Monday, November 26, 2007

Beacon Hill: What's to Like?

As The Paper Noose recently pointed out, there's a Live Journal discussion going on about whether a Bellingham couple should rent a place on Beacon Hill.

The wife and I are looking at a nice two bedroom apartment on Beacon Hill (about a block and a half from the Red Apple). Having just graduated from WWU as an older student I have been hired at a downtown firm. I have a few questions.

1. Seattle buses, when Metro's website says it takes 18 minutes to get from where I live to downtown where I work, is that relatively accurate (its only a single bus ride, no transfer needed)? I realize things make buses late, I just mean in general.

2. Is there anything good or bad we should know about living on Beacon Hill, we are from Bellingham so we aren't as familiar with Seattle.

The first question's an easy one. The 36 is one of the worst buses in Seattle. It's slow and packed. It often passes you by while you're waiting for it because it's too crowded. There is no express 36. Every bus stops at pretty much every stop all the way north up Beacon Hill (which is one of the longest neighborhoods in the city), then winds its way through Little Saigon. People smoke crack on the 36 during rush hour (probably because it's so freaking slow, they can't wait till they get home), plus it seems to have more than its share of creeps. I've been a regular bus rider without much complaint in the Capitol Hill, Eastlake, and U-District neighborhoods, but I avoid taking the 36.

The second question is interesting. What is good and what is bad about Beacon Hill?

Some bad things first.

BAD: As I mentioned, our bus service sucks.

BAD: It's one of Seattle's boring neighborhoods, like Wedgwood, or Maple Leaf.

BAD: Also, between the greenbelts, there are not a lot of trees. (Lisa Eve on my block got us a bunch of trees from the city this fall, and we are doing our part to help fix that.)

BAD: A lot of people don't take care of their property. The homeowners around here are particularly complacent about letting tags multiply on their fences and garages. (Again, I'm trying to help out with my city-issued paint-out truck--let me know if you want me to come by your house with it and help you.) Chain-link is a common residential fencing choice around here. Overall, you just get the sense that people don't care about their yards and homes.

BAD: We do not have a single restaurant with a decent wine list.

And some good things.

GOOD: We have one of the most beautiful views in all of Seattle at Jefferson Park. Now we just need to make sure the city preserves the view and doesn't screw up development of the park. (As an aside, what the hell is up with the Parks Department and their wanting to do stuff like replace grass with used tires and open up fast-food restaurants in places like Magnuson Park? Do you have to pass some sort of evilness test to get a job there?)

GOOD: It's close to Georgetown, downtown, Capitol Hill, Columbia City, and I-5.

GOOD: Much of the neighborhood has sidewalks and curbs. The planting strip outside my house is 10-and-a-half feet wide. With all this space and sunshine (from lack of established trees), it's a pretty thrilling place to experiment with gardening.

GOOD: It truly is a multi-ethnic neighborhood.

GOOD: We do have a few good food joints (that unfortunately don't have decent wine lists): Galaxie, Baja Bistro, El Quetzal.

As you can see, I'm still a little ambivalent about the neighborhood. (Though not for one second have I ever regretted buying our house here, and I plan to stay here for a long time.)

A local real estate agent recently sent me an e-mail in which he politely took me to task for failing to be a good cheerleader for the community:

Hey...great work on your blog and congratulations! Glad you make a point of the lack of commerce in the area, and it is true not much does go on here or so it seems. It would have been a great opportunity though for you to have covered the open house and the re-opening of Cleveland High School or the new corn roaster at McPherson's or even the new gym being built at St. George School.

Rather than glorify Georgetown, it would be great to spotlight the small businesses on Beacon Hill like Fou Lee with their abundance of fresh Asian veggies and cheap deli food, or Blenders Coffe and Smoothie Shop, or Mimi's Bakery or even McPherson's! Are these areas not mid-Beacon Hill?

As a lifelong resident of Beacon Hill, I've seen many changes to the area and glad you have taken time to chronicle the happenings of our community. I hope you can continue to represent and comment on our community in a positive and uplifting way. Thanks again for your postings and pictures!

I admit it--I am not a good Beacon Hill blogger or activist. I am not going to attend grade school gymnasium openings or promote businesses that I'm not that excited about. (OK, McPherson's is pretty great, though they don't have an extensive organic selection and their parking situation is always crazy.)

If someone more enthusiastic about Beacon Hill starts a neighborhood blog, let me know, and I will gladly link to it. (Craig Thompson, where are you?)


t.p.n. said...

Was it one of those "realtor-bloggers"?

Heck, a 3300 sq. ft. plot of land on Brandon next to properties with radon problems is going for 500k down here in Georgetown. I bet Beacon Hill doesn't have any gems like that.

Anonymous said...

Did you also mention that the Red Apple is a total rip off. It is really expensive, unfortunately there are a lot of people who shop there because there are no other grocery stores nearby. We need a decent grocery store that does not gauge your pocket book

Steph said...

I have to admit that your real estate agent's letter made me laugh out loud. I think HE should write his super duper chipper Beacon Hill blog. It's not like you are a newspaper. It's the world through YOUR eyes, not neutral reporting on an area.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. You do a good job of highlighting some of the very few things that are good about living in Beacon Hill. I'm torn about this place: On one hand, I love my mid-century rambler and know I couldn't afford one in a trendier neighborhood. But there's nothing to do here and the neighborhood I live in is cold, sterile and unfriendly. Whenever I go outside, it's like living on one of those deserted streets in the Twilight Zone. It's as if my neighbors are afraid to venture outdoors and actually speak to someone. Maybe it's an age thing, maybe it's a language thing, but it's a depressing place to live. And yes, we do venture elsewhere to create our own fun. Thankfully there's Columbia City and Georgetown. In Beacon Hill, the sidwalks roll up at 5 p.m.

JvA said...

The real estate guy didn't mention that he was in real estate. But his mail to me (which I posted in its entirety) made me suspect he had ulterior motives in wanting me to talk up the neighborhood, like he was trying to sell real estate down here or something. And I looked up his name, and I was right.

JvA said...

Yeah, the Red Apple. It is what it is. I think it's expensive because it's a small operation. I don't imagine that anyone's become a billionaire off our grocery dollars.

After they've come through for me on a couple occasions (like when I needed some hominy for a chicken stew recipe and they were the only place that had it), it's become hard for me to dislike them. I bought salad fixings there last week and was surprised to find out we could get quite a bit of produce (enough for four dinner-sized salads) for $12.

But I would never use it as my primary grocery store. We drive our super-fuel-efficient subcompact car to the Trader Joe's in Burien once a week or so for that.

JvA said...

Hey, Anonymous. I totally know what you mean about feeling torn about Beacon Hill. I'm crazy about our mid-century rambler on this big double-lot on the edge of the western edge of the hill here. And I feel hugely fortunate we were able to find such a great place in the $300s (this was a couple of years ago).

But south of the golf course, the neighborhood really has nothing to recommend it. (And when it comes right down to it, there isn't that much north of the golf course, either.)

But I'm lucky in that one of my neighbors started a block watch group a year ago. Her house had been broken into, and she went door to door with flyers, inviting people to her house to meet with the community liaison from the SPD. Anyway, now I'm friends with several people on the block and the next block over.

Are there dog walkers in your neighborhood? Talk to the dog walkers. They know everything that's going on. Next time you're working in your front yard, make a point of talking to everyone who walks by.

I do feel that the neighborhood will be changing soon. Some of the people who own these '50s and '60s houses actually bought them as young people starting out 40-50 years ago. Those houses will turn over soon.

Hang in there! You gotta wait for the light rail in 2009, at least.

And I swear, if I ever quit my job, I will give that Beacon wine bar a shot...

P.M. said...

JVA, I think you live a few blocks from me (from reading your blog for the last several months, I know we take the same exit, but I'm on the very top of the hill, on the main drag, in fact). While the parking situation there is kind of miserable, the Cap Hill TJs is a little quicker to get to than the Burien one (and is also open later).

As for Beacon Hill, I think if I were crazy about our house (I'm not) or on a quieter street, I'd feel less frustrated by the neighborhood, but I've lived here for almost 7 years now, you're right that there's nothing at all to do here, and even after all this time, I still don't know any of the neighbors. It's disconcerting. I mean, I know that I'm kind of an introvert, but I'd think I'd at least know people by sight, if not by name, and I think there's only one person I'd recognize if I ran into her at the grocery store.

Anyhow, count me as another one who's glad I found your blog. It leaves me feeling slightly less negative about my neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, good to know we're not the only ones feeling a bit strange about the lack of neighborhood friendliness. We've been in our house for 4 years and still don't know who lives near us. The first time we even saw some people on our street is when our son trick-or-treated at their houses this year!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for starting the conversation, JVA. Do I detect an up swell in community interest?

That said, I'm casting my vote on the side of ambivalence about living on BH. When I first moved here 20 years ago, most of our neighbors were retired aircraft industry employees. I lamented my son having no one to play with, and rejoiced having surrogate grand-parents next door. And our local elementary school was among the best.

Yes, the view from the Hill is at times stunning, but the noise and air pollution from I-5, not to mention the noxious fumes from the chemical plant north of Tully's on Airport Way,raise health concerns.

Being close to the Columbian Way exit, W. Seattle provides for dry cleaner, gym, groceries (Metropolitan Market and Whole Foods coming soon), though over the years I've gotten into the habit of shopping at whatever store lays along the path from here to wherever routine takes me, which is unfortunate for the couple of businesses I do like on BH. Georgetown and Columbian City are usual destinations for a meal out.

After all these years, finally, young families are becoming more visible in the neighborhood (at least 3 infants in a 2 blk area). I have to hope that new businesses (yay winebar!) will soon follow, and will provide the backbone for a healthy and thriving commercial district that presents a clean and "uplifting" countenance to the area. The opening of Culinary Communion and Buggy, both on Beacon Ave. is a good beginning.

Listen up entrepreneurs! Here's my wish list for Beacon Hill:
Book shop, new-used is okay.
French or Italian bistro.
Cafe with pie ala mode & $3 b'fast
Tapas bar
Ace hardware and garden
Variety store, Bartell's even better.
Trader Joe's, none yet in So Sea?
Ale House with incredible burgers.
Burger joint with incredibly cold beer.


Anonymous said...

I've lived on behi for nearly 7 years now. 2 yrs ago we moved to a larger house 3 blocks away staying in behi since we love it so much. I grew up in seattle and am familiar with all neighborhoods and have seen them develop over the years.

what I appreciate most about behi are the neighbor friendships (we have a completely different experiece than the previos posters) and central location. we've become close friends with many neighboors in our current and previous location more so than any other place we've lived. there are more and more young families like ours moving in with very similar interests yet diverse backgrounds. our block has an annual block party which is a lot of fun and makes it easy to get to meet everyone. In my opinion there isn't the type of neighbor turnover as in capitol hill which is where we lived before behi. I've noticed that people who rent here tend to stay which I think says a lot about the area.

it's definitely a mix between older neighboors that have lived in the area for a long time and that tend to keep to themselves likely due to cultural and/or socioeconomic differences and a very fast growing young professional population.

behi is close to everything and access is easy w/ I5,90,99, the west seattle bridge, 12th ave, 23rd, rainier, MLK, and the beautiful lake wash. blvrd.

I don't think seward park has been mentioned yet. it's one of the best hidden secret parks in seattle and is just minutes away by car. and speaking of cars, it's tough to live in seattle and take advantage of all it and the PNW has to offer without one. so in my opinion, having a car is essential even if you live downtown. hopefully in the next 10-30 years it will get better w/ expanded light rail and other options. light rail played a huge factor in our decision to live here for the long run and it seemed like and proved to be a great investment.

I would also like to see Susan's list of businesses. particularly a good brunch cafe and ale house. also, a desert and wine shop. shops that stay open later in general. We really liked the business options ~10 yrs ago on 15th capitol hill were we used to live, so something like that. 15th is a bit over done now though.

there are plenty of hardware store options, enough to make your own house. the sodo area is a home improvement district practically.

the other great things about behi are its potential, potential, and potential. light rail, jefferson park, new businesses etc. it's still somewhat, relatively affordable. to get an idea, a small fixer-upper next to us is going for $240. new townhomes are going for under $400.

JvA said...

Hey, PM. If you live a few blocks from me, and you live on the main drag, that means you live awfully close to a couple whom I am lucky enough to call my friends, coworkers, and neighbors. So I can vouch that on Beacon Ave. between Orcas and Chief Sealth Trail, there is at least one super-cool couple. (They're on the east side, by the way.)

But yeah, I can see how living on the main drag itself might make it hard to meet people. It's too fast. I recently found out that the reason there's a stop sign at Orcas and Beacon is because an old woman got hit by a car and died several years back.

I live in what I consider the Chinese Baptist Church neighborhood, though I prefer to call it the Comet Lodge neighborhood. We're a few blocks north of the Comet Lodge Cemetery, and we're just west of the church.

Our neighborhood group should make more of an effort to reach out to you folks up on Beacon, if you're on the west side of the street between Orcas and Brandon. Because if those houses aren't in our neighborhood, then they're not in any neighborhood at all.

When we passed out flyers about block watch meetings and the block party, it was hard to figure out how far out to go. We hit 20th, 21st, and 22nd, between Orcas and Lucile, and that ended up being like 180 houses! And I'm kind of shy about going up to people's doors with literature, so 180 houses is really quite an effort.

But, anyway, PM, it sounds like you're close enough to us to come to our block party next August! (If you can put up with the neighborhood until then!) Even if you don't get a flyer at your door, please consider yourself invited. It'll either be on 20th, 21st, or 22nd, between Orcas and Lucile.

JvA said...

Susan --

Yes, it's true that more young couples are coming to Beacon Hill. Outside my little neighborhood, I personally know two couples north of the golf course who have had babies in the last year and a half, and one couple down south here (my super-cool friends on Beacon) who are having a baby in the coming weeks. Within my little neighborhood there are probably a dozen kids and babies, at least.

[Hey, as an aside, can I take this opportunity to give a shout-out to all my dog-owning neighbors who have been AWESOME about cleaning up after their dogs this year? I don't think I've picked up poop once this year. Hurray!]

I surely hope that your business dreams come true for the hill. If that winebar comes along, please let me buy you a glass, OK, Susan?

JvA said...

Hey, "behi" commenter (I've never heard that term before!). It sounds like you live north of the golf course? I definitely feel there's a different vibe up there.

In fact, my brother-in-law once put an offer on a place around 20th and Hinds, and I was so excited I went to go check it out. And -- get this -- one of the neighbors saw me checking out the house and made a point of coming over and telling me how great the neighborhood was. And then a few minutes later I happened to see a woman I work with, who corroborated his story about the area. It definitely seemed more social.

But also, this is a very unneighborly time of year. It's so cold, I can't wait to get inside the house these days. But I've been thinking about putting a bench out front next year and getting to know more people that way. I think it would work. (Harder if you're on Beacon Ave., though, of course, because people walk in the path in the middle.)

Anonymous said...

jva, we do live north of the course on 19th. we also have a few friends that live south and a couple that moved from s to n behi into a bigger home (they also stayed on the hill because they like it so much). I really like 'behi' as a promo thing
we have the bumper sticker on our car, got it at galaxie.

...and I'm having to type with one hand, the other is in a sling recovering from surgery, so it helps.

behi is great for young families like ours. we have a three year old and are expecting another in march. there are 4 other 2-3 year olds on our block. we are also part of a baby get together excuse to host brunch and mimosas with behi friends. it's been going on for over 2 years now. we call it babyrama but it should probably be called babytoddlerama now. the majority live south of the course.

you are right about winter neighbor hibernation. not only is it cold and wet, but there is also very little daylight. when we get home from work, we stay home most of the time now. but it's much different when the weather is good w/ daylight.

I've noticed that the success of getting to know your neighbors usually involves having just one very enthusiastic friendly neighbor that always seems to break the barriers, gets to know everyone and gets everyone to know everyone. we've been fortunate to have such neighbors. they tend to be the veteran home owners or just very outgoing.

JvA said...

Congratulations on your expected arrival in March!

I 100% agree with you that it's often just one single person who gets the ball rolling in terms of neighborhoodliness. (Is that a word?) In my neighborhood, that awesome person was a single renter semi-newcomer to the neighborhood, and she had the guts to knock on everyone's door and invite them to that first block-watch. I was astounded, and thrilled, and she has single-handedly changed the whole tenor of the neighborhood for me. We were all waiting for it, and wanting it, but she had the guts to do it. And I'm so very grateful.

Anonymous said...

I moved to BH 3 years ago and I was optimist, but the longer I live here the less I know my neighbors. It seams that a lot of people do not even care to make eye contact with you, a lot of people are from other countries (I am an immigrant as well), and I must say that is not culture, it is simply bad manners. If you are here, at least be kind and try to make of this place a nice place to live for you and others. You are correct when say that people do not take good care of their properties; there is not sense of ownership or pride. I will remain in BH (can't afford other neighborhoods and love my house)and I will try to make of this place a good one to live and I hope everyone else too!

a-worry-a-day said...

First off, I love this blog!

After living on Capitol Hill for 10 years, I moved to Beacon Hill this past September with my partner/fiance to a very nice rental house East of Beacon.

We have had numerous conversations with our neighbors on both sides, usually when we're both working in our yards or happen to be outside at the same time. On Halloween, some of our other neighbors brought over homemade cookies to welcome us to the neighborhood. When I go jogging, I receive much more eye contact and smiling than I ever did living on Capitol Hill.

Is there a ton to do? Not really. I think, though, that Beacon Hill is a great place to live once you've settled into your life a bit and don't need/want the distractions of nightclubs, bars, action right out your doorstep. There's just a more mature vibe to it, which is refreshing coming from Capitol Hill with its somewhat angsty/disaffected youth element.

I think the business district does need some re-vamping, but I don't want to see it become just become another Ballard or Capitol Hill. There is a certain charm to simplicity of the neigbhorhood.

I do wish for a wine bar, and a few good restaurants (pizza place, a nice grill, places that serve alcohol). That's one thing I find curious. Inays, El Quetzal, Golden many of these places don't serve drinks!

If I were in my twenties and/or single, I would not be happy living here. But as a thirtysomething, all settled down and married-like, it really does work for me.

The bus situation is atrocious, though! I walk down to Rainier and take the 48 to the UW and back every day. I often find myself having to stand or stuck between high school kids who blast hip hop at 7am. Shouldn't there be rules against this?

Also, on Thanksgiving we were walking out of Red Apple and some kids yelled "Faggots" at us, which was rude and disturbing. In a neighborhood this diverse, we all need to appreciate each other and value our differences rather than spread hate.

That's my perspective as a very new resident. Also, I find that people really care on BH. I never had these types of discussions about community and neighborhood when I lived on Capitol Hill.

Seattle Veggie said...

I am very sad to hear about the kids outside the Red Apple. I bought a house here with my partner last year, and we have not heard those kinds of comments.

Robert said...

We live north of Jeff Park closer to Red Apple, and i'd say that up here there is a lot of interest in improving the business district and creating a revitalized neighborhood. The big question remains how to make that happen while holding on to what makes this a great place: affordability, diversity, accessability. Don't worry folks, lots of development is coming our way, it's just a question of how to control it. As far as people's perceptions of their neighbors, i would challenge those who say their neighbors don't care, or are rude. Sure some people lead insular lives, but i suggest that if you're unsatisfied then you be the one to step up and go to their door. Maybe their English isn't good, maybe they're not like you, but it's worth a shot. That's how communication works!...and that's how you bring about community. Get involved in whatever interests you: Jefferson Park, the business district, block watches, schools--but don't just complain!
Also, Red Apple rocks...they now stock organic, they have a wide range of ethnic foods, i would hardly call their prices gouging. They'll try to get things if you request them.
Try Baja Bistro, happy hour with tapas. Cheap and good.

Don't forget, we're getting a light rail station, a new pedestrian plaza, a redeveloped El Centro, and a world class playground in a brand new 8 million dollar park, all within the next two years.
Don't worry, wine bars will be here all too soon.

PM said...

JVA, I'm south of Orcas, north of Graham, on the west side. It's probably the least neighborhood-like section on the entire hill. I've noticed that even a block or two up or down, things seem a little more like an actual neighborhood.

(And unless we're insane enough to try getting a bridge loan, we're almost certainly going to still be here in August--there's just too much work that still needs to be done on the house.)

Anonymous said...


I'm also very sad to hear about what the kids did. They were likely kids from low-income families with parent(s) that work very hard to make ends meet. I totally agree with you about not wanting the area to be like capitol hill or ballard, and to keep it simple and unique.

Robert makes some good points. I don't think neighbors are rude and don't care. I think the perception is due to socioeconomic and cultural differences as I've already mentioned in a previous post. Houses that look run down and not taken care of are likely owned or rented by low-income families that just can't afford to do much or older residents that need help. It's unfortunate because as houses get new owners, affordability decreases and it becomes even harder for these families. I imagine that there are many "rebuilding together" candidates on beacon hill.

Anonymous said...

I'm the "anonymous" from 3:59 Nov. 28 (can't figure out how to leave my name on here). I'm in the area called Lockmore, the neighborhood east of the intersection of Beacon and Columbian. The recent news of some creepy guy who is attacking women who ride the No. 32 and No. 36 routes (and I do) has made me even more aware of the coldness of our neighborhood. A woman had her purse stolen earlier this week (same guy, who knows?) while walking home from the bus. I'm sure she screamed, yelled - but even so, did anyone hear? Would anyone have helped her?

I remember when I moved in four years ago, a friend came by and said, "Wow, you live in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood - it's so clean." True, our street is well kept up; most of the neighbors are retirees and have killer yards! And the ones that are a bit rundown seem to be owned by people who moved here recently from other countries; probably from places where landscaping isn't a priority.

Anyway, thanks JVA for starting this discussion. It's been great to read other views. I sometimes refer to it as "Bleakon Hill" - yes, it would be awful to see a Starbucks on every other corner, but I'd tip big to have a Pagliacci pizza delivered to my house.

katrina said...


I live just west of the same intersection as the blogger above (Beacon/Columbia) and am also concerned about people not taking care of their yards. There's no law that says you have to mow, but you can't park or store junk on in your yard.

So, I'm reaching out to you... Do you know if others are even interested in working with the city to get this stuff addressed en masse?

Thanks in advance.

Katrina . Thompson AT gmail

beacon hillbillies said...

I prefer your honesty about the neighborhood over any sort of blatant advertisement blog about Beacon Hill. Keep up the good work! --Dave

JvA said...

And can I just say to you, Dave, that you guys have the BEST BLOG NAME EVER? I've been meaning to link to your blog and another personal blog of a Beacon Hiller -- not to mention reply to all the wonderful comments and e-mails I've gotten from this post, but I haven't had the time yet. I promise I'll be back on my game in January.

Thanks, everyone.

Catholic Sin said...

Hi, I am one of the halves of the couple that asked the question. I really appreciate the honest feedback.

We are going to be renting on Beacon Hill, the biggest reason is the people like you. There has been a large percentage of the people who have talked about Beacon Hill who gave us both the good and the bad.

Thank you for being honest, much better then "Beacon is 133t" or other such responses :)

JvA said...

That's fantastic news, Catholic Sin! Welcome to the neighborhood!

I'm thinking that this comments thread merits a follow-up blog post, maybe this weekend (especially since I haven't yet responded to comments from people like Katrina a few comments up yet).

It's great news for our neighborhood that out-of-towners like yourselves decided to move here after hearing a multitude of perspectives from locals.

Hey, you should start a North Beacon Hill blog chronicling your thoughts about the area as newcomers. :)

Catholic Sin said...

I like that idea, maybe I will start one up :)