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Sunday, October 1, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Heralding the New Seattle

Seattle Times staff reporter

Take a close look at one of Seattle's last bastions of blue collar. Today's Georgetown, South Park or Sodo could be tomorrow's Fremont.

Sound bizarre? Ten years ago, who'd have pegged Belltown as Seattle's next condo-cafe capital?

Today, the Duwamish - ringed by downtown, I-5, Tukwila and its namesake river - still looks much like a graying waterfront manufacturing hub. But note the familiar harbingers of change: The artists have moved in. Neighbors are waging garden wars. And boutiques sprout on streets formerly filled with foundries and warehouses.

And so it goes in another historic neighborhood where the New Seattle is creeping in, this time jarring our industrial backbone.

What's been lost? The jaunty red Rainier "R" retired in July, replaced by a staid green Tully's "T" atop the old brewery. Goodbye, beer. Hello, gourmet coffee. (Are we sad? Yes, we R.)

Andy's Diner, the nearly 50-year-old Fourth Avenue train-car restaurant, went under in June. Its fans hope it will reopen under new ownership soon.

And downtown Georgetown hasn't been the same since Jules Maes - Seattle's oldest saloon, since 1888 - closed in May. (Maybe the Corson and Michigan strip mall, with its Taco Del Mar and swanky cigar shop, is the future?)

What will the Duwamish be 10 years from now?

Cute? Here?

Sodo is a place where cute is popping up like daisies through sidewalk cracks.

Most say things really picked up when Starbucks began its move to the old Sears building in 1993. By the time the glowing red Sodo letters made way for the Starbucks coffee siren in June 1997, things were morphing.

With a new Home Depot next door and Office Max on the first floor, the old Sodo Center, renamed the Starbucks Center, became the hub of something new.

Watching the game-day traffic swarm past his Western Neon gallery and sign shop on First Avenue, Jay Blazek says the center brought in a whole new crowd.

"Home Depot changed (the neighborhood) radically, Starbucks changed it radically," he says. Before that, "we didn't see dresses down here." Or Lexuses or Mercedes.

Now you can grab enchiladas at Taco Del Mar and sip lattes at Starbucks, bypassing Lemieux's, a decades-old diner serving round-the-clock breakfasts, fried chicken and desserts like pudding.

Nowadays, there's a lot of things you wouldn't see in the old Sodo.

Like the Art Wolfe Photography Gallery - full of dreamy sunset and mountain shots - right up against Seattle Radiator Works, with "We Repair Plastic Radiators" on its front window. And the still-under-construction Star Building, which advertised "prime renovated office space," looking out at the First Avenue Deli-Mart, promising cheap Rainier and Bud six-packs on its dirt-streaked sign.

Blocks south, Wallingford transplant Herban Pottery flowers in a restored foundry at 3200 First Ave. S. The freshly painted shop drew him to the area, says Kirk Derby, co-owner of the 10-month-old Squeaky Hinge, next door.

"There's something going on here," he told himself.

Squeaky Hinge, which sells antiques, salvage and local art, has taken off, he says. They're opening an art gallery and plan to sell gourmet coffee at "Sodo Joe's."

"Sodo Mojo is definitely promoting this area," he says.

Keeping it safe for industry

Chic corner coffee bars and galleries are not what Heidi Seidelhuber and Terry Seaman want for the industrial zone. More like foundries, factories, warehouses.

Third-generation owners of Seidelhuber Iron and Bronze Works Inc., the couple consider themselves "metal benders" - old-school Duwamish manufacturers who want to keep the industrial area safe for loud, dirty work not tolerated elsewhere.

They worry Seattle is turning its back on blue collar. In June, the Seattle City Council opened the door to more mixed-use businesses around Safeco Field. It also declined to scale back white-collar office space in the Duwamish, but did ban additional "box" stores, such as Home Depot.

Weaving easily through stacks of dusty steel beams, shears and presses, Seaman says industry used to displace cows and keep moving. Now it's hit the wall.

Their 94-year-old company has lived in a rust-streaked, barnlike building at Seventh Avenue South and South Elmgrove Street in South Park for 40 years. Here, the company's two dozen employees weld and slice metal into everything from cross bracing for building on the Alaska tundra to railings for Safeco Field's dugout net.

It's a myth that the dot-conomy is killing industry, says Seaman, who also co-chairs the Manufacturing Industrial Council of King County. The Duwamish is, after all, still 70 percent industrial, with 4,000 businesses employing about 70,000 people.

"When we started in 1975, there was a rumor: Blue collar is dead, the smokestack industry is gone," Heidi Seidelhuber says.

It was a false alarm. Newer job sectors are booming, but the industrial pulse beats on. Duwamish manufacturing jobs have increased 20 percent in the past three years, the Puget Sound Regional Council reports.

But worlds are colliding in the industrial zone. Space is scarce; only 3 percent of South Seattle industrial properties sit empty, according to recent commercial real estate reports. Office space is practically nonexistent, with a 0.2 percent vacancy rate.

Land prices are rising, especially in Sodo. This summer, some property owners near the stadium listed parcels at $330 per square foot, the Greater Duwamish Planning Committee reports. County appraisers say average commercial land values in Sodo - about $16 per square foot - have at least doubled over a decade.

And then there's the maddening snarls of baseball fans and commuters - hindered by passing trains - that clog roads and wreak havoc with truckers' schedules.

No wonder some manufacturers have packed up for cheaper, more spacious digs. Romac Industries, maker of pipe-repair clamps, moved to a larger space in Bothell last year. West Coast Paper left First Avenue South in 1995 for bigger warehouses in Kent.

It's time the city got serious about saving its last major blue-collar zone, Seaman says. Dot-coms and offices can go anywhere. Artists should use only obsolete spaces. And residents shouldn't try to make the industrial area into something it's not.

People move here because it's cheap, he says. It's cheap because it's industrial. "If you took all this stuff away and turned it into Medina, you wouldn't be here, either."

Gentrifi-what?

What turns a Georgetown or South Park into a Medina?

There's no doubt that artists, with their funky, urban gardens and enticing work spaces, are a formidable force in feeding the g-word.

Gentrification. The process by which low-income or blighted neighborhoods become trendy and expensive, driving out many residents. Think Pioneer Square, Belltown, even downtown.

"We come, we colonize, we rehabilitate, the trendy shops and cafes follow, property values escalate, we move on," writes Eugene Parnell, a member of the Seattle artist cooperative Soil, in an article titled "Brave New Seattle." (Soil relocated to Capitol Hill after falling victim to the "Harbor Steps" First Avenue make-over).

But the Duwamish's estimated 150 artists won't leave a Fremont in their wake, says Karen Guzak, a founder of Georgetown's Sunny Arms artist cooperative. "The zoning codes in Seattle really prevent that kind of gentrification."

Artists and industrial folks are allies, maintains Guzak, a member of the Greater Duwamish Planning Committee. Both oppose commercial forces that drive up property values. And both appreciate gritty, noisy places that sometimes smell like chemicals. Places where things are made and moved.

Still, artists can't help themselves, she says. "They'll live in an industrial area, then they'll start putting out flower boxes and making whirligigs. Artists are great urban pioneers."

Taking back the neighborhoods

South Park is already morphing, and residents say it's time. To many, cute businesses, fresh paint and blooming gardens are all good.

A booming Latino population - which neighbors say has far surpassed the 15 percent reported by the last census - and ambitious do-it-yourselfers are livening up this working-class neighborhood of aging houses tucked into the hillside below White Center.

A few years ago, nights on Cloverdale - its main thoroughfare - were crawling with drinkers and dealers.

Now ethnic restaurants, Latin American tiendas and bakeries have joined the older Mexi Mart on 14th Avenue South. Crepe paper pinatas dangle in storefront windows. Pastel Jesus and Guadalupe statues peer at passers-by.

Older hangouts such as Murdock's - a dark pool hall with no sign - Napoli Pizzeria Ristorante and Kelly's Tavern share downtown with the bright pink Muy Macho Taqueria and Jireh Libreria Cristiana, a Christian bookstore. Sea Mar Community Health Center swarms with patients.

It's a new neighborhood, says Robert Dampier, a recreation attendant at the remodeled South Park Community Center. "People are outside more in their yards. People wave and speak."

The diverse neighborhood (a mix of Latino, white, Asian, African-American, Samoan, Tongan and Native American residents) is churning out a fresh generation of leaders, says Charlie Cunniff, with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle.

"I think there's a renewed sense of pride down here. It's not a dirty rotten place to live anymore."

Georgetown, with its strong community council, turned the corner several years ago.

In 1990, drug dealing was rampant and prostitutes worked out of campers, remembers Victor Voris, owner of Big People Scooters on Airport Way South.

But then the community got energized.

Neighbors replaced the steeple on Georgetown's old City Hall and formed a committee to save Hat n' Boots, the deteriorating, iconic 1950s service station on East Marginal Way. The Georgetown Playfield came back to life. Artists occupied derelict buildings and moved into parts of the Rainier Cold-Storage and Ice building.

An Arts and Gardens Tour began in 1995, and gardeners got a rep for exotic landscaping.

But the neighborhood still struggles with weighty issues: Boeing Field expansion, hazardous-waste spills and airplane noise.

Though some Georgetown houses now sell for more than $200,000, the median price is about $130,000 - way up from the $58,000 median price reported in the last census.

Christopher Chinn doesn't think the neighborhood's gentrification is all bad.

"It's just people buying homes and fixing them up," says Chinn, president of the Georgetown Crime Prevention and Community Council. "We don't have a bunch of people with their three-quarter-length leather jackets and cell phones walking around."

The more things change . . .

Though some favorite Duwamish institutions and symbols have fallen, others putter along in a comforting, if surreal, time warp.

By's, near the pink elephant car wash on Fourth Avenue South, is packed for lunch. The burger joint looks much as it did when it opened in 1963. Maybe worse.

The campy pink-doored La Hacienda Motel on First Avenue South still advertises "Color TV" on its giant neon sign.

And in the Kettells lounge on Fourth Avenue South, men who jokingly call themselves "the Kindergarten Club" meet for lunch daily. They come from all walks - salesmen, longshoremen, truckers.

Kettells, serving since 1942, has tons of regulars, says owner Gary Kettell. "We know everybody by name and what they drink," says his sister, Robin Kettell Wilson. "People like to feel special."

The blue-collar aesthetic still reigns in many South End diners and taverns. But Judy Pugh, co-owner of the Two Big Blondes consignment shop in Georgetown, sees yuppies on the horizon.

The boutique for ample women looks lonely among downtown's no-frills hardware and auto shops. With its old-time pharmacy, City Hall and brick storefronts, Georgetown could be cute, but it's not there yet. It will be, she says.

"I think everybody who's moving in realizes that this is an up-and-coming neighborhood," she says, assuredly. "I think it's the next Fremont."

Paysha Stockton can be reached at 206-464-2752. Her e-mail address is pstockton@seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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