09 February 2015

Broadway Market, Seattle, WA

A relic of retail

As anyone who has previously read this blog should know, I'm really not a fan of the suburbs. It's just my preference to live in the middle of the city. I also make no judgment on those who prefer the quiet, serene lifestyle of cul-de-sacs and anonymity. Different strokes and all. Besides, I did gain at least two things from being reared amongst streets devoid of sidewalks which were named after the trees that they displaced. 1) The desire to live in a much more dynamic environment and 2) My love of the modern shopping mall.

Broadway Market lease plan, ca. 2002. View the full PDF version here.

I did love living my formative years within a short distance of those sprawling, oversized enclosed collections of nail studios, arcades and fast food. In fact, all of the Malls of My Youth are of the rambling, automobile-centric variety. Broadway Market could not be more different from the million square foot monoliths that were such an important part of my development. But, if there is any one place I could call the Mall of my Adulthood, Broadway Market would be it.

The exterior of Broadway Market in 2003.

I actually knew of this place well before I was familiar with any of the more traditional retail facilities in the Puget Sound region, such as Northgate Mall, Southcenter and Alderwood. On a previous trip to Atlanta's Midtown, I had picked up a few 1998 Columbia Fun Maps. These publications were specifically targeted toward gay and lesbian travelers, focusing on a given locality's "gayborhood." Their Seattle version contained my first introduction to what I call my home today. Their apt description for the Broadway Market was as follows- ...the Broadway Market, which comes as close to being the nation's largest "gay mall" as you can get… It was definitely on the itinerary.

Broadway Market pamphlet, ca. 2010. View the full PDF version here.

From the moment that I first stepped onto Broadway back in 2000, I knew that I was home. There was a certain energy and awe, more so than I had experienced in more well-known neighborhoods such as New York's Greenwich Village or San Francisco's Castro. I floated slowly down the cracked concrete sidewalks toward the north, passing small clothing boutiques, neon lights and rainbow flags until I reached that main thoroughfare's intersection with Harrison. And, boy, was I impressed at what lay just across the street.

1- Broadway Market's lower concourse. 2- Fred Meyer's unorthodox bi-level entrance. (Photos from 2003)

I had no idea what to expect. I was thinking something simple, much like Atlanta's Ansley Mall. But I was pleasantly surprised to be facing a lovely, multi-level rectangular structure draped in the ornate brick style of the early twentieth century. The opulent stonework peaking at regular intervals provided a splendid respite from the rather drab portions of brown brick. It was a beauty, but not ostentatiously. If one were not to give it more than just a passing glance, its elegance could be easily overlooked. It blends into the neighborhood, just waiting to be discovered.

The second level, with La Puerta to the right in 2003.

Inside was unexpectedly contemporary, not what I would have expected after viewing that classic exterior. The flooring was of a polished, almost charcoal hued concrete while the trimming was accented in different shades of yellow and orange. There was plenty of ambient activity within the well-trafficked common areas; locals could be seen shopping for that commitment ceremony gift, getting their shoes repaired by a professional or just sitting around chatting with their neighbors over a latte.

Broadway Market mall directories in 2004.

On the upper mezzanine were the Capitol Hill Cinemas, Gold's Gym, La Puerta Mexican Restaurant and great views from the balcony of the action below. All of this was laid out underneath a handsome vaulted ceiling with just enough skylights to keep the indoor brightness intimate while allowing just a touch of natural light to penetrate. From my lofty vantage point I was also able to notice what is, perhaps, the strangest attribute of Broadway Market. In clear view, there was a bi-level Fred Meyer which served as the mall's main anchor. The store was double tiered with each level split from the mall's main concourse so that one had to walk down a few steps to get to the store's bottom space and up a few steps to get to its upper level. And these two levels were not connected from the inside of Fred Meyer. If one wanted to browse all of the departments, they actually had to exit into the Broadway Market itself (presumable paying for their items first) then make their way to the other tier. This strange arrangement still exists to this day, albeit completely within a single business.

I love little anomalies like the stair situation that can usually be discovered within these relics of retail. And Broadway Market is one of the oldest of them all. It was first built in 1928 as a collection of food markets and stalls within a 25,000 square foot area, the precursor to the modern day supermarket. The construction of this retail collection is one of the catalysts to Broadway's eventually becoming Capitol Hill's commercial apex.  In 1989, a local developer purchased Broadway Market and turned it into a full scale, modern day mixed-use facility. The surface lot in the rear of the building facing Harvard Avenue became home to 33 new residences. In addition to a brand new upper concourse, the Pacific Northwest-based Fred Meyer opened its awkwardly designed space. It was located toward the rear of the mall, just above the newly built underground parking.

Broadway Market pamphlet, ca. 2015. View the full PDF version here.

Something that I can't help but find a bit amusing is that whenever a national chain like Office Max or World of Beer (both of which enjoyed very short tenures on The Hill) there is a very vocal group of residents who decry the loss of the character of our neighborhood to corporate America. They insist that their presence seems to be ever-increasing. Truth be told, however, over the years, in addition to Fred Meyer, our very own Broadway Market has hosted more than a few other national chains such as The Gap, Hot Topic and Panda Express, none of which are anywhere near Capitol Hill today. Other chains such as Gold's Gym and Urban Outfitters have themselves been more successful.

1- A close-up of the ornate brick and stonework.  2- The upper level of Broadway Market.  3- The mall’s ceiling and skylights.  4- The interior lower level.  (Photos from 2004)

The year 2004 brought the most evident changes to the nearly eighty year-old Broadway Market. Fred Meyer was replaced by a QFC, which was moving from their older home across the street to make way for another Seattle 1+5 (A mixed use development employing five floors of residences over one level of commercial or retail space.) This new tenant wanted to double the footprint of the previous occupants (both of which exist under the umbrella of Cincinnati-based Kroger.) So Madison Marquette, the management corporation that had purchased the mall in 1999, shuffled all of the inline businesses on the bottom level to accommodate the new entrant. The enlarged supermarket now occupies the vast majority of what used to be the lower level common area and small shop space. In fact, only a small sliver of the original first level concourse remains just off of the northeast corner of the center.

1- The main entrance to Broadway Market in 2015.  2- The northeast entrance the same year.

This effectively turned the Broadway Market into one big store with a few "pilot fish" feeding off of it. Along with these changes came a loss of public space which at one time attracted a fair amount of foot traffic. After the changes, patrons would simply run by, purchase their groceries then depart. The upper level, which still has the majority of the common area, was the hardest hit by this change in traffic flows. La Puerta eventually shut their doors. And it wasn't long before Gold's Gym took over the space of, perhaps, the last remaining tenant that brought in the old clientele.

1- Looking toward the north, with aisles of canned goods and pasta where the lower level common area used to be.  2- The upper level looking toward Urban Outfitters.  3- Gold's Gym with the QFC below.  4- The spot where La Puerta used to be located has been renovated.  (Photos from 2015)

The Capitol Hill Cinemas opened on the new upper concourse upon Broadway Market's re-tenanting in 1988. One would probably not use the word posh to describe the place, but most other cineplexes opened during that era weren't themselves. There were four auditoriums, two with 350 seats and two with only about 100, giving those screenings a more intimate feel. Most of its showings were of the indie and offbeat variety, with plenty of focus on the Gay and Lesbian genre. In 2000, national chain Landmark, which specialized in the Capitol Hill Cinemas' types of offerings, took over the theaters. In 2002, however, the theater's lease was taken over by neighboring Gold's Gym, which quickly expanded into their floor space.

-UPDATE- Broadway Market pamphlet, ca. 2024. View the full PDF version here.

It's been a decade since Broadway Market saw its last significant changes, and it still seems to be drawing them in. The QFC is one of the top performers in the chain, while other businesses such as BECU are expanding their footprints. In 2014, Madison Marquette sold the entire block to Regency Centers, so we'll see if the new owners are able to implement some changes and perhaps help the old classic to regain its status as a community, as well as a retail, hub.

1- A view of the long closed off upper level veranda and the Broadway Market clock.  2- The northern wing on the lower level, the only remaining mall corridor on the bottom level.  (Photos from 2015)

Before I moved to Capitol Hill from the northern suburbs of Seattle, on what were very frequent trips to the city center I would always make it a point to visit Broadway Market. I'd walk the aisles and just imagine how nice it would be when, in the near future, I could shop for all of my necessities before taking a swift and relaxing jaunt back to my place. Today, that is an almost every-other day occurrence. Even then, I still smile when I see that old, drab building waiting for me on Broadway, and will never let myself take it for granted. I always see Broadway Market with the same eyes as I did my first time so many years ago.

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