Something new is going up on Broadway between Pike and Pine. And it's not a mixed-use, shit-box apartment building or a Starbucks. It's an installation that's being launched to honor Capitol Hill, its history, and the people who have given the area its character. It utilizes social media and the space of 10 storefront windows. That's right, it's big and it's orange. For the past year, cocreators—and Seattle Central graphic design students—Gregory Radjaw Smith and Jessica Ornelas, along with photographer/videographer Tim Haddock, have been studying the area's population growth. Their installation examines the evolution of Capitol Hill and documents the impact of increased development and gentrification on the neighborhood. #LOVETHEHILL wants to promote a public discussion that balances the positive attachment people have to the Hill with their concerns about its changes. In July, the project will release a compilation of songs, curated with the help of KEXP's Sharlese Metcalf, featuring 20 Capitol Hill bands. Smith and Ornelas met me at the site where Atlas Clothing used to reside to discuss the project.
What's the interactive component of the installation? How long do you hope to have it there? Ornelas: When people share their thoughts about Capitol Hill using the hashtag #LOVETHEHILL on social media, a four-by-six-inch card with their message will be printed out and displayed behind one of the windows. For example, "I #LOVETHEHILL because of Dick's strawberry shakes." Or "I #LOVETHEHILL and I miss Manray." We hope to have the installation up for five years.
Smith: We want to know: What's your favorite thing about Capitol Hill? What do you miss most? What would you like to see? What is your favorite memory? The idea to talk about Capitol Hill was determined by the location of the project, graciously donated by Seattle Central College. We are honoring the neighborhood and embracing the individuals who make this such a great place. The installation will display a timeline. It will show data and statistics highlighting life in the past and present.
Who are some of your favorite people you interviewed? What did you learn about Purple Mark? I think your installation needs a statue of Purple Mark. [Editor's note: Purple Mark is a noted fashion presence in Capitol Hill. Look for the guy with the rainbow beard.] Ornelas: A statue would be good—we'll look into that [laughs]. Purple Mark is an institution who spices up the area. We learned how he got his name. I thought he got it by changing his outfits, hair, and beard to multiple colors, but he actually got the name because he was struck by lightning as a kid. He was on a mountaintop in Colorado and was struck repeatedly by purple lightning.
Smith: Talking with Pasquale was incredibly uplifting. He's the Broadway busker, bulldog-promenading, ex–bodybuilding champion who rides his bike in multiple different outfits every day.
Capitol Hill's evolving. What's the plus side? Smith: I think it's a great opportunity to drive more revenue to this area and support local businesses. It's another great chance to get more eyes and ears onto what local artists and musicians are creating. As a bartender, it means more money in my pocket.
What are the negatives? Smith: People are getting priced out. A bigger power is trying to bottle up the old Capitol Hill and sell it. There's this weird, basic bullshit like "Oh, Capitol Hill is so trendy and hip!" These people are trying to sell that, and in doing so they're watering it down and destroying it. There have been some great Capitol Hill locations that no longer exist. These long-standing institutions are being replaced with big money.
Ornelas: The vibe on the weekend has changed. There's always been a "weekend crowd," but you can feel the energy is different. There's a disconnect between this crowd and the people who are here daily. This has always been a place where you could be yourself no matter who you are. Now it feels like the people who are coming to the neighborhood have no clue.
What do you see as the most recurring type of change? Smith: The developers and developments popping up everywhere. Investors are coming into the neighborhood and buying up land to tear down old buildings and put up ugly new ones.
Ornelas: Along with Amazon, the entire tech market has had influence on the greater Seattle area. They are creating jobs for tens of thousands of people, and these people have to live somewhere. The change is pushing people out who cannot afford to live here anymore.
What are the most recurring types of reaction to the evolution and growth? Ornelas: People are angry about the divide that's happening amongst the old and the new. The hate crimes that have been happening from outsiders, whether they live here now or just come for the weekend. People who have been around Capitol Hill for a long time feel unsafe. No matter their race, gender, age, or orientation, there's a sense of negative energy in a place that was inviting and inclusive.
Smith: The aesthetic of the new construction is pissing people off. These buildings lack the character of the places they're replacing. They don't speak to the personality of Capitol Hill. Just keeping part of a brick facade isn't enough to maintain the spirit of the neighborhood. Developers are spending the least amount of money with the cheapest materials possible. They aren't thinking about aesthetics.
If you were in charge of Capitol Hill's development, what would you change about the way the area has grown? Ornelas: Include affordable units for families, creatives, artists, and art spaces in the newer buildings that are being built—12th Avenue Arts is one of the first new construction projects that's trying to accomplish this.
The bro dudes that come to Cap Hill on the weekend are basically mindless, walking penises, drenched in cologne. And then there's the woo-girl epidemic. They don't love the Hill. Should something be done about it? Smith: There are always going to be bro dudes and bridge-and-tunnel crowds, especially on the weekends. Businesses do need to make money, and they cater to the crowds. But I think it's more that this crowd has grown exponentially over the past few years in this area. Drunk, mindless, basic zombies. I wish they'd stop treating this neighborhood like their weekend toilet. It's just one big frat party with people throwing their shit everywhere for us to clean up.
Can we build a big ultra-club for the bros with a wall around it, so they can't destroy the rest of the city? It can be called Planet Schlock. Smith: [Seattle entrepreneur and Lost Lake owner] Dave Meinert and I joked about this, but are now developing serious plans to make it happen.
What do you want #LOVETHEHILL to bring to the area? Ornelas: A general knowledge and awareness of what this neighborhood has been and what it can be. I want to bring back the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors.