Wednesday, July 18, 2007

There Went The Neighborhood

A couple of weeks ago there was a very stern sounding knock on our apartment door in the middle of a weekday. I happened to be working from home that day. I answered the door and it was a guy who announced himself as a police officer. He was in plain clothes and he showed me his badge just like an episode of Law & Order. For reasons still unknown he was looking for one of our neighbors, one of the PhD kids who share the next apartment down the hall. It was pretty boring encounter, since I had no information about his "perp," hadn't seen him for a while and didn't know if he was around at all. Even when I do see any of the guys who live there they don't even say hi in the hallway much less tell me their names, they are all pretty anti-neighbor-social so I'm not even sure which one the cop was talking about.

But it did take me back. The only other time I had a cop show up at my door as an adult was at a building I lived in next to the back side of Freeway Park in Seattle. It had happened when I was a kid, but we really don't want to get into the stories of cops showing up to break up fights between my mother and step dad. Nobody here deserves to be forced to take a trip to that part of my head.

In 1998 I lived a building called the Jensonia at 1214 8th Avenue. The Jensonia is a great old 7-story building from the 1920s that survived the creation of the freeway (I-5) between downtown and First Hill in the mid-60s by a matter of about 200 feet. This blow to the neighborhood of First Hill in the 1960s was partially made up for by the creation of the wonderful Freeway Park, which covered a portion of the freeway along this stretch in the 1970s. Anybody who has ever been there knows what a fantastic urban park it is, with waterfalls and walking paths. A nice respite in the middle of the urban surrounding of downtown Seattle. Small, but a much better thing than an open freeway cut.

But this community gem couldn't make up for one part of the bad urban planning of cutting a highway through a city core. The 8th Avenue viaduct. 8th Avenue ran to the bottom of the northwest side of the hill on its way toward Pike St. The way they decided to continue the road to the other side of the freeway was to build a viaduct that begins at the top of the hill on the corner of Seneca St, over a block-long section of the old 8th Avenue, crossing the new I-5 to eventually meet Pike St and then continues as a regular road from there. The Jensonia sits on the bottom of that old section of 8th.

So about 20-30 feet from the front of the building sits a road viaduct that is level with about the 2nd and 3rd floors. Freeway Park made the block quiet, the viaduct made it dark, dingy, a little scary and also served as another economic barrier in addition to the interstate.

Can we say ghetto in the making?

Yes it bordered the park, but you had to walk up about the equivalent of two or three flights of stairs to get to it. At ground level you were looking at the walls of the park. And you were under a bridge.

The Jensonia later also survived the expansion of Virginia Mason Medical Center, which opened a new research building right up against the back (east) side of it in 1999. But by this time where it lived was basically a back alley instead of a neighborhood.

I moved in to apartment 405 in the summer of 1998.

To be continued...

Next - The Neighbors


Joe said...

"[G]reat old building"? Dude, I helped you move in; the place was not that great.

Deni said...

I should have used the word "was" instead of "is" in front of that line. The bulding was a shell of its former self when I moved in. But I'm getting to that part of the story...