Friends of Historic Belltown Advocates for Fairness in Protecting Historic Heritage

Friends of Historic Belltown Advocates for Fairness in Protecting Historic Heritage

Seattle, WA – May 31, 2024 – Friends of Historic Belltown (FHB) is urging the Seattle City Council to reconsider the proposed “dangerous buildings” ordinance. While public safety is a priority, the ordinance, which allows for the immediate demolition of buildings deemed “dangerous” by the Seattle Fire Department, could result in the loss of Belltown’s treasured historic landmarks – including Mama’s Mexican Kitchen and the Franklin Apartments – two buildings the community fought for to have landmarked and protected. 

A Plea for Fairness and Community Integrity

The ordinance, as it stands, does not address the need to protect historic buildings, many of which are at risk due to the neglect of absentee landowners. These out-of-state owners have allowed their properties to fall into disrepair, relying on the city’s leniency while their investments appreciate. This situation places an undue burden on the community, which has worked hard to preserve its historical assets.

Standing Up for Belltown’s Heritage

The Belltown community has a proud history of rallying to save its historic buildings. After successfully landmarking Mama’s Mexican Kitchen and the Franklin Apartments, following the loss of the Wayne Apartments to fire, the community stands united in its efforts to protect these vital links to our past. The proposed ordinance’s broad-brush approach risks undermining these efforts by allowing the demolition of landmarks under the guise of public safety.

Quotes from the Community

“We’re just asking for fairness,” said Steve Hall, Designated Representative of FHB. “These buildings are more than structures; they are part of our community’s soul. We need the city to stand with us and protect these treasures, not let them be destroyed because it’s the easier path.”

“The city has a responsibility to enforce its own regulations and protect our history,” Hall continued. “We’re here to ensure that our community’s hard work in preserving these landmarks isn’t undone by neglect and short-sighted decisions.”

Community Pride and Strength

Historic landmarks like Mama’s Mexican Kitchen and the Franklin Apartments represent Belltown’s resilience and pride. They are symbols of our shared history and collective achievements. The preservation of these buildings showcases the community’s dedication to maintaining its unique character amidst rapid urban change.

A Call for Balanced Solutions

FHB proposes a more balanced approach to the ordinance, advocating for key revisions to ensure fairness and the protection of historic buildings:

  1. Exempt Historic Landmarks from Demolition: Amend the ordinance to exclude buildings designated as landmarks or those under consideration, ensuring consistency with the LPO.
  2. Develop an Expedited Review Process for Historic Buildings: Implement a streamlined, expedited process for reviewing vacant buildings of potential historic value, funded by property owners. This process should include clear guidelines and standardized documentation.
  3. Enforce Owner Responsibilities and Penalties: Increase penalties for non-compliance and offer incentives for adaptive reuse, compelling property owners to secure and maintain their properties responsibly.


“Friends of Historic Belltown is committed to a fair and just approach that respects our community’s history while addressing public safety concerns,” added Hall. “The city must uphold its duty to protect these historic assets and ensure that negligent property owners are held accountable. With thoughtful revisions, we believe the emergency ordinance can effectively balance public safety with the preservation of our valued community heritage.”

See comment letter here: FHB Dangerous Building Ord Comments

For more information on the proposed ordinance, visit the Seattle Fire Department’s announcement.

A Mirage of Progress: Unmasking the PR Facade in the ‘One Seattle’ Year in Review

Ah, Mayor Harrell’s year in review report – a document so steeped in delusionary self-congratulation, you’d think it was soaked overnight in a barrel full of PBR. It touts achievements from hosting MLB games to launching new safety departments, but let’s peel back the layers of this onion. It might bring a tear to your eye.

First, let’s wade into the murky waters of Belltown. The city’s plan to transform it with hotels and upzoning is like swapping your old family sedan for a shiny sports car – it looks fantastic, but where do you put the kids? Here, the ‘kids’ are the essential workforce of Seattle. These plans threaten to displace them, making Belltown a playground for tourists rather than a home for locals. Harrell’s report glosses over this like a salesman skimming over the fine print.

Now, let’s talk about tourism. Mayor Harrell seems to be under the impression that a tourism-centric economy is the way forward. But let’s call a spade a spade: this is third-world thinking. It’s a failed model that generates tourism and real estate profits while devastating local communities and environments (love that cruise ship smoke!)  by trying to turn them into a profitable, tax-generating Disneyland.

The report’s take on public safety and policing feels like a band-aid on a bullet wound. More police recruits are great, but it’s like adding more ushers to a theater that’s on fire – it doesn’t address the underlying problem.

And let’s not forget the ‘PR over Substance’ strategy. This report is so glossy, you could use it as a mirror. But what happens when you look beyond your own reflection? You see a city grappling with real issues that need more than just a veneer of progress.

Finally, this notion of ‘Making Progress Building One Seattle’ feels like a misnomer. It’s more ‘Building the Wealthy Part of Seattle and Leaving the Rest Behind.’ This report needs less razzle-dazzle and more nitty-gritty. The citizens of Seattle deserve more than a beautifully packaged narrative. They need genuine action that addresses their day-to-day challenges head-on.

So, there you have it – Mayor Harrell’s year in review, a splendid tale of achievements, with just a few crucial pieces missing. Like, say, the whole picture.

For a deeper dive into the report and its implications, you can check it out here.

Learn our Shared Indigenous History

In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day 2023, we highly recommend Belltowners consider committing to actively learning about our neighborhood’s shared Indigenous history.  As a great starting point, please consider reading some of these great books that have only recently been published on the subject.


NATIVE SEATTLE. HISTORIES FROM THE CROSSING-OVER PLACE. Cole Thrush. 2017.  A MUST READ for learning Seattle’s native past and present. This book takes you into the details the history books don’t tell you. Very enlightening.

Book review of Native Seattle:

CHIEF SEATTLE AND THE TOWN THAT TOOK HIS NAME: : The Change of Worlds for the Native People and Settlers on Puget Sound. David Buerge. 2017.  We shou ld all know more about the person our city is named after – but until this book was written, there were only fragments.  This book fills in some rich details of the life and times of “Chief Seattle” and our city’s complex history with him and his legacy.

Seattle Times Review of Chief Seattle Book


RED PAINT:  The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk– Sasha LaPointe 2022. A journey of discovery and self awareness and identity as an indigenous woman – coming of age and adulting amid a complex and perplexing world,  interwoven with the threads of personal, ancestral, and regional histories, traumas, and new found values. A great book to help you gain insight on contemporary indigenous experiences identities, and world views.…/dp/1640094148

LA Review of Books review of Red Paint


THE RIVER THAT MADE SEATTLE. A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish By BJ Cummings. May 2022.  In the PNW, rivers define place. And the Duwamish River has defined Seattle — including its “modern” conversion into a polluted industrial zone.  This wonderful book tells the story of our City’s river, and its native people, and their central place in Seattle and Pacific Northwest history – as well as how indigenous people and others are working to restore the ecological and spiritual values of the river that defines our city.…/the-river-that-made-seattle/

Related Seattle Times Story

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 4.31.23 PMHOMEWATERS. A Human and Natural History of  Puget Sound. David Williams. 2021.  This great book provides important context to the waters that define our neighborhood, including the ancient and sacred history of Indigenous peoples and the settler-mindset that has changed everything – mostly for the worse. But there’s hope – and this book is a great place to find it!

Homewaters: A Human and Natural History of Puget Sound


ALSO – Check Out this Great NEW Video!

This is a wonderful summary – about an hour long and covers many key points of Seattle’s Indigenous history!


Last Chance for the Wayne? Public comments being accepted now

The Historic Landmark “Wayne Apartments” building may not be long for this world

After a long series of City processes, the proposed redevelopment of the heart of Belltown (2nd Ave from Rocco’s to Tula’s) may be reaching the final review stages with the City.


The gritty and affordable heart of Belltown may be torn down to create Tech housing and fancy bars
  • The heart of Belltown is proposed for redevelopment.
  • The redevelopment would include demolition of the historic Wayne Apartments and several local bars and restaurants and replace it all with Tech industry housing and what we fear will be fancy bars/restaurants on the ground level.
  • As part of a review process (which, BTW, is extremely difficult to understand!), the City is currently accepting comments on (1) Design Review and (2) SEPA (environmental)  Review
  • Design review comments — which are limited to only how the building would look — are due June 1st. You can see the applicants design proposal here (PDF file) to see what is proposed and find out what to tell the City what you don’t like (and would like to see).
  • SEPA comments — which relate to potential adverse impacts and ways the City could avoid or reduce such impacts – are due June 17th.
  • Friends of Historic Belltown recommends SEPA comments to include:
    • Explaining why this block and the landmarked Wayne Apartments are important to you.
    • Stating that you believe the destruction of a historic landmark is a significant adverse impact.
    • Asking the City to consider alternatives and mitigation for the loss of the landmarked Wayne Apartments
  • Friends of Historic Belltown’s SEPA comments can be seen here.

Email your comments to the city to, and reference Project 3033991-LU, 2224 2nd Ave


As you may recall, the proposed development is an 8-story, 180-unit apartment building with retail and underground parking for 81 vehicles (garage to be accessed through the alley).   You can see the applicants design proposal here (PDF file).

While the design has some nice aspects, including an activated alley and small-scale spaces for bars and other local businesses, the building design itself resembles the 206 building at 2nd and Bell, and it obviously is targeting the lucrative Tech housing market, rather than the workforce housing we feel would be much more appropriate for this site.

As illustrated in the clip from the applicant’s project description packet, the proposed development is high-rent Tech housing posing as “authentic” Belltown design.


WT???? A page from the applicant’s proposed development packet


The proposed development would redevelop almost the entire block located at the heart of Belltown


The applicant calls its design “funky and eccentric.” The design includes retention of the classic, small commercial spaces with outdoor seating

So, as we near the end of a complex, fragmented, and sometimes stupefying City process, the City currently has two separate items up for public comment:

  • Design Review Round III and
  • State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review.


The Design Review (defined in Chapter 23.41 of Seattle Municipal Code) is limited to the shape (“massing”) and materials of the building. Public comments on the Design Review need to be tied to the City’s Design Review Process and associated Design Guidelines — which (of course) there are three! City-wide guidelines, Downtown Guidelines, and Belltown Guidelines.   Needless to say, with  THREE guidelines — the process is notoriously complicated and it’s difficult for the public to make comments that will have any effect on the design.

The project has already gone through two design meetings, so the Design Review Board, which includes unpaid volunteers that typically apply their own opinions, are probably narrowly focused on minutia  at this point. You can see Friends of Historic Belltown’s comments we previously submitted here.


THIS, is where things get interesting!!!  Well — relatively speaking that is : )

The Washington State Environmental Policy Act — or SEPA — is a remarkably powerful and simple law.  At its core, the law requires all state and local agencies to consider the adverse impacts of their actions (in this case, granting a permit for this project that would destroy a historic landmark).  If impacts are significant, then the agency is required to consider alternatives that would achieve the applicant’s objectives, but at a lower environmental cost.  If the impacts are adverse but not significant, then the agency can apply conditions on the project under its substantive authority.

Unfortunately, based on past experience, the City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) is remarkably lax about complying with SEPA’s mandates.  For example, SDCI at first said the project was “exempt” from any SEPA review at all.  They changed their mind only after Friends of Historic Belltown pointed out the legal perils of using such an exemption for a project that WOULD DESTROY A HISTORIC LANDMARK.

The key assertion Friends of Historic Belltown is making is that the destruction of the historic Wayne Apartments is a significant adverse impact.  The City believes that because the building has already been allowed to be destroyed through the landmark ordinance that, therefore, the impact has already been addressed.

But we believe THIS IS NOT THE CASE because:

        1. The Landmark Preservation Ordinance is clearly not adequately protecting historic buildings sufficient to pass the SEPA test and
        2. There are now NEW ALTERNATIVES that must be considered under SEPA because the applicant has multiple properties upon which to build, which provides NEW reasonable alternatives that were not available when only the Wayne building was being considered by the Landmarks Board.
        3. Allowing the non-landmarked portion of the property to have more floors is a reasonable alternative that would allow the applicant to meet its financial objectives WITHOUT DESTROYING A HISTORIC LANDMARK.

In addition, the project would adversely affect Belltown’s historic workforce culture.  To mitigate this impact, THE CITY SHOULD REQUIRE THAT WORKFORCE HOUSING BE INCLUDED IN THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT.

There are many other adverse impacts and associated mitigation that we encourage SDCI to consider. See our previously submitted letter here.

What Happens Next?

The City (SDCI) will be considering public comments on design and — at the same time — making a determination regarding whether they should consider any alternatives or mitigation — as recommended in our comments — or whether they should permit the project as proposed.

Here’s the process for a Master Use Permit (MUP), which is the permit that would allow the project to move forward, and the Wayne to be destroyed.


Based on past experience, SDCI is likely to permit the project without considering alternatives OR mitigation (such as adding workforce housing). In which case, Friends of Historic Belltown will determine if we should appeal the decision in front of the Hearing Examiner for violating SEPA’s requirement for considering alternatives when there are significant adverse impacts.

So — please provide comments, ask us any questions you may have via our Facebook page or at  — and STAY TUNED!




COVID-19 Resources for the Downtown Workforce

We will be maintaining this site with a a list of current resources available to the Downtown workforce.  Please email us if you know of any other resources available (

Mayor’s Office: COVID-19: Resources for Community.

VERY comprehensive list of resources:   LINK


Employment Security Department Assistance for Workers and Businesses (probably best site for industry folks out of work or on stand by)



Seattle Restaurant Workers Coronavirus Rent Fund

To donate :   LINK

To refer someone for assistance: Link

RESTAURANT Workers community Foundation:

Resources for Restaurants and Workers Coping with the COVID-19 Emergency


Pro Bono Employee Legal Coronavirus Hotline


offering free assistance to answer common questions and address issues surrounding employment and Covid-19.


Covid-19 Seattle-Area Emergency Food Resources


Northwest Folklife Logo

COVID-19 Artist & Community Resource List

GREAT list of resources for financial assistance, mutual aid and advocacy, and informational support compiled from community efforts




Artists and Creative Workers Relief Funding


Washington Department of Financial Institutions

Financial Resources for Washington Residents Impacted by COVID-19


Seattle Artists Relief Fund 





Volunteer/need connection  to help people who need food/medicine deliveries





King County Dept of Health Website (best general info site)


Rise Up Belltown’s COVID-19 RESOURCES SITE  





FinimpactSmall Business Survival Guide to Combat COVID-19 LINK

Amazon Local Small Business Assistance Fund  (for Seattle businesses close to Amazon) LINK


WA State Dept. of Commerce COVID-19 Resources LINK

Small Business Administration CORVID-19 Small Business Loans  LINK


The Heart of Belltown will soon be demolished and “redeveloped”


“The Block” of 2nd Ave — the long-time social heart of Belltown — is being torn down and redeveloped

The City of Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections is currently reviewing the Master Use Permit application (click here to learn what a “MUP” is) for the proposed redevelopment of what is arguably the heart of the Belltown community – 2nd Ave between Bell and Blanchard (from Rocco’s Pizza to Tula’s).

The project is currently in the review phase, which may take another year.

The proposed redevelopment would include an 8-story, 180-unit apartment building with retail. Parking for 81 vehicles proposed. Existing buildings to be demolished.

Friends of Historic Belltown will be submitting comments that ask that the City’s review consider and document the following adverse impacts:

      • Loss of a historic building (the Wayne Apartments)
      • Loss of affordable housing
      • Changes to neighborhood character within an area central to the Belltown community
      • Loss and displacement of Seattle’s Downtown Work Force culture
      • Loss of anchor business (some of which have already been lost or moved due to leases not being renewed)
      • Impacts to the historic brick alley
      • Impacts from cars in the alley and Belltown traffic
      • Disruption during construction

We are also asking that the project’s impacts be considered cumulatively with the Mama’s property redevelopment. Most importantly, we will be asking that these impacts be evaluated, documented, and mitigated.

Mitigation options/recommendations will include:

      • Eliminating or greatly reducing parking to reduce rents and to help make Belltown a WALKING neighborhood
      • Preserving and restoring the historic brick alleyway
      • Funding to help existing businesses that need assistance to relocate
      • Funding (through BCC) for (1) A workforce housing study and plan for Belltown and (2) a historic property inventory and plan for Belltown. Funding for the studies and plans by the project applicant would help offset the adverse impacts of the project on the Belltown Community, including the loss of an area considered to be the HEART of Belltown’s historic workforce culture.

If you care about Belltown, PLEASE consider sending comments by January 13 that request that impacts from demolishing long-time heart of Belltown be evaluated, documented, and mitigated. Including personal info about your connection to this key block of Belltown and the values and community it provides to you are also helpful.

Comments should be provided by January 13th to  Reference project 3033991-LU, 2224 2nd Ave.

To find information about the project, you can Google search: 2226 2nd Ave Project SDCI # 3033958-EG, or go to:

SEPA information is available on SDCI’s Permit and Property Records, searching for Record Number 3033991-LU

You can also call the SDCI Planner: JOSEPH HURLEY – (206) 684-8278

Friends of Historic Belltown contact : Steve Hall,    206.450.1979


The Wayne and the Heart of Belltown at Risk….Again!

Many people reading this post will have  already heard something about the Wayne Apartments, Belltown’s funky but beloved 3-gabled building that houses Neon Boots, Lava Lounge and Rocco’s Pizza and that is next-door to Shorty’s.

But what is up with the Wayne? Is it going to be torn down? Didn’t we already go through this?

We know everyone has a lot of questions. Even WE have a lot of questions!

But we’ve been working hard trying to get some answers.  So — in an attempt to sort things out for our fellow Belltowners, below is our best attempt at answering expected questions!  Please let us know on our Facebook page if you have any other questions or comments!!

What are the Wayne Apartments?

Constructed sometime between 1889 and 1891, Belltown’s Wayne Apartments building is one of City’s oldest buildings.  It is currently very run-down, but nevertheless provides amazingly affordable housing (albeit due to its horrible conditions that likely violate Seattle Landlord-Tenant Laws.)

The Wayne has become a significant component of the Belltown neighborhood because of its striking visual presence and its critical role as the KEYSTONE building within the Heart of Belltown.  With the thriving local venues of the Lava, Rocco’s and Neon Boots downstairs,

the Wayne is the nucleus of a significant district that is


The 2015 Landmarking

The Wayne gained notoriety and another place in Belltown history when in the fall of 2015, the community became aware that the building was planned to be demolished, along with adjacent buildings up to Tula’s.

The owner just needed to past through Landmarks review, where they said the building’s condition was too poor to qualify for landmark status.

However — with the support of more than 100 Belltowner’s the Board decided that the Wayne DID meet Landmark standards in a historic vote (see article here).


Belltowners cheer following the Landmarks Board vote in Oct 2015 to approve the Wayne Apartments as an official City landmark.

After the vote, Belltown had great collective celebration, and many thought the story ended there.

But it didn’t.

So then isn’t the Building Already Protected?

Yes and no.  The building is a designated Landmark and the owners cannot do anything major to it without approval from the Landmarks Board.

However, the law provides the owner with an escape hatch. Specifically, per the City’s Landmark Preservation Ordinance:

25.12.580“In no event shall the (Landmark protections) deprive any owner of a site, improvement or object of a reasonable economic use of such site, improvement or object.”


What this means is that the owner can get the City’s permission to tear down the building if the owner can prove that keeping the building would provide “no reasonable economic use.”

The City makes this determination through a review of several factors described in the Landmarks Code at 25.12.590

So What’s Going on Now?

Over the past two years, the City has been working with the landowners, who has claimed since 2016 that it can find “no reasonable economic use” of the building.  This is based on their finding that the costs it would take to rehabilitate the building would be more than the revenue it could generate after the rehabilitation.

And on January 9th, the City’s Historic Preservation Officer formally agreed by issuing  a two-page memo to the Landmarks Preservation board finding that “it was unlikely a reasonable rate of return could be achieved” under any rehabilitation scenario, and — therefore, as required by law, she recommended that “no controls be imposed on the Wayne Apartments.”

The City’s Historic Preservation Officer has signed a “Controls and Incentives Agreement” with the owners   — Rain City Properties — that will remove all protections on the building, clearing the way for a developer to propose a nine-story apartment building on the site.

The Landmarks Board is set to vote on the agreement at a public meeting to be held Wednesday, January 17, 2018.  According to the City, the Board may take one of two possible actions at the meeting:

  •  Approve the Controls and Incentives Agreement as recommended by the Historic Preservation Officer; or
  • Not approve the Controls and Incentives Agreement and forward its own recommendation on Controls and Incentives to the Hearing Examiner as provided for in SMC 15.12.520.

What are Friends of Historic Belltown Doing?


Our priority now is to determine if the Historic Preservation Officer’s recommendations are supported by applicable law and substantial evidence in the record. While we have only had a few days to review the record, it is clear to us that the information provided DOES NOT PASS THE TRANSPARENCY TEST that we feel it needs to.  We received the two-page recommendation letter, a two page “proforma” with no explaining text, and a pile of documents provided by the owners back in 2016.

So for starters, we have REQUESTED A SIX-WEEK EXTENSION  to allow adequate time for public review of and comment on the record and associated recommendation to allow the building to be torn down.

If given the time, we will work  with our establish partners, including Historic Seattle, to identify options that we believe would allow the owners to receive their required “reasonable return” without the unreasonable loss of one of Belltown’s most important blocks in terms of community identity, community and sense of place.

If not given the time, we will have to decide if we wish to challenge the Agreement with the City Hearing Examiner. To win a challenge, we would have to show that City was “clearly erroneous”  in determining that it could not protect the building under the Landmarks Preservation ordinance.

What Should the Belltown Faithful Do???

This is a difficult question, because what we need now are good lawyers, rather than crowds of angry Belltowners.  BUT WE WILL NEED COMMUNITY SUPPORT. We just don’t know how to best channel and focus all of that wonderful Belltown energy and love that we are trying to protect and enhance.  So PLEASE STAY TUNED! And you will hear the CALL TO ACTION.

For now, you can email the City Preservation Officer, Sarah Sodt, and let her know that you WANT MORE TIME TO ALLOW THE COMMUNITY TO CONDUCT AN INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF THE RECORD AND THE CITY’S FINDINGS regarding the “reasonable return” calculations.

If you do email Sarah, PLEASE BE POLITE AND COURTEOUS. She is a very nice person and has been very helpful to Friends of Historic Belltown over the past two years. Being angry won’t help.  But ASKING FOR AN EXTENSION will help!!!

Dear Ms. Sodt.  Please provide an extension to the public meeting for the Wayne Apartments Controls and Incentives Agreement to allow local businesses, community groups, residents, and the general public time to review, understand and make informed comments regarding the agreement.

Sarah Sodt

City Historic Preservation Officer


What Happens if we lose protections on the Wayne?

If the City approval to remove all protections stands, then we are still not done.  Friends of Historic Belltown, together with other neighborhood groups including Project Bellown, are working to establish a  BELLTOWN ARTS AND CULTURE DISTRICT centered on the block that the Wayne now stands. It is our hope that the City of Seattle — in collaboration with landowners, local businesses, and the entire Belltown community — will work together to create a proactive, comprehensive plan for the Belltown ARTS AND CULTURE DISTRICT.


So we know that’s a lot to take in! But please let us know on our FaceBook Page  if you have any questions!



Native Belltown

Eagle Bear — one of the many speakers and performers at the August 20th event at Belltown’s Tilikum Place


Friends of Historic Belltown was invited to speak at a Native-themed event put on by Sacred Hoop and sponsored by Seattle Parks and Recreation Department at the historic Tilikum Place — in front of Belltown’s Chief Seattle Statue.

Poster describing the August 20 event

Friends of Historic Belltown’s Steve Hall used this opportunity to introduce an ambitious plan we are developing to create a new Native Arts, Culture and Business district in Belltown. The location would be where the Viaduct cuts through Belltown — and the timing would take place after the Viaduct is removed.  The location is also the site of an ancient and historically important Duwamish Village site.

The following is a transcript of the presentation.  Note: the talk was written to be heard live, and a lot is missed by reading — so we added some photos and headings to make it a bit more suitable for reading.


Steve Hall presenting at Tilikum Place


My name is Steve Hall. I am with Friends of Historic Belltown – And I have something wonderful to share with you today.

But I’d like to start with some important questions for you to think about. Just take a moment.

Who are you?

Where are you?

Where do you belong?

These questions probe at three things central to being a human being

our sense of identity

our sense of place

and our sense of belonging – of community

These are the things that what make us who we are. And these are the things that I will be talking about today.


I believe that our society today – even before the current unrest that has both shocked and divided us — makes it difficult for us to feel secure with these three essential human qualities – our sense of identity, our sense of place and our sense of community

These basic human attributes – who we are, where we are, where we belong — have been destabilized. The have been unsettled.

We are seeing today at the national level – people searching for identity – place – and community. They are finding it – at best – by cheering for the local sports teams.  And at worst, they are finding it by targeting other groups of people to rally against.



And we are seeing a crisis in identity here in Seattle, as we undergo one of the fastest and largest surges of development we have seen.

More cranes than ever before in our history. More canes that in any other City in the US.

Our identities are being lost. Our places are being lost. And our communities, are being lost.

And some have said – when we tear down our history – we tear down our souls

From Ballard, to the Central District, to here in Belltown, and Uptown, and South Lake Union. Across the City – these areas are being transformed.

And this urban transformation is transforming us.

And it is displacing many of us.

And it threatens our very selves

Who are we?

Where are we?

Where do we belong?


Example Friends of Historic Belltown poster promoting community involvement

Neighborhood identity, sense of place and sense of belonging are the core values of Friends of Historic Belltown. We fight to designate historic buildings as City Landmarks.  We do this because we feel that these buildings are important to our community’s identity and sense of place and sense of community.

So far, we are 5 and 0 (win/loss) in arguing against expensive land use attorneys at the City of Seattle Landmarks Hearing Board.  Buildings we have successfully fought for include:

  • Wayne Apartments
  • Franklin Apartments
  • Mama’s Mexican Kitchen
  • Griffin Business School
  • Sheridan Apartments
Seattle Landmark Preservation Board voting YES to save another of our historic buildings

Of course – it helps when we have the facts and law on our side. These buildings all clearly met the standards for landmark designation established in city code. However – we have also seen many other buildings be torn down because no one went to the hearing to make a case for preservation.  We have a saying:

In Seattle, historic buildings that no one stands up for don’t stand long.

So a community voice is essential to preservation.

The Importance of Stories

Another essential aspect of preservation is to find the stories beneath the buildings.  Buildings need a story to survive – and, in fact, it is the stories behind the buildings – more than just the bricks or facades — that make them so valuable to our neighborhood’s identity, sense of place and sense of community.

For example – for the 1918 Franklin Apartments – we found that this building was one of the first places (and perhaps the first place) in the city of Seattle where is was acceptable and allowable for single women to live. Before that time, women had to live under the household of a man – either her husband or father.  The Franklin changed that, and it is an essential part of the story of Belltown becoming the home to the downtown workforce – to the many women office and retail workers that helped shape Seattle’s downtown retail and business core.

Stories are important.  Our personal stories as well as the stories of our neighborhoods and communities.  Stories work together to tell us who we are, where we are, and where we belong.

The Franklin Apartments (built in 1918) — one of the FIRST places in Seattle where it was acceptable and available for single women to live


So, in conducting some of our first research about the history of Belltown, we came upon a story that shocked us. A story that humbled us.  And in many ways – it was a story that made us feel ashamed.

We learned that the west edge of Belltown — at the foot of present day Bell Street — was the site of a Native village called Baqbaq bab…or “Little Prairies.”  That is probably a loose translation – but it is believe to have been called that because it was near salal berry fields – an important food crop that was cultivated by the people of this area for thousands of years. These fields are believed to have been located near what is now the Seattle Center.

And we learned about the vast Native civilizations that were present here – and throughout the Salish Sea.

And we learned about the central role of longhouses in native life.  And how families and clans lived communally in longhouses. And how communities gathered in large, communal longhouses to celebrate and share and be together.

And we learned about the deep sense of identity, and sense of place, and sense of community that the native people of this area had. And still have.

The Three Villages of Elliott Bay

And we learned the Little Prairies site was one of three major villages that were present along the shores of what is now called Elliott Bay.

These villages all had multiple longhouses. And federal agents burned the last one down some time in the late 1800’s.

One of these three village sites was over in West Seattle – Herring’s House – a site near where a few years ago the Duwamish worked together with many others to build the first Duwamish Longhouse to stand above the shores of Elliott Bay for more than 100 years.

The second village was perhaps the largest of the three – “the Little Crossing Over Place.”  It was located approximately at the site of the present-day King Street Station.  Not much remains of that site that I know of. It is lost to history.

And the third Native village was right here in Belltown.  At the foot of what is now Bell Street.


The Little Prairies Story

We learned that the village of Baqbaq bab –Little Prairies -had a second life when in 1865 the City evicted Native people from living in the main part of town, what we now call Pioneer Square.

We learned that Belltown became the home of many Native exiles from the Downtown area. Duwamish and Native people from many other tribes and places.

They worked in Belltown.

Native people along the shoreline of early Belltown (c. 1887)

Belltown may have even been founded because of the available workforce at Baqbaq bab. Most people don’t know this – but Seattle was built in the early days by Native people. It attracted Native people from throughout the Puget Sound region – and from the east, and from Alaska. It was a place for opportunities in very difficult times for Native people.

We don’t know when or how the camp in this area was lost, but it was there for decades – at least until the 1890’s

Stories of Disturbance and Desecration

And we learned that 1912 – developers encountered burial remains in this area.

And we learned that burial remains were again disturbed. But not way back in the past when people didn’t know any better.  But in 1998 by a Port of Seattle construction project.  Not even 20 years ago our City was digging up remains of Native people in Belltown — in order to make way for buildings.

We don’t know how that sad chapter ended…we’re still learning about that.  But we were shocked to learn that such a thing happened recently right in our Belltown community.

And we learned some other rather sad aspects about the Little Prairies Site.

In the late 1950’s, the city of Seattle and Washington Department of Transportation built the Alaskan Way Viaduct – a  four-lane highway mega-structure — right through and over the Little Prairies Site.

The Belltown portion of the Viaduct was build right through the Little Prairies site — an ancient Native village

And today, millions of gallons of crude oil roll over the little prairies site every day.

So, our group – Friends of Historic Belltown — here we were thinking we are “protecting” our culture – which could be described as a row of dive bars, and affordable housing for artists, musicians, restaurant workers, and low-income people of varied backgrounds.  Yes, this is important – but the scale of the loss of the Duwamish and of Native people in general – faced with that – we felt humbled.

And in some ways, we felt ashamed, our problems seemed quaint.


There are several things aligning that have lead us to the wonderful vision we wish to share to you today.

And perhaps it’s appropriate that I am talking about our vision in public for the first time – on the day before the solar eclipse.  Because an eclipse is thought of by many Native people as a time of renewal.  Of healing.  Of creation.

And I think that is really what our vision is all about.  Renewal. Healing. Rebirth.

So, what is aligning?

We have a culture-wide crisis of identity – and in place-based community.

And at the same time, we are questioning the false narratives of our history – and we are searching desperately for new, authentic narratives.

And at the same time, we are experiencing a period of rapid urban development, as well as rapid loss of our community fabric.  Here in Belltown, we are losing our grunge. Our urban blue-collar, workforce identity.

We have not given up on that… but we know we can’t stop change.

We need to work with change.  Perhaps we even need to embrace it. To create a new identity

People are flocking to Belltown. When they arrive: where are they?

What community do they belong to?

What makes this place a place?

What makes the Belltown community a community?

They need something.

We need something.

The entire city needs something to tell us

who we are,

where we are, and

where we belong!

And at the same time, we are tearing down of the viaduct. A four-lane highway that goes right through the little prairies.  It will be removed.

And at the same time, the city is prospering. It is rich with money both public and private funding – they are spending billions to repave and rebuild things — $175 million alone on a First Avenue street car!   Many millions more for residential developments.  Many millions more for a renovated sports arena at Seattle Center.  Many millions more for an expanded Convention Center.  Millions for office space.  Billions of dollars of investment.

And they know they need to start investing in the communities that are being impacted.

And at the same time, there is a strong need for native people to have a place at the table. With this great abundance. With this economic growth and renewal.

Where are the native people?

How are they benefiting for the current prosperity in a city named after a Native leader?


What is our vision?

The Waterfront Seattle project has already “included native people.”  The project includes:

  • Large wood seats
  • Native art
  • And some interpretive signs

This is great – it’s the way Seattle has always addressed native people.

In fact – our very first public art piece was a totem pole.

But we also must realize that the pole was stolen from an Alaska tribe by Seattle businessmen wishing to brand Seattle as a gateway to Alaska.

And that the local native people of this area didn’t even build totem poles.

I fear city planners — while sincere and well intentioned — don’t really understand what it means to include native people – they think they can put up a totem pole or some Native art and slap themselves on the back and proclaim “look at how much we love native people!”

We at Friends of Historic Belltown think something is missing with that type of thinking – this type of “honoring” of native people.

Any ideas?

It is the native people that are missing!

Native people are not totem poles.

They aren’t statues.

Native people are here and now!

And we want to bring them back to Belltown.  To the little prairies site!


We have several concepts that I’d like to introduce to you today


Here is our vision:

First – the little prairies Landmark

Working with local and regional tribes, select and nominate a site near the Little Prairies site for designation as a city of Seattle landmark and for placement on the National Register of Historic Places to recognize and tell the rich and complex story of the Little Prairies site.

Alki Landing landmark

Next – Belltown landing

Existing Native gateway in Uptown

Design and install a native “landing” or “gateway” at or near the Bell Street pedestrian bridge to indicate that people are entering a place of ancestral, historic and present-day Native people. The gateway would be created by local native artists in collaboration with local and regional tribes and the Belltown and downtown communities.

The Bell Street pedestrian bridge is the primary link between the waterfront and Belltown and is located directly on the location of the little prairies site, a site that has welcomed seafaring travelers and returning residents for millennia. Here, multiple contexts combine to make this location well-suited to place a gateway to establish Belltown as a neighborhood that honors, respects and lives its native heritage —  of the Duwamish and the many other native people that have contributed so much to our city since its beginning.

Third – The Salal Trail

Create an urban pedestrian trail overlay as a linear destination for residents and visitors to learn about and engage with native people through a string of native places, installations, and businesses in the market, waterfront, Belltown, Uptown and South Lake Union areas.

Fourth – The Belltown community longhouse and multi-cultural center

Longhouse-style Intellectual-House on UW Campus

Plan, fund and build a traditional cedar post and beam longhouse in the Puget Salish longhouse style to serve as a joint Belltown community center and Multi-cultural center.  The cultural center will build from Native Salish culture and community values to create a place where people from all cultures and places are welcome.


  • Because Longhouses have stood in this location as a community gathering place for thousands of years.
  • Because Belltown needs a new community center.
  • Because Belltown wishes to recognize its native heritage and people as part of the community’s shared story.
  • Because a community longhouse would be both a symbolic and functional object of community identity and connection.

Fifth – Little prairies community park

Develop the proposed Battery Street Tunnel Portal Park site (a future project to be led by Seattle Parks and Recreation, the redevelopment of the area in front of the Battery Street tunnel of the Viaduct is planned to be a “park to serve the Belltown neighborhood)” into a community park that honors and celebrates native people as central to our community’s past, present and future.

Why:  a park honoring our area’s native heritage would provide an excellent opportunity for the community to work together toward a meaningful goal based on people, place and history.  The result would provide both needed public open space as well as a physical setting and conceptual story that promotes community connections through shared sense of place, history and identity.

Finally: Establish a Belltown native arts, culture and economic development district

There are MANY types of Native businesses that can enrich our community if given the opportunity

Due to the significant native history of the little prairies area, native businesses could contribute to an authentic urban identity for the Belltown community. The current time of transformation provides an opportunity to create a vibrant new native arts, culture and business district and associated native presence in the Belltown community.

We want to work with the City of Seattle and others to establish a district (formally or informally) that supports collaborative planning to build a network or cluster of native-owned businesses in the Belltown/waterfront area. Possible businesses include education, vocational training, regional and international trade, arts, entertainment, natural resource consulting, tourism/hospitality, merchandise, and native foods.



So, in closing…. this is our dream

Belltown – and the entire city – is in desperate need to find our identity and sense of place and community.

We believe that the solution to our future is already here – and has been here for thousands of years.

It lies within the Duwamish and other native people – and their deep sense of identity, community and place.

We want a native-based community hub. In the face of faceless change – we need a new community. A multi-cultural community that will sprout from our shared native roots that still exist deep within this place we now call Belltown.

We don’t want just totem poles or statues or plaques – we want a new identity – and new sense of place – and a new community

We believe –with the help of the Duwamish and all native people of the Puget sound region – we can build a new community.

We want a community that sustains and support all Belltowners —

Native and non-native

Black and brown and white

Recent and long-time residents… and future residents;

First time visitors – and returning friends and family

our neighbors in Uptown and downtown and South Lake Union

Laborers and business owners;

Young and old;

Rich and poor;

Housed and homeless;

Intoxicated and sober;

healthy and ill;

And everyone in between!

We want a native district that becomes a cultural anchor of the Belltown community!

It is our vision that – when we are done — we of the Belltown community — all of us — will have a much better idea about these three things:

Who we are

Where we are

And where we belong! 

Thank you


(For more information on the Native Belltown concept, please contact Steve Hall at or 206.441.1882.  And click HERE  for a preliminary copy of our concept report)

City Designates Mama’s Mexican Kitchen as Historic Landmark

The Mama’s Mexican Kitchen building at 2nd and Bell

The Developer’s Argument

Conceptual redevelopment plan for the current site of the Mama’s building, as prepared by the landowners’ architect (Image from Studio 19 Architects)

An interesting aspect of historic preservation in Belltown is that most buildings that are nominated for landmark designation are actually nominated by developers who which to tear the buildings down.  This is because, under city code, buildings older than 25 years old have to go through nomination review before they can be removed. Historic preservation groups sometimes refer to such nominations prepared by developers as “anti-nominations,” because they are written by people with an inherent interest in the nomination being denied.

And so the Mama’ nomination meeting — held in the basement of City Hall — began with the landowner representatives arguing against landmark designation.

The landowner’s attorney, Jack McCullough, started out by proclaiming that “Mama’s is closed,” noting that the “old Mama’s” has been replaced with a new owner. He told the Board that it has no authority to protect a business, recalling how the Board denied the Blue Moon Tavern landmark status for this very reason.

Then the landowner’s architectural expert,  David Peterson, of Nicholson Kovalchick Architects, who prepared the nomination on behalf of the landowners, began working through a PowerPoint presentation detailing how he felt the building was “typical” or below the quality of many other historic buildings in Belltown and, therefore, the building was not worthy of landmark status.

Mr. Peterson also went to great lengths to convince the Board that the back of the building was not a historic auto repair garage – countering a 2006 historic resource survey prepared by the city that determined the back of the building to be “one of downtown’s most intact examples of an auto repair garage.”

He told the board that the shop in the back (which was an auto garage for decades) wasn’t always a auto garage and housed a plumbing business at one point. He encouraged the Board to imagine the building as “Runstad Heating & Plumbing Company” and not as a historic auto garage.

The back portion of the Mama’s building remains virtually unchanged from how it looked in the late 1920’s

He also described several alterations that had been made to windows and storefronts, telling the board that the building was far too altered to meet the city’s standards for designation.

He also said that — counter to claims made by the community — the building isn’t a highly visible landmark, but rather is hidden by street trees.

Mr. McCullough closed the argument against the designation by stating that for plain-looking buildings — such as Mama’s —  the “integrity” standards for the building must be much higher. He said the building’s common status and poor integrity (due to condition) means the board should deny landmark status.

Landowner representatives David Petterson (left) and attorney John C. (Jack) McCullough

The Public Weighs In

Then it was the public’s turn to speak, and several members of the public spoke in support of the nomination.

Friends of Historic Betlltown’s Tiffany Jorgensen testifying in favor of the nomination

Tiffany Jorgensen of Friends of Historic Belltown argued that the building is remarkably intact, particularly the intricate windows of the auto garage portion of the building. She also noted that the building is highly visible – and is exposed to the public on three sides, two of which are public parks (Regrade Park and Bell Street Park) and the third side (the front) is along Second Avenue, which she said many consider to be the cultural center of Belltown.

Original wood sash windows along Regrade and Bell Street Parks are a major (and beautiful) historical feature of the building

Beck Prigot, also of Friends of Historic Belltown, presented an eloquent speech describing how the Belltown neighborhood has always been a working class, blue-collar neighborhood, and that this building has the integrity and ability to tell that story.

Eugenia Woo, Director of Preservation Services for Historic Seattle, refuted the landowners’ representives claims that the building has been changed too much. She pointed out that the landmark ordinance doesn’t require that a building be perfectly preserved in order to designate it as a landmark and that we should expect that a building such as this — that has been in continuous use for almost 100 years — will have some modifications.

Other people speaking in favor of the nomination included Brooke Best, Preservation Advocacy Coordinator of Historic Seattle; Belltown Community Council members Keith Kentop, David Levinson and Terique Scott; and community member Merlee Sherman.

No one spoke against the designation.

A Careful Deliberation Focused on Integrity

The board then began deliberations which lasted more than 30 minutes. And while most board members acknowledged that it is more difficult to designate a commercial working space — compared to an ornate building one usually imagines when thinking of landmark buildings  — they all felt that this building makes the cut.

Many board members stated that the building was a good representation of the historic character of the Belltown neighborhood, and they clearly disagreed with the landowner’s representatives that the building lacks “integrity.”

They said that the overall look and feel of the building remains strong. One board member corrected the fact that “integrity” — as defined by  National Park Service historic preservation standards — does not mean condition, as believed by the landowner’s representatives, but rather means things such as location, design, and setting, and that using this meaning, the building has remarkable integrity.

The building needed six affirmative votes from the ten-member board to be approved. And because three of the board members were out sick, the building would have been denied landmark status if even two board members present voted against the designation.

However — the vote to approve the designation was unanimous, and the Mama’s Mexican Kitchen has become Seattle’s latest city landmark.

What’s Next?

There are many possibilities for what will happen next.  The landowers could appeal the designation, or they could work with the city to negotiate a “controls and incentives agreement,” according to city code.  If an agreement can be reached, it will then be sent to the Landmarks Preservation Board for approval at a public meeting.

Friends of Historic Belltown is hoping that it can work with the developer and the city to develop a win-win solution to this tricky challenge of landmark preservation of private property.  And while the owners are probably upset by the designation and feel it to be a financial loss — we’re hoping we can turn them around to see that the landmark status of the building is an asset, not a liability.

We believe that besides having historic value, this building has economic value. People LOVE historic buildings, and studies have found that historic buildings and districts can have great economic benefits to landowners, businesses and communities alike.

So we believe that this portion of Belltown can become an economic hot-spot of high public interest and value — for both residents and visitors.

Freinds of Historic Belltown will be working with the Belltown Community Council, Project Belltown, Downtown Seattle Association,  the Department of Neighborhoods, and others to designate this area of Belltown as an Arts and Culture district.  If successful, the Mama’s building will stand with other historic buildings and new buildings to create refreshing, authentic, and historic neighborhood to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike for decades to come.

So stay tuned!!!

“The Block” — Second Avenue between Bell and Blanchard — is a potential historic Arts and Culture district. In addition to Mama’s (now Mama’s Cantina), the block contains a cluster of popular, local bars, restaurants and music venues, including Rocco’s Pizza, Lava Lounge, Shory’s, The Rabbit Hole, Clever Bottle, Tula’s Jazz Club and the Crocodile.

Mama’s Fate up for Vote Next Wednesday (Jan 18)


The Landmark Preservation Board will be deciding the fate of Belltown’s beloved Mama’s building on Wednesday, January 18th (scheduled for 5:30 PM, but come a little early just in case).

If they decide to not designate the building as a landmark, we believe it will be torn down this summer.  If they do designate it, the building will still be developed, but the facade will likely remain to be reused in the new building (including the front and the classic auto-garage along Bell St and the alley).


Community support IS CRITICAL to saving 2nd Avenue’s architectural style and associated neighborhood identity, culture and community!  Please join your fellow Belltowners in supporting this nomination.  The most important way you can help is to attend the meeting and submit comments (either in person at the meeting or via email).




Sarah Sodt, City Historic Preservation Officer


To make a comment, just state your name and your connection to Belltown and why you think the building is significant.  To be really effective, please tie your comment to the specific standards for designation in city code. We believe the building meets Standard C, D and F, but for now, we are focusing on Standard F.

Specifically, we feel the building meets Standard F because:

The Mama’s building is an easily identifiable visual feature of the Belltown neighborhood and the city of Seattle. It contributes to the distinctive quality and identity of the Belltown neighborhood due to the prominence of spatial location – AT 2ND and Bell: THE HEART OF BELLTOWN

For more info on the criteria and how to write an effective comment see HERE 

For background information, see our previous post HERE.

A complete copy of the nomination is available HERE