Preservation in Progress

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Archive for the ‘VivaCity’ Category

Giving Thanks to Our Supporters

Support for Historic Seattle comes in many different forms. Advocates and program attendees are critical to our mission, but donors go beyond, allowing us to take our work to new heights. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we want to give you ALL our thanks.
Below we’ve featured a few people in our Supporters’ Circle who make our work possible.
Thank you, from all of us at Historic Seattle.


Sustaining Support

Kelsey Williams | Monthly Donor

Monthly donors help sustain our work throughout the year!

Why do you enjoy giving to Historic Seattle?

KELSEY: When I decided to move to Seattle in 2018, I obsessively researched the city, its architecture, and its preservation initiatives. Historic Seattle caught my attention quickly!

Shortly after my move, I participated in Historic Seattle’s Advocacy Workshops and observed how knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and devoted the staff was. Beyond those workshops, I’ve seen Historic Seattle’s members in action at Landmark Preservation Board meetings, in their fight to save The Showbox, and at historic house tours. There are few things more energizing to me than witnessing another person learn the history of a home or building, teach others about its significance, and then fight with all of their spirit to save it. Seeing the staff’s educational connection with our communities and their success in keeping historic properties alive made me want to support Historic Seattle continuously.

Historic Seattle did catch my attention quickly—but it also gained my sustaining adoration.


Business Membership Support

Lance Neely | Heritage Realty

Business members help to support Historic Seattle and have the opportunity to network with others who share a concern for Seattle’s architectural heritage.

At the core of Heritage is founder and designated broker Lance Neely. With a passion for the stewardship of historic places and a keen interest in our region’s unique architectural history, Heritage Realty is in alignment with both Historic Seattle’s mission and its community of supporters.

What inspired you to join our organization as a business member?

LANCE: First and foremost, my appreciation for historic homes is what initially led me to get into real estate.  Playing a small role in how some of the extraordinary homes of our region are passed down from caretaker to caretaker is very gratifying and what informed my decision to name my business as I have. Naturally, my interest and involvement in preservation as it relates to residential real estate carries over to historic commercial buildings, many that I have had the privilege of experiencing from my time as a resident of this city and now, professionally, as an agent & brokerage owner. I have specifically sought out other businesses and organizations that celebrate the unique architectural history of our city. Historic Seattle speaks to the ethos of my business.  Heritage takes great interest in preserving the integrity of existing residential architecture and we hope to provide clients with a different viewpoint and resources on creating a lifestyle to suit both historical and modern sensibilities, but always with the goal of preserving the landmark homes and buildings of our region.


Corporate Sponsorship

Northwest Vernacular

Generous sponsors help Historic Seattle bring you a variety of education and advocacy programs, as well as special events, that enable you to explore our historic built environment. Please contact Director of Philanthropy & Engagement Naomi West to learn more about 2021 sponsorship opportunities.

Not only has Northwest Vernacular generously supported Historic Seattle’s education programs, they’ve been outstanding partners in preservation through their extensive advocacy and preservation consultancy work – a notable example, preparation of the successful Showbox landmark nomination!

What value is there in aligning with Historic Seattle
as a corporate sponsor?

NORTHWEST VERNACULAR: Historic Seattle’s work exemplifies so much of what historic preservation can offer — from their educational programs and advocacy efforts, to their role as active stewards of historic properties in the city to provide community spaces that contribute to the city’s quality of life. As a historic preservation consulting firm, supporting Historic Seattle is a natural extension of the work that we do.



Thank you to all of you who support Historic Seattle!
Together we are shaping a city that values and protects its collective history.

Healing Trauma | Washington Hall’s Pongo Poetry Program

The Pongo Poetry Project teaches and mentors personal poetry by youth who have suffered childhood traumas, such as abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence. The following is an interview between Historic Seattle (HS), Pongo’s founder Richard Gold (RG), and its interim executive director Barbara Green (BG). The Pongo Poetry Project is a tenant within Historic Seattle-owned Washington Hall in Seattle’s Central District.  


Pongo graduate Maven Gardener. Photo by Michael Maine

HS: In the video “The Impact of Trauma and How Pongo Helps” on your website, Richard says, “As an impact of trauma, the emotions are all balled up inside our clients — in our writers’ hearts. They feel horrible, and confused, and mistrustful. But when they externalize into a poem their experiences, they are engaged in a transformative process from, ‘I’m a terrible person, to this is a terrible thing that happened to me.’ And in that process, they see themselves as writers. They see themselves as people whose creative work can make a difference in the world.”

What do you have to add to these words in light of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and other current events?

BG: I think that the Black Lives Matter movement has done a great job of raising awareness about the trauma of systemic racism. I’m hoping that this will help youth of color see the difficulties that they’re experiencing in a different light, with a broader perspective. And I think that now, because of the increased awareness of systemic racism, more people can appreciate how relevant our work is. I also think writing poetry is a way for the youth to say, “I matter,” and for people to hear that they matter. We can help amplify their voices so that others can understand what their experiences have been.

The Black Lives Matter movement has also increased awareness of the racism that is inherent in the criminal justice system. One of my hopes is that this will lead to fewer youth — fewer everybody — being incarcerated and lead to the creation of alternatives. I think that the Pongo poetry method could be a great part of a diversion program for youth to help them deal with the trauma that they have experienced.

RG: I would just add that at its heart, Pongo is about listening. I think the killing of George Floyd was a revelation for many white people. And when we really listen respectfully, and understand one another better, it’s a way of healing society as well as individuals. 

HS: How has the pandemic uniquely impacted your work and the communities you serve?

BG: I don’t want to presume to talk about the communities we serve because I’m not really part of that, but I do know that for everybody the pandemic has created a lot more anxiety, depression, and trauma. And that has been particularly true in the Black community because of the disproportionate impact that COVID has had in communities of color. Furthermore, the youth that we are serving are primarily in institutions, and the pandemic has only made it scarier and lonelier for people who are living and working in those institutions. 

On the other hand — and I hate to say this – but in some ways there have been positive impacts on our work. Even though we are no longer able to go into the institutions where the kids are living, we have been working with them remotely. The surveys they complete after they have gone through the program have demonstrated that the work has been just as impactful, if not more so, since we’ve been working remotely. The other “silver lining” is that in our last round of volunteer recruitment we recruited volunteers from around the country. As a result, the skill level of our volunteers has increased exponentially.    

RG: Yes, what we’re saying is that we now have a set of volunteers from all over the country who are working in King County Juvenile Detention with us. These are people who believe in the work, but they are also learning the work. We have now taught Pongo nationally and internationally. Our work, that we know of, is now being done in 11-12 different countries.

HS: According to Historic Seattle’s executive director Kji Kelly, “Pongo joined us at Washington Hall in August 2016. As a result of our space planning efforts before Phase 3 of construction, we identified areas within the building that we could offer to organizations matching the mission of the project. Washington Hall’s mission is to create a transformative space in Seattle’s Central District that honors the history of The Hall and is a home for arts & culture that reflects its legacy. Richard, and now Barbara, sit on our Hall Governance Board along with Creative Justice and our anchor partners.”  

What would you like to add to this background story of the relationship(s)?

RG: It’s been a real honor to join that community and learn from the arts organizations there. For example, we began with a focus on healing individuals, and part of our growth has been to recognize that the trauma that these individuals have – mostly youth of color, is from social injustice. They are part of a community of people of color in Seattle that has suffered. The organizations in Washington Hall are serving that very community, and it has been a privilege to be there and be part of that work.  

BG: I would add that I am really looking forward to partnering with Creative Justice and the other tenants in the building on both programmatic and anti-racism work.

HS: A lot of Pongo’s programming takes place at juvenile detention centers, hospitals, homeless shelters, supportive housing, etc. That said, what is the connection/significance of Pongo being based in Washington Hall?

RG: Washington Hall is our place for meeting as an organization. We (normally) interview volunteers there, we plan our work there, we communicate from there with donors, and people internationally who are doing the work. We bring people in there a lot and always talk about the history of the Hall. It is our home, and the history of the Hall is now part of our story. As I was saying earlier, we are working with individuals in institutions, but our goal is to be more present for the community and Washington Hall is an opportunity for us to do that.

It is also fun to be based in Washington Hall. These historic buildings, these places with history, places that have the edginess and imperfections that come with time and occasional neglect in some cases, they’re very soulful places. And thanks to Historic Seattle many have now been made available for artwork, and community work, and there’s energy there. We deal in healing people, so we know that there is a lot of beauty in imperfection, and the response to it, and the opportunity within it. That’s how I think about restoration too, it’s all very soulful. 

BG:  I have two points to add to that. One is, as you know, Washington Hall is a space that’s dedicated to arts and culture for people of color, and so is Pongo. So, I think in terms of that, it’s a really good fit. And secondly, the juvenile detention facility is our neighbor – it’s right down the street from where we are. Pongo is providing services for youth in our neighborhood, and they are some of the youth that could benefit from it the most. 

HS: Were you aware of Washington Hall before the Pongo Poetry Project took up residency there? Do you have any “first Hall experience” stories to share?

RG: I was a longtime subscriber to On the Boards. While it is not a social justice organization, On the Boards is a highly innovative, edgy, creative, arts organization – always stimulating, always interesting, so I always had that connection with Washington Hall.

BG: And I used to go to political events there, you know, back in like the 80s, and would also occasionally go to On the Boards performances there. So, when Richard told me where the office was located, I knew exactly where it was. And it sure looks great now!

HS: What interests you about the history of Washington Hall?

RG: I think I’m most moved by, and appreciative of, the iconic Black performers – Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Dinah Washington – the people who performed there. That that was their venue. They were not allowed to perform in white clubs in Seattle. So much of art is a response to challenges, and to exploration of ourselves. And at that time, it was a response to racism and the racist history of this country. I’m just very connected to that part of the Hall’s history and the beautiful bittersweet art that came out of that landed in the Hall because it couldn’t be somewhere else.

BG: I echo what Richard said and will add that, as a Jew, I was very interested to learn that Yiddish theater was performed there, and that the neighborhood was a largely Jewish neighborhood when the Hall first opened.

A Yiddish theater performance at Washington Hall, ca 1920s. Image courtesy of University of Washington, Special Archives.


HS: Do you consider yourself a preservationist? Why or why not?

RG: I never would’ve thought to apply that word, “preservationist,” to me, but we publish books, we take people’s stories, and we give them a concrete life of their own beyond the moment. And it’s actually a very important part of healing. Preserving the stories. With the difficulties they’ve had in their lives, our writers may not have had a parent to put their creations on a refrigerator with a magnet. But every story, and there have been something like over 8,000 poems written now, is saved. Anyone that comes to me and says, “In 2004, I did work with you in juvenile detention,” I can say, “Of course, tell me your name,” and I can send them their poetry.  So, it is part of acknowledging people’s value, to preserve. And maybe that’s the best way to compare Pongo’s work to Historic Seattle’s, we’re both acknowledging value, and preserving stories and manifestations.  

BG: I would add that I think it’s important to preserve historic buildings so that they can continue to benefit community. And I think that’s at the core of what Historic Seattle does. It’s not about preserving a fancy home so that one person can live in it, it’s about restoring it to its original beauty so that it can benefit the community.

To read or hear the work of some of Pongo’s teen writers, to get involved, or to donate visit There is also an opportunity to learn the Pongo method at a virtual workshop on Saturday, October 17. Learn more and register here.

The italicized text above is paraphrased, not directly quoted. The meaning has been preserved.

Britton and Rachel Shepard & the Ronnei-Raum House

Nestled in the center of Fall City and adjacent to the Fall City Masonic Lodge stands the 1904 Ronnei-Raum House. In 2019, Historic Seattle purchased the house from the neighboring Masons, who planned to reinvest the proceeds from the sale back into their historic lodge.

With the purchase, the Ronnei-Raum House became the first Preservation Action Fund (PAF) project undertaken by Historic Seattle. The PAF, created in 2017 by King County and 4Culture in partnership with Historic Seattle and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, is a revolving real estate fund dedicated to purchasing, restoring, protecting, and re-activating historic properties throughout King County (outside of Seattle’s city limits).

Fall City historians and Preservation Action Fund (PAF) team members gathered for a tour of the PAF project site in February 2019 

Historic Seattle’s plans to rehabilitate the house were well underway this spring when an unexpected — yet welcomed — change in plans resulted in the sale of the Ronnei-Raum House this month, in advance of its completed restoration. Fall City resident Britton Shepard was excited by the project and made an offer to purchase it and finish the restoration project. Funds from the sale will be reinvested into the PAF for the next project.

But, you may wonder, who is Britton Shepard? How will he take on the restoration and stewardship of this historic King County landmark? Read on to learn about the man who will play the next leading role in shaping the house’s story.

As a builder and landscape architect, Britton certainly has the sensitivity and expertise necessary to restore the property. “I feel like I am a kindred spirit to your [PAF] group. I recently earned a Landscape Architecture degree from UW, and I share a lot of the core values of the College of Built Environments which have to do with community and cultivating a sense of place,” he explained.

Britton also has plenty of experience restoring old houses. Prior to moving to Fall City, he and his wife, Rachel, owned a 1904 home (the same vintage as the Ronnei-Raum House) in Georgetown. “We put a lot of work into that house to make it happy again. Then, when we moved to Fall City 15 years ago, we were committed to the idea of recycling a farmhouse – a labor of love that is not just about the house and its setting, but also about the lives lived there,” said Britton. Rachel, in fact, grew up in Fall City. “Ten years ago when our son started kindergarten, he did so in the same classroom where she went to kindergarten! Moving out here was a bit of a discovery for me, but it turns out that the character of the neighborhood, the scale of the houses, the open fields with no sidewalks, was similar to the neighborhood where I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. So, I instantly felt at home here.”

“I have always been curious about the Ronnei-Raum House. Last spring, I noticed there was a [PAF] banner up. One thing led to another and eventually it seemed that there was this opportunity — not just to make an investment, but also to participate in  this really visible restoration project,” Britton said.

In its original form, the 800 square foot house was a modest yet nicely detailed middle-class cottage with turned and jig-sawn millwork. Despite some alterations that occurred in the mid-20th century, its scale, simplicity, and some of its detail still echo the earliest stock of vernacular housing in this mill-oriented river town.

The Ronnei-Raum House in 1940. This image shows turned posts and scrollwork on the front porch, as well as the original front door, back porch, and possibly a hint at the original house color (not white, as it appears now).

“I love that the house is humble. I love the idea of creating a dwelling that is based on life in its simplest forms,” Britton explained. “The Ronnei-Raum house was originally a worker’s cottage. Our restoration work will embrace the same values of simplicity and frugality that prevailed when the house was built. This approach aligns with my personal manifesto as a designer, landscape philosopher, and historian. I think being frugal and having just enough is the sweet spot as far as sustainability and living in a mindful way.”

Britton continued, “At the same time, the house was built with quality materials: Douglas-fir lumber that was probably coming from a mill just up the river – materials that nowadays are coveted. It is like a time capsule where all this beautiful local wood was encased in a way that made it last. One of my jobs is going to be to take it all apart and restore and reuse it. We will take apart the inside, salvage the fir, replumb, redo the electrical, and put in a nice farmhouse kitchen. We will restore the original windows and woodworking. And we’ll choose colors, materials, and finishes in keeping with rural living back then.”

“As far as the landscape goes, there are distinctive elements of the property that are considered part of Fall City’s DNA — a simple house, set in place, with open space around it that was once pasture.  These features are specified in the Fall City Design Guidelines. There are also a couple of sources indicating that the Snoqualmie people kept the area near the river as a meadow, burning it off every couple of years to have better access to food and game harvests. The town of Fall City grew up in and around this meadow. The Ronnei-Raum House would’ve sat right in the middle. As a landscape historian, that’s a part of the story I’m really drawn to. I can imagine restoring the turf, with a simple walkway to the door, and bringing back basic elements like these that are inherent to the site,” Britton described.

The approximate location of the Ronnei-Raum House is indicated in red on this map of Fall City before 1900 from “Fall City in The Valley of The Moon” (1972).

The Ronnei-Raum House has been a single-family residence since it was built in 1904. It was home to the caretaker of Fall City Masonic Lodge #66 for decades and was most recently used by the Masons as a rental.  About Rachel and Britton’s plans for use, Britton said, “The goals that we have for the house don’t include selling it. In a sense this is a professional undertaking, one that will allow me to continue to work locally and further invest in this community.”

The Ronnei-Raum house and neighboring Masonic Lodge #66, 2019.

As part of the terms of the sale, Historic Seattle will hold a preservation easement on the property indefinitely. An easement is a tool used to protect a historic resource requiring that current and future owners maintain their property in a way that reflects its historic significance. “We are willing to make the commitment to the [easement] ‘obligation’ because it fits into family plans of being rooted here. Also, the guidelines align perfectly with my own set of values so that I’m actually coming to the same conclusions about how to approach this project,” said Britton.

About being a preservationist, Britton said, “To me, preservation is about meaning. I’m interested in sustainability — as it relates to energy, food, and materials, but also in how we value resources, where things are guarded and turned over and over again, really cherished. I think it is through cherishing, through our acts of caring for the place we live, that we create meaning. I think we need meaning, communities need meaning, as much as we need electricity. I look forward to taking the Ronnei-Raum House apart from the inside out and honoring it. I like to be involved with handling and appreciating the materials and the story. That’s my sense of being a preservationist.”

For an example of his place-making creativity and sensitivity towards our tangible material history, check out this video about Britton’s intriguing thesis project. As the description reads, “WSECU collaborated with landscape designer and University of Washington student Britton Shepard to build community by bringing a vacant lot to life in Seattle’s University District where the credit union’s future building will be built. Part art, part garden, part archeological dig, see how he transformed the forgettable into something special in the middle of a bustling city.”


Local Small Business Spotlight: Risa Blythe, Proprietor of Girlie Press

Numerous articles and studies have been published citing the critical role that small businesses play in the vitality of cities and towns of all sizes. For example, small businesses help foster community, add to the unique character of a place, provide distinctive opportunities for entrepreneurism, and contribute to economic health. Beyond these significant contributions, there is also an important relationship between small businesses and historic neighborhoods and old buildings. In short, preservation relies on small businesses, and small businesses often rely on historic spaces — a relationship you can read more about in this recently published article by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

Girlie Press is a woman-owned small business located in an adaptive reuse space in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Read on to hear what the print shop’s proprietor, Risa Blythe, has to say about owning small business, preservation, and more:

After eight years and only two other jobs as an offset press operator, Girlie Press was originally founded in 1995 in the back of a building in Belltown and then moved into a historic Anne Michelson building on 10th Avenue. “I shared a space as an offset printer with BSK, a screen-printing company that did much of the printing for Sub Pop and the grunge music scene. That was fun and insane, and I worked, and worked, and I put money away,” said Risa.

Inside Girlie Press

In 2000, when Risa acquired the building where Girlie Press is now located, it had been subleased to a stone cutting artist and sculptor who essentially fled in the middle of the night – leaving behind a warehouse full of massive, heavy, stone cutting equipment. “One of the companies I did a lot of work for was the Seattle Men’s Choir. Doug Exworthy was on the choir and owned the rights to the building where the shop is now. He knew I did a lot of work for the queer community, and he contacted me and said, ‘you need your own building.’ He became my mentor, guiding me through the whole process. It was adventurous, but I pulled it off! This was back in the day when you could put on a suit and go into a bank and talk things through…with people,” Risa explained.

All of the items left behind were sold off to put money back into the building and to make way for printing equipment. With her penchant and passion for machinery, Risa was just the woman for the task. Her keenness for mechanics, a trait she recalls recognizing early in life, has continued to prove valuable throughout her career. For example, when it came to acquiring her own 10,000-pound press, she was able to purchase a broken machine for a low price and repair it herself.

“I remember at one point, I applied to be a certified woman-owned business,” explained Risa. “A guy called me to ask for clarification about some parts of my application, and he just couldn’t seem to comprehend that a woman was capable of fixing a machine like this! That he believed that this was beyond my…realm, that’s when I knew why it was important to get the certification. There aren’t a lot of women in print, but I grew up in a feminist, entrepreneurial household and I’m thick-skinned. So, I have been able to shoulder discrimination I’ve encountered in the field. I started my own business because I wanted to work with people who had a sense of humor and didn’t mind working for a woman in a male-dominated field. Nobody — no guy — who’s got a lot of issues can work here and go home at the end of the day and say, ‘yeah, I work at Girlie Press!’”

When asked if she considers herself a preservationist, Risa made a surprising connection between her love of machinery and historic preservation. “The part of me that is a preservationist is that I really like a well-built machine. I really like function. Newer things are more disposable, they are meant to have an end of life, whereas with an older machine  its gearbox can be rebuilt again and again and its function is to last long term. I also like new things that are super fancy and have lots of bells and whistles, but I like them to be built on an older mechanical premise,” said Risa.

This historic assessor’s photo shows a building which formerly stood on the site where Girlie Press is now located.

Risa enjoys the location of her current shop at 1658 21st Avenue. While she is attracted to industrial and gritty places like Georgetown (one of her favorite places in Seattle), she appreciates that the shop is not in a strictly industrial area, but is instead nestled within a neighborhood with a commercial and residential mix. “There’s a German philosopher — someone who I can’t recall — who presented the idea that something went wrong when people started working in places that were far away from where they lived. It allows for more tolerable levels of pollution, longer workdays, and less family interaction. I live less than a mile away in Madrona, in a simple 1902 Victorian. Another favorite place is my backyard because my wife is such a great gardener! And I like that I can work in a trade, but still work in an area where people are living too,” said Risa.

The community is very important to Risa. In addition to the long list of organizations Girlie Press supports, she uses her business to promote causes she cares about: “There aren’t a lot of print shops that care about the same things I care about so I have a unique opportunity to use what I do, and do well, to support those things. I like the idea of using the power of the press to help organizations make money or do good things. We’ve printed over 1,000 posters since the most recent events of the Black Lives Matter movement have been unfolding. A lot of times people will ask us to print something for them and we’ll ask, ‘Do you want us to print a bunch more of these and just give them out?’ It’s cool to be part of this ancient history of activism through art.”

Risa in the shop’s new mezzanine space

Lately, the effects of the pandemic have been felt at Girlie Press. At one point, Risa sheltered at the shop and ran the whole press herself in order to execute print jobs (including Historic Seattle’s emergency appeal) for grocery stores and other essential businesses. Many of her staff have recently returned to the shop after many weeks working remotely. Upon their return, staff were able to spread out further, occupying space in the mezzanine that was fortunately recently built in the warehouse.

In the previously referenced Washington Trust for Historic Preservation article, Breanne Durham wrote, “There has never been a more poignant time to reflect on the value small businesses have in our lives and in our work. The onslaught of COVID-19 has taken our local economies by storm…Small businesses employ about half of the private workforce in the United States. And without them, our historic commercial districts lack the activity and commerce that creates healthy, socially cohesive, and economically viable communities. If the preservation field is looking for its place within the COVID-19 crisis, here it is.”

Looking for other ways to support small businesses? allows you to search for Asian-owned, Black-owned, disability-owned, family-owned, Latino-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Native-owned, veteran-owned, and woman-owned businesses and social enterprises in select cities, including Seattle.

Checking In with Friends of Little Saigon

Last September, we presented Friends of Little Saigon (FLS) with the Community Advocacy Award at our annual Preservation Celebration Benefit, recognizing their work preserving and enhancing Little Saigon’s cultural, economic, and historic vitality. For the first time ever, this award included a $3,000 prize which FLS intended to use to help advance their mission by building out and opening the Little Saigon Cultural Gathering Space. Like so many others these days, FLS’s plans have shifted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, their work to support, strengthen, and preserve culture and community is as robust as ever. We checked in with Valerie Tran, a member of Friends of Little Saigon’s leadership team, for her take on how the pandemic is impacting the Chinatown-International District (CID) community and what FLS is doing in response to those challenges.

One such response has been establishing the CID Restaurants and Other Small Businesses Relief Fund. In late March, a $100,000 seed gift from Vulcan enabled FLS, the Seattle Chinatown-International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), and the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) to come together to provide much-needed financial relief to neighborhood restaurants and small businesses.

“By March, the neighborhood had already suffered effects of the pandemic for a long time,” explained Valerie. “As early as late January/early February, the spread of misinformation and racism had caused many people to feel afraid to visit Asian and Chinese restaurants and businesses.” To date, the emergency relief fund has raised over $300,000 in donations, and over 87 neighborhood restaurants have received critical funding through the program’s first wave of distributions. Currently, 130 non-restaurant businesses are being evaluated for the next wave of distributions, which is expected to take place in May.

There are many unique challenges in responding to the crisis and managing the relief fund. “Many of our community’s small businesses don’t have a history of engaging with us through mediums like email, websites, and social media,” Valerie said. Interactions in the community more often occur face-to-face, which proves difficult when people are in isolation and businesses are shuttered. “There is also a lot of skepticism because of scams that are targeting small business owners,” she added.

“Language has also been a challenge. In the beginning there was a flurry of information coming from the city, state, and federal governments. Information was coming quickly, but many in the neighborhood were getting the information 4-7 days later because of the time it takes to simplify, translate, and redistribute information. In some cases, we’ve brought information out to the community in hard copy. We’ve been doing a lot of advocacy to the state and city, urging them to provide translated information at the same time that it’s delivered in English,” Valerie noted. “It’s so important to provide consistent information about legitimate sources of assistance in a timely manner.”

About the role community has in responding to the crisis, Valerie said, “COVID-19 has had some positive effects in the way the community has come together to respond. Throughout history, Asian American and Pacific Islander groups have been pitted against each other. This leads to finger pointing and debate over which ethnic group is more oppressed. Now people are coming together, people are stepping up, and community groups are partnering like never before to provide financial relief, wellness checks, groceries, and meals to people in need. We’ve got to be in this together.”

In addition to her role as Operations Director at FLS, Valerie Tran previously served on the boards of FLS and the International Special Review District. She also currently serves on Historic Seattle’s Council and understands the value of preservation. “This COVID-19 response work is important for cultural preservation. If these businesses and cultural institutions can’t reopen, this will be a huge loss to the cultural fabric of the city and the communities that rely on them,” she said. “This is why this work is critical. We can sometimes take our cultural businesses and places for granted, but the crisis brings to light the importance of community preservation, and that our work must go beyond physical and architectural preservation.”

Valerie Tran (second from the left) with members of Friends of Little Saigon

While the opening of the Little Saigon Cultural Gathering Space is delayed as a result of the recent construction moratorium, space has been leased and will include a small business resource center, office space, a Vietnamese café, a library, and an art exhibit space. Earlier this year, FLS launched a call to artists and selections were made for what will be the art space’s inaugural exhibit. “Owning It” will feature several visual and 3D artworks by Vietnamese American artists.

It has been just three years since Friends of Little Saigon brought on its first paid staff member, executive director Quynh Pham. Prior to her arrival, FLS had been an all-volunteer group since its founding in 2011. “The progress that has been made toward our mission is a testament to Quynh’s ability to implement the volunteer board’s vision,” said Valerie. Historic Seattle joins Valerie in commending her colleague and the ongoing achievements of FLS.

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.

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