People in West Seattle often complain that no one comes to visit. They say this with some disbelief, because as far as they’re concerned, they live in the best part of the city – and possibly Earth.
From the beach-front homes along Alki to the ethnically diverse neighborhoods further south, West Seattleites have always considered themselves a little apart from the rest of the city.
With the city now divided into districts, West Seattle is District 1. For the first time, residents of districts will vote for a single city councilmember to represent their area.
Dave Montoure, owner of West 5 restaurant, took me on a tour of West Seattle. He accidentally called the area an island. When I pressed him, he said, “Obviously it’s not an island. We do call it ‘The Rock,’ informally.”
There are obvious reasons for the slip. For one, there are three bridges that lead West Seattle’s nearly 90,000 residents over the Duwamish River to Seattle’s mainland.
Every other route requires passage through King County (even the South Park Bridge). That’s one of the big issues in West Seattle. The people here feel isolated sometimes.
That hit home in 1978 when a freighter piloted by a drunk captain knocked out one of the two rickety drawbridges linking the peninsula with the mainland. It took six years for the new West Seattle Bridge to be built.
“The Junction evaporated,” Montoure says. “Single-family homes were unoccupied. Real estate values plummeted. And so I remember here when I was a kid – this is California Avenue here – you could ride a skateboard down the middle of the road and not hit a car.” That sense of being geographically isolated has brought the people here closer together.
Montoure takes me into Husky Deli, which he says is like family for many people in West Seattle.
“This is a neighborhood sort of institution. When you’re a kid, you come here for ice cream. When you’re in high school, you come here for your first job scooping ice cream in the summer,” Montoure says. “It’s sort of a rite of passage when you grow up in West Seattle – is to have your first summer job serving ice cream with Jack.”
Jack Miller’s grandfather started the business in 1932. He has three kids working here now, and many more grandkids.
“If any one of them wanted to take over and I’d step back,” Miller says, standing by a glass case of candies. “But I’m having too much fun to go right now.”
People come to Husky Deli after soccer games and tee-ball practice from all over West Seattle. Which brings us to the second issue I heard about in District 1: Parking.
In the 1950s, local merchants in the Junction neighborhood put in four big parking lots so they could compete with malls like Northgate and Southcenter. That investment helped cement West Seattle’s strong affiliation - with cars.
But today, development in West Seattle’s urban villages is designed around transit, not cars. And that’s made some people in West Seattle feel squeezed.
Francis Cline pauses her pinochle game at the senior center to talk about parking.
She says somebody at city hall made a mistake when they allowed the construction of apartment buildings with no parking spaces. “I know they expect people to take the bus,” says Cline, “but not everyone does take the bus.”
That means it’s hard to find a parking space. “It irritates me,” says Cline. “I have parking at my apartment, but other people don’t. And when they come to visit, they have to park two blocks away.”
I heard these two concerns – geographic isolation and parking – often during my tour of West Seattle. But the further you travel south, the more likely you are to hear a third concern: public safety.
Ana Ramirez, 18, lives in the part of White Center that falls within city limits. Her neighborhood forms the southern border of District 1. She just picked up her two younger brothers at a school nearby, and is walking across Roxhill Park.
“There’s a lot of insecurity here,” Ramirez says.
There was a shooting recently by her house – a drive-by past her apartment.
“Walking around White Center, you feel really harassed as a girl,” she says. “Because a lot of people, they honk at you and stuff. So you don’t feel that secure.”
As in other parts of West Seattle, the neighbors have turned to each other. Ramirez says that makes her neighborhood a nice place to live. “People help out each other. It’s not just people like individuals looking out for themselves. There’s a sense of community here.”
Those three issues, transportation, parking and public safety, have been issues here for a long time. Some residents here feel West Seattle has been ignored at city hall. At a couple points in history, West Seattleites have raised the idea of seceding from Seattle. But the idea always gets pushed aside and the ties between West Seattle and city hall only stand to get stronger when the neighborhood finally has an official representative on the city council.
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