Westernized

Amidst all downtown’s aloof corporate skybridges, there’s one that functions as a real and distinctive public space: the catwalk that runs above Marion Street from First Avenue to the ferry terminal. It’s even a faint echo of Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, with cafes in place of jewelry shops: a strip where people linger to schmooze, sun, panhandle, and admire the great steam-plant chimney and other odd sights of lower Western Avenue.

The anchor of this old-urban/new-urbanist pathway is, or was, a sublimely homey refuge at its middle called Both Ways Cafe. I can’t claim impartiality here; this is the Weekly‘s neighborhood, and I already miss Both Ways’ polenta, stews, and vibes. Last week, after more than a year of leaseless suspense, Both Ways closed, perhaps for good, another irreplaceable victim of the gentrification—er, upgrading—that’s fast overtaking one more late-blooming Seattle neighborhood.

Well into the ’80s, even as dollars and trends washed over Belltown, Western’s warehouses languished picturesquely, a haven for artists needing big cheap spaces. Then, as The Seattle Times’ Mark Hinshaw noted in 1994, an exuberant urban neighborhood grew quietly along this brick canyon. And the usual Village/SoHo/Hoboken/Belltown/Fremont cycle played out: Artists and artsies fix up decrepit spaces. They start galleries and character-rich businesses like Both Ways, and trendies and investors move in to enjoy and exploit the new mystique. Upscale furniture salons replace little shops, and working lofts become loft-style condos.

An early beachhead of gentrification, the sprawling tavola calda Italia was a sort of arts community center, but it bowed out, and two spiffier white-linen restaurants tried and failed in its space. Other modest neighborhood pillars also fell: a lunch counter, an old-fashioned stationery store. Now the pace is building. The Oceanic Building, an artists’ colònia with a grand neo-Hokusai mural, will be razed to build the third Harbor Steps high-rise. Mayor Schell, who lives next door and who pioneered the gentrification of Western Avenue when he headed Weyerhaeuser’s Cornerstone Development, has called Harbor Steps just what the city needs. Maybe. But it’s shattering the cozy low- to mid-rise scale that Hinshaw lauded on Western.

Fire already drove the artists out of the Polson Building, which will reopen for a different sort of tenant. The Old Firehouse Market, a marvelous warren of antique shops just below Western, will evacuate by year’s end. The culprit here is a different sort of development storming downtown from the south: “The city’s killing us,” laments Morri Hart, a Firehouse owner/proprietor. “They keep building stadiums and driving away our customers.” After 50 years on the Waterfront, he’s moving his shop to an Issaquah barn.

The Commuter Building, which housed Both Ways, will be transformed into class-A office and retail, with windows that won’t open and double soundproofing to mask the Viaduct traffic. Its manager, Jim Laws of Windermere Property Management, says it will still have restaurants below, but not on the catwalk; bye-bye, Ponte Vecchio. Both Ways owner Dick Wall says he’s struck out trying to work a deal to stay in the building and trying to find new space in the neighborhood. Still, the change could have been more drastic, notes Laws, who’s waited nine years for the market to catch up so he could spiff up the Commuter Building. “We did a lot of studies about tearing the building down,” he says. “That might pay, but the ownership [an old Seattle family] decided to keep it natural.”

Even Laws sounds a mite wistful for the old days: “As Pioneer Square got gentrified, a lot of people who’d been there moved down here. Unfortunately, progress and the marketplace change.

“We get calls every day from artists who need places to do their work. I don’t know where they go anymore. South Seattle? Georgetown?”

Bremerton?

Raging prosecutors

Cheers for the Solomonic jurors in last week’s road-rage trial. They convicted Ronald Beagles—who taunted fellow motorist Vernon Mitchell, trapped him by blocking his car, and then shot him in the behind—of second-degree assault. They also convicted Mitchell, who smashed Beagles’ windshield with a bat, of malicious mischief, but rejected prosecutors’ contention that in swinging or tossing the bat at the car he also assaulted Beagles.

The wonder is that prosecutors pressed the hollow assault charge against Mitchell, threatening him with a greater penalty than Beagles. They might better have charged Beagles with first-degree assault (assault “with a firearm or any deadly weapon”). Remember that as you read Rick Anderson’s even more unsettling story on page 14 on how King County prosecutors keep pressing an implausible purse-snatching charge against sculptor Don Hennick, a Good Samaritan who’s passed two lie-detector tests. And recall two years ago, when the same office pushed a preposterous bomb-threat charge against Jason Sprinkle/Subculture Joe for dumping his truck and art at Westlake Park.

I don’t know if this county’s prosecutors are more prone than others’ to pursue wasteful, wacky, and vindictive cases. But instances like these are a ringing argument against the mandatory sentencing that’s infected today’s criminal codes (in particular federal drug laws). Such sentencing removes the judicial prerogative that checks perverse applications of the law and hands discretion over to prosecutors; they decide sentences by deciding what charges to bring. A cornerstone of our judicial system (as opposed to the Napoleonic scheme) is the separation of judicial and prosecutorial roles. Prosecutors are advocates, and may turn pit bull just like any other lawyers. It’s neither fair nor prudent to expect them to play judge too.

Tugging at the purse strings

This week’s straw-dog award goes to the Puget Sound Steamship Operators Association, which attempts a classic diversionary argument to foil the state Department of Ecology’s plan for an oil-spill rescue tug at the mouth of the unprotected Strait of Juan de Fuca. The shippers suggest that this would forestall the cheaper “tug of opportunity system” they propose (with the Coast Guard’s assent). Under this scheme, tugs that are already in the strait on other jobs would be called in emergencies. But there’s no guarantee those tugs would be around, nor that they could just unhitch whatever they’re towing to come to a rescue. Anyway, a rescue tug and tugs-of-opportunity are complementary; one wouldn’t gainsay the other.

Of course, if the shippers really want to have tugs handy at all times to prevent a local Exxon Valdez replay, they should stop blocking a third measure urged by the state and many local jurisdictions: escort tugs for all tankers and freighters. Transportation Secretary Rod- ney Slater is expected to announce a decision in Seattle Saturday. The fact that Al Gore is due here Sunday may be a hopeful sign.

What, another sin?

To the plagiarism and fabrication confessed in this column last week, add misattribution—for real. I referred to Sen. Joe Biden lifting a speech by Tony Blair. He actually cribbed a more labourite Labourite, Neil Kinnock.


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