The Twilight of Yesler Terrace

The End of the Ghetto That Wasn't


Every time I walk or drive or (especially) ride through Seattle, I feel like I'm watching a documentary on by-gone days. The human-centered city seems like only a memory, even the parts which are still standing.
Really nice piece, Charles. Captures the 'twilight' feel perfectly. Thank you for writing this.

I suppose Yesler Terrace has to go, but I'm not going to be happy about it...
But we'll always have Jefferson Tower, so there's that.
This is absolutely lovely, building to a heart-shattering finale.
this is beautiful.
You have to spend a lot of time in a big, dreary shitscape of a city to not recognize that the moldy, dilapidated, low-quality buildings of YT are at the end-of-the-line, structurally speaking. But that doesn't mean they should be replaced with high-rise, block-sized, modernist starchiterct bullshit.
I'm sure it's a fucking paradise - compared to Harare.
#7...and, of course, you just HAPPENED to chose an African city...because, as you see it, nothing can ever be worse than any place where black people aren't being ruled by other people.

Appomatox happened. Jim Crow ended. Get used to it, get over it-and burn your goddamn white sheet already.
Tonderai always wants other people to crowd into the shitholes he would never live in himself. ("Not enough diversity", "I have way too many books"). Whatever, master psuedo-intellectual.
Who the fuck is "Tonderai"?

And what did the Rainbow ever do to you?

The truth is, people of color run their cities and their lives just as well as most white folks do. Stop stirring up neo-Confederate neo-Nazi hateshit.

You're not the "Stranger's Worst Nightmare"'re the human race's worst nightmare.
I only allow my psuedo-intellectual master, Tonderai, to determine what is racist and what to be offended by on who's behalf. As for Yesler Terrace, it can be ruled by whomever it likes. People of means do not have to suffer in Tonderai's dream ghettos (called "cities").
"It might have had something to do with the city's youth—Seattle did not have the deep history of racial tension and violence of the older cities." There's another side to it. Although Seattle today is largely unarmed, it only has been so for a few decades at most, and the laws and law enforcement attitudes are still very much of greater acceptance for civil defense than many other places. Unlike the Southeast, there was no history of immense and insidious societal conspiracy to go with it. (Georgia - taking the theory out of Conspiracy Theory!) As a result of both of these facts, the same Western tactfulness and civility that you find in places like Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming could be found to some degree in Seattle. Even if personally they may not have liked black people very much, the consequences of violence or any other truly vicious action would likely have been death and there was a fairly high chance that such a killing would be either legal or impossible to prove illegal.

The result is, ironically enough, that people tend to trust each other more and act in a much more civilized and open fashion. Much as John Milton argued in Aeropogetica that laws allowing for the remedy of slander and libel and the prosecution of espionage would actually make the world SAFE for freedom of speech, a culture of being able to take care of your own problems even when the situation was too extreme for anything other then someones death made the West safe for diversity. People don't worry about outsiders as much when they always have the option of shooting them.
Also, Seattle is not actually all that young. Many cities in the South with MAJOR racial problems are much newer, including Port Arthur, Texas (the suburb of Vidor was once a sunset town) which only grew to substantial size around the time of World War I, and Jacksonville and Tampa Bay in Florida, which did not grow to any significant size until the 1920's. Atlanta was founded less than 10 years before Seattle and did not truly become a major city until the 1900's. Seattle is old enough to have a railroad layout - Atlanta is not. Further, some of the newer towns in Seattle's suburbia actually had far worse Racism problems than Seattle did.
#8, actually Harare, formerly known as Salisbury, was built for and by Rhodesian whites. The famous (and very white) Olympic swimmer Kristy Coventry is from there. Although whites have largely been removed, frequently by gruesome and violent means, from the rural areas of Zimbabwe, most of the large cities still have substantial white populations.
Of course, blacks were forcibly removed from their homes in order to build Salisbury, so it's not as if Rhodesian whites had any claim to moral superiority in the development of "their" cities(cities that depended and still depend on the labor and suffering of black people and other people of the Rainbow in order to function)compared to black Zimbabweans.

Plus, you're always going to have greater prosperity if you have the economic might of the British Fucking Empire propping you that was withdrawn from what had been Rhodesia the moment majority was achieved and the country took its rightful name of Zimbabwe.
#15, to be frank, you speak of something you don't really understand. Britain and Germany had significant tensions going all the way back to before Cecilie Rhodes formed the Volunteer Column, tensions that eventually resulted in World War I becoming World War I. Zimbabwe, through its own inadequacy, had made itself too weak to resist German invaders, and was right on the border of South Africa, a British territory. It was like rotting meat outside of a camp attracting Grizzly Bears...

Once conquered, the British were good enough to reward the people who had to fight and die for it with land, a decency seemingly lost on modern people who expect 18 years old not even allowed to drink by our absurd laws to die in Iraq for nothing. War is a horrible thing, and though it is never practical to punish the winner, at least punishing the loser makes it a little less appetizing and might explain why Arab countries attacking Israel over and over again in exactly the same way in the 20th century has no parallel in the 19th.
That was a good piece, Charles.

I do agree with @1 comments...Seattle certainly isn't what it used to be, but I am not sure if that is something bad or my nostalgia matching my age.
#17, I'm 24, and even I can tell you that Seattles not what it used to be. To be frank, Seattle just isn't as unique as it used to be - it's becoming just another major city identical to any other. It even makes exactly the same idiotic mistakes because the people who make them will never admit they're wrong even as they move away from whatever city they ruined last.
This was a beautiful piece. Thank you for writing it.
Arguing who made Zimbabwe a toilet? Does it matter?
Nicely written article. If anyone would like to further explore the history of Seattle's Black community and race relations in general (including Yesler Terrace), I highly recommend Quintard Taylor's "The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District, from 1870 Through the Civil Rights Era." Not only will it change the way you think about the city's history and geography, it will also help you understand Seattle's unique variety of racism.
#20, actually under British rule Rhodesia was a first-world nation, a major world steel producer, the bread basket of Africa, and well-educated and even the blacks generally had a good middle-class living, but racial hate knows no bounds. Now the blacks are starving, and oppressed by a tyrant named Mugabe without the Common Law courts of the British, and have no future.

"Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd." (Romeo and Julliet)
Fascinating article, Charles, well done.
Charles, thank you for a thought-provoking article.

Jeremy Janson,get over yourself.
" people of color run their cities and their lives just as well as most white folks do"

May I suggest you move to Detroit then?
"There had to be a time when SHA and city council members began talking about Yesler Terrace in a very specific way, because there really isn't a good reason to displace all of these people. They were doing just fine. There wasn't a serious crime problem. Their children were safe and in a great location. To justify the redevelopment, SHA had to create and amplify a discourse about the condition of the buildings."

Charles writes a beautiful piece that is just up the block from Marti Jonjak's "The Rent Hike", and proves the point in similar fashion. This quirky city I once loved has folded to the progression of "world class city" posturing. Not surprisingly the destruction of affordable housing is a way to push out the undesirables just as pricing up the rental market to "market value" provides only a certain demographic with the means to reside in said areas.

I can afford to live in these areas after the fact, but many cannot. I choose to live in the suburbs, as I like the space it affords me.

I suggest that when all is said and done in Seattle's gentrification project, the city should be renamed to something like Whitesville or Mercersburg or Maynard's Landing. Let's face it, naming a city that continues to push out the disenfranchised and less entitled after a Native American is irony that is lost on most of its inhabitants.
#24, if you don't want to see discussion, don't look it, and especially don't whine.
beautiful... i feel as if i just watched a short doc rather than read an article.
Boggles my mind that prime real estate only a half dozen blocks from downtown Seattle is dedicated to welfare housing.
#29...indeed-God forbid that people be considered more important than profit even in ONE small part of one large city. Not tolerable. Must be exterminated and Dalek supremacy established at all cost.

The salient point about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe remains this:

It isn't relevant which white empire defeated which in which war, because NO white empire ever had any right to rule that land. Imperialism was never legitimate, and this very country, even it it shows signs of turning into a privatized empire now(using "free market economics to turn other countries into de facto colonies, since a country whose economy is controlled by another country's corporations is no longer sovereign in any real sense), began(and to remain morally valid, must once again become)an anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist project.

Empire is the enemy of human decency and justice. People who want a humane, liveable and truly free world have a duty to oppose anything that gets even close to imperialism.
"Though it is never practical to punish the winner, at least punishing the loser makes it a little less appetizing and might explain why Arab countries attacking Israel over and over again in exactly the same way in the 20th century has no parallel in the 19th."

You realize there is a direct causal line between the treaty of Versailles and WWII right? Learn some history before you try to talk like a historian.

Daniel. you think Francis`s postlng is something... I just bought a new Lancia Straton after making 5489 this past five weeks and-in excess of, ten-k lass month. this is really the nicest job Ive ever had. I actually started 8-months ago and right away started to bring home minimum 70, per-hr. I follow the details here,
I prefer to use the word "overCONfidence",Charles,as a synonym for racial supremacism in this context;Goldy's same-issue article about this pretentiously "blue" state's long history of ramping up and and mainting White Privilege is amply exemplified by its comparatively low Non-White populace.Was there not an attempt in both Washington the state and Oregon to make it illegal for Blacks to move there and here?
@29;Does the intrinsic and long-standing relationship betwixt Corporate Welfare and White Privilege boggle your indoctrinated/brainwashed mind as well?Or are you too busy eating the fruit from that evil tree?
@25;Detroit isn't run by Black folks;have you seen where all the jobs both in and around Motown have gone?Who do you think sent those jobs away?Black folk?Wake up,asshole,and stop screwing your nearest of kin in the double-wide methlab!
#33 is spam. There is no such thing as a "Lancia Straton". There was a Lancia Stratos, but it was made in the 1960's-1970's.
This may be the best article Charles has written. At first, I considered arguing with the idea that Yesler Terrace was not a ghetto. But reading the rest made me realize that I'm a white guy who's spent his whole life in Seattle, and I really haven't seen a true ghetto. Thanks for informing me.
Great article, Charles.
#31, if the Indians ever get sober, be prepared to clear outta here, then.
I agree with other commenters that this is a beautifully written piece, but it gets crucial aspects of the redevelopment totally wrong. Implying that Vulcan has organized this process is particularly egregious for a writer with Mudede's skill. SHA began the process with a long series of community meetings, translate into 10 difference languages. Those meeting helped shape the vision of what a redeveloped YT could look like. Those people were involved for another couple years as the City worked on new zoning regulations that would help guide the redevelop.

To imply that SHA hasn't acknowledge the problem residents will face by displacement is to imply that they don't really care about their jobs. The first phase of new construction involves property adjacent to YT, so that once that building is complete, some people could move over there, and the spaces they move out of would then be redeveloped. It's not perfect, but again, the idea that Vulcan is behind all this does a disservice to the people who live there and have tried to help shape the redevelopment.
So, #41, does Vulcan pay you time and a half to do their p.r. on Sundays?
#40...I suspect Native Americans would treat us far better than we ever treated them if they ever did rise against our theft of their lands(btw, most of the drunks I've seen are white folks)-BTW, if you're worried about that, you might want to Google the words "Idle No More"..

It's not about undoing the existence of's about healing the wounds and admitting the wrongs, and it's also about losing the damn arrogance and sense of entitlement.

The best way to go through life is to recognize that, if you got anything good, no matter how hard you worked or how "moral" you think you might be, you got those good things largely through luck. Know that, let it keep you humble, and be happy to be one more-or-less good person trying your best amongst all the rest of us.

Nobody HAS to have power over anybody else. And nobody has to be wealthier than other people to be free.
As to Charles' great article, this classic by Living Colour expresses the mindset that ended up wiping out Yesler Terrace(and may end up wiping out the rest of the 99% at some point):…

(yes, this song was about a neighbhorhood that's far worse than Yesler Terrace, but it was still a place that had meaning and value to those who lived in it, and it was about those in power not seeing ANY of that meaning and value).
@ #42 - I'm an urban planner and have tracked the plans to redevelop YT a bit over the past six/seven years. It's pretty absurd to think Vulcan needs to pay people to troll the Slog...what political leverage would that get them exactly?

SHA has plenty of info about what they've been up to at their website:…

Again, I acknowledge that there's a LOT more that needs to be done to create a more just society, definitely including at YT. But writing as if SHA and the COS aren't trying to make progress on these issues is sad. And ignores the hard work that hundreds, if not thousands of humans are doing in this city. We've got a long way to go, but as long as fellow progressives dismiss and deride our work, it's going to be even harder.
@ #42 - and rereading what I originally wrote, it's so poorly written, that I'd never expect anyone to pay me half time (let alone time and a half).
Okay, #45/#46, rather than do the usual "fuck you back," let me say it differently.

Yesler Terrace is 70 years old, give or take a few years. It was constructed with high hopes, and for some period of time it did its job. Then it went downhill, and because so many black people lived there, and because no one wanted to offend the self-appointed spokesliars for those folks, the easiest thing for the city to do was to basically not give a shit and occasionally toss a few (and only a few) maintenance dollars in there, along with some police to go pick up the druggies and the hookers and the assorted other criminals who ran rampant.

But still, no one gave a shit. This is Seattle, after all, and Seattle is entirely about the money, with the thinnest possible veneer of what you call progressive applied on top with a precision spray gun that can spray it really thin. "Nanotechnology," isn't that what they call it?

And now, suddenly (or so you think), some well connected friend of your favorite progressive, whether it's Mike McGinn or some other joker on the city council or the planning department, sees that there's "value" in Yesler Terrace, as long as we can throw all the poor black people outta there.

Was it sudden? Not hardly. It was all planned. It's why they stuck the street car where they did. Just like light rail. It'll be gentrified, just like the progressives you talk about always wanted. And you, poor thing, spend your Sunday morning shilling for Paul Allen while he laughs his way to the bank.

What, you didn't even get paid? Idiot.
OK, I agree with a lot of your analysis there, "Unbrainwashed"...but why do you still insist on blaming blacks for this situation? Can't you see, as your own post points out, that the real villain here was corporate greed?
Spare me your politically correct bullshit, #48. In the end, no one gives a shit. The blacks in YT didn't give a shit. The city administrations didn't give a shit. You didn't give a shit. I didn't give a shit. Now that they decided to gentrify it, people are pretending to give a shit, which is what Seattle is very good at doing: pretending.

In the end, the blacks will be moved somewhere else. Paul Allen will get his upscale money machine. City Hall will get the bribes they've always depended on. You will move on. Charles Muede will move on. The Stranger will find a different real estate developer who needs blowjobs. The wheel turns.

But please, don't fuck around about "blaming blacks." Do you really not see what a tool and pawn you are?
So YT as it has been known for several decades is going away, and the handwringing going on here is typical of what passes for a Seattle Liberal. Meanwhile, there is plenty of other crap going on right now within the various do-gooder public agencies and non-profits that I doubt any one of the numerous handwringer's posting here is either aware of or gives a shit about because they are to busy fighting 'corporate greed' from their upscale pad. Get DOWN with the people, people, and then perhaps you might actually make a difference. Once you live amongst or around an SHA or non-profit housing project maybe you can do some work from within to hold not only SHA and the NP's accountable, but, god forbid, hold accountable many of the tenants who truly, yes truly, do rip-off and work the system, or are just plain wretched neighbors. Everyone pays the cost of abusing the public housing sector, especially those that truly do need its support.
#50, no handwringing from me. What's happening there is classic Seattle. No one has given a shit about Yesler Terrace for 50 years. Until now, when Paul Allen and/or his heirs and estate (a billionaire who is as accidental as they get) can make some money.

Sprinkle some buzzwords on it (today's are "transit oriented development" and "walkable" and "vibrant" and "sustainable" and "McGinn's campaign just got another $100,000"), and there ya go.
I just read this article the other day and it affected me on many levels. I drive by Yesler Terrace all the time while doing maintenance for Community House on Capitol Hill. I'm SO upset to hear the news and I think it's a real wake up call to anyone who cares.

#15 I'm also a musician who has performed music in Harare, Zimbabwe for their annual HIFA festival sponsored by Coca-Cola. General admission is mostly black and the special tickets are mostly white.

Coke is a major employer in South Africa and in the 80's they were also major supporters/benefactors of apartheid. The world has some real messed up people with a lot of money pulling strings and sweeping what really matters under the carpet. And apparently Seattle is no exception.

Here's a quote from a song that I think is quite relevant:

"I feel like I've been living in a city with no children in it a garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside of a private prison" -Arcade Fire
53, in the end, you basically think Yesler Terrace's demise is because the housing authority didn't spend enough time hunting down "Shaniqua"(assuming she ever actually existed anywhere).

I have lived across a parking lot from one of these buildings for 14 years. It has only ever been enhabited by people who need help. Law enforcement has kept away destructive forces.

I am uncertain what is to come of this VALUABLE land.
It was the civil rights acts of 1964-65 and the end of red lining that destroyed local black business and the black community because they permitted black professionals to "get out of Dodge" e.g. move to the east side of Lake Washington.
#41 Vulcan Inc. (AKA: Seattle Campus Re-Development) and who might be the silent partner behind the new Basket Ball Arena and team? Haven't you noticed that from one end of Seattle to the other it is becoming the continuous Vulcan-Microsoft-Smiley Faced Amazon Campus of work, live, play, and self indulgence afternoon delights.
Ive said this a dozen times: Seattle has no ghetto and people here throw it around in stupid ways.
Actually, Yesler Terrace began it's slow spiral in the 60's, when a big chunk of it went away for the interstate.

Somewhere around that time the steam plant met its demise - I don't know if it was pollution regs or just that it was too expensive to run, but they converted everything over to cheap electric baseboard heat.

Its most recent problem has been the sewer lines. A few of the buildings are uninhabitable because the sewers collapsed, and replacing them would mean demolishing the buildings and starting over.

Beyond that, they don't have adequate electrical capacity and are probably full of lead and asbestos.

It really is too bad, as YT was the one project that really seemed to work. Highpoint, Holly Park and Rainier Vista were all less successful from a neighborhood standpoint. I don't really know much about how their replacements are working out but it seems to me that the new Rainier Vista is quite similar to the current Yesler Terrace in layout and design.
I don't know what Yesler Terrace you're talking about, I currently live here here, I've lived here for years. In my time living here there has been several homicides, armed robberies, rapes, drug use and overdoses, and not to mention all the gang activity and prostitution house. It had really calmed down over the years. And as for your friend from back, this is the West Coast, our projects do not like theirs, from Los Angeles to Seattle, they're townhomes, that doesn't mean that crime doesn't take place here, it is rough here, you don't live here, how would you even know? You don't. I feel like you're pro - gentrification and just trying to impress your white hipster friends you work with at that ridiculous newspaper. I've been to many different ghettos all over, in comparison, yes, I think it is rough, I would know. And Seattle did have an extremely large black community until all your white "The Stranger" readers ran all of us minorities out of our homes and communities with their condos and very Caucasian orientated shops. This is the ghetto, the hood, the projects, the mean streets, don't disrespect the lost lives and hardships we all have gone through here in Yesler Terrace by making it seem like it's all love and happiness here to make my community look appealing to your white, condo owning culture vultures, nothing could more further than truth. If a street/gangster rapper came from Yesler Terrace I'm sure they would be on point with it all. I would actually like to see you repeat your views on this so-called joke of a ghetto as you portray us in your aricle to any of these youngsters out here, I'm certain they would probably beat you down to the ground. I just got back from Compton California anf I did not see one altercation while I was there, does that mean there's no crime in Compton, I think not Charles, don't be a fool. By the way, I'm the Native American you wrote a very dishonest article about in 2002 about some stabbings that took place in Belltown on second and Virginia. I was falsey accused by several racist white men and severely beaten, I did what I had to do to survive and get home to my son and daughter who I raise here by myself. I was disturbed by how many times you used "Native American" in such a small article. We have enough problems as is, could you please not make us look even worse? Show us respect, you are on my land, it's the least all you people could do. Sincerely, Michael David DeSantis Sr. Yesler Terrace, USA.
Well, after reading all that, it seems to me that people should just read the Yesler Terrace development plan PDF the Department of Planning and Development has available. Its pretty interesting. \
Fun Fact: all the people who live there now will be relocated by the city, and have right of first refusal to return to YT after units are complete. There will be many MORE low income units available after the redo. Rich people and poor people will be living TOGETHER. OH THE HUMANITY! HAHAHA
I don't know if Im supposed to laugh or feel sad. Yesler Terrace is just not as bad as all that. Im sorry youve had a bad time. It's not everyone's experience though.
i didn't read the whole thing, but the beginning. Seattle is a white city. It is world class, but there are cities and other metro areas that are much more populated by minorities. Seattle, however has one of the highest asian populations, which adds to its diversity in a very good way since asian americans are considered the model minority.