#LoveTheHill or #OverTheHill, project examining past, present, future of the soul of neighborhood planned for empty Broadway building

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Image of design concept courtesy of Radjaw.com

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Building interior (Image: Radjaw.com)

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.

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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.”

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37 thoughts on “#LoveTheHill or #OverTheHill, project examining past, present, future of the soul of neighborhood planned for empty Broadway building

  1. Let’s look at this rationally. All those facades that are being saved for the new buildings? They were once auto dealers. Now the only auto dealer left on the hill is a Ferrari and Maserati dealership. Should we mourn that the hill is no longer Seattle’s autorow? I think it should be celebrated that Capitol Hill has had the ability to morph over time. What people are mourning on Capitol Hill is market forces that are raising rents. Capitol Hill is arguably the easiest neighborhood to commute to downtown, and most people outside of W. Washington would say Capitol Hill is a downtown neighborhood. We have that I-5 barrier which makes us feel separate from downtown, but I have the feeling that the Link station will tie us closer to downtown that we’ve been for 50 years.

    You want funky and artsy? I think that’s Georgetown now folks. And after that, probably South Park will be the next funky artsy space.

  2. The people mourning the death of Capitol Hill are the same people who moved there from somewhere else because they thought it was the “it” place. Some of the older ones moved there from Bell Town because it was no longer the “it” place.

    These people will be fine.

    • Where exactly did you get this impression? Were you there? Maybe you moved here because it was the “it” place, but we didn’t. Nearly everyone I know, myself included, moved here because it was a safe and affordable place for LGBT people, musicians and artists to live. Now we can’t afford it and/or are getting beat up or screamed at with violent intent, so are leaving.

  3. “What people are mourning on Capitol Hill is market forces that are raising rents.”

    People are not MOURNING MARKET FORCES that are raising rents. Why would residents mourn market forces? How can you mourn something you have really no attachment to? That does not make sense and/or stupid. You must not be from around here.

    Actually, you’re defiantly not from here because people here don’t describe art, culture and music as ‘artsy and funky.’

    What residents and former residents mourn are the disappearing culture, history, music scene, art, and historical buildings which aren’t being protected.

    You’re from somewhere else.

  4. Capitol Hill – or any other worthwhile, living city – is and always has been a work in progress. In fact, the better ones seem to be the ones that change most quickly. New York seems to replace itself every week. I’m no buddhist but you’ll only be frustrated if you hold on to the idea that capitol hill has this fragile “soul” which is just your idea of what you want your city to be (which likely looks alot like what it looked like sometime in the past). Look to Flint MI if you want to see a city whose soul is draining away. That sure ain’t happenin here!

  5. “In fact, the better ones seem to be the ones that change most quickly. ”

    No. Just no. What does this mean? Why is it better because things change so quickly?

    • I see your point … I was thinking of what amazes me about NYC, how it constantly remakes itself. But I suppose you could say the Flint changed rapidly when the GM plant closed, so … point taken.

  6. LOL at the (unintentional?) irony of getting “Over The Hill” tattoos at the Capitol Hill Block Party. That’s got to be worth at least triple hipster points.

    I’ve heard rumors of Capitol Hill’s demise since I first moved here in the mid 90s. It’s different, sure — sleeker, more designed, with fewer funky cobbled-together spaces — but dead? Absolutely not. I’m certainly not happy with all the changes — especially this rash of 350-square-foot $1800-a-month studio apartments — but it seems a bit egocentric to declare a neighborhood “dead” because you don’t like the way its changed over the years.

    • And people who say that forget that people who pre-dated THEM were saying the same thing about the changes that made it what they’re complaining about having changed again.

  7. I’ve watched the vibe changing for a ling time now. Even wrote a book about it. It’s sad to see all the buildings come in and the artist’s squeezed out. Just like South of Market in San Francisco and The Pearl in Portland. I know I’m also part of the problem cause my book is an Amazon download. It should be at the Elliott Bay Bookstore instead. I have to carry three jobs in order to survive as an artist. Even if I liked the new buildings, I couldn’t afford an apartment in one, let alone, buy one.

  8. I’m not thrilled with the skyrocketing rents in the hood nor am I thrilled with the fact that 20 years ago there was a tremendous variety of little fun shops on the Hill where you could buy just about anything you wanted. Now the only places that can afford to move in are chain retailers who can afford the rent.

    Change is inevitable. If we don’t change, we decay. It can be anything from a new parklet to that God-awful blue apartment on Harvard being replaced by apodments. (BTW, the developer put that into design review with DPD) You can make me live with the changes, but you can’t make me like the price tag that goes with it.

  9. I’ve only lived on Capitol Hill since 1998. I have always loved it and have no plans to leave. Of course it’s changing and will change again and again. It’s silly to cry and complain about the losing a vibe or “soul”. Neighborhoods morph, if that bothers people then they should follow the vibe to wherever it’s gone. The rents are probably cheaper there anyways.

    I’m thankful to be an owner of a small condo. I understand not everyone has the option to buy so my main wishes are that we had more affordable housing and housing for those with kids and that it remain clean and safe.

  10. I don’t think it’s change per-se that’s driving a lot of the frustration and disillusionment from Capitol Hill residents, but rather the seemingly unchecked, unfettered pace of change. Right now South Lake Union & Capitol Hill are in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of infrastructure, along with the considerable disruption, both physical and psychological such rampant growth entails. And it’s only going to continue at this break-neck pace as the completion of the light rail extension to the University of Washington comes online and the next phase of construction around those stations, particularly on Broadway, begins in the next few months.

    I mean let’s face it, developers don’t give a rat’s patootie about history, the preservation of it, or serving the “needs of the community”; they care about profit, period. And it seems like a lot of the griping, regardless of whether one considers it justified or no, is centered around the fact that there seems to be relatively little oversight on the part of the City (which is promoting growth), nor empowerment of the community (which has minimal input into the process) to slow things down to a somewhat less frenetic pace. Sure, it’ll slow down eventually, it has to, but by the time it does, how much of what we today call Capitol Hill will be left, except for the name?

  11. “I used to be with it, but then they changed what *it* was. Now what I’m with isn’t *it*, and what’s *it* seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you…”

  12. As someone who just moved to Lake City, I can say I did it because I’m #OverTheHill. I didn’t move to the Hill to be fun and trendy. I moved because I could afford it, it was a nice neighborhood, and it was the gayborhood. It’s not just the rising rents that made me want to leave. It’s the rising homophobia. It’s the fact that it’s now the designated spot to get drunk and misbehave. It’s full of Woo! Girls and bros, and it’s also full of rich jerks who feel entitled and feel better about themselves if they can post on Capitol Hill blog about how much more they deserve to live in the neighborhood than I do. Crime has gone up, and compassion has gone down. Who wants to live somewhere like that?

    • Well golly, you’ve exhibited much compassion with your comments here! Yeah, yeah, rents are too high. That sucks. But is that really an excuse to become the kind of intolerant person that presumably some people came to Capitol Hill to avoid? All the name calling isn’t particularly becoming.

      In all seriousness, do people think Pike/Pine is the entirety of Capitol Hill? There are other parts that aren’t quite as annoying. My neighborhood isn’t full of woo girls and dudebros; just a bunch of really nice people.

      I dunno, isn’t it always true that once you get past a certain age, you look at all of the beautiful 20-somethings and call them Shiva, destroyer of neighborhoods? And then you tell them to get off your lawn? Most of us were probably the equivalent of the dudebro or woo girls; maybe we were a grunger or a raver or a club kid, or god knows what else, and we probably annoyed the 30-year olds to no end.

      Now get off my lawn.

    • I wish you had stayed, because Capitol Hill needs people like you. You seem to have seen the glass half-empty. The drunken activity is mostly confined to Pike-Pine, on weekends, and that area is a relatively small part of Capitol Hill. I don’t think there is any more homophobia than previously….there has always been some of that, unfortunately. I also take issue with your blanket statement that all rich people are “jerks”…..yes, some are, but so are some people of all economic levels.

      • Thank you, Capitol Hill Resident, for defending my words. Indeed, I was specifically calling out rich jerks and not saying all rich people are jerks (many aren’t). As you, Calhoun, are a regular poster in the comments on this blog I am certain you have seen the comments by the same. There have been many in the last few years.

        I lived right on Pine, and I know that other areas aren’t as bad, but I was right near the now defunct Black Coffee, the heart of the chaos zone. This colors my feelings on the subject.

        As far as your feelings on there being no increase in homophobia, I would venture you are not a queer person yourself. I am a lesbian, and most of my friends are in the queer community. We have been seeing a marked increase. It doesn’t all get articles. I was slammed into a wall and called a dyke very recently in an incident which could have easily become more violent. I’ve had friends stalked and threatened. There have been more hate crimes. Yes, there is always some homophobia and hate, but I believe it’s also on the rise, and many others in the queer community agree with me.

        Why do I take the time to read this blog? Why do I bother to post? I still care about Capitol Hill. I still care a lot. It would be a lot easier if I didn’t.

      • I apologize for misinterpreting your remark about “rich people.”

        I can understand your impression about homophobia, since you lived in the heart of Pike-Pine, where most of these episodes have occurred. It would be interesting to see some hard statistics….say, comparing hate crime rates 10 years ago to now….to see if your impression is accurate. I’ve lived on Capitol Hill for a long time, and it seems to me there has been a steady stream of hate crimes throughout the years.

        And, by the way, you’re wrong about my sexuality. I’m a gay man.

      • RainWorshipper,

        Thanks for commenting. If you or anyone you know wants to talk about experiences of homophobia on the Hill, violent or otherwise, please shoot me an email at CaseyJaywork [at] gmail.com.

  13. Pingback: Effort underway to win landmarks protection for two Capitol Hill buildings steeped in history of REI and auto row | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  14. It’s too bad all you seem to know is the Broadway and Pike intersection. Capitol Hill is so much more than that area.

    I’m also pretty certain that there are still gays and wealthy folks living on the hill as well.

    You clearly no little about Capitol Hill as you can’t even spell it’s name correctly.