“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Where 15th Avenue meets East Mercer Street, change is now the status quo. The intersection has been home to two notable Capitol Hill businesses, one very long-lived (at least by the neighborhood’s standards). The Canterbury Ale and Eats will be gone by the end of the year, and Chutney’s Grille is already no more. This transformation, now typical in the rapidly developing 15th Avenue thoroughfare, has been the cause of some worry for proponents of a “Small Seattle,” but a unique art installation at the site of the former Chutney’s aims to ease the transition.
Currently, a large, unusual structure occupies the Chutney’s lot. It’s not a shack, nor a shanty, nor even a new building. Rather, it’s an adaptation of the vacant building care of artist Greg Lewis. He is the first of several artists to put a creative twist on the site. His piece is called “Boxed Up” and it will serve as the foundation of an ongoing, multi-artist installation at 605 E. 15th Ave. ahead of the demolition of the old structure.
In place of the Chutney’s space, which has housed several food and service businesses over the years, a six-story mixed-use building will rise over the next year or two. The developer, Stream Real Estate, partnered with Storefronts Seattle to put aesthetic and conceptual value in what would otherwise be an empty space on a lively stretch of road.
“They contacted us out of the blue,” said Storefronts Seattle manager Anne Blackburn, referring to Stream Real Estate. Storefronts Seattle is a project of Shunpike, an organization dedicated to fundraising and managing arts programs that partner with businesses and community groups. The Storefronts concept has been ongoing since 2010 when it premiered in Pioneer Square. Blackburn talks about how the economic downturn resulted in a large number of business closures and vacant commercial spaces, filling communities with empty and increasingly run-down storefronts. Shunpike stepped in to bring artists to the vacancies where they could install their work, turning eyesores into public art. This desire to put empty sites to use is what attracted Stream Real Estate to Storefronts Seattle.
“We didn’t want a vacant building and we wanted to have a positive impact on the neighborhood,” said Marc Angelillo of Stream. Angelillo and his associates plan to place a six-story, 36-unit residential building with 3,500 square feet of first-floor retail space on the Chutney’s lot. While Stream finalizes plans for the site and goes through the design review process, the existing building will remain unused. Angelillo described the difficulty of finding short-term commercial tenants for spaces like the Chutney’s building, so rather than leaving it empty, Stream is lending it to Storefronts Seattle as a blank canvas.
This new project presents a rare opportunity for Storefronts Seattle. While their roots in Pioneer Square only offered them limited space on the ground floors of much larger buildings, the Chutney’s site gives the artists an entire store to transform. This allows larger-scale projects like Greg Lewis’s to take form. “Boxed Up” covers most of the building’s exterior in wood palette pieces, many of them salvaged from the surrounding community. The installation provokes thoughts of passing time, the transience of practical structures and, above all, the relentless change of Capitol Hill as a community.
“It represents the waste stream of our society,” Lewis said. “We don’t have much of a reverence for history. We’re constantly remaking our city. I like the idea of [“Boxed Up”] being somewhere between a condemned building and a new construction.”
Stream is a big part of that change. In addition to the building on 15th Avenue, the developer has a project at 500 Belmont Ave. at twice the scale. Marc Angelillo and his partners are all too aware of the construction debates in Capitol Hill.
“They are not aPodments,” Angelillo emphatically proclaimed. “There’s a need for more housing and we try and accomplish that through an improvement on the neighborhood.” The current plans for the 15th Avenue building estimate units at 600 square feet (roughly four times larger than the average micro-apartment), to be rented at market rate.
Over the next several months, additional artists will add to Greg Lewis’s installation. The original proposal included three artists, but Anne Blackburn says the process has been going so well that as many as six artists may be involved by project’s end. The next contributor to the site will be Jennifer Zwick, installing a piece titled “Lamp Meninas” based on the famous painting “Las Meninas” by Diego Valazquez. As the title of the former suggests, it will be made almost entirely of house lamps. The entire Storefronts Seattle project at the 15th Avenue site will be ongoing through February 2014.