Remembering Seattle’s Central District

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by Shawn Richard-Davis


I think it’s time for us to pay a final tribute to the dearly departed iconic Central Zone (CD) places that we loved but never really mourned.

Earlier this week, I passed the southeast corner of 23rd and Jackson, a site formerly known as Promenade 23. I witnessed, for the first time, a huge and beautiful newly completed resort. . My first thought was, “How many blacks will they be living there?” I was not excited about this new building as it did not represent something that “belonged” to the community. Instead, I felt resentment. I’m honest. In the months that I spent watching this building take shape, I felt the urge to mourn this particular block of the CD. Gentrification has continued at an alarming rate in the central area. I don’t claim to have the answers as to how this trend is going to reverse. It’s my cathartic way of grieving.

I was born and raised in Seattle, and it has been my home for almost 60 years (Oowee). As a child, I resided with my family in several places, including 15th and Cherry, 18th and Jefferson, 28th and Norman, and the Yesler Terrace projects. My aunt and uncle owned a house on the 28th and Norman where I spent much of my childhood. Also, my uncle owned two record stores in Seattle: Summerrise World of Music on 12th and Jackson and the Wholesale House on Rainier Ave South across from Borracchini Bakery. For some residents, the late 1960s through the early 1990s were a good and prosperous time in DC. Recently, however, the neighborhood looks less and less like the black community of the past, and that makes me sad. I feel the sorrow and loss for what was once a thriving community.

Join me now in a memorial service for the central area. I think I hear the community coming together, and they are singing, “Oh my lord, lord, lord, lord. Oh my lord, lord, lord, lord. Uh hmm, uh hmm, uh mmm.

CLASS SERVICE

OPENING SONG: Minnie Riperton’s “Back Down Memory Lane”.

OLD TESTAMENT READING: Lamentations 3: 22-23. The compassion of the Lord is not lacking.

READING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Revelation 21: 4. God will wipe away our tears.

COMMUNITY READING: I remember the central district in a special way

Today we set off on an imaginary journey through the old central district. We will name and memorize favorite local spots that no longer exist. Some of these sites were businesses, stores, schools, and restaurants. You don’t need to hold back your tears; cry as hard as you want when we visit these places. There should be plenty of fabric available. Here we are …

  • Summerrise Music World 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. Not actually in the CD, but it belonged to my uncle, who lived in the CD and served the community.
  • RL’s Home of Good Bar-BQ Yesler Road. The best barbecue in Seattle, hands down! Cash only, and there was an accompanying sign that said, “In God we trust, everyone else pays cash.”
  • Little’s mini market – At the corner of 17th Avenue and East Jefferson Street, in front of Providence Hospital.
  • Inez’s kitchen 12th Avenue and East Jefferson Street.
  • The Mediterranean Black owned restaurant near the University of Seattle (SU) and a favorite of my husband when we were in SU.
  • Central Zone Incentive Program – 722 18th Ave. Although now renamed Byrd Barr Place, the original can never be replaced. My aunt, cousin and husband all worked there at the same time. My son injured his head at the park next door when he was 4 years old which caused his first stitches. Fortunately, his big sister was there and saved him.
  • Liberty Bank – 24th Avenue and East Union Street. A black-owned bank where I had an account.
  • Frank’s corner store South 24th Street and Jackson Street. I was buying red ginger and lemon here.
  • Jordan drugs – Rue des Cerises. Open for late night prescriptions.
  • Catfish Corner Martin Luther King Jr. Way and East Cherry Street. I know they have new locations, but nothing beats the spot and the OG staff.
  • Walk 23 – Includes Red Apple grocery store, Joy Unlimited Christian bookstore, Lady Legs hosiery and Welch’s hardware store.
  • Beauty products from BJ 25th Avenue South and South Jackson Street.
  • Eritrean cuisine Hidmo 20th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. Rest in peace Rahwa Habté.
  • Heritage House / Coton Club Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Dearborn Street. R&B group Blue Magic performed there.
  • Carol’s Essentials Gift Shop 23rd Avenue, in the square of the post office.
  • Hélène’s dinner 23rd Avenue and East Union Street.
  • Thompson’s point of view Union Street, just east of 23rd Avenue.
  • Best of Philly Original location on 23rd Avenue and East Union Street.
  • Sammy’s burgers 26th Avenue and East Union Street. It took patience and courage to order from this place.
  • Eddie Cotton’s On East Madison Street. Home of Soul Burger and the best shakes.
  • Cleaners East Madison Valley My mom worked here for LB Haynes. He called me “Little Fry”.
  • Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center (SOIC) – On East Madison Street and South Jackson Street. My Aunt Hellyne worked there like many African Americans in the 1980s.
  • Deano On East Madison Street. It’s for someone over there.
  • Oscars On East Madison Street. Who was this place?

SPECIAL HELLO TO SOUTH SEATTLE’S HISTORIC PAST:
(Read silently, but loud sobs are allowed.)

REFLECTIVE MUSICAL TRIBUTE: “SOUF” by Rell Be Free

  • Preparatory Academy of Sion – My two children attended Zion Prep at both locations. Is there even a marker?
  • Rainier Cinema – Columbia City. It was our black theater.
  • Unforgettable gift shop – Place Rainier.
  • Wellington tearoom – My daughter’s 8th birthday was celebrated here.
  • South-West Morgue – Rainier Ave South and South Henderson Street.

DEPARTURE VIEW: Yesler terrace. Our family resided at 911 Alder St., Apt 799.

Our Yesler Terrace address: 911 Alder Street, # 799 (east floor unit), Seattle, WA

RECESSION SONG: “It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday” by GC Cameron.

This concludes our service in memory of the central black district and the surrounding districts. The community is welcome to celebrate the disappearance of these iconic places by regularly supporting our still existing local black businesses. Together we can keep hope alive! Please also share any good memories you have from the central district. History lives in YOU!


Shawn richard davis is a longtime resident of Seattle, WA. She graduated in Criminal Justice / Police Science from Seattle University. Shawn retired from Seattle City Court probation in September 2020 after 28 years of service with the City of Seattle. She also worked for 15 years as a lawyer for victims of domestic violence in the city prosecutor’s office. Shawn is married to Gregory Davis and they are the proud parents of Kaila Davis-Nsimbi and Jerrell Davis. Shawn attended The March on Washington’s 50th anniversary in 2013. This trip inspired her to start her blog, www.dreamin4freedom.com, as a way to share experiences with family.

📸 Featured Image: A Central District grocery store circa 1980. Photo courtesy of the Seattle City Archives.

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