Opinion

Digging Lake City

By Dan Bertolet February 24, 2010

Lake City is still the kind of place you can go and find yourself a good secondhand shovel for cheap, and last week I did just that—I got a sweet, long-handled one for five bucks at Fletcher's General Store. It's also the kind of place where you'll find a steak house with a beat-up old sign announcing that there's "dancing," and a plastic model shop the size of a Walgreen's with WWII bombers in the window display.

But all that is disappearing from Seattle's more central neighborhoods. Rents are too high. And that's regrettable, because economic diversity makes for a versatile and well-balanced community. Every neighborhood should have low-budget businesses like a junk store and a no-frills diner.

Diversity in the building stock helps—rents are usually lower in older buildings.  But in a growing city like Seattle there's so much new development that the availability of older, lower grade commercial space is dwindling. In contrast, mature cities generally have an easier time preserving economic diversity because their building stock isn't being replaced or upgraded so rapidly.

Over the past decade, the new Seattle has been oozing out even as far north as Lake City, where Seattle's trademark "5-over-1" mixed-use building type has made multiple appearances. The contrast between the new and old is striking—these transition zones are always quirky and surprising.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a little tour around the Lake City urban village. As you'll see, many of the new additions to the neighborhood leave a bit to be desired in terms of external design. Functionally, however, they're the right stuff—they bring much-needed density to the core of the neighborhood. How much does it matter that they're aren't all brilliant works of architecture?

(Click on images to enlarge.)


At 31st and 123rd, a stunning combination of metal mansard roofs, cheap vinyl windows, and orange stucco known as Villa Appia, with 55 furnished and unfurnished apartments.




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Just to the north of the orange thing, this is the 53-unit Luminaire condos. With its exposed concrete base of live-work loft spaces, it looks like something you might find in South Lake Union.


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Continuing north, on the the northeast corner of Lake City Way and 125th stands the Rekhi Building, anchoring the neigbhorhood's most prominent intersection with 39 apartments, 10,000 sf of office on the second floor, and 10,000 sf of street level retail. Designed by Bumgardner, it seems the stars were not so well aligned for the building's corner elements.


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Across Lake City Way from the Rekh Building is an example of how bad urban design choices are still being made. This new Bartell presents a dead street wall to almost the entire block between Lake City Way and 30th Ave, orienting its active edge toward a large surface parking lot in back.


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On Lake City Way at the north end urban village core is Solara, all decked out in Ikea blue and yellow. Designed by Weber + Thomson, the three building complex provides 238 apartments, as well as street-level retail.

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One block west of Solara is Cedar Park Apartments, a recently completed senior housing project.


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One more block to the west, this apartment built in 2000 makes the cut because it has the best name ever: King Arthur's Court.


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Next door to King Arthur's Court is a nearly completed new fire station designed by Miller Hull and loaded with green bells and whistles, including a prominent rainwater collection art piece and multiple rain gardens.


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Kitty-corner to the new fire station, the old Lake City.


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More old Lake City, with the Rekhi Building in the background.


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And of course, there's also plenty of new townhouse development in Lake City, though this one is more row-house than townhouse. People tend to disparage these "car courts," but I suspect that eventually we may see these spaces becoming centers for activity. People adapt and tend to find inventive and surprising uses for the space that is available.
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