Northlake

What did the woman in the tower write?

Well over a year ago Elissa Washuta was awarded a plum writing assignment by the city of Seattle. She became a writer-in-residence for the Fremont Bridge and moved her office into one of the draw bridge’s four towers, the one with a neon Rapunzel gazing out a north-facing window.

Washuta’s assignment was open ended – write something while there to commemorate the bridge’s centennial in 2017. So what did she write? She read the piece “Centerless Universe” at the downtown Seattle Public Library in February 2017 (included as pdf below). Another piece also related to her time on the Fremont Bridge was published in the on-line literary journal The Offing. Washuta had a growing literary reputation here in Seattle after graduating from the U.W. MFA program and writing two books. Her reputation is sure to grow, but unfortunately she no longer lives here. Like so many people these days, she was priced out. Sadly Seattle loses a creative talent, as Paul Constant, publisher of The Seattle Review of Books said of her writing, “No matter how prepared you think you are for Washuta, she’s sure to knock you over.”

Her works from the Fremont Bridge do just that.

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Historic Wallingford opens to a packed house

Most of the seats were already taken before the launch party of the Historic Wallingford neighborhood organization at the Good Shepard Center had even started Saturday afternoon, Jan. 6. By the time it did start, it was standing room only.

Many people like myself didn’t even live in Wallingford but had ties to it. The couple sitting next to me, for instance, had met at Lincoln High School; they’d lived in separate neighborhoods outside Wallingford, the husband told me, and rode the bus to school graduating in the early 1950’s.

For me it was a shared rental house, a bungalow, on Bagley Ave. with some great housemates in the late 1980’s before a real estate boom pushed us out with the landlord planning to sell the place for an outrageous $80,000 or more! We still occasionally see each, calling ourselves Bagley House alums.

Someone in the crowd noted that Seattleites had so many ties to Wallingford that if you had a reunion it’d draw half the city at least.

The designated landmarks help feed that connection. The historic schools; Lincoln, Hamilton, Latona, and Interlake; the Good Shepard Center; and Gas Works Park. Plus, Wallingford has the most craftsman bungalows in the state. One of them makes up the image of the eye-catching Historic Wallingford logo. (Expect to see that image in yards around Wallingford as it was for sale as a yard sign and selling briskly as were the two poster size prints.)

After an introduction of board members and their credentials by Rhonda Bush (president), there was a brief slide show by board member Tom Veith, author of A Preliminary Sketch of Wallingford History. Besides Ms. Bush and Mr. Veith the board is made up of Paul Dorpat, Mike Ruby, Sharon V. Scherer, Pam Singer, Carl Slater, Kim England, Matt Hallett, and Sarah J. Martin.

During the slideshow, a lively discussion ensued. Someone opened a window to let in some cool winter air. There was a question about a certain apartment building featured that Mr. Veith tried to answer. “Well wait a minute,” said Paul Dorpat, “we have an expert on Seattle apartments in the audience.” It was Diana James author of Shared Walls – A history of Seattle apartment living. I didn’t catch her response but it drew a laugh.

One question that did give everyone pause was what are the boundaries of Wallingford? They’ve shifted over the years – stopping at Latona and Stoneway but now extending to I-5 to the west and Aurora to the east and to the lake, south and 56th to the north (the old Interurban helped to define that northern boundary due to its wider than average street).

The launch was a chance to get people together and involved. There were informational display tables around the room for people to browse and activities to sign up for. Historic Wallingford is planning several events in the coming months, including talks by Paul Dorpat, Keith Veith, and a bungalow tour. Stay tuned.

It’s an all-volunteer run organization at this point and volunteers encourage people to join on-line. Like any good structure, Historic Wallingford, looks to be well thought-out and designed, and the foundation that this meeting set, sound.

 

The room quickly became standing room only.

The room quickly became standing room only.

Afterwards people helped put chairs away and then looked at display tables around the room.

Afterwards people helped put chairs away and then looked at display tables around the room.

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The august Paul Dorpat, board member and author of the Seattle Times column Now and Then, ears always open, also had a table.

The august Paul Dorpat, board member and author of the Seattle Times column Now and Then, ears always open, also had a table.

A quasi-annual walk around Lake Union

After pie for breakfast and Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch a walk around Lake Union seemed a good idea. We started by dropping off some books at our local Little Free Library then headed down the hill. A long block of new construction at Fairview and Hamlin was a surprise to see finished. With more across the way.

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Roses were blooming at the P-Patch. Is that typical for November?

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A Thanksgiving gnome garden could be found just north of the P-Patch.

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Gnome Garden

 

Every time we cross the bridge Tom wonders about the scaffolding on this building. “It seems to have been put in place deliberately for the graffiti artists.”

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What’s new this year are all the shared bicycles around. Tom and I talk about signing up for them — would make getting around the lake a lot easier. “Orange, lemon, and lime,” he notes.

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In a lot of places people have knocked them over, but not in Fremont I notice once we get there. In Fremont bicycles are all standing, looking dignified, getting respect.

 

Ride the Ducks are out despite the grey skies threatening rain. A rare blue duck leaving the public dock at Sunnyside and 36th.

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This is one of my favorite views of the Space Needle on the Burke Gilman Trail, hovering above the trees.

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Like an alien space craft, I can’t even get a decent photo of it.

 

At Fremont we make a small detour to a small local cafe. We arrive just in time to get the only table inside before the crowds descend, about five more people.

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Back on the trail, the bridge looks especially nice.

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A sacred spot, the old wooden railroad trestle now has a picket fence gate blocking both ends to discourage walking on it, which is a good idea, as I found out the hard way a few years back.

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The controversial Westlake bikeway is settling in and seems already like its always been there.

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The bikeway brings with it some new art — here a beacon directing bicyclists and pedestrians to the Fremont Bridge.

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More art along the bikeway.

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At the other end of the bikeway, near MOHAI, a shimmering gateway.

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We stopped at the MOHAI Cafe for another break.

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Rain and dusk were falling after that.

 

But a reminder at South Lake Union that Christmas is just around the corner.

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A real dump becomes Seattle’s best piece of architecture for 2016

The best piece of 2016 Seattle architecture is located near Lake Union and is, according to former Seattle Times architecture critic, Mark Hinshaw, writing for Crosscut, “a total dump.”

He’s talking of course about the new replacement transfer station on North 34th Street in Wallingford, a place that since 1966 people took their hard-to-dispose-of trash.

The new transfer station didn’t appear to be an architectural winner right away. It sort of came from behind, a long shot if you will. But when completed it showed itself as “sleek, serene and sophisticated,… it would make a foreign embassy envious,” writes Hinshaw, and it hasn’t lost its utilitarian mission looking like “a cross between a diplomatic compound in Eastern Europe and a border entry into Canada.”

Unlike Hinshaw, I have rather fond memories of the old transfer station, not that it would be my first choice of destination. It was a chore having to go there and boring waiting in line, but if felt cathartic, throwing things into the pits once we arrived, watching living rooms unfold and disappear before your eyes.  A couch, a chair, a lamp, a rug, even TVs back then, and the scene would disappear, churning, as more items poured in. I’m not so sure the new transfer station will offer quite that same experience…

It was closed the day we visited, New Year’s Day. “Let’s go see 2016’s best architecture,” I suggested to my husband. But even closed there was a lot to see – a bright new playground across the street with half a dozen kids running through the treehouse/slide; an adult playground, so to speak, around the parameter of the station, made up of about seven exercise stations that are part of the landscape; a basketball court; and a court yard with benches directly across the street from Essential Bakery, on Woodlawn, creating additional outdoor seating for the cafe. Then along 34th toward Stoneway more benches, this time designed into the building, accenting the sidewalk with views of both inside the building and the street. And to top it all off there is the public artwork, RECLAIMED by Jean Shin, made from the rebar of the old structure and capturing the soul of the place as its plaque describes, “….RECLAIMED highlights the potential of waste material to be reimagined into a vibrant second life within the community, and echoes the sustainable principle of reuse at the transfer station….”

The new building “may not be truly ‘civic’ but it is entirely civil to its neighbors,” writes Hinshaw.

It’s much less of a chore to come to, which is probably just what the designers, Mahlum, had in mind, and more of a treat.

The ages 5 to 12 playground across the street from the new transfer station

The ages 5 to 12 playground across the street from the new transfer station

 

Another Woman Locked in a Tower (sort of)

Crosscut, news of the Great Nearby, reports that the Fremont Bridge’s Rapunzel now has company. Hidden away in the northwest control tower with the long-haired beauty is Seattle writer-in-residence Elissa Washuta. In order to escape this admittedly chosen fate, she must write her way out and produce a work that represents or illuminates “some aspect of the bridge and the bridge’s history be it real or metaphorical.” It’s all part of the bridge’s centennial coming in 2017.

Elissa was selected from around 200 applicants to tackle this mission. She is contemplating something that deals with Seattle’s indigenous people, maybe her own personal history (she is of Native American heritage) and/or the barriers and portals that bridges and waterways represent, reports Crosscut.

 

Wallyhood Resurrected?

A few weeks back the Wallyhood Blog seemed to give up the ghost.

The founder had taken a leave of absence. Contributor and co-editor, Eric, took over, publishing frequently. Then a post on Ride the Ducks unintentionally offended. It was immediately edited with a follow-up apology. But the response was unforgiving. The internet can be merciless when it takes offense.

And exhausting.

Eric bowed out, writing a Swan Song, and founder, Jordan Schwartz, followed up with a Goodnight Wallingford post.

“I was feeling burnt out by the unrelenting commitment of posting every day for 7 years,” wrote Jordan in an email, “and having to deal with that vitriol on top of it was the straw that broke the camel’s back…. [T]he incident caused me to reflect on ‘why am I pouring myself into this?’”

Both posts received many supportive comments, but the blog lay dormant for a time.

Then like the coming of spring seemed to show signs of life. Articles on a helicopter over Wallingford and an arsonist alert were just too important not to share.

Then Jordan wrote that he was reconsidering the decision to put the blog to bed. A lot of people had contacted him about keeping it going.

Now a Wallyhood 2.0 is in the works.

Will it be as wildly successful as the original Wallyhood? Only time will tell.

Wallyhood 1.0 began seven years ago. Jordan started it, he said, because he liked to write, and he didn’t really feel connected to the neighborhood. All that changed with the blog, which today has some 2,000 subscribers and 14,000 more unique visitors each month.

His personable style won over some readers and seemed to baffle others at times. His goal, he once wrote, was to make the feel of the blog more like neighbors chatting over a fence than objective news reporting.

He began by posting two to three articles a day for the first year and half, a grueling pace, then hit a rhythm with about one article a day. Other contributors stepped up. The blog gets plenty of news tips, too many to chase down. It also got sponsorships without too much effort although those have been returned with the shuttering of the blog.

At a recent meeting at Murphy’s Pub to talk about the blog’s future, (it was one of two meetings set up to accommodate people’s schedules) nine people showed up. Jordan said he wanted to have more of an advisor role in the blog and get away from the day to day work of keeping it going. He’s definitely burnt out he added. He described how the blog had evolved, and people kicked around ideas for what to do next.

One of the biggest challenges was keeping people involved, Jordan said. But the group seemed undaunted, and one man voiced what everyone likely felt, “What you’ve built by yourself, it’s incredible.”

By the end of the second meeting the following night, Wallyhood 2.0 was germinating.

 

An After Thanksgiving Walk Around Lake Union

UFO sightings, new geological formations, signs of the times, and holiday cheer; walking is when you really see things, despite the boring stretches (as one of our party complained).

Or maybe because of them.

Here are a few photos of things that caught our eye the day after Thanksgiving:

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union  though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

Sign of the times: "Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President." (This place always has intriguing signs.)

Sign of the times: “Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President.” (This place always has intriguing signs.)

And artwork -- more signs of the times.

And artwork — more signs of the times.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

And another temporary geological formation -- the Seattle canyon.

And another temporary geological formation — the Seattle canyon.

 

Can this house (and garden) be saved?

Some things keep Cass Turnbull up at night. The fate of the historic Bittman House at 4625 Eastman Ave. in Wallingford is one. She wrote a blog post about it for Wallyhood:

It’s keeping me up at night thinking that a developer is going to raze the garden, chop down her Heritage Trees and bulldoze that wonderful house–the likes of which will never be made again in Seattle…

A lot of other people are losing sleep over it as well. The post has gotten 249 recommends and 68 comments so far.

At the time the post was published, April 23, the home was in limbo, the owner, Marilyn Bechlem, had recently died and Cass who had been Ms. Bechlem’s gardener grew worried that this house would slip through everyone’s radar and be demolished for Seattle’s latest construction boom.

Marilyn’s Wallingford house is a sort of legend among neighbors. People have wondered for many decades who owns that house, and what is hidden by the overgrown trees and shrubs. It has the air of a mansion in a romantic novel and it has cast a spell over many people.

The house is now for sale with a gentle "No Trespassing" sign on the gate.

The house is now for sale with a gentle “No Trespassing” sign on the gate.

Neighbors have rallied under the spell of this house with an outpouring of love and nostalgia for it, its owners, and the garden. A landmark nomination form was quickly written up and submitted. Talk of crowd sourcing to pay for the over 50 years of deferred maintenance was bantered about. People pledged their time in the form of free labor for work around the place. People who had walked by and never noticed the home before were in awe. A Wallingford gem had been discovered.

The house was designed and built by Henry W. Bittman, a famous Seattle architect, whose work, writes Caterina Provost-Smith in Shaping Seattle Architecture, “adorned the north end of Seattle’s downtown with a string of terra-cotta jewels and contributed more than 250 new and remodeled buildings to business and civic districts throughout Washington and Alaska.”

He is best known for the United Shopping Tower, now the Olympic Tower, an historic landmark, and the Terminal Sales Building. He is also responsible for the King County Court House and Eagles Temple.

The Tudor house at 4625 Eastman Ave. is believed to be his “first foray into residential architecture.” He built if for himself and his wife, Jessie, “an active, college-educated woman and an award-winning horticulturist,” writes Provost-Smith. The gardens she planted on the property’s .33 acres were the ones Cass would eventually tend.

For the Bittmans, who never had children, the house was a social gathering place, where they entertained lavishly. Notes Provost-Smith, “They crowned each year with an elaborate New Year’s Eve party, where, at the stroke of midnight, a specially designed dining table would split open and a sculpture commemorating the year would arise and revolve.”

Today hidden within the overgrown garden the house is like a battered time capsule. It’s little changed from the time when the Bittman’s lived in it over a half a century ago.  True,

The copper downspouts have been stolen, the irrigation doesn’t work, there is a tarp over the greenhouse, the walkway is buckled, a concrete retaining wall leans outward toward the ally.  But that neglect also means that everything is still original. The gutters are made of wood. The shingles are wood. There are original appliances in the kitchen. The outside is nice but the impressive part is inside–there is a painted mural and leaded windows, incredible wood work, vaulted ceilings, and bay windows in the study that open outward….

Beneath the wood-beamed Cathedral ceiling, amongst the stain glass windows and doors, between the original light fixtures and sconces, are murals of Lake Union, how it looked before all the development, how it must have looked just as Seattle was rising.

I only got brief looks inside the house because Marilyn (only the second owner of the house) was an extremely private woman. Even those neighbors with whom she spoke regularly were never allowed inside. As I entered the living room for the first time, I stopped, looked around and said, “Wow.” Marilyn said, “People always say that.” I took in what I could while following Marilyn to the underground garages to get to the water shut off (I was going through a secret passage!). She took me upstairs to the bedroom so I could see if we could improve the view from her tiny balcony (a real balcony!).

The heirs to the house also spoke up in the comments section of the blog both surprised by the neighborhood outpouring and a little taken aback. They explained it was complicated estate, but they were on it and considering the house in light of what their sister and aunt would have wanted.

Long before seeing the inside of the house  I had fallen  in love with the garden, which was why I had been hired. It had been totally overtaken by invading holly, laurel, Oregon grape, blackberries, and vines. Beneath it all hid a collection of perfect, 60-year-old ornamental shrubs and trees. My crew and I worked there one day a month for over a year to dig it out. It was the secret garden, and it was my job to restore it to Marilyn’s satisfaction—not an easy task. It was both hard and delicate work. Marilyn liked the overgrown look and was quite protective of every plant that the original owner, Mrs. Bittman, had planted there. Marilyn, a spry 82 year old,  knew where each plant was and would walk fearlessly through the tangle on uneven ground to show us things and to check on our work. She could hear a comment made 15-feet away. So it was quite a challenge.

The house is up for sale now, and the chief selling point is, fortunately, not the development rights, but the history.

(Click the following link to view the listing and lots of great photos of the property:
http://www.matrix.nwmls.com/DE.asp?ID=14286202580 After you open it up click on the small camera.)

As pricy as the house is, a cool $1,800,000, plus the cost of all the needed improvements to bring it into the 21st century, new wiring, plumbing, some new configuration inside too, it has one modern selling point–in the form of three classic garages. For a house that has a walkability rating of 90 that’s a lot of parking.

But Cass is still nervous, she worries that potential buyers will split up the property, keep the house but sell off the two plots beside it to pay for the renovation. “That would be a terrible shame,” she writes.  “The two really need to be kept together, like an old married couple.”

If that happen, says Cass, if they stay together and both house and garden get landmark status, “Then I’ll sleep like a baby forever.” A lot of other people will rest easy too.

 

A double garage (pictured) and a single garage are part of the property.

A double garage (pictured) and a single garage are part of the property.

This shook us up

Eric, a writer for the Wallyhood blog gives a good explanation of the three types of earthquakes that could rock Seattle:

Like Nepal, and unlike California, we live in a tectonic plate crumple zone. At a broad level, California and Oregon are shoving us into Canada.

That crumple action means you can expect one of 3 types of earthquakes here. The most frequent and least serious type is like the 2001 Nisqually quake — deep underground, with movement that will knock over brick chimneys, topple TV’s, and maybe collapse aging viaducts or a building in Pioneer Square.

The second type is a magnitude 9 mega quake that will happen when the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast moves, similar to what happened in Japan. If that goes you will feel very long lasting and powerful waves from side to side, with most of the danger being to older, taller structures, plus tsunami flood zones along the coast.

Finally, the most dangerous type of quake here in Seattle is a shallow quake nearby, most obviously along the Seattle Fault, with violent shaking leveling older buildings in large numbers.

The Seattle Fault most catastrophically ruptured in AD 900, causing West Seattle to rise up by 20 feet relative to Wallingford and triggering tsunamis in Puget Sound. Regardless of the type of quake, Wallingford is fairly lucky compared to other parts of Seattle. We are not in a slide zone and are not on top of an old lake bed that is likely to liquefy during the quake, so we won’t suffer from the worst amplified shaking.

See the whole post with images on Wallyhood. One person commenting says they’ll be using Green Lake in emergencies as a potable water source (using camping filters). Would Lake Union also work? Not likely according to another commenter, Anna, who experienced the Christchurch Earthquake and has this advice about being prepared:

1. All natural water bodies will be contaminated with raw sewage. If a big quake damages the sewer network, the least worst solution is to pump the overflows into the nearest natural water body (so it doesn’t back up through people’s toilets). IF water has to be trucked in, it will need to be boiled or treated before drinking, so you will be able to use your camping gear then. Just remember – you can’t filter whats not coming out of the tap. Have some bottled water in the house.

2. How will you get home? Multi-story parking garages will be off limits pending structural assements, so your car will be stuck for 2-3 months. Unless the city is training transit workers to be emergency responders, buses will probably stop (as it did in CHCH), trains will have to stop, pending line inspections. Christchurch (pop 400,000) is flat, with a regular grid of streets. Complete gridlock set in within 15 minutes. a half hour drive through the least affected parts of the city took 2-3 hours. Travel times into the worst areas were up to 12 times longer than usual.

3. Who will get the kids (or grandma)? All three million people in the area are going to be trying to check on thier families and friends. Don’t expect to get a dial tones. Texts will probably go through, but with long delays, and may arrive out of order. Have a plan you can implement without talking to your partner.

4. Keep some cash in the house. Even in a really big quake the city will not be uniformly flattened. some buildings will be fine and some will be destroyed. Those shopkeepers who can open, will, but they won’t be able to process plastic.

Finally, a ‘zombie apocalypse’ is funny joke, but it’s a poor model for disaster response. Humans are social animals. connecting with others is how we make sense of what we have experienced. Those who have come through in good shape will want to acknowledge their good fortune by lending a hand, but top-down emergency management organizations are ill-prepared to handle these impulses.

In case you missed it, Mossback’s piece on Crosscut provides a personal and historical look at Seattle’s past earthquakes. And for more unsettling insights, both Mossback and Eric recommend the book Full-Rip 9.0 .

Down home Seattle soul lives at Voula’s Offshore Café

When I first came to the Northwest in the ‘70s, after growing up on the East Coast and going to school in California, I noticed that this corner of the U.S. stood out for its great breakfast places. I became familiar with the culinary delights of omelets stuffed with a multitude of ingredients accompanied by piles of hash browns, stacks of toast and coffee cups that never stayed empty for long.

I speculated it was all about the natural resources economy of the region. About the need for a hearty breakfast before going out to run chainsaws, heave fishing nets or herd cattle. All the logger’s and rancher’s breakfasts listed on the menus were a pretty good clue.

It was definitely the case with his place, says Sikey Vlahos, owner of Voula’s Offshore Café, located just off Lake Union at 658 NE Northlake Way.

Voula's entrance

Voula’s entrance

“This place was supported by fishermen and the people who worked on the boats. They needed hearty meals, to escape to a restaurant to get good food.”

The fishing industry is not the force on the lake that it once was and many older landmarks have shut down under pressure from higher rents. But Voula’s continues to attract a steady clientele from local residents, the university and a still active business community on the Lake. In a Seattle that is rapidly gentrifying Voula’s remains a genuine expression of traditional Seattle soul, a down home diner serving ample, tasty breakfasts and lunches in a friendly setting rich with recollections of local history.

Voula's mural

Voula’s mural

There’s the mural that covers the entire east wall of the front dining room. Depicting Portage Bay circa 1957, it was done by an artist named Gene Buck who needed a place to stay. The restaurant, just opened two years as Rose’s, had a room off to the side. So as a trade Buck spent his evenings painting the still bright image centered on University Bridge.

And there’s a piece of the original SLO-MO-SHUN IV hanging on the wall. The history-making hydroplane was built by Anchor Jensen of Jensen Motorboats, still just down the street from Voula’s on Boat Street.

Piece of the demolished SO-MO-SHUN IV

Piece of the demolished SO-MO-SHUN IV

Hydroplane historian Fred Farley tells the story: “In the early hours of June 26, 1950, an event transpired that caught the racing world by surprise. An Unlimited Class hydroplane with the unlikely name of SLO-MO-SHUN IV set a mile straightaway record of 160.323 miles per hour on Lake Washington near Sand Point, which raised the former standard by nearly 19 miles per hour . . . SLO-MO-SHUN IV was not the first Unlimited hydroplane to ‘prop-ride’ on a semi-submerged propeller. But she was the first to reap championship results in the application of the concept . . . For the next twenty years, boats had to pretty much use a SLO-MO-type of design to be competitive.”

The hydroplane broke to pieces in an accident on the Detroit River in 1956. Heartbroken owner Stan Sayres died three weeks later. But the memory of this piece of Seattle heritage lives on as part of a hydroplane display on the rear dining room wall.

One of two paintings by Chihuly

One of two paintings by Chihuly

A catacorner wall reflects another famous Seattle connection with two paintings by Dale Chihuly celebrating Voula’s. Chihuly’s Lake Union glass blowing shop is a nearby neighbor and Chihuly was another Voula’s regular when he lived there in the 1980s.

Voula’s has yet a further claim to fame. In 2007 Guy Fieri of the Food Network made the restaurant one of the original features for his show, “Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.” The crew came in for a two-day filming session. The Voula’s episode still repeats and has made the restaurant an attraction for tour operators.

“It doubled our business,” Sikey said. “We had to expand.”

Guy Fieri's book features Voula's

Guy Fieri’s book features Voula’s

Despite all the fame and attention Voula’s remains totally down to Earth. It is the good old neighborhood gathering spot with many daily regulars. A bulletin board full of friendly messages, a wall of pictures of customers’ children, even a shelf of toy cars donated by customers – originally for kids to play with, are all evidence of how much a community place this is.

Sikey and his mom, Voula, took over the place in 1984. Then the Offshore Café, they added Voula’s name, and it has stuck ever since. Voula herself is officially retired, but she is often in providing a warm, Greek-style greeting. The other day when I was in for breakfast she led the house in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for a customer.

The entire family migrated from Greece in 1971 when Sikey was 7. Dad worked as a tailor. Voula started working at the Little Cheerful Café, which is now the Portage Bay Café at University Motor Inn. In 1983 the owner sold the Little Cheerful.

“My mom was upset she wasn’t offered it,” Sikey says. “So she started looking for restaurant to buy, and she bought this one.”

Recently Voula’s expanded again. A classic diner where mounds of hashbrowns cook on open flat stoves behind the counter, the café has now added a much larger rear kitchen in a space that was formerly Tony’s Coffee warehouse.

“We have five times the kitchen that we had,” Sikey says.

The menu “all started with the classic American breakfast,” he notes. Creative weekly specials are offered and become regulars if popular enough. As you might expect, there’s a lot of Greek influence in the menu, like one of my favorites, the Freagy Greagy omelet with feta, spinach, Greek sausage and onions. Voula’s does a lot of its own meat and fish smoking. One of their signature dishes, the Pinata Benedict, features their own smoked pork, though I like to switch that out with their smoked salmon.

New buildings are popping up around Voula’s North Lake location. The university is slowly devouring the neighborhood. Will Voula’s survive or be swept up in the development wave as have so many classic Seattle institutions? Fortunately, no.

“We own this place,” Sikey says. “We’re in control of our own destiny. With the huge investment we just did that is not in the foreseeable future. This block is owned by three different families. We are all on the same page.”

What is the toughest part of running Voula’s?   “Working 12 hours a day for 6 days a week. Sometime it’s seven,” Sikey says.

And the best?

“It makes me happy to see people eat a meal and make a comment such as ‘the best thing I’ve ever had’ or ‘that was extremely delicious.’ It gives me great gratification to make people happy.”

The family has indeed made this Lake Union tradition a place of happiness. Next time you’re hankering for a classic Seattle breakfast diner experience try out Voula’s Offshore Café. You’ll be happy you did.