The Changing Lives of Yesler Terrace

If Seattle Housing Authority proposals go as planned, 15 years from now Seattle's oldest and best known public housing development will be gone. Yesler Terrace will have been demolished and replaced with a dense, new, mixed-income neighborhood. It's a plan every bit as radical and controversial as the plan that built Yesler Terrace in the first place.

In this four-part series, Dominic Black explores the history, present and future of one of Seattle's most distinctive communities: Yesler Terrace.

Portrait Of A Displaced Artist

Jul 5, 2013
KUOW Photo/Dominic Black

Charles Henry Parrish is an artist. For him art is work, it's therapy, it's vocation. He has survived several upheavals in his life, and he’s about to face another.

Parrish meets me at the door of his home in Yesler Terrace. Yesler Terrace is set for a massive overhaul that will turn Seattle’s first public-housing project into a mixed-income community. Altogether, Parrish is among about 500 households that will need to be relocated in advance of the renovation that could take up to 20 years to complete.

KUOW Photo/Dominic Black

Kristin O'Donnell loves meetings. "Absolutely my hobby. I do enjoy meetings," she tells me over a cup of tea in the Panama Hotel. Meetings, she says, offer a way to affect change in her community. And besides, she likes to put on a show. "To a large extent community organizing is theater; it works just often enough that I'm hooked."

From Profanity Hill To Yesler Terrace

Jan 13, 2013
Demolition in 1940
Courtesy MOHAI

Rumor has it that somewhere in a forgotten corner of a basement somewhere in Seattle there's a decaying 3-D model of a brand new Yesler Terrace. It was dreamed up in the late 1960s but, like the R H Thomson Expressway or the parking lot that was planned for where the Pike Place Market still stands, it never made it out of the world of imagination and onto the grid of the real world.

In 2013, after six years of planning, it appears another vision of a brand new development will take root where Yesler Terrace now stands. It's not the first transformation this patch of ground has seen though. This is the story of two places that occupy that ground -- one in the present and one in the past.

The Radical Roots Of Yesler Terrace

Nov 16, 2012

Yesler Terrace is Seattle's oldest public housing project. It was revolutionary when it was completed in 1940. In the near future, though, it will be completely demolished.

In its place will sprout a series of high rise towers with a limited number of low-income housing units alongside up to 4,000 market-rate private housing units, offices, retail and commercial spaces. The ultimate goal, says the Seattle Housing Authority, is to create a sustainable, healthy, mixed-income neighborhood.

It's a radical plan, controversial, and every bit as transformational as that which gave rise to Yesler Terrace in 1940.