned installation project.
The installation, Smith says, will tell “the story of what’s happened and what’s currently happening and what’s about to happen” to the neighborhood. Partly this means a visual timeline displayed through the building’s front windows showing how the Hill’s buildings and geography have changed in recent decades, plus other infographics showing statistical information. You can start adding your voice by taking the project’s survey.
But dialogue is a two-way street. “One side [will be] an interaction,” says Smith. “We’ll have cards for people to fill out,” with questions like ‘What do you love most about the Hill?’ Smith and Ornelas will curate the responses as a public display in the building’s front windows — a kind of low-tech, meat-space Twitter feed devoted to the life of Capitol Hill –and its potential death. “We might just have to sacrifice Fridays and Saturdays forever because of the crowd that’s coming out,” Smith says, echoing complaints that insensitive outsiders are transforming weekend nightlife into a generic boozefest.
Image of feedback form, Radjaw.com.
Smith’s ambivalence about the prospects for Capitol Hill’s future are most apparent in his use of hashtags. On the one hand, the installation project is fundamentally optimistic: “#LoveTheHill” (or maybe “#SaveTheHill”) will be printed in giant, backlit letters above the installation, and Smith hopes that the project might be perpetuated by future students for as much as five years.
On the other hand… “I think this summer, we all just said, yeah, we’re over it, dude,” Smith says, describing how several of his friends got #OverTheHill tattoos during this summer’s Capitol Hill Block Party. The hashtag is a play on words, meaning both ‘old’ and ‘finished grieving for the loss of Capitol Hill.’ “But we still come out here Saturday nights,” he says, “to get yelled at and make a couple hundred bucks” while bartending.
It’s a long way — at least far enough to get out of the two-block radius) — from Smith’s days in bad boy hip-hop group Mad Rad. The group, it could be argued, provided part of the soundtrack for the early formation of the latest heights for Party Mountain.
Smith hopes to have the installation, which he says he and Ornelas are funding primarily out-of-pocket, up and accessible to passerby by May or June of next year.
“It’s hard when I see people say, ‘I gotta get out of here because of rent,’” said Smith. “It’s gonna be just watered down bullshit again.”