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‘A gift’ — first look inside Capitol Hill’s new Hugo House

Boards from the old Hugo House — complete with the graffiti encouraged at a goodbye party before its demolition — live on in the new Hugo House

The new Hugo House will be open to the public for the first time Saturday but the staff moved in Wednesday and the space has already hosted its first event — an opening preview for the more than 300 community donors and public officials responsible for the one-of-a-kind writing center across from Cal Anderson Park.

“We’re in a time right now when words really matter,” State Representative Nicole Macri said at Monday night’s pre-opening reception in the new center.

“I’m so grateful that the state came through.”

Rep. Macri inside the new Hugo House Monday night

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Following a 2017 budget impasse in Olympia, Macri was able to help secure a portion of the funding required for the new Hugo House project in the 2018 capital spending plan. Powered by more than $1 million from the state’s Building for the Arts program, Hugo House completed its $7.5 million capital campaign and, on September 4th, it signed the deal to purchase the street level commercial condominium space in the new mixed-use apartment building at the corner it has called home — except for a short stint on First Hill during construction — since the 1990s.

“We don’t have to paying rent. We don’t have to worry about losing our lease,” Hugo House board president Dick Gemperle said Monday night. “We don’t have to worry about being evicted. We don’t have to worry about paying property tax because we’re a 501(c)3. Any money that comes in in the form of donations goes into the programs.”

“A lot of arts organizations in Seattle we know are losing their lease,” Gemperle said. “They have a favorable, below market rent. They have a friendly landlord. Until they don’t. Hugo House is here forever.”

“For an arts organization to be in a position of having its destiny endowed, having its future in a place where it can make its decisions is really a remarkable gift,” State Senator Jamie Pedersen said.

CHS reported here earlier this month about the new 9,600-square-foot writing center with salon, classrooms, and an auditorium at the corner of 11th and E Olive St. Designed by the architects at NBBJ, the new Hugo House is centered around the new 150-seat auditorium and the front salon with built-in writing nooks, seating areas, and a small stage on the ground floor of the new six-story development.

Hugo House has a long history at the corner. Twenty years ago, a group of writers were searching for an “urban writer’s retreat with readings and services for readers and writers” when they found the property across from Cal Anderson Park that could serve as a home for their budding organization. Writer Linda Breneman, and Linda and Ted Johnson bought the property and the former Manning’s Funeral Parlor mortuary that called it home. Hugo House lived there rent free. The generosity continued with the plan to develop the property and build new housing at the corner. Breneman and the Johnsons offered to sell the nonprofit a 10,000 square-foot ground floor commercial condo space for about half of its estimated market value. That deal finally closed this month.

Saturday, the new Hugo House will be ready for its first day as a writing center. The opening celebration will include a night of performances and installations from Vis-à-Vis Society, “pop-up readings” from writers Anastacia-Renee, Quenton Baker, and Hugo House writers-in-residence Amber Flame and Kristen Millares Young, and an after-party with DJ Gabriel Teodros of KEXP.

Opening Celebration: New Hugo House

You writer types can also be some of the first read on the new stage as Hugo House holds its first open mic Saturday night during the party. Meanwhile, there won’t be much time for any hangovers. The first day of classes in the new Hugo House is Monday.

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