SunBreak | New WSDOT chief boards runaway trains of Viaduct & 520 projects

Washington State’s Department of Transportation saw a substantial shake-up this week, with the resignation of director Paula Hammond and her replacement by Lynn Peterson — Governor Inslee’s pick was Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s “top adviser on transportation and sustainability and a former Clackamas County chairwoman,”reported PubliCola, adding that the appointment was “welcome news for alternative-transportation advocates.”

But Peterson climbs aboard WSDOT with two megaprojects already in progress that threaten not simply Hammond’s reputation as on on-time, on-budget steward, but the state’s fiscal health. The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project and SR 520 Bridge Replacement project amount to more than $7.2 billion in the latest iteration of their ever-changing budgets. (With the design for the western side not final, knowing how much it will cost seems presumptuous.)

In the case of the 520 bridge replacement, cracked pontoons are assembling in Lake Washington even as the project’s budget now lists $1.4 billion in “unfunded need.” This is down from $2 billion, but one way WSDOT has reducing expenses has been to outsource shortfalls. Last October the agency made news by lowballing its previous offer for MOHAI’s land: an earlier offer of $18 million was reduced to $4 million. If that stands, it could cripple or kill the museum, which was relying on WSDOT funds to defray its involuntary move to South Lake Union.

Funding for transit mitigation of viaduct demolition and tunnel construction, meanwhile, expires in June 2014, leaving King County Metro scrounging for $75 million. As Mike Lindblom reports in the Seattle Times, projected tolling revenue from the tunnel continues to disappoint; the estimate is now down to $165 million from $400 million. To make up 520 toll revenue lost to shunpikers, WSDOT hopes to toll I-90. (I-90 drivers object.)

A proposed $10-billion transportation package offers neither project any help — both had won only grudging approval in the Legislature, under the proviso-slash-threat that the megaprojects could expect no help on overruns, provoking years of contentious debate over who, then, would be responsible. Unfortunately, history does not supportmegaprojects coming in under budget. (Keep in mind that WSDOT had to spend half of the tunnel project’s total cash reserves on concessions designed to get any contractor to take on the project in the first place.)

SR 99 tunneling machine problem nearly fixed” is the latest headline on the deep-bore tunneling machine. A “tolerance issue in the main-drive unit that occurred during assembly” meant that after its test-run in Japan it had to be disassembled and put back together.

This avoids the broader context of a decaying infrastructure (“America is one big pothole,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, on his way out the door). It’s by no means a given that the Legislature will pass that $10-billion package (which calls for a long-overdue rise in the gas tax, by ten cents over five years), but even so only $633 million is earmarked for highway maintenance.

The SunBreak is an online magazine of news & culture. A conversation about the things on Seattle’s mind.

CHS Schemata | Strength in numbers — a look at the Hill’s best repetitive buildings

In cities and settlements throughout the world the repetition of even a passing resemblance between neighboring structures has lent dignity to many an urban environment.  Siena, Italy, comes to mind as an instance of the first order, where the matching architectural qualities of the city define its great beauty. Closer to home, the justly famous brownstones of New York (so-called because they were built of locally sourced, brown stone) are among some of the country’s finest residential neighborhoods.

Yet this repetition can be a double-edged sword. Our ubiquitous suburbia is the most banal of environments, with its cookie-cutter homes and shopping malls, endlessly repeating the same massing, materials, and details, resulting in pure misery.

On Capitol Hill, we, too, have instances of matching buildings, which run the gamut from those that enhance our neighborhood to those that tarnish it.

10th Ave E, between Aloha and Roy Streets, holds forth a positive example of repetitive buildings. Architecturally, these facing comrades are virtually identical, with two on the western side of the street and four on the eastern side. I have long been a fan of these six buildings, not only because they are dignified little structures, but because their repetitive nature highlights their individual qualities.

Besides the match of overall form and materials, sameness is provided by the stairs, building set-backs, and the landscaping, much in the manner of the above-mentioned New York City brownstones. Yet unlike them, these masses are separate, allowing for additional shared elements to present themselves, such as alleyways, facing facades, and archways.

The fact that they share characteristics raises some questions that no one of them standing alone could: Were they built all at the same time? Are the floor plans identical? Was there a specific tenant in mind? Did the same developer build both sides of the street? The answers themselves are not really important.  What matters is that the curious uniformity and repetition has some sort of story behind it, prompting questions that enrich one’s experience.

Further north on 10th Ave E at the northern extremes of Capitol Hill, one finds a striking threesome of buildings that are identical in all but name. Much larger (individually) than the six to the south, these three provide an anchor to their section of 10th that confirms one’s presence in an urban neighborhood.

In addition to being rather handsome, well-proportioned buildings in their own right, the fact that they match, have the same negative spaces between them, and uniformly step down along 10th Ave reinforces their presence, strengthening the streetscape and sense of place. Though the three lack the additional matching elements of the first example, their more cubic nature and repetitive fenestration lends them an equally strong character.

My favorite matching buildings on Capitol Hill are, actually, the least matching of all. The Buckley and Sheffield apartments, while not identical like the above apartments, convey a different and perhaps more powerful example of the matching theme through their sharing of a rather unique element: facing corner entries. There is even a third building nearby — an odd-one out — that still provides continuity with the others due to a similarly high level of material and detail.

Placed within a (very) broad historical context, I cannot help but to be reminded of one Rome’s most famous landmarks, the “twin” churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto (1662-75) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1675-79). Back in the day, this kind of intentional design – matching buildings to form an urban gateway – was novel and rather groundbreaking and required a big, urban type of thinking that had hitherto been rare. Unfortunately, such larger urban thinking in smaller environs such as Capitol Hill remains elusive — one reason why the Buckley and Sheffield merit special attention.

The mirrored pairing of the Buckley and Sheffield is but one of their notable attributes, as the buildings’ execution is a step above typical Capitol Hill apartment building fare. Subtle brick patterning and terracotta trim indicate the higher aspirations held by the developer. A peek into the lobbies through the stained glass windows reveal that equal attention was paid to the interior environment. Though this pairing may be without precedent on the Hill, it is not without descendants.

Directly to the south of the Buckley is the Whitworth, whose detail and material exceeds the vitrual twins across the street. More questions arise – were these three planned together, and if not, which came first? Did someone anticipate the city arriving, and the rest of the surrounding single-family neighborhood never caught up, leaving these three urban pioneers stranded? Whatever the answer, the mere query suggests there may have been some sort of planning in the entire collection, of thought given to a neighboring context and a choice to create one anew — indicating big ideas for this little intersection at E Harrison and 17th Avenue E.

Despite the above examples, such repetition, use of thematic elements, and uniformity of height, bulk, and scale, has led to disastrous results. In the case of much suburban development the obvious reasons include the lower quality of design, including the lac of design of the larger environment inhabited by the structures. Probing more deeply, I would include quality of materials,  the use of well-executed and scaled details and thoughtful material interfaces as contributors to Capitol Hill’s fine examples. Compactness and density too, play a role in establishing the higher quality of Capitol Hill’s matching buildings; yet bad examples are present on the Hill as well, proving that there are no guarantees for success in design and that we are at least fortunate enough to have some good precedents to follow.

(All images: John Feit)

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John Feit is an architect on Capitol Hill, and works at Schemata Workshop. He blogs frequently on design and urbanism, with a focus on how they relate to and affect the Capitol Hill community.

SunBreak | Who Made King County Transit the tunnel fall guy?

When King County Metro looks forward to 2014, the agency sees thunderclouds. But the looming budget crisis isn’t one of the agency’s making. It stems from a 2009 agreement on the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement project, approved by ex-Governor Gregoire, ex-King County Executive Sims, and ex-Mayor Nickels.

Once construction began, Washington State’s Department of Transportation would pay King County Metro $32 million to aid with traffic congestion: “for more buses and more service hours so people could get out of their cars, as Highway 99 construction narrowed traffic to two lanes each direction,” as Mike Lindblom reports in the Seattle Times.

But that funding is due to end in June 2014 — the same year as a temporary $20 car-tab fee, instituted to prevent Metro service cuts, expires. The plan was to return Metro to firmer financial footing with a permanent car-tab fee but none of the signatories had the power to do that. Only the State Legislature could, and so far, they haven’t.

What Gregoire, Sims, and Nickels could do was present everyone with a fait accompli: a construction megaproject in midstream, and the promise of gridlock if more funds aren’t made available. Specifically, says  Metro chief Kevin Desmond ”about 125 daily bus trips and 7,500 daily transit seats will be lost — while tunnel construction and viaduct demolition continues into 2016.”

That’s not to mention that the massive central waterfront renovation won’t finish until the end of 2019, the chance that the tunnel project will go into overtime, or the tolling to pay for the tunnel that is expected to divert more traffic to downtown streets.

(Transit wonks will find City Councilmember Richard Conlin’s reaction amusing: Conlin, reports Lindblom, wondered, ”why did the state support extra buses for only half the Highway 99 construction period, instead of until the tunnel opening, scheduled for early 2016?” This is the same Conlin who controversially elbowed past the Mayor to sign go-ahead documents for WSDOT.)

Metro is justifiably proud of what they’ve achieved so far: “Bus ridership on the viaduct increased 22 percent — nearly 17,000 new daily riders,” says Desmond. “There are now 25,000 fewer vehicles on the viaduct every day, a 23 percent decline that is helping everyone keep moving.”

Keep in mind that a 2010 Commute Seattle survey (pdf) found that 42 percent of downtown commuters traveled on public transit — it was the single largest mode of transportation, beating out solo drivers at 35 percent. On an average weekday in Seattle, there are 300,000 transit boardings.

That success cuts no ice with low-information Seattle Times commenters, many of whom seem to believe Metro prefers cadging dollars this way.

Why doesn’t Metro increase fares, they ask? In fact, the King County Council has already approved four fare increases between 2008 and 2011, for a total increase of 80 percent. Currently the peak one-zone fare is $2.50, and $3.00 for two zones. Operating revenue for 2011, at 29.4 percent of expenses, handily exceeded the target of 25 percent.

Why isn’t Metro more efficient, they cry. In 2011, Metro instituted performance audit suggestions that should yield $20 million in savings each year, while scheduling changes are saving nearly 120,000 service hours annually. Transit looky-loos often complain about half-empty buses, but they aren’t half-empty at rush hour – and Metro can only make marginal gains from cost per boarding during non-peak hours. In any event, cutting bus routes or not is often a political decision.

There is one major factor behind Metro’s chronic budget problems, and that is that its revenue is based off sales tax revenue, which slumped during the recession, and is only this year anticipated to reach 2006′s revenue. It was an inverse relationship: the less money Metro had, the more ridership demand increased. In the five years since the recession set in, nothing substantive has been done to change that.

The SunBreak is an online magazine of news & culture. A conversation about the things on Seattle’s mind.

SunBreak | Would you like the real flu or fake flu? Chances are good either way

So…you, not me, but everyone else we know has gotten or had the flu this winter. But which flu? As King County Health explains, there’s a big difference between a stomach “flu” and influenza. The norovirus is the most common culprit in stomach bugs (salmonella is #2) that produce vomiting and diarrhea. There is some body ache overlap, but influenza is more likely to feel like a high fever and mean cold ganged up on you.

This winter, the nation has been beset by both. A new strain is now “accounting for about 60 percent of norovirus outbreaks,” reports the Associated Press. It’s responsible for 140 different outbreaks across the U.S. since last fall.

One trait that the norovirus shares with influenza is that its spread is fueled by close quarters — King County has seen long-term care facilities report 32 outbreaks of influenza since January 1 of this year, “compared to an average of 12 total outbreaks reported per season since 2007-2008 (peak, 21).” As of mid-January 2013, state officials have confirmed 12 influenza-related deaths, the majority of cases in senior citizens.

The only good news is at this particular moment, Washington’s pertussis outbreak has subsided a bit compared to the same time last year.

You can use Google Trends to explore “stomach flu” in Washington — if you drill down, you’ll discover that Enumclaw seems particularly hard hit, so now might not be a good time to do that restaurant tour. Real flu activity remains “intense,” Google says.

Washington’s department of health concurs: their weekly update (January 6 – 12: pdf) shows a slight increase from the preceding week: 160 confirmed cases from 144. About one-quarter of the people tested (you have to have a temperature of over 100 degrees and a sore throat or cough) are confirmed with influenza. With its more dense population, western Washington leads the eastern side of the state in total cases.

There’s not much to do about the norovirus, other than to stay hydrated, and to give yourself three days after symptoms have subsided before you think about preparing food for anyone. Cleaning up after the “symptoms” is a must: use bleach and water. Once you’ve got the flu, there’s not much to do about that, either. This year’s flu shotis turning out to be about 62-percent effective, which is better than even odds.

The SunBreak is an online magazine of news & culture. A conversation about the things on Seattle’s mind.

CHS Schemata | A Capitol Hill park with a democratic view worth celebrating

Despite writing little about it I am a great admirer of landscape and Capitol Hill is a fabulous place to explore landscapes both grand and intimate. One of my favorite Capitol Hill landscapes, and the first of what I hope to be many posts on parks, take full advantage of our neighborhood’s surname and presents one with a grand view of Lake Washington and beyond. Named after one of Seattle’s very first European settlers, Louisa Boren Overlook comprises a little over seven acres, most of which are on a slope connected to the much larger and wooded Interlaken Park.

The big draw is the tremendous view it provides one the opportunity to enjoy. The park also has many design elements of a smaller scale which work almost transparently to reinforce the powerful vista. Included among these elements is a running path bisecting the upper portion of the park. The path provides a nice venue from which to engage both the distance views of Lake Washington and the Cascades, as well as some of the neighboring homes.

The path is framed by higher ground to its west (non-view) side; the mound also forms a visual and acoustic barrier to the heavily traveled 15th Avenue as well as a nice sense of enclosure, reinforcing the view to the east. The curb, seen to the far left of the above image, provides the subtlest of definers, gently offering a modest edge just before the land drops about 180 feet into Interlaken Park.

A regular to the park, I can attest that a favorite prospect is defined by a solitary tree, surrounded by a bench and railroad ties. Just right for two people to enjoy; with many a couple being seen there at any given time.

To the southwest of the lover’s bench, there is a 1975 sculpture in raw steel by Oregon artist Lee Kelly, sited on the highest grade in the park.

The park’s real treat is, of course, its view. In any season, and with a clear sky, the democracy of our Seattle park system reveals itself giving to us all views that are typically reserved to a select few. The view is particularly captivating if you are fortunate enough to catch it on a clear winter’s day when sunlight bathes the freshly fallen snow in the Cascades, distinguishing their noble profiles and as it did on a clear and cold January morning.

(All images: John Feit)

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John Feit is an architect on Capitol Hill, and works at Schemata Workshop. He blogs frequently on design and urbanism, with a focus on how they relate to and affect the Capitol Hill community.

CHS Crow | Audrei, Tim & Jennifer — ‘I create things, I sew, I make corsets…’

This week, the crow learned parking on Capitol Hill is a breeze at Christmas. What did you learn?


Where are you from originally?
The East Coast. I lived in Upstate New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Florida. So I just claim the whole thing.

What brought you to Seattle?
My job. I got a job here right out of college.

What line of work are you in?
I’m a software tester.

From what I hear, that’s an insanely hard job. You must be really meticulous…
You have to be really detail oriented. Can’t let anything slip by you, or you’ll get in trouble.

I just made the assumption that you were meticulous. Do you find that people have a lot of preconceptions about IT people?
Yes. People think we’re all socially awkward, and do nothing but sit at home playing video games.

You seem very social and outgoing—the opposite of that stereotype. Are people ever surprised when they find out that you work in software?
People are surprised, sometimes, when I go out around here. On the Eastside, less so.

Do you live on the Hill?
I do. I used to live in Kirkland for a few years, but I decided my social life was hurting because of it, so I decided to move over here.

Kirkland seems like it’s a very… well, a very different demographic. A “late night” place is one that’s open until at least 7:30 p.m.
Yeah. I was close to downtown Kirkland, and there were some youngish couples, but they were starting families, and pretty settled down. It’s pretty different from the Hill.

Is there anything you miss about the East Coast?
The people. A lot of my friends still live out there, and I have bouts where I’m, like, “I’m gonna move to New York!” Then, other times, I’m glad to be here because it’s more comfortable and what-not.

Do you have any favorite hangouts on the Hill?
Mario’s. I also like Grims a lot, and sometimes I stop in to The Crescent to listen to some crazy karaoke. Oh, and Montana.

Have you ever tried those cocktails in the percolating soda machines at Montana?
Absolutely! That’s why I like to go there. That, and the bartenders there are great. The bartenders everywhere around here are great.

Other than what you do now, what would be your dream job?
Dancing, maybe?

What kind of dance?
I like freestyle dancing. I used to go to 90s night at Havana a lot, but I realized I shouldn’t go out every night of the week if I want to be over in Redmond during the work week.

How do you manage to cut back on going out when you live around here? I find that hard, because there’s always something going on…
Netflix. Also, I’m applying to grad school.

What do you want to study in grad school?
Computer science. In college, I studied engineering, and just kind of tacked on computer science as a fun thing to do. So, now that I’m doing programming full time, I’d like to study it in more depth.


TIM, “old enough”

How long have you been a barber?
Fifteen, sixteen years.

What drew you to this line of work?
I got sick of construction. And my dad wanted to retire—he started this shop 46 years ago.

So, it’s the family business?
Yes, and this is my nephew [who also works at the shop].

When you were a little boy, did you want to be a barber when you grew up?
No, it was the opposite. I would get into trouble a lot, so Dad used to make me come with him to the shop, and I would have to watch him cut hair all day. I hated being here.

Was it this same location?
No, it was across the street, where the little sandwich shop is across from Key Bank.

What do you best about this line of work?
The hours are really good, the pay is decent…interesting neighborhood. Being a barber is fun.

Is there a time of day that’s especially busy for you?
We don’t do appointments, so you just never know.

Do women make up a very big percentage of your clientele?
Not very much. Probably five percent.

What’s the difference between a barber and a hairstylist in a salon?
It’s a different license. They can color hair, and perm it—we don’t to that sort of stuff.

It seems a lot of men go to salons for haircuts these days. Do you think people perceive barbershops as being old-fashioned?
It’s hard to say. Some people walk by laugh at us, and at my smock [with barber’s tools on it].

Those people are stupid. I love your smock!
Other people turn their nose up. Especially girls. Girls don’t like barbers, I guess. I don’t know why that is.

You’re a man with a serious mustache. What do you think about the mustache trend that’s sweeping Capitol Hill?
I like it. Obviously, I’ve had my mustache for a long time—I’ve had mine forever.

Do you ever shave people, like the barbers in old movies and Warner Brothers cartoons?
I don’t do razor shaves any more. A shave takes a lot longer than a haircut, and it’s not cost-effective for a small shop like this.

On TV and in the movies, barber shops seem to function as a kind of clubhouse for men. Did Eddie Murphy and Andy Griffith lie to me, or is it ever like that here?
Sure. A lot of guys come in here just to talk, or look at the magazines, or to sit around and bullshit. Or watch the game, when there’s a game on.

Do you live on the Hill?
No, I live in Covington, about 30 miles away.

What are some of your favorite places on the Hill?
I don’t hang out here too much except for lunch, but there are a lot of good restaurants around here. Coastal Kitchen, Olympia Pizza, Palermo…

Any other thoughts about life on Capitol Hill?
It’s nice, but I wouldn’t want to live here. It’s too closed in, I like a little more elbow room.



This is such a quintessential Seattle tableau: you’re sitting in front of a coffee shop on a gray afternoon, engrossed in a book…
I’m really into this book. This writer is really fabulous.

What book is it?
Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler. She’s a native Northwesterner—she wrote here and died here. In this story, the Earth has been destroyed, and aliens save the few remaining humans.

I guess you survived the recent apocalypse?
I did. I was hoping for zombies, though!

Do you live on the Hill?
Yes, near Pike and Boren.

What do you do for a living?
I work for Temple De Hirsch Sinai, in accounting.

How long have you been an accountant?
About 16 years.

When you go out to dinner with your friends, are you always the one who divides up the check?
A lot of times, but I try not to bring my work into other parts of my life. However, I have given some accounting help to people who have small businesses. For instance, a friend of mine is one of the founding members of CHEW, the Capitol Hill Entrepreneurial Women’s group, and I’ve given some advice to some of the members on financial and accounting issues.

What are some misconceptions that people have about accountants?
That we’re boring! I go to Burning Man, I create things, I sew, I make corsets, I’m a great cook…

You mean, you’re not just a “bean counter?”
No. But it’s a great job, and I’m really organized, so it works.

Other than reading, making corsets, cooking, and going to Burning Man, do you have any other hobbies?
I’m starting to take a drawing class, which is something I’ve never done. I also like socializing with friends, and seeing movies. I’m a huge theater buff.

Any current movies you’d recommend?
The one at the Egyptian right now, Hyde Park on Hudson, about FDR and one of his mistresses. I also thought Django Unchained was really great; I love Quentin Tarantino. Go see it!

So, you live and work on the Hill…
On the same street. It’s great because I can walk to work, and do all my shopping. But this area right around here can get a little nutty sometimes, especially at night. I love nightlife, but right in this area [Pike], it can be a bit nuts.

Do you have any favorite hangouts in the area?
I go to Barça a lot. The people there are really nice.

Is there anything you really love and/or hate about the Hill?
There are a lot of really great restaurants and small businesses, but I think some of the gentrification that’s taking place is going to change the character of the area. Some of the condos are chasing a lot of lower income people away. Gentrification also chases away a lot of the clubs, because people in upscale buildings don’t like the noise. And I really hate what they’re doing with the Melrose Market area, tearing down the Bauhaus block. I grew up in Portland, which has kept a lot of its small neighborhoods, and I’d like to see Seattle do more of that.

What brought you to Seattle from Portland?
I came up here with my husband—he moved up here for a job in 1999, working for an Internet startup, and we just sort of stayed.

Any other thoughts about life on the Hill, or life in general?
Be good to each other and love each other. Try to make people feel good!

More CHS Crow:

Marguerite Kennedy is a freelance writer, semi-professional thumb wrestler, and recovering New Yorker who currently resides on Capitol Hill. She blogs at, and does that other thing @tweetmarguerite.

$4.15 million later, Capitol Hill’s Colman Automotive building restored to 1916 glory

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS except where noted)

It was like layers of heavy, pore-clogging makeup pancaked onto a face. For decades, the artificial mask suffocated what lay beneath and deprived passersby of its true beauty. No more. 

A four-month renovation project has successfully peeled off coats of stucco and metal paneling that concealed parts of the Colman Automotive Building building on Bellevue and Pine.

“It was just nasty metal corrugated siding,” said Michael Oaksmith, managing partner at Hunters Capital, the boutique real estate firm that is on a mission to further its investments in the neighborhood and preserve historic properties in the Pike Pine corridor.

Hunters Capital also acquired and renovated the structures that house Poquitos, Elliott Bay Books and Blick Art Materials.

“Our goal is to save as many historic ‘Auto Row’ buildings as possible,” said Oaksmith. “There’s just a charm that you can’t replicate.” 

In April, Hunters Capital acquired the building at 401 E. Pine for $3.85 million and set out to go back in time, to 1916 to be exact. That’s when the two-story building was developed by J.M. Colman, the Seattle man who made a fortune in timber and than diversified into real estate. Named after its developer, the Colman Building served as a garage for auto-related businesses and fit in perfectly amongst the car dealerships on Capitol Hill’s Auto Row.

In the 1950s, the building’s owner heaped a ton of stucco on the lower façade. The corrugated paneling came afterwards. For the next 60 years, the layers masked much of the first floor’s exterior. The second floor was spared and served as a hint of what was trapped below.

To free the original exterior, Hunters Capital consulted with the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, getting their advice on how to match the original architecture. Mallet Construction served as the lead contractor on the work, according to Hunters.

Contractors began peeling back the gray metal panels and stucco. In time, they exposed the beautiful brick columns and ornate shadow boxing beneath. They also revealed additional windows, which had been inexplicably covered up. 

“From the state we bought it in, we actually uncovered 30% more glazing,” said Smith.

Then, the job shifted to rebuilding much of the woodwork by hand. Another challenge was fabricating new metal corbels underneath the cornice because three of the eight were missing. 

“We had to go to an Iowa company that specializes in this kind of work,” said Smith. “We wrapped and shipped one over to them so they could replicate it.”

In all, Hunters Capital said it spent about $300,000 on the four month project. That’s on top of the $3.85 million it paid for the building. “We are really excited with the building, inside and out,” said Smith. “We just feel every dollar we put in to it was a dollar well spent.” 

Before (Image: Hunters Capital)

After (Image: Hunters Capital)

The tenants agree.

“All of our customers, clients and Pine Street neighbors love the new façade,” said a manager at Area 51, the furniture store that has a lease on the building through 2015. “It’s a magnificent jewel to behold.”

The State of Washington also recognizes the building’s historic value. In October, it placed the building, renamed the “Colman Automotive Building” in honor of its roots, on the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places.

Hunters Capital is not done yet. Oaksmith says the firm is eyeing several other properties on Capitol Hill to purchase and preserve. 

That should come as cool comfort for those buildings still trapped underneath a ton of “makeup” or those that face possible destruction and redevelopment.

Capitol Hill Aviary | Cheers! Hill waxwings get drunk

Cedar Waxwing love, originally uploaded by jillbertini.

If you think holiday overindulgence is an exclusively human activity, think again. The birds do it, too, and one of the most common offenders here on the Hill is a little fruit-loving passerine called the cedar waxwing.

Last Aviary, we saw birds that kill their own brain cells. This week we’re seeing birds that get drunk.

The cedar waxwing is a small gray bird with a black mask and a pointed crest. If you look closely, you may notice a few splotches of red on the wings and a bright yellow band on the tail.

Waxwings subsist mainly on fruit. Their bodies are well adapted to this diet—unless the fruit rots and ferments before they eat it. Then the birds get intoxicated, which makes them sick. When they fly drunk, they sometimes have fatal collisions with cars or the ground. (In the spirit of the holiday season, let’s give thanks that the humans on the Hill don’t have wings.)

In late fall, waxwings rely heavily on mountain-ash berries as a food source—but American robins do, too. You may not think of the robin as a particularly fierce bird, but a single robin can defend a fruiting mountain-ash tree from a flock of up to fifteen waxwings. Perhaps partly because of this, waxwings have adapted to travel in large flocks. When their numbers are high enough, they’re better able to take possession of and defend their food resources.

Waxwings are constantly on the move as they look for their next fruit fix, so if you want to find them, you need to look for the foods they prefer. If there are any mountain-ash berries left in your part of the neighborhood, they’re your best bet. Otherwise, look for waxwings on any tree or bush that still has fruit on the branches—especially junipers, dogwoods, apple trees, and fruiting ornamental plants.

Interested in learning more?

  • Check out the cedar waxwing’s page at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  • Listen to the call of the cedar waxwing at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.
  • If you aren’t familiar with the plants mentioned above, check out the websites What Tree is It? and—or find a good field guide.
  • Just in case animal intoxication amuses you, I give you drunken monkeys, elephants, and bears. Oh my!

More Capitol Hill Aviary

Melissa Koosmann is a freelance writer and resident of Capitol Hill. She writes about education, culture, and nature — and, sometimes, birds for CHS.

Capitol Hill Tech | Sarah Brooks and Stella Lorenzo of Artsyo

The cafes of Capitol Hill are helping to fuel an art-focused Seattle ecommerce start-up. Sarah Brooks and Stella Lorenzo have created Artsyo, an online marketplace for local art that launched early this year, in the same cafes where many of the works you can find on the site hang.

At less than a year old, Artsyo already features 300 local artists and 1,200 pieces.  Brooks says they primarily recruit for the site by contacting the artists who take part in art walks around Seattle.

 “The art walks are the first filter, but [Artsyo] is open,” says Brooks. “If you are an artist, you can upload work.” Brooks and Lorenzo recruit, vet new artists and artwork, and maintain the site in cafes around Capitol Hill – the 12th Avenue Stumptown was mentioned as a favorite. Both founders said that if they’re able, they’d like to keep Artsyo on the Hill when it’s time to get an office.

Brooks says that the idea for Artsyo came to her when she first moved to Seattle. “[An online local art marketplace] was something that I was looking for when I moved here five years ago,” says Brooks. “I was going to set aside some money and get some art for my apartment. I was working a lot and I didn’t have time to see all the galleries and art things. I wanted to be able to see it all in one place!”  

Brooks brought the idea to Lorenzo two years ago during a summer day on Lake Washington. Lorenzo says what hooked her on the idea was the idea of connecting people to artists in their area. “I think local art should be about connecting people, especially people in the local area that aren’t comfortable looking for art in venues on Capitol Hill,” says Lorenzo. ”They’d come down, but they don’t know where to look. If I’m not an art connoisseur, I can find things that catch my eye and meet up with the artist.” 

Artsyo takes commission on pieces that sell through the site that aren’t otherwise represented. “We want to show all the pieces”, says Brooks, “but we won’t take commission on pieces where the commission is owed already to galleries or coffee shops where pieces might be showing.”  Lorenzo likened what they’re doing to the Craigslist financial model. “Primarily [Artsyo is] about getting people connected with artists and venues that are showing, trying to get people out to see stuff”, says Lorenzo. “Craigslist makes all the money on job listings, and the rest of [the site] is run for free. I want to make sure that the big part of [Artsyo] is connecting people to artists.”

Brooks and Lorenzo also have plans to be able to provide “last mile” services for people purchasing artwork through Artsyo. The idea is to partner with frame shops and companies that do art moving and installing so an Artsyo customers can have the option of having their purchases delivered to their door and even installed. “For people who don’t [buy art] often, it can be an unapproachable thing, says Lorenzo, “We want to lower the bar for that – if they see something, they can have it in their house right now.”

Artsyo just posted the ten finalists in their “Saddest Wall in Seattle” contest. Hop on over to the Artsyo blog to vote for the saddest wall of them all – the entry with the most votes by December 20th gets an original piece of art from the Artsyo marketplace, and Artsyo will pick up the tab.

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