Then / now

In a recent Geekwire piece, the author describes the neighborhood where I have lived most of my life as “…the longtime Scandinavian fishing enclave.”  

I lingered on that phrase with equal amounts of surprise and questioning.  If used in the past tense, it wouldn’t have caught my attention.  It would be essentially correct.  

When I was a kid, I was surrounded in school by any number of Johnson’s, Peterson’s and Olson’s, as well as a Liseth, a Lunde and a Lyso.  At home, the parents of these kids spoke the language of the old country.  More than several of the fathers worked the fishing boats tied up at Fisherman’s Terminal, which left for the fishing waters of Alaska each spring.    A number of specialty shops along the retail business district streets served a sizable community of Norwegians, as did the Norway Center and other civic organizations.

By the 1880s, Norwegians were arriving in the Pacific Northwest in noticeable numbers. By 1910, more than 7,000 Norwegians lived and worked in the region. They lived all over King County but especially in Ballard, and worked as loggers, farmers, engineers, entrepreneurs, boat builders, and fishermen.

I can’t remember the last time I heard Norwegian being spoken on the streets or in the shops.  There are still guys who go out with the fish boats every year, but they are not first-generation immigrants from Scandinavia.  It’s not a neighborhood defined by the language and customs of northern Europe anymore, neither is it defined by the resource extraction industries of wood products or commercial fishing.  

The neighborhood remains.  There are still reminders of the village as it was before being annexed by the city early in the twentieth century.  Fisherman’s Terminal still exists beside the Ballard Bridge, fishing boats still tied up at the docks.  Pacific Fisherman Shipyard stands at the foot of 24th Avenue NW, where the neighborhood meets the ship canal.  The waterway still supports other marine-based commerce.  On Market Street, the Carnegie Library building stands, though no longer a part of the city library network, as is the firehouse building, no longer a place for fire engines.  Ballard Avenue and its 19th century brick and stone buildings, once the main street, is hip, a home to pricey restaurants.  The triangle lot where the Ballard City Hall once stood remains, but the turreted building built in 1899 is gone.  

Even in the time spanned by living memory (mine), much has changed, not only in this neighborhood but elsewhere in the city.  Many have an opinion about the changes:

Lord, I hate the 21st century.

I hate adults dressing as adolescents. I hate social-media lynch mobs, gigs instead of jobs and people sitting in restaurants watching the screens of their devices instead of talking to each other.

The sense of what is appropriate in public has been lost. Algorithms. Men don’t read. Average people covered with tattoos like Melville’s sailors. Those who in the past would have been in the prime of their careers are now obsolete and bratsplained to by their callow young replacements. I hate it all.

It’s not just me. Plenty of people are unhappy with what’s being lost in Seattle’s superheated economic boom, about the cost of being “discovered” and colonized by the Bay Area and the wealthy tech elites.

Maybe some of us are merely feeling the grumpiness of growing older.

Of course, change is the only constant, and there is nothing new under the sun. Flux has been the focus of philosophical and scientific inquiry going back centuries.

But for anyone older than 35, a big page has turned in our lifetimes; a fundamental break has been made. We’re over Niagara Falls in a barrel. And there’s no going back.”

Seattle’s future isn’t what it used to be

Jon Talton / Columnist
The Seattle Times
January 5, 2017

Yes, much has changed:

Not long ago, a friend and I were meeting along Seattle’s Eastlake Avenue for lunch. I was looking for a parking space when she called my cellphone. She had beaten me there — only to find there was no there anymore.

I recounted all this to Cynthia Brothers the other day. Her weary nod told me it’s a story she has heard time and again: Longtime Seattle restaurant/bar/business/home is suddenly no more, thanks to rising rents or gutted insides or entire blocks being felled for something new.

The building boom — and the resulting confusion, anger, nostalgia and resignation — inspired “VanishingSeattle,” an Instagram and Facebook page Brothers created just under a year ago. (She just launched a website,

People are sensing that here, sending her not just photos, but quotes. They write memories in the comments.

“I am SO sad!!!!” someone wrote over the closing of The Old Spaghetti Factory. “Almost all my childhood, teenage and 20s celebration dinners were here, then my own family, too. My daughter just had her first homecoming-dance dinner here. Can’t the apartments go above the restaurant? Southcenter just isn’t the same. I’m so mad!!!”

One woman’s ‘love letters’ to a vanishing Seattle
Nicole Brodeur / Columnist
The Seattle Times
January 6, 2017

It is a familiar lament.  I heard it from my mother.  I hear it from my sisters.  I’ve heard it from people who I attended school with.  Now, with Brodeur’s piece, we have evidence the sense of loss of what has been familiar is also generational.

Google “resistance to change” and you’ll find common threads having to do with perceived threats as well as mistrust.  Investment in time within a particular place, contentment, absence of attractiveness of the new, fear that any transition will be unpleasant, perception of the change as being “bad” or “wrong”, the human tendency to avoid loss, and to value the known are all rationales for resistance.   But change is inevitable.  

If the Geekwire author meant “…the longtime Scandinavian fishing enclave” to be a current description of this place, it’s incorrect.  Like everything else, it’s changed too.

So then, what is it becoming?  

There’s a small plot of real estate in the neighborhood which may be an indicator, the site of a former restaurant which was an institution here.

Art and George Louie were well known in this town for their restaurants.  In the heart of the city, the Chinese Garden restaurants of Art Louie were well known.  George Louie had his own place here in this neighborhood, in an undistinguished row of retail storefronts.  I remember going to George Louie’s with my family.  It was my first Chinese restaurant and I  remember being surrounded by the vivid colors, reds and golds, statues and figurines of Chinese characters, paintings and vases and other art, in stark contrast to the otherwise staid, conservative places in the neighborhood.  It was always busy and always good.  After a long, successful run  in the storefront location, George Louie bought a commercial plot along one of the neighborhoods thoroughfares and built a new restaurant of his own design; grand, distinctive, upscale.  I had a large sign in front proclaiming it’s new name, Louie’s Cuisine of China.  It too had a long, very successful run, and a dedicated clientele which kept coming back over the years.  It was the default choice for many birthdays, anniversaries, and wedding celebrations.  It was one of Mom’s favorites.

Louie’s Cuisine of China closed a couple years ago, joining a long list of businesses which have disappeared from the neighborhood.  The plywood mill, the shingle mill, the Sears Roebuck store, J.C. Penney, Washington Mutual, Pay-n-Save, A&P, Manning’s, The Milk Barn, Zesto’s, The Longhorn, the Golden Tides, and Stan Boreson’s; are all long gone.

If the neighborhood is no longer the village it was, the Geekwire article may hold a clue to what it may become.  

The headline stated “Mysterious ‘Project X’ points to Amazon drive-up grocery store”.  The reporter describes “X” as “…a 9,759-square-foot retail space where customers can pick up groceries that they’ve ordered online, in what the project team calls “a new model of grocery shopping.”  Though no one would confirm it, the reporter determined the development was for Amazon.  Photos appearing in the article are unmistakable; the Amazon Project X location was in fact the familiar Louie’s Cuisine of China.  

Technology in this city used to mean aircraft and, to a great extent, still does.  But the area is more commonly identified now with digital technology, particularly software and online retail.  The confluence of the past and the present in this one spot of ground may be a  bridge between then and now, the whole change / future thing in microcosm.  

Make of it what you will.

As for me, I’ll be grocery shopping on my phone, using an Amazon app and picking them up at Project X, while giving a nod and a wink to George Louie.  Bless them all; the future, the Amazon shopping app, and George.

* * *

What we need to do is always lean into the future; when the world changes around you and when it changes against you – what used to be a tail wind is now a head wind – you have to lean into that and figure out what to do because complaining isn’t a strategy.

Jeff Bezos


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