A hub in Seattle's Central District for more than a century, the intersection of 23rd Avenue S and S Jackson Street has witnessed dramatic change over the years. The city's electric streetcar system made the neighborhood appealing for residents and small businesses in the first part of the twentieth century, but access became more difficult after the streetcars were shut down in 1941, and the number of retail businesses in the neightborhood dwindled following civil unrest in the 1960s and economic uncertainty in the 1970s. In 1980, construction began at 23rd and Jackson on Promenade 23, a multiuse shopping complex intended to revitalize the area. More than 30 years later, Paul Allen's Vulcan Real Estate paid $30.9 million for the Promenade 23 site and other nearby land, and in 2017, the city council upzoned the neighborhood, clearing the way for construction of high-rise towers at the storied intersection of 23rd and Jackson.
A Bustling Intersection
The area at 23rd Avenue S and S Jackson Street has long been a magnet for shoppers, commuters, and residents. Apartment hunters in March 1906 could have rented a "five-room modern flat," paying monthly rent ranging from $8 to $10, with commuting made easy by "access to three car lines." More affluent renters needing more space could try for a "modern eight-room house in good condition" near 23rd and Jackson for $18 a month (Seattle Daily Times classified ads).
In 1934, The Times' "Strolling Around the Town" column observed "(r)aces of all description banding together on upper Jackson Street to set off fireworks" for the Fourth of July holiday. The neighborhood had significant demographic representation of Sephardic and other Jewish communities, as well as African American and Japanese families. The same column mentioned "people muttering under their breaths waiting for the University Bridge to go down." Some Seattle experiences are evergreen.
The City of Seattle's streetcar service made the area around 23rd and Jackson an appealing location for small businesses. In 1890, George Henry Bartell opened the Lake Washington Pharmacy, later known as the Bartell Drug chain, at 2611 S Jackson. Transit riders of 1913 could purchase six streetcar tickets for a quarter from the Smith Pharmacy at 23rd and Jackson before boarding routes 8 or 10. Other businesses included Anderson's Grocery Store (1901), the Star Grocery Company (1910), a Mrs. O. McCoskrie's unnamed cafe ("A Lunch and Meal LIKE YOUR MOTHER USED TO SERVE YOU ... Pork and Beans one of My Specialties") in 1912; and Myers' Barber Shop (1914).
Knapp's Electric Bakery operated at 23rd and Jackson in 1920. This store welcomed the patronage of black customers, as it advertised in Cayton's Weekly, one of the publications founded by African American businessman Horace R. Cayton, who started The Seattle Republican newspaper in 1894.
Listings in Polk's Seattle Directory of 1922 hint at the social and economic diversity in the nearby neighborhoods. Members of the First African German Methodist Episcopal Church met at 14 Howe Street, and the Sojourner Truth Club met at 1422 23rd Avenue S. Grocers within walking distance of the intersection included Azose & Nahon, 2400 S Jackson; Vito Fiori (801 23rd S); Harry Legg at 1201 S Jackson; the Mt. Baker Grocery, 2415 S Jackson; and S. R. Sugawara, 700 S Jackson. The barber shops of L. E. Everett (1218 S Jackson) and Isaac Siegel (2216 S Jackson), J. E. Burnett's shoe repair at 2216 S Jackson, and Edward Morrison's Shoe Shining Parlor at 2302 S Jackson kept area residents in tip-to-toe shape.
When the owner of a successful garage at 23rd and Jackson was "called away" in 1920, the business -- "garage, gas station, vulcanizer, all necessary tools ... more work than can handle" was offered for trade, not sale, in a Seattle Daily Times advertisement. The terms of the trade: "Automobile or real estate, outside acreage preferred. Call Beacon 24."
With business came occasional crime. In a burglary on the evening of March 4, 1901 a "sneak thief" entered Anderson's Grocery and "robbed the till of $60 in gold and silver." A Detective Barbee and Patrolman Griffith arrested two men, one aged 19, the other 21, early the next morning. Secret whisky sales at the Smith Pharmacy resulted in the Sunday night arrest of proprietor W. M. Woodburn and a customer, C. Townsend, in May 1916. As the Seattle Star reported, "an officer on the beat claimed to have seen the druggist selling whisky to Townsend," arrested both, and took them to jail.
Despite the presence of traffic lights, 23rd and Jackson was the site of automotive accidents and arrests. A George Rowland earned a reckless driving charge when he sped "over 20 miles an hour over an intersection and driving without lights burning" before colliding with another car in December 1926. Ten-year-old Martin Selig, who became a prominent Seattle property developer, was fortunate to suffer only bruises when struck by a car at the same intersection on September 19, 1946.
Seattle's electric streetcar system ceased operations in 1941. In a 1964 Seattle Daily Times article, "Seattle Transit: It was a Long Run from Horse-drawn Cars to Diesels," author Bob Karolevitz wrote: "The opening of the Lake Washington Floating Bridge on July 2, 1940 hastened the demise of the Yesler Way cable line, too. No longer was it necessary to meet the Yesler Ferry; at 1 o'clock on the morning of Saturday, August 1, the last cable car clanked to a halt."
Unrest and Renewal
In ensuing decades, the number of retail businesses around 23rd and Jackson dwindled during periods of civil unrest in the 1960s and economic uncertainty in the 1970s. Sociologist Richard L. Morrill's 1960 study of the Central District observed a "topographic shift" of affluent white residents toward lake and mountain view properties located on ridges (Morrill, 359).
In the summer of 1965, the Central Area Committee on Civil Rights created the Freedom Patrol for African American citizens concerned about community relations with police. Leaders included the Rev. Dr. John H. Adams; Randolph Carter; and John Cornethan, vice chairman of the Seattle chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). The Freedom Patrol was formed following the June 20, 1965 slaying of a black man by an off-duty police officer.
Following training ("Our quarrel is not with the individual policemen but with injustice," said Dr. Adams), Freedom Patrol volunteers wore identifying insignia and made citizen observations of police activity on foot and automobile, and sought public support for a police review board. They observed Seattle police patrolling four beats in the East Madison and "'upper and lower Jackson Street areas." Cornethan directed Freedom Patrol members to "show courtesy and good will, give assistance to injured, be dignified and neatly dressed, answer questions but do not engage in discussions and avoid antagonizing attitudes toward police" ("Freedom Patrols Begin ...").
A September 1965 article in The Seattle Times about the Central District police beat and "relations between police officers and Negroes" stated: "Human trash, ranging from prostitutes to habitual drunkards, both whites and Negroes, are as disgusting to the Negro minding his own business as they are to the man in a police uniform. These kind of people soil a district filled with good restaurants, fascinating shops, hard-working merchants and families looking for fun and relaxation. They are not welcome" ("Central Area Gets Bum Rap").
In December 1968, Seattle became the first city in the country to have its Comprehensive Development Plan approved for the Model Cities program, and by June 1969, 35 city plans were approved (Frieden and Kaplan 1975, 260–264). However, improvements to public sanitation and safe affordable housing in the Central District were slow to arrive. By 1976, the City of Seattle owned "most of the vacant lots in the Central and Southcentral Areas," according to The Seattle Times. As part of the Port Homes Project begun in September 1975, the City and the Seattle Housing Authority moved vacant houses to some of the vacant lots. Those houses were purchased in "noise-impacted" areas near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and moved to the Central District to provide housing. However, houses built under older construction codes could not be occupied until code violations were corrected. By November 1976, only two houses had been leased to tenants.
In 1998, Seattle-based Safeco Insurance announced plans to invest in business development at 2302 S Jackson Street with the new Jackson Street Center, where the company would train and develop the local workforce and serve neighborhood customers. Meanwhile, 23rd and Jackson continued to reflect the larger life of the city. On November 16, 2007, the Youth March for Books Not Bombs, an antiwar protest march, made the corner one of the points on its route.
The Promises of Promenade 23
In 1977, with the aid of the city's Department of Community Development, African American business owner and project developer James "Jimmie" Sumler proposed Promenade 23, a multiple-use shopping center spanning four blocks. The project originally included plans for a 120-unit apartment tower in addition to retail. Years earlier, Sumler's family had owned and operated a café on the Promenade 23 site before the city purchased the land for urban renewal. From 1938 to 1966, the Thrifty 10-Cent Store, a variety store owned by the Treiger family, sat on that corner. The lot stood partially vacant for some years, and at the time there were only a few retail businesses at 23rd and Jackson. Residents had to leave the area to buy groceries.
"Luther Carr, president of Madison-Jackson Economic Development Council (the inevitable acronym is 'Mad-Jac') says business and real estate activity today is accelerating at the highest rate in the district's history," The Seattle Times columnist Herb Robinson wrote in April 1977. Mad-Jac discussed renaming the Central Area as "Central City," but the new name did not catch on. The council's "geographic area of interest as including -- but not necessarily limited to -- the area bounded by Madison and Jackson Streets and 12th Avenue and Lake Washington" ("Central Area Gets Bum Rap"). In a speech to the Economic Development Council of Puget Sound, Mayor Charles Royer announced his intent to seek $2 million in federal funds for Promenade 23. Rainier National Bank provided private financing for the project.
On June 12, 1978, the City of Seattle published a legal notice of its intent to submit a request to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the release of Urban Development Action Grant funds for the Promenade 23 project. The notice, printed in local newspapers, described the project as "an urban shopping complex incorporating a marketplace, retail shops, professional office space, and apartment uses oriented around a pedestrian environment. These are planned in conjunction with restaurant, movie theater, and banking facilities to create a three-phase development with a park-like atmosphere." On August 27, 1979, the city council approved the use of a federal loan for Promenade 23, with the loan funds passing to Sumler to use as project developer.
Sumler, the head of Promenade 23 Associates, "said the return of affluent whites would help stabilize the community, and that some black families who had thought of moving out of the Central Area have changed their minds and decided to stay and fix up their homes," the Times reported in September 1978 ("The Central Area: ..."). It was expected that the project would create permanent jobs and opportunities for minority contractors. In August 1979, the Times quoted community supporters of Promenade 23 who spoke at a city council committee hearing. "Promenade 23 is a significant revival of Central Area Business. We support it, we want it," said Al Wilson, president of the Madison-Jackson Economic Development Council. "We desperately need that shopping center," said Hilra Preston of an organization called the Rejected Community Council. "We have a lot of people in the area who are very low-income, and it's expensive for them to take a cab to get their groceries" ("Promenade 23 Plan Acclaimed").
The architect for phase one of the project was Robert Christiansen of Bellevue-based Careage Corporation. Construction began in 1980. Neighborhood children played freely on the construction site. Curiously, the site lacked barriers and other safety and security measures. Speaking to a Seattle Times reporter, Pastor Richard Blair of the nearby Bethany Church of Christ Holiness said that he found it strange that a two-story structure with open spaces for windows lacked a fence; the site itself was "a safety hazard."
Promenade 23 opened in late 1980. Thriftway, the first resident grocery store in the new mall, ran a full-page advertisement in the Times: "We're very proud of our beautiful new store -- and we invite you to come in and get acquainted with us! We've designed Promenade 23 with you in mind."
Over subsequent decades, the intersection of 23rd and Jackson was frequently a place of community engagement. For example, an August 1989 "paint out," supported by the city's anti-graffiti efforts, made the parking lot of Promenade 23 a checkpoint for volunteers and three "Graffiti Buster" trucks. In 1984, civil rights activist, the Reverend Jesse Jackson declared his intention to run for president of the United States; his Seattle campaign office rented space in Promenade 23. Community festivals and activities took place in sections of the parking lot.
In addition to the grocery store and bank, the shopping center housed black and minority-owned businesses over its lifetime: Mr. Chaz's deli, a clothing store, a florist, B. J.'s Beauty Supplies, Pacific Drug Store, Dill Pickle O's Deli, the Joy Unlimited Christian bookstore, and Lep's Dry Cleaners. In 1984, the King County Cooperative Extension collaborated with the Washington State University Cooperative Extension to provide gardening clinics led by Master Gardeners; Promenade 23 hosted the clinic on Saturday mornings. Later tenants included an Army recruiting station, East African Imports and Restaurant, Frank's Barber Shop, and a bicycle repair shop.
Another Growth Spurt
Gentrification in the Central District took the forms of demographic shifts, new construction, and changing external perceptions of the area. A 2001 article in The Nation said of the Starbucks coffee shop at 23rd and Jackson: "its tables are a beehive of multiculturalism." However, that same Starbucks was the focus of a boycott led by the People's Coalition for Justice in protest of the May 31, 2001 shooting of a black man by two white police officers. Although the shooting did not occur at 23rd and Jackson, minister and coalition member, the Rev. Robert Jeffrey, asked the community to boycott the Starbucks until the company formally endorsed their campaign for citizen inquiry boards and an end to racial profiling. Support for the boycott was not universal among black civil rights leaders or community members, and the shop remained open.
Meanwhile, Seattle's economic and demographic profile changed with the growth of technology industries, accompanied by increased demand for housing. In February 2016, Paul Allen's company Vulcan Real Estate paid $30.9 million the Promenade 23 site, as well as other nearby parcels of land. Gradually, small businesses began to leave. Vulcan's new development would be a vast, multi-story complex, with space for retail and other uses in addition to 530 apartments. "The developer has said one-fifth of the apartments will be reserved for lower-income households," The Seattle Times reported.
In July 2017, the Seattle City Council voted to upzone, a zoning change allowing developers to construct high multi-story buildings at three Central District intersections: 23rd Avenue with E Union, E Cherry, and S Jackson Streets. Several blocks near 23rd and Jackson saw the demolition of early- to mid-twentieth-century single-family houses, many replaced by townhomes, condominiums, or multi-story rental housing.
The 2016 Only in Seattle Initiative, a grant-funded project of the City of Seattle, sought input from businesses, property owners, and other Central District stakeholders about yet another redevelopment effort for the business district between Jackson Street and Yesler Way and surrounding areas. While one of the stated goals was to encourage business investment, improvements to local infrastructure created difficulties for small businesses. The city invested $43 million in transportation, a new water main, and road improvements along 23rd Avenue, but by 2016, extensive road construction diverted traffic and restricted sidewalk access to some of the small businesses at and near 23rd and Jackson. The city's Office of Economic Development used federal funds to pay $25,000 each to several businesses displaced by the construction: Flowers Just 4 U, Magic Dragon, 701 Coffee, the barbershop Earl's Cuts and Styles, the 99 Cent Plus store, and Midtown Coin Laundry. Responding to negative community feedback, city government changed the construction schedule, reopening the block of 23rd between Jackson and Yesler Way more than a month ahead of the projected date.