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Vanishing Seattle’s New Documentary Film Series

“The ‘vanishing’ part of ‘Vanishing Seattle’ is just one part of the story,” said Cynthia Brothers. “There are also many stories of resistance, resilience, and creation.”

Cynthia Brothers is the founder of Vanishing Seattle, a social media account that is “documenting disappearing/displaced businesses, homes, communities, and cultures of Seattle.”

Clad in one of her signature miniskirt and Vanishing Seattle t-shirt ensembles, Cynthia is stood in the living room of a packed house as she introduced the new Vanishing Seattle documentary film series. The series premiere was at and about Wa Na Wari, a project housed in a 5th-generation Black-owned craftsman in the historically Black Central District neighborhood. According to a sign in the entryway of this legacy home, Wa Na Wari (which means “our home” in the Kalabari language) “creates space for Black ownership, possibility, and belonging through art, historic preservation, and connection.”

Cynthia has teamed up with Martin Tran, a filmmaker and former co-director of the Seattle Asian American Film Festival, for this seven-part film series. The films will expand upon a lot of the same themes and questions that Vanishing Seattle raises with its Instagram chronicles. Cynthia explained, “Vanishing Seattle and this film series involve conversations dealing with change. But not a dichotomy of old: good, new: bad. Instead it asks, ‘What does change mean? What does progress really look like, and what are the ways that change can serve and benefit communities? What’s possible with creative, forward-thinking ideas? What do different solutions to displacement and gentrification look like?’ In the case of places that are vanishing we ask, ‘Why is this happening? What caused this to vanish, and what can be done to prevent this from happening?’”

“The advantage of this project is that film is a lot more dynamic as a medium,” said Cynthia. “Most of the Instagram posts have been of buildings and physical places, and it’s hard to get to the people behind those places with just pictures and captions. The films humanize these places and allow people to share stories in their own words.” While all the films in the series are co-produced by Cynthia and Martin, they engage different filmmakers to tell various stories about different communities. “One of the principles of this film series is that the filmmakers have a personal connection to the community and the place that they want to make a film about,” Cynthia pointed out.

“Some of the things we struggle with in using film pertain to timing,” described Cynthia. “Everything is happening so fast, in some cases, places are gone before we can find a filmmaker to tell its story. It is also hard to be selective. There are countless stories to tell, so many places to talk about. Often, there are multiple stories attached to a single place and the shorter the film is (the films are just 7-10 minutes long), the harder the choices are that you must make. We’re always asking ourselves, ‘Are we doing this justice?’”

“The goal of the series is to raise general awareness of these places and communities, through their stories,” explained Cynthia. “It’s about capturing and sharing places that are built into the structure that make Seattle unique. We all lose out when we lose these places. They should be important to us as a city. With many of these films, there is an active opportunity to support small businesses and places that provide space for art and culture to thrive.”

In the living room of Wa Na Wari, Inye Wakoma, one of the founders of the project and the grandson of the owner of the home where Wa Na Wari is based, warmly emceed the evening’s program. People sat cross-legged on the floor or in chairs, stood in the dining room and hallways, and trailed up the stairs. Food and drinks were generously offered, and the upstairs rooms were activated with exhibits by Black artists. A Shelf-Life Community Stories neighborhood cultural mapping project was on display, and a vintage rotary phone that you can pick up and hear oral histories through sat on a little table beside a wooden chair in the hallway.

An open door labeled "Shelf Life Community Story Project" leads to a room adorned with sketches of storytellers. A computer in the corner has headphones for listening to the stories.

The Shelf Life Community Story Project space in Wa Na Wari

Performances by storyteller-rappers and poets (namely Yirim Seck and Ebo Barton) preceded the screening of the film, which was directed by devon de Leña and CHIMAERA. The film rolled and Wakoma was then on screen talking about the gentrification and displacement currently happening in the Central District: “The biggest thing that folks are trying to pinpoint is ‘How do we actually survive this? And then, how do we come out on the other side of this, in some way that actually feels whole?’ We need imaginative responses, ways of imagining ourselves in the future that have everything to do with us getting there on our own, in ways that make sense to us.” 

Watch the film Central District: Wa Na Wari here, and be sure to follow @vanishingseattle on Instagram to stay informed about future screenings and other opportunities to get active! You can also read more about Wa Na Wari and the Vanishing Seattle film series in these Crosscut articles.

Bringing the Community Together One Event at a Time

In case you haven’t noticed, the Georgetown neighborhood has it going on! Brimming with artistic creativity, rich in history, and packed with cool industrial architecture, Seattle’s oldest neighborhood managed to level up again last fall with the opening of The Palace Theatre & Art Bar, AKA “Georgetown’s first gay bar.” For this month’s VivaCity feature, Historic Seattle chatted with the venue’s proprietor, Sylvia O’Stayformore, to learn how this flourishing community gathering place came to be and how it fulfills its mission to bring the community together one event at a time.

Sylvia’s business partner in the Palace, Carlos Paradinja Jr., originally opened a coffee shop (The Conservatory) in the space about 5 years ago. Sylvia explained, “The Conservatory was not only a café, but also an artists’ salon type of space that offered art classes and workshops. While it was successful in many ways, it was ultimately not earning enough to sustain itself. So last September, Carlos came to me and said, ‘I either need to close up shop, or do something different.’ Meanwhile, I had recently lost my corporate daytime gig and ‘Bacon Strip,’ Seattle’s longest standing drag show which I produce, was looking for a new place to flourish. I said to Carlos, ‘Since coffee wasn’t working, why don’t we try alcohol, and keep it a performance space and let me be the booker of the talent and just program the hell out it and see what that does.” And thus, the Palace Theatre & Art Bar was born.

Sylvia O'Stayformore, a drag queen in a blonde wig and blue and white checkered dress, calls out bingo numbers. In front of her are a collection of colorful bingo balls.

Sylvia O’Stayformore calls bingo at The Palace

About the name, Sylvia said, “The name actually comes from the name of the building. It originally opened in 1903 as The Palace Hotel and Bar, owned by Fred Marino. It was a workman’s hotel, and there was the Palace Bar, which is where the Seattle Tavern pool hall now is, there was a hardware store in our space, and a cardroom where Star Brass is. But nothing was called The Palace anymore. It’s an amazing name so I said, why don’t we call it ‘The Palace,’ and then “Theatre’ since that’s what we want to do, and ‘Art Bar’ so people know that it’s strong in art and creativity. And by the way, it’s also a gay bar.”

The Palace Theatre & Art Bar is a bar with a mission, “to bring the community together one event at a time.” Sylvia said, “We’re really trying to grow with community events and be a gathering place where you find something you won’t at other bars. The things we try to program are like the monthly Seattle Playwrights Salon. There’s a club made up of playwright aficionados that goes out and looks for new plays that have been written by local playwrights and we give them the space to have those plays read out by local actors on stage. We have free local jazz nights including jazz trio Hilltop Jazz Project and others, there’s a piano sing along night where you bring in your own sheet music, and ‘An Unexpected Improv Night’. We didn’t want it to be an all drag kind of place but rather a place where people say, ‘let’s see what kind of creative thing is happening at The Palace and go hang there.’”

A large group of people seated near the stage at The Palace. 5 people are on stage, each with a stand for the scripts they read from.

The Palace during a performance

About Georgetown, Sylvia said “I’ve been in love with Georgetown since I moved to Seattle in the early aughts. I love that it hasn’t been gentrified as much as other places. It’s like those industrial parts of Seattle that are going away so fast, but it’s been stubborn, it’s stayed alive. Even after prohibition ripped its main money source away from it, it was still able to survive.” When Sylvia isn’t in Georgetown at The Palace, she can usually be found calling out bingo. “I call for 12 different senior centers from Camano Island all the way down to Des Moines.”

Head on down to Georgetown to see for yourself what it’s all about. Check out the Palace Theater & Art Bar event calendar for upcoming events like the free Trailer Park Drag Strip, an annual show that takes place on August 10 as part of August’s Art Attack, Georgetown’s monthly art event.

PalaceArtBar.com

Time & Place: Julian Barr on the Making of Queer Seattle

As we roll into June and people across the globe engage in Pride celebrations, we wanted to focus in on Seattle and highlight the projects and research of Julian Barr. Julian is a University of Washington PhD candidate who is leading two sold out walking tours for Historic Seattle. His tours are based on a mapping and walking tour project he developed called Pioneer Square and the Making of Queer Seattle. With this piece, Historic Seattle aims to share a little insight into the person behind these important efforts to capture and share this part of Seattle’s history.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Julian received an undergraduate degree in history and masters in geography there before moving to Seattle in 2014 to pursue a PhD in historical geography. He is passionate about historical geography because he believes both where and when something happens are equally important.

Tell us about your connection to Seattle and how you came to pursue the projects and research you’re involved in?

Not long after arriving in Seattle, Julian read Gary Atkins’ book Gay Seattle which helped spawn his interest in Seattle’s LGBTQ history. He soon learned of The Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project (NWLGHMP) and Angie McCarrel, a local architect and lesbian interested in preserving history and buildings, who developed a Pioneer Square walking tour with NWLGHMP in the 1990s. Julian said, “Although the oral histories collected for The Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project are now in UW Special Collections, the project hadn’t really been active since the early 2000s.”

Julian explained, “Right around the same time a sociology conference was coming to town and my dissertation adviser Michael Brown asked me to look at McCarrel’s tour and update it to offer to conference attendees.” 

Through that process, he became particularly interested in how Pioneer Square’s LGBTQ history is portrayed to the public. While exploring Pioneer Square, he questioned, “What’s being told? What’s not? What understanding is the public getting from this place by walking around?”

“Gay history wasn’t represented in Pioneer Square, it wasn’t represented in the Underground Tour, not included in Klondike Gold Rush Museum, etc. I was not seeing Seattle’s gay history represented and I wanted it shown more, and for there to be opportunities for people to engage with it.”

Thus, the idea for Pioneer Square and the Making of Queer Seattle was born. With critical support from the UW Simpson Center for the Humanities, Julian developed an interactive map and comprehensively updated the walking tour. Julian will conduct his tour twice this year for Historic Seattle and has been invited to offer it through numerous other outlets, such as MOHAI. “I saw this as a great and accessible way to engage the public in Pioneer Square’s LGBTQ history.”

“We are coming upon the 50-year anniversary of the start of the Stonewall Riots that inspired Pride as a celebration of queer life and sexuality, and a political and social demonstration. In general, so much of gay history focuses on what happened in a place after the 1970s. People forget that there were many vibrant and organized gay communities that existed before then. The Pioneer Square project offers the public a glimpse of what it was like living in Seattle as a LGBTQ person in those earlier times.”

What’s next for Julian?

“Well, I’m working on completing my PhD! My dissertation is on Queer Pioneer Square and understanding the historical geographies of lesbian and queer women in Seattle.”

What is your favorite place in Seattle?

“I have a strong affinity for Pioneer Square. Specifically, the corner of 2nd and Washington which is where my tours start and also where The Double Header used to be. I was lucky enough to visit the Double Header before it closed, and it was there that I really felt the connection to the queer history of Pioneer Square.”

Although Julian’s upcoming tour with Historic Seattle is sold out, if you are interested in learning about protecting the places that anchor Seattle’s LGBTQ communities join us for There Goes the Gayborhood!, our free panel discussion happening June 8th. Learn more and register here.

Happy Pride from your friends at Historic Seattle!

Robin & Alvis Harris: Washington Hall Caretakers

Aside from being the home of community-based anchor partners 206Zulu, Hidmo, and Voices Rising, for the past three years Washington Hall has been home to its caretakers Robin and Alvis Harris. Family circumstances require Robin and Alvis to move this spring. Historic Seattle caught up with them prior to their move to learn more about their experience living within Washington Hall’s legendary walls.

Tell us about your connection to Seattle and how you came to be caretaker(s) of Washington Hall?

Born in Tacoma, Robin said this area has always been home). He joined 206 Zulu in 2006 before it had its home at Washington Hall. Much of the work Robin did through 206 Zulu (providing safety and security at events) was carried out in the CD, so he quickly became connected to the neighborhood and community through that relationship.

Eventually Robin moved to Hawaii, where he also has deep roots, and for 5 years he traveled back to Seattle to provide security for Zulu’s annual anniversary event. He moved back to Seattle in 2015 “right around the time Zulu got WA Hall as its home,” and it wasn’t long after that the caretaker position opened up. He knew that with his security and maintenance background, he could help ensure it was a safe place by becoming the Hall’s caretaker. “I was also looking to provide a cool experience for my wife who then had never lived on the mainland.”

Tell us about your earliest memory there.

When Robin was 19 years old, a friend started getting him into jazz music. That friend drove him by Washington Hall telling him “this was THE PLACE everyone played at.” Robin said, “It has an incredible history musically alone!”

What is the connection between the Hall and your personal creative endeavors?

Robin is himself a musician and producer. Everything he has created musically has happened at the Hall. He says, “I knew the music I created here needed to come from a good place in my heart because of what this place means musically.” His work with and musical contributions to 206 Zulu’s Beats to The Rhyme program allow him to give back to the community.

Has your time living there changed your family?

Robin had always chosen to live in remote settings and enjoys solitude. Adjusting to living at the Hall challenged him, opened him up, and made him more patient. His wife Alvis is from a close-knit island community in the Pacific and was a little leery when she first moved into the Hall before it reopened. She was much more comfortable once the Hall became full of people and activity. “Her whole experience living on the mainland has been centered around Washington Hall. This is her home.”

How would you describe the Hall’s role in the community and Seattle as a whole? Do you personally feel connected to the Hall’s history?

“You cannot not notice homes are being torn down in the Central District, which is essentially changing the face and spirit of the neighborhood. Neighbors want to share the Central District pride with new people. People see this building still standing and it’s a beacon. It makes people happy to have this beautiful hall that is still such a hub of the community.”

When Robin got the call that he and Alvis were to be Washington Hall caretakers, he immediately felt a huge sense of pride, “to be stewards of something so beautiful, historic, and precious to so many all over the city.”

Robin has repeatedly heard from people in the community saying that they don’t know where they’d be if they hadn’t been able to find refuge at the Hall. “People look out for each other here. Having a role in caring for and providing a safe place where people truly care for each other is part of the Aloha spirt that is deeply instilled in my wife and I.”

“My wife and I, as well as anyone that has a birthday party or a wedding at the Hall, are part of its history. When you are a visitor to the Hall, you are a guest, but you are also now part of the family and we want you to come back. The community at the Hall is about showing people love, and saying we care about you, we want you to be here because the Hall is not the same if it’s empty. For the past three years we have not only worked to troubleshoot small problems, we troubleshoot larger life here.”

What is your favorite place in Seattle and why?

“I mean…(long pause)… does it have to be someplace other than the Hall? I’ve created more strong memories in the Hall than in any other place in the City.”

Wanted: Historic Sites or Landmarks in King County

If These Walls Could Talk, Staci Bernstein and Jane Kaplan, 2012. Neeley Mansion, Auburn. © Becka Brebner

If These Walls Could Talk, Staci Bernstein and Jane Kaplan, 2012. Neeley Mansion, Auburn. © Becka Brebner

By Guest Blogger Christina DePaolo

Starting with a playwright who thought a local IKEA showroom would be a great place to stage a play, 4Culture has been supporting works of art produced in unexpected places through the Site Specific grant program since 2005. In 2013 the program changed focus, funding projects that interpret and explore the significance of a historic King County site or landmark.

Imagine walking into Neeley Mansion, a 1894 Victorian classic revival farmhouse located in Auburn, and experiencing If These Walls Could Talk, a performance and series of short films that tell the stories of five families that lived in the mansion. What would you learn about the Mansion? How would experiencing the stories of those who lived there make you feel? What would you understand about our region? This is Historic Site Specific.

The current iteration represents a unique effort by Arts, Heritage, and Preservation funding staff, shaping a program that supports artists working collaboratively with historic sites around King County, to engage historic sites and illuminate their story. For the 2014 program, we are currently looking for historic sites to participate in the program by joining the roster. Sites on the roster are featured on our website and can be contacted by artists who are interested in working with them on a project. If the artist’s proposal is funded, sites collaborate further with them through the execution of their project.

The deadline to apply for inclusion in the Roster of historic Sites is September 12, 2014. Artists/Sites will be submitting their final proposals by October 8, 2014. We at 4Culture want to build a robust and diverse roster, and encourage all King County historic sites and landmarks to apply.

Benefits of inclusion include increasing community engagement and visibility as well as access to new audiences. This is an opportunity to be a part of a unique and innovate partnership with 4Culture and King County artists. For criteria and to apply, visit sitespecificarts.org. Please contact Charlie Rathbun at 206.296.8675 with questions.

About the author: Guest blogger Christina DePaolo works in the communications department supporting initiatives and programs at 4Culture, King County’s arts and culture funding agency. 

Wanted: Historic Sites and Landmarks

4Culture’s Arts, Heritage, and Preservation programs are accepting applications through May 11, 2012, for historic sites and designated landmarks in King County to be included in the 2013 Historic Site(s)-Specific series. Through this initiative, 4Culture seeks to increase the role of art in strengthening our county residents’ sense of history and place, and inspire our creative community to engage with the stories that define us as individuals and as a culture.

In recent years, Site Specific programs have included historical performances at Masonic lodges, heritage gardens, the Saar Pioneer Cemetery in Kent, and a contemporary arts festival throughout the entire Moore theatre building in downtown Seattle. Based on the initial success of these ventures, 4Culture is happy to extend the opportunity for King County historic sites to be a part of this exciting program. Apply to host a creative collaboration at your facility. Download the application page from 4Culture’s website.