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.”