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Seattle Writing Prompts: Seattle's Privately Owned Public Spaces

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

Look at the little plaque in that picture. It's just a little corner that edges one of the tiles on the 4th Avenue open space in front of Safeco Plaza (the building also known as "the Box the Space Needle Came In"). It's a demarcation, of course, of when you are leaving officially public land and crossing some imaginary, but well-documented, veil onto private land. But did you know that this plaza, and many others like it, are actually official public spaces?

They are Seattle's POPS, or Privately Owned Public Spaces. There are many of them — some, modest and available from the ground floor; others, more grand and on private floors in buildings that you can access any time the building is open. The thing is, unless you knew you were welcome, you might think twice about just hanging out in front of a big building. But welcome you are.

The city has made this PDF list available — maybe someone should visit each one and then document the visits. The guide could be clearer, though. One of the greatest POPS in the city is in the Fourth & Madison Building. Enter the building through the grand revolving doors on 4th. Walk to the left, down the lobby, and find the back elevators. Take them to the seventh floor, where you will find a park in the sky: a lovely public space with a lawn, and tables, with views and a chance to get away from the bustle of the city while still being in it.

Of the many, many, many political tensions in our world, one that is more subtle (e.g., there's nobody on cable news screaming about it right now) is this idea that the world belongs to the owners, as opposed to the idea that the world belongs to the commons. You see this in desires to sell off our public lands, but you also see it in your very city, where the needs and desires of property owners often bump up against the needs and desires of the citizens. Some feel that the property owners should have the upper hand here, but when you choose to buy property in a city, you are entering a contract with the commons of that city. Yes, you have rights assigned to you by law and by ownership, but you also undertake responsibility to the city you've pledged your money and taxes to. You enter a contract, and the benefit is that you get to live where many others desire to live as well.

This tension played out, through pieces of art, twice at Safeco Plaza.

One: Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae, by Henry Moore, was purchased and installed by Seafirst National Bank, who owned the building, in 1971. After Bank of America bought the building in 1982, they sold the sculpture (and the building) to investors in Japan. After a public outcry, Bank of America purchased back the sculpture and donated it to the Seattle Art Museum, who still officially own it.

Two: A massive — eighteen by thirty-six foot — painting by Sam Francis used to hang in the marble lobby of the Seafirst building (aside: walk through the building. Take the escalators down to 3rd Avenue. It's a marvelously considered space: austere, beautiful. Designed by NBBJ with a corporate mid-century Asian inspiration) on the large elevator bank wall that stands behind the guard station. The painting was an abstract, facing 4th Avenue. Rumor has it, when Rem Koolhaas visited the site of the Central Library, he looked across into the atrium of the building and saw the crossing patterns on the large canvas. It was his inspiration, if you believe the story, for the diamond cross-hatching that dominates the library's facade. That painting was moved when Bank of America decided to open a museum of its art in South Carolina. There, apparently, it still sits, out of context, inspiring no architecture.

Hmmm. Maybe we've only learned that Bank of America are jerks who don't care about keeping art in Seattle. Let's make up some different stories, shall we?

Today's prompts
  1. There were the cops, lined up, impact plastic covering their faces, armor covering their bodies, standing a line along where the private land started. There were the protesters, walking by, looking at the cops. Wondering why some of them were holding batons. Then there was the troublemaker. Black jeans, black sweatshirt, black balaclava. Then there was a brick flying, and the lines moved towards each other.

  2. Why had she decided to walk down the stairs? She thought it would give her some exercise, didn't think how much 29 floors down would make her knees feel wobbly. She made it out to the street, out to the edge of the public square, before they gave way. Before she skinned her knee going down. Before she looked up to see a hand held out to help her up.

  3. Because she died inside, the ghost rules said she could not cross the boundary set forth by the seers who drew the building lay lines. She sometimes haunted those on the elevator, and more than one janitor or night security guard quit before they were employed for a single week. But those minor amusements were erased when the little dog died in traffic in front of the building. Its ghost looked at her now, across that line that divided them, the line that neither could cross. It whimpered as she tried to reach it, determined to find a way.

  4. The drunk men were arguing. "That's it!" one yelled. "Here's the line," he pointed to the metal that demarcated the plaza. "This is it! You cross this line, and it's coming to blows." The other man edged right up, toes against the mark. "This line?" he said. "You mean, if I cross this line?" He picked up his foot, and threatened to move it forward.

  5. The detective pulled his collar up against the wind and rain. 4th Avenue was deserted, except the occasional taxi driving by, splashing water. He flicked his cigarette into the gutter, and waited for that big bad businessman to exit the building. Soon as he crossed the line onto city property, the cuffs were coming out. Inside, commotion. He saw the mark. He raised his hand to his partner on the other side of the building. Time to bust some criminals.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Seahawks Victory Parade

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

One million people convened in downtown Seattle on a bright, freezing Tuesday — February 4, 2014 — to celebrate the Super Bowl win of the Seahawks. The route led down 4th, and the entire way from Seattle Center to the Century Link Field was a mass of people. There were no arrests that day. Some people take weird pride in that, but maybe it does show that we can have kindergarten-style fun as adults here: we all work together and nobody gets hurt

But probably more likely, it was the fact that nobody — certainly no long-time Seahawks fan — expected to ever see this day. Those long-suffering die-hards who would never give up, and always cared, were finally rewarded for forty years of dedication. The mood was a few excitement levels higher than jubilant.

As a young high school punk in the Eighties, I was caught in a John Hughes movie, sure the jocks were my enemies. Some of them were, in fact. But unlike movies, life contains many people who are only, in small ways, part of the group you assume they belong to. I failed to recognize a truth I've come to accept as an adult — that sports fans are just nerds, like every one else. I hung out with the music nerds, and the science nerds, and the math nerds; the fashion nerds, the art nerds, the reading nerds, the comic nerds, the movie nerds, the science fiction and fantasy nerds, and the drama nerds. I didn't understand the language or culture of the sports nerds, like some of them didn't understand some of the other languages I knew so well (although, many, of course, crossed multiple nerd disciplines).

And being a sports fan, as an adult, is no indicator of anything other than that you enjoy spending your time playing and watching sports. Is there anything more precious and annoying than the person who demurs that he doesn't like sports in such a loud way as to impress on you his superiority of the fact?

Because maybe there are a lot of true blue-and-green Seahawks fans in Seattle, but there aren't a million of them. But there are a lot of people who recognized a reason to celebrate, and who wanted to step up to offer thanks and congratulations. There was this impossible team that had everything come together in an inspiring way, and they went in and dominated. Normally not a sports fan, I was a football fan that year.

And here, you can see above, was a crowd so thick you couldn't walk through it. I was there, on Columbia, waiting for the parade to start when that ambulance cut through. The crowd parted and folded around it, the ambulance moving about 10 miles an hour or so, lights and siren off, the crowd looking like it was ready to rock it, as if this were a riot. But it was moving like a fish in a stream, and the water parted so it could find its way.

I remember feeling a bit worried as it approached, but it went through the crowd like nobody's business, to wherever it was headed. And just to narrow our focus from a million people, down to the crowd here in this photo at the moment of that ambulance's passing? Just in there, I'm sure we can find five pretty interesting stories to write about. Every corner along that route had at least as many stories. Every place that was empty of people who came, every place that was full of people who couldn't come because of work, or because they were unexpectedly obligated to be somewhere they didn't want to be. All of those stories are just as good.

Sometimes, the hardest thing about writing these prompts is that there is no place in the world that you can walk which contains no stories.

Today's prompts
  1. "We won't get through," said the passenger. "We'll get through," said the driver. He moved slow, watching people before him nudge each other to look behind them. Only a few short honks were needed to clear the way. He kept a tight foot on the brake, keeping speed under control, worried about lurching. As they hit 4th and started to turn, the driver caught sight of the passenger, who was a bit green. "You okay?" he said, turning his attention back to the mass of people he had to navigate. "I really don't like crowds. Really don't." And then the passenger passed out.

  2. She didn't even know the man. He was in his 70s, she guessed. Probably underdressed for the weather, in his lightweight coat and cotton Seahawks skull cap and scarf. But when he sat down on the curb, and his eyes went far, she could see he was having trouble breathing. She crouched in front of him, worried the crowd might see them and press in. Put a hand on his shoulder, and when he could barely focus on her, she called 911.

  3. The man wasn't feeling sick that morning. Just a normal coughing fest in the shower. But dammit, he had been a season ticket holder during season one and almost every season after that. There was no way he was going to miss today's parade, like he missed the last five seasons or so. It wasn't too hard to get past the front desk at the nursing home without being seen (he did that all the time, those idiots), but he almost got made on his way to the dock. The ferry ride from Bremerton was fine. He just snuck some coffee when the cafeteria staff was busy. It was walking up the hill to 4th that he started feeling weak. He never could catch his breath again. And finally, what he wanted more than even seeing the team, was just to sit down and rest for a moment.

  4. Why had she even come? First, it was freezing cold. Second, her husband was being a turd, just swilling vodka from a flask and screaming like he was thirty years younger than he was. And she hated coming into Seattle, and especially downtown. It was filthy, and riddled with criminals. And for some reason, the EMT had to ask someone from the crowd to assist him in helping that poor sick man onto the stretcher. It was just completely unacceptable, how these government agencies never get anything right. Sending one EMT into a crowd like this. One! Terrible planning. This city was a complete cesspool, and still it got to dictate everything that happened in the state. She resented everything about this day, and she could not wait to get the heck out of here and go back home.

  5. She was only five people from him the whole time. She kind of saw the commotion about the man who was having trouble and watched the ambulance approach. But she was with friends celebrating. Well, and making fun of the woman next to them, who did nothing but complain to her poor husband, who was just trying to have a good time. But then when the EMT lifted the cart into the ambulance, she saw the man's face clearly, even through the oxygen mask. She cried out: "Arrest that man! Arrest that man! That's my father, and he's guilty of murdering my mother!"

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Re-bar

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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The Re-bar is so old that, if it were a person, it would be old enough to go to the Re-bar. In fact, it's twenty-seven or so. The infamous club, which one of the owners laughingly calls "straight-friendly," is one of the few remaining safe places for all people on the wide diaspora of queer culture. But sadly the building, once a modest island in a sea of parking lots, is now absolutely mobbed by huge glass construction; it's an oasis of artistry and self-made culture among luxury condominiums and offices that completely dwarf it.

It's where, famously, Dan Savage met his husband; where Nirvana had their record release party for Nevermind; where one friend fell for his wife because she was dancing topless on the speaker stacks; where Dina Martina put up her yearly hilarious shows; where beloved drag queen bouncer Isidor became the namesake of a DIY punk metal band; where calls home the longest running house music night on the West Coast (after DJ Riz Rollins, who started DJing there, was told when he started: NO HOUSE MUSIC!); where, long before idiotic debates over where people can pee became mainstream, Re-bar maintained genderless facilities (there were urinals, but I remember no labels on the doors, and a certainly looseness about which you might pick).

And, of course, perhaps most germane to these very pages, it's home to the Seattle Poetry Slam, every Tuesday night.

It boggles the mind to think of the stories those modest walls hold. Music, art, theater, films, dancing, and just the kind of place where artists and freaks go to hang out together. You go out, create a bit of life, and go home. Perhaps to someone else's place. Perhaps after having some drinks. Perhaps that night becomes a touchstone in your life.

And given the current political climate, let's just be extra fucking clear that we don't mean this god-forsaken place. Nor is it the bar of the same name in New York. To hell with those imposters. Those in the know understand how special our own Re-bar is. If you haven't been lately, perhaps you should stop by for an evening out. Who knows how long they can hold back the tide of property values?

As for those stories — how many can we uncover? I dunno. But maybe we should make up a few to see what happens.

Today's prompts
  1. One step at a time in those heels. It takes a long time to learn how to use them right. The wig not secure, and feeling like it's listing to one side. One fake tit lower than the other, and, my god, the bra was much to small and starting to bind. And a run in the brand new tights, already, before she was even to the door of a club. There were many people coming out to dance tonight, but this was her debut, goddammit, and she wanted everything to be perfect.

  2. She signed up for the open mic, but the idea of reading her poem aloud was making her heart reside in her throat. The idea of standing on a stage and reading a piece of her own work — especially something this personal and revealing — was so disturbing that she went and got a beer, just to calm herself down. It was just after they called her name, and she was walking to the stage, that she saw in the audience the person she had written the poem about.

  3. When you're on the floor, the DJ booth looks like an amazing oasis, a place set apart from the sweat and beat and mix of writhing humanity. And this night, with the place packed, she looked up to the DJ, headphones on, head bobbing to the beat, but distracted by what was to come next, and she had a vision. She could be there. This dude's transitions were for the birds. He kept breaking the flow. He kept dropping the beat. And if he did it one more time, she was going to risk getting kicked out by going up there and helping him get the floor thumping again.

  4. It was a late, late night, so he came in the next morning to clean the place. Opened the doors to air it out, ran the dishwasher a few times with the straggling glasses, and gathered the bottles into the recycling. He was sweeping up when he found the wallet, just lying there on the floor, so obvious now, but probably desperately missed. He opened it: no license, no credit cards. Just $100 bills. Nearly thirty of them.

  5. She was already cut off, but she stayed at the bar drinking water and coffee, kind of weaving to her own pattern. There weren't places for her any more. Not in this modern Seattle. Weren't many places she felt at home. It was all condos and yuppies, and they used to hate yuppies. Jesus. She turned to the woman next to her, a baby face, all of twenty-one, who was here to dance, had streaked and colored hair. "It used to be junkies and whores all the way down 1st, from the Market to Pioneer Square," she said, and the club girl rolled her eyes and turned away. "It was glorious," she said, taking a sip of hot coffee. "Absolutely glorious."

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Montlake Spite House

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

The story I heard was that Seattle enlarged Montlake Avenue and took half of one man's plot by eminent domain. He asked his neighbor, who had a large lot, to split off a bit and sell him some so that he might build a full-sized house. The neighbor refused, so the man built a small house that completely blocked his neighbor's view of Montlake Avenue.

This story makes no sense at all: I mean, who wants a view of a big avenue? I'd thank my neighbor if they blocked the noise and bustle like that. But no doubt, if you know about the spite house, you've heard some story of how it came about: a divorce, feuding neighbors, angry developers. Whatever the case, the base facts about the house are known: it was built in 1925, the house is about 826 square feet. It goes for about the price of a condo these days: it sold in July of 2016 for about $500k.

I toured the house, once. It was on the market in 1989, and I called the realtor to arrange a viewing. I showed up with my girlfriend at the time, and let's just say that neither of us really looked much like potential homeowners. His skeptical scowl told me that he was onto the ruse, but such is the price of hosting an infamous house. And, really, maybe I should have bought it: I remember the listing price as $60k or so, which seemed outrageous to me at the time, but given that my rent was $450 for an 800-square-foot studio on Capitol Hill, I probably could have afforded the mortgage if I had figured out how to work a down payment.

Every time the house hits the market, news sites around the world list it as a novelty. Google searches for 'Montlake Spite House' raise a lot of links. Take the real estate photos, write up a lazy summary for your readers, and there you go: you've garnished clicks for your site. But all of them claim one thing: nobody knows the real story of how that house came to be or what it's about. And while that may be frustrating from a historical truth point of view, it's awfully intriguing from the point of view of someone who likes making up stories.

So, maybe we should try to create some?

Today's prompts
  1. The Divorce — Being an independent woman was all the rage, but even if you were a flapper, being a divorced woman in the 1920s was no laughing matter. Even worse was when your ex-husband was ordered to divide the land by a judge, but not told in what proportion. Nothing left to do but show him you can't get rid of an independent woman that easily.

  2. The daughter-in-law — It took her a month of travel after a year of arranging. She came by train, getting stuck crossing the Rockies, which were having a very cold Spring. All just to get to her son on the West Coast, where he settled in Seattle. He'd asked her to come, after all. But when she arrived, he didn't even pick her up at the station, claiming he was busy. When she finally found her way to him, he offered to put her up in an apartment over on Queen Anne, all the way across town from where he lived. When she met her daughter-in-law, she saw where all this guff was coming from. And she knew just the antitode. She bought that tiny piece of land out front of their place. She'd make sure that woman always had a good motherly influence nearby.

  3. The bet — Beggars can't be choosers, but gamblers did choose their lot and so shouldn't beg when they're down. They sure as hell shouldn't welch and make their debtor force them to sell off a piece of their land just to pay down on the debt. If they whine enough, that debtor might just make sure they could stay nearby, just to see that everything that was owed was paid up in full.

  4. The creep — Mrs. Franklin wasn't even yet thirty-five when she was widowed. And with two children to raise, the only thing to do was to shave off a bit of her land and sell it to the city for the extra money. Perhaps, she thought, it could become a small park. Wouldn't that be lovely for the children? It was with great surprise that she noticed a foundation being dug one day, and upon further inquiry, was further surprised to find out the gentleman who bought the land was not connected to the city. He was, unfortunately, a man long familiar to her; one who courted her before she met her husband. One who she rejected many times. One who now leaned on his shovel, taking a break from prying loose some rocks on the land, and gave her a wide smile. "Not gonna be so easy to get rid of me this time," he said with a wink, and then he got back to digging.

  5. The optimist — Someday, he thought, canals would run down the streets in Seattle like in Venice. The Montlake Cut would be dug north and south, and the avenues that lined the college and went up to the hills would be water all the way. So when wicked old Mr. Rockson, who openly mocked the canal vision at a city planning meeting, offered to sell the land that bordered Montlake Avenue to him, little did the old jerk know that he was selling off his canal-front property. And soon that little tiny house out front was gonna be worth four times the house that sat right behind it.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Arctic Building

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

One of the great stories of Seattle took place in this building. One of the great facades of Seattle buildings graces its exterior. Now a hotel, once a club for “explorers”, (but mostly the people who did business with them), the Arctic Building isn’t the largest building in Seattle, nor is it the most important, but it may just be one of the most interesting.

It was raised in 1916, by some lucky sods who had made off like bandits in the Klondike gold rush. At least that’s what the myth is. As Seattle well knows, most of the money was in outfitting the fools who went prospecting, not in the prospecting itself — this is the story of early Seattle. The primary funder of the club, James Moses, made his money in pottery, not gold or pickaxes and tents. And he wasn’t even a Seattle resident. The Arctic Club had strong ties to New York, where there was another club, and Chicago.

You would join the club if you wanted to reinforce your business connections to the Alaskan territory. The bar, which was once housed in an older building the club used before the building we all love so much was built, was apparently stolen through a window one night when nobody was paying attention.

The modern hotel bar is a good place to grab a drink these days — they faithfully, as possible, recreate the look-and-feel of a vintage lounge, although the drinks will set you back more than they did back in the early days. Here’s a hint: walking up to the parking lot on the corner of Cherry and Fourth allows you to walk up pretty close to one of the walrus cartouches — they’re gonna raze that to make a new skyscraper soon, so do it while you can.

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And that great story? Be warned: it’s a tragedy. It centers around Marion Zioncheck, a leftist firebrand politician, who was elected to the US Senate as a representative from Washington. He was a staunch New Deal Democrat who had a wild streak, apparently. He was arrested with his wife for drunkenly cavorting in a fountain. He sent manure to J. Edgar Hoover. He was, by all accounts, completely crazy.

He announced he was retiring, and set the stage for his college buddy Warren Magnuson (the park is named for him) to run in his stead. But then, Zioncheck changed his mind. One August evening, in 1936, Zioncheck’s wife of four months Rubye was waiting in the car for him. He was in his office on the fifth floor of the Arctic Building. They were all set to go out to an event.

And then, his body tumbled down from the sky, smashing into the street in front of poor Rubye, almost hitting pedestrians, and ending the life of Marion Zioncheck. The fall was ruled a suicide, and in fact, there was a note left behind, and a witness, his brother-in-law who claimed he was trying to stop him from the act. There are those who think otherwise.

History is funny like that. It leaves buildings behind with these ghosts. I caught the bus on Third between Cherry and Columbia for years, and I walked past the spot where Zioncheck fell nearly every day. I never thought about him, save for when I was telling someone the story. Funny how we just move on and don’t remember. How a building can just be a nice hotel now. I wonder if you could sleep in the room that has the window he jumped from? Might be worth asking at the front desk.

One thing’s for sure. There are heck of a lot of stories waiting to come out of that building.

Today's prompts
  1. It was midnight when they broke in to the old Arctic Club. The new building was ready, and there was just one thing then needed. The building was quiet as they opened the massive window as high as it would go, and started breaking loose the large wooden bar. It was theirs, and they were gonna take it.

  2. That old building on Third and Cherry was in poor repair, in 1975, and not looking so great. A woman, a waitress at the Harbor Club atop the Norton Building, was rushing down the hill in her heels, trying not to be late for her shift. When suddenly, she was grabbed by the waist and pulled aside. A tusk from one of the walrus friezes crashed to the sidewalk where she would have been. "Are you okay?" That voice...she turned, and gasped when she saw who had saved her.

  3. They could only do it when the bar was slow, but it was a fun game. They tried to guess which couples getting hit on would go back to a room together. On a good night, they had a couple of hits. Occasionally, they stopped a creep from harassing someone. But when one of them elbowed the other to point out the man in the green suit making a move on the woman in the black wrap dress, what they never expected was to get pulled into the middle of an international incident.

  4. They gathered every full moon. They wore black robes, and gathered under the walruses. They shined their lights up onto the building and began their chant. All hail the walrus! The walrus who brings life! They knew they'd have five minutes tops before the cops came, at least that was the average. But this time they had something planned that would change things. This time, they wouldn't be chased away so easily.

  5. What was amusing was the one time she stayed in a hotel and could hear the neighbors next door spanking each other. What was not amusing was being in a hotel and hearing the neighbors next door yelling at each other in scary ways. But when she called the front desk to report them, all she was told was "Lock your door and don't leave your room until we tell you its safe", and the line went dead. Then the screaming in the hall started.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Alaskan Way Viaduct

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

It never should have been built. Think about Vancouver, who denied the highway madness of mid-century America. Think about the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, where a group of residents banded together to fight a highway bisecting their neighborhood. Then think about Seattle where, in a fit of veiled hatred towards beauty and all things natural (e.g. the large body of water at our feet), we built this 50 foot wall of concrete to block us from having to see it.

But, look, times were different then. My parents (with sisters and me in tow) moved from Los Angeles to Bellingham in 1982. When they bought their house up there, they found that houses on the side of the street without a view went for more money than ones with a view. Why? Nobody wanted to look at the working bay. It was industrial. It was polluted. Same in Seattle — so why not just build a modernist brutalist ribbon to partition the clean streets of downtown from the horrible ennui of a polluted, working Elliott Bay?

And times were different in that it was post war, and the most modern idea of great living was grouping all of these places people wanted to go into superbundles and people could drive to them, because everybody was buying cars like they were raffle tickets to Hamilton. Take your private world with you wherever you go! Cars were everywhere, and no "normal" family wanted to live in the city any more. It was the start of white flight, suburban dreams, and the inhuman drive towards putting culture out to pasture, for the possibility of a square of manicured grass with a habitat box plopped in the middle. Surrounded by pipe-smoking, lawn-mowing, casserole-baking, PTA-attending white people just like themselves.

This was a problem for cities: people who lived there, shopped there, ate there, worked there, and paid taxes there, were suddenly only working there, and they took their tax money with them to the burbs. So, let's build a highway to bring them all back, so that they can drive into town in comfort, and repatriate that money that had escaped. Except, of course, the highways went both ways, so people would just go home with whatever money they didn't spend on Frangos and fresh salmon.

There are people who love the Viaduct. Someone wanted to turn it into a park, like the Highline in New York, which is stupid because the Highline isn't in imminent risk of falling down when breathed on wrong. The Viaduct has been, in effect, condemned, for years, and is far beyond its functional life. And underneath, the dim, cluttered, depressing basement of downtown, is like a cyberpunk novel stripped of interesting technology. All sorts of things shrink there for lack of sunlight, from people just trying to get by, to people just trying to get one over.

But recently, an amazing thing happened: the most expensive, and largest bore, drilling machine in the world actually broke through the retaining wall of its exit pit, in a dust-throwing storm of earth crunching. Four billion (and counting) dollars later, we have an underground replacement for the aging stacked highway (which opened four years earlier than the Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland, that collapsed during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, killing forty-two people), and in a few years the dismantling of our stacked utopian fifties vision of he world will be stripped from our twenty-first century streets.

I say good riddance, and I just hope we get rid of it before another earthquake strikes here. Very few of the politicians who campaigned so hard for that project to happen are around to take the heat for its overruns, and the inevitable lawsuits that we, the taxpayers who voted against it, will be stuck dealing with.

But of the Viaduct there is one thing I will miss: it is the greatest egalitarian people-owned view in Seattle. If you have a car that moves, you can take it in. If you don't, hop on a bus that travels part of it. Because when it's gone, the ability to look out over Elliott Bay on a beautiful day — the Olympics appearing as close as Bainbridge, the sparkle on the water dancing, orca breaching alongside ferries, barges, cruise and container ships — that view will only be available to the highest bidder, and the bids are going up sharper than the profit line in a New Yorker boardroom cartoon.

All we'll be left with are stories.

Today's prompts
  1. It was the one road in Seattle you could open the throttle, if there was a cop ahead, you'd spot them. It was 3am. There were four cars, hopped up with engines growling. When the flag went down, they hit 99 just north of the Aurora bridge. First to make it to West Seattle was gonna win, and the Viaduct was where they really put the hammer down.

  2. It was all fenced off, where they were building the old highway. He knew, in the morning, a big concrete pour was starting. He pulled, heaving the bulky form in the bag, and cut the fencing. All he had to do was dump this stiff down the hole, and tomorrow, it would be gone forever.

  3. As meet-cutes go, this one was weird. They owned identical cars. Maybe that wouldn't be notable in Seattle if they were Subaru Outbacks but perfectly maintained 1960s Mercedes-Benz 230sl convertibles? An accident was blocking northbound, and the first time they pulled up next to each other, they caught eyes and laughed. The second time they yelled, back and forth, the white car driver initiating. The third time, the driver of the red car sent a paper airplane flying across, landing on the passenger seat of the white car. On it, a phone number.

  4. All he wanted to do was walk it. From the on-ramp to the off-ramp. Just walk it like a person walks any road. The cops saw it different, thought he was a suicide. But come on, man. Would a suicidal person be wearing a yellow safety vest? All he wanted to do was walk and take in the view. And now, he was gonna have to make his way through a bunch of cops to do even that simple thing.

  5. The shaking felt like a flat tire, at first. She had just entered the southbound lanes where they go under the north, but when she saw a telephone pole, next to the highway, swaying, she knew it was something more. She felt movement too strong, too intense. Too wrong. Traffic slowed around her and she laid on the horn. Move, you idiots, move! She looked in the rear view, at her son, sleeping in his car seat, oblivious. There was no way she was gonna let a damn highway win. She pressed the gas around, she had just enough room to get around that Tesla. She laid on the horn and went for it.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Terminal Sales Building

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The first thing you need to know about the Terminal Sales Building — besides its oddly specific and wonderful name — is that its address is 1923 1st Avenue, and guess what year it opened? That's right, 1923. Of all of the landmark buildings around Seattle, surely the Terminal Sales Building is the most numerologically aligned.

The gothic-revival building was designed by Henry Bittman, the famous Seattle engineer and architect. Many of his buildings still stand (his own home in Wallingford, built in 1916, sold in 2015 for $1.6m — although the last owner was apparently very reclusive, Bittman and his wife were not. An essay by Caterina Provost-Smith in Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects notes, of Bittman and his wife: "The couple, who never had children, entertained here frequently and with flair. They crowned each year with an elaborate New Year's Eve party, where, at the stroke of midnight, a specially designed dining table would split open and a sculpture commemorating the year would arise and revolve.").

Terminal Sales was the long-time home to Peter Miller's design and architecture bookshop (now on 2nd Avenue), which catered to the many design and architectural firms that lease space in the building. The other notable retail tenant, Baby & Co., has been a long-time favorite for couture conscious Seattlites with actual good taste, and the money to realize it.

A second, smaller, older building, on 2nd Avenue, now bears the name Terminal Sales Building Annex, which is a poor name for a building that is only connected to its larger, younger sibling by a skybridge over an alley.

But the Terminal Sales Building, with its big steel-framed windows, and terra-cotta tiles, appears wide-eyed and open to the world. It's ready to greet you. It's asking you in, to its loft-style spaces to run your business, or interact with someone else's. Let's find some stories there, inside a single design office.

Today's prompts
  1. The receptionist was nice, giving sympathetic smiles, as the candidate sat and waited for the Creative Director. He was screaming so loud the office wall might have not even been there, dressing down some poor sap for running the wrong copy in an ad. When that puffy-eyed creature left his office and the receptionist showed candidate in (and got the hell out of there as quick as she could). The candidate, clutching her large black portfolio, only hoped was that he liked her work. But entering his office, she knew that things were not going to go the way she wanted. This man looked murderous.

  2. God, he really was crying. The copywriter marched right past their little birthday celebration, with the cupcakes out and candles burning and singing going on, tears in his eyes. He didn't even notice them. He didn't even say hello. He didn't even notice his name on the cards. Nobody said anything for a minute, then that funny designer said something that made everyone laugh.

  3. The Creative Director was not in a mood to look at some fucking book by some fucking kid and play nice and encourage them. He was in a mood to destroy. He was like Kali, and everybody who crossed his threshold today was gonna feel the heat that his client rained down on him in epic display. He would redistribute that rage in equal measure, for them to take through their days and press into other's hands. And then the baby designer was so fucking nervous and stuttery, he was just ready to show her what professional people have to deal with. See if she wants the job after that. See how tough she really was. But then, he opened her book. And fuck it all if he saw something he never expected to see in a new graduates' work.

  4. It had to be in person. The sales director from the magazine knew that anything less wouldn't play very well. He held the bottle of 20 year old scotch in his sweaty hand. He was going to march in, tell the firm director that the copy mistake was their fault, and offer to reach out to the client. He would talk about how important their business was to him. He would talk about how their upcoming media buys are so important, and he would explain exactly how he's changed policies to safeguard against this happening again. How he fired the layout man who made this mistake. If only the elevator would come. If only it would come, he would stop shaking and get on with this terrible business.

  5. The receptionist placed the call when nobody was around. This place was for the birds. Everybody was so uptight all the time. Her last job was so great. Why did she ever leave? She dreams about it now. The phone rang, and her old boss would pick up and be surprised to hear from her. But surely they could put the affair behind them? Surely what she was feeling for her old boss wasn't love, right? Surely, her old boss would never leave her husband, would never live openly, so what was the use of even trying here? Surely, she told herself, this phone call was about the job and nothing else. And then the phone picked up, and she heard that ever-so-distinct voice on the other end: "hello?"

Seattle Writing Prompts: The mystery Coke machine

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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Look, let's just state it right out: there may be haunted pop machines in the world, but this ain't one of them. No, instead there is some very real person who stocks this machine, and has for years. Why? Probably because people keep buying sodas. Then one day, a dust devil of mystery poofs up around the machine — legends grown in a cloud of pot smoke and a desire to make the world more magical than pedesterian — and now whoever that restocker is has practically become the Seattle version of the masked man who leaves flowers and cognac on Poe's grave.

That machine was always kind of weird. Have you noticed that most pop machines (and, I use the term advisably, since we score high on the regional soda v. pop issue) are inside? Or, if not inside, at least under shelter. Rare is the machine just left to the elements, sitting on the street like a discarded fridge. That somebody plugged in. And stocked. That you keep buying food from.

It's also been a fixture of Capitol Hill for many, many years. I can't remember a time it hasn't been there, and I've lived in Seattle since 1987. Have I ever used it? Not that I can recall, but, although I'm sure the product is just fine and safe to drink, it always felt a bit out-of-place to me. I like a little more provenance with my drinks.

I love to think of the people who use it, though. Who use it, or might want a quick drink and happen to have three quarters jangling around in their pockets. How many bought sodas there and then walked up Broadway to Bailey/Coy? How many stopped off on their way home from concerts, or before grabbing a burger at Dick's, or before meeting their dealer?

So many stories, and we only have time to prompt five of them:

Today's prompts
  1. The batcavers — The black lipstick felt weird, but the spiked hair and leather pants felt great. When he almost broke his ankle on those fucking platforms, he stopped and leaned against the Coke machine to fix a strap. "We're going to be late, Gerald" she said to him, taking an aggrevated drag on a clove. "Fuck off, Miranda," he said, and then looking up at the machine. "And give me some quarters." She rolled her eyes in disgust. "You're so fucking pedestrian," but she started digging through her purse, and her black-painted long nails came out with three shiny quarters.

  2. The serum — At first, the professor thought about putting the serum in the water supply. But then, if everybody changed overnight, surely an outcry would raise, they'd figure it out, the way everybody would cluster around certain resevoirs. So he came up with the idea of a soda machine selling cheap pop. He'd make money, and the pattern of infection would be much more random and hard to trace. Less broad, yes, but much more interesting. Much more nefarious. Now then, where to place this machine....

  3. The lovers — "Do you have a Coca-Cola?" his date asked, laying next to him in bed, their skin glistening with sweat. "There's a machine on the street, downstairs." That caused a laugh. "Do I look like I'm gonna go down to the street for a pop?" A shrug. "Maybe. Maybe I'll dare you to do it naked. I'll give you my keys and you run down their naked and get us a couple of cans of Coke, and maybe then I'll feel recovered enough to do you again when you get back." His date laughed. But then, stopping, said, "You're serious, aren't you?" He smiled. "I don't know. I guess it depends if you're brave enough. Are you?"

  4. The slot machine — It's been said that every 10,000 cans or so, the spirit appears. Some might say genie, but that's got a certain set of expectations. No, this spirit is more subtle. It does grant wishes, but you don't have to ask for them specifically. You just need to wish them, and so this is why people tell you to think good thoughts: if you put your coins in the machine, and pop open the drink, and take a sip of the cold soda, the first three things you wish for are coming true. You better hope they're not the kind of wishes that will haunt you.

  5. The stocker — There's a story behind the machine and how it started. There's a story behind the couple who keep it stocked. The story has many elements, but the three most important are: a bet on a horse, an airplane that almost crashed because of a watch, and running into an old friend on a very cold night.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Capitol Hill Radio Antennas

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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Oh, those blinking sentinels. I guess I could have written this about the towers on top of Queen Anne, but there's something about the way these three sisters are clustered together atop Capitol Hill, just off Madison, straddling 17th, two on the West, one to the East.

The three towers belong to: Q13 (or rather, it's parent company Tribune Broadcasting), KCTS, and a company called American Tower that specializes in radio and communication towers. They are, all three, about 410 feet tall, and the ground they sit on is some 560 feet above sea level, so next time you walk all the way up Madison from downtown, you can make sure your Fitbit is counting those stair flights correctly.

There's something so evocative about towers. One time, I drove across the University Bridge, southbound, on a nice Fall morning. I failed to look up at the electrical towers that stand next to the bridge, impossibly tall, because traffic was bad enough, or I was focused enough on my destination.

What I missed by looking up was a trans woman named Ara Tripp who had climbed one of those towers to the top, stripped topless, and spit fire into the morning air as a way to protest the fact that men could walk around topless but women couldn't.

Sadder stories have happened on these towers — suicides and accidents, but a tower always gives a promise. A promise of being able to climb and gain a vista, of a blinking light that might extinguish and cause a plane to immediately impale itself, of surging watts of transmission power, sending media wirelessly to radios and televisions that can receive it.

In Seattle, we have so many of these tall towers because our electronic transmissions need to penetrate the valleys and hills, to get signal to the highest amount of people. As anybody living on the base of Queen Anne or Capitol Hills knows, the landscape throws a shadow of ill reception to those at the bottom who must rely on cable or suffer with poor picture.

But let's think of these a bit more magically, yes? For today's prompts, lets try to unlock something bigger and more fantastical.

Today's prompts
  1. The pattern was unmistakable. The Earth people, with these three towers, were clearly signaling. It took a year of their time for the full cycle to emerge, and at first it seemed almost random. But after parking a ship disguised as one of the primitive Earth satellites to observe, they were quite sure there was no way this could be accidental. So now, finally, they were ready to deliver exactly what the Earth people had so clearly asked for, exactly as they asked for it. They only hoped Earth people truly understood their ask.

  2. It was on. The course was to circle each tower on Queen Anne, then over to Capitol Hill to circle all three, and back to land on the roof deck in Lake Union before anybody could track where the bladedrones were coming from. Fastest racer took the pot, and with twenty entrants, the pot was pretty damn big. It wasn't technically illegal to do this, but only because these specific types of drones hadn't been outlawed yet. They were pushing them to the limits of their range, but surely, nothing would go wrong, would it?

  3. The big house under the towers was always dark. She had blotted out the windows. She had stapled chicken wire to every surface, and grounded it to a pole she dug through the concrete foundation and earthed to pull the signals out of the air. But still, the signals came. She couldn't leave the house, not that she hadn't tried. And she couldn't blot out the signals. It wasn't until she started meditating, being still, and letting the painful signals course her body that she finally understood what they were trying to tell her.

  4. And so through the destroyed city the couple went, down to their last few cans of food. Watching for the rauben, the cloth wrapped reapers. It was the towers you wanted, so the friendlies had said. The towers had platforms built between them, and on those platforms were the traders. And if the traders liked you, and gave you work, you could live a decent life. Sometimes, they said, the towers vibrated like they were still full of signal. Sometimes, they said, it almost seemed like before the fall had begun.

  5. The blinking lights had always been so comforting to him. He'd hunker down, right up to the cold window in his little closet room, the chair under the door so maybe they couldn't come in. They'd be fighting in the other room, throwing words and smashing things, yelling and blaming and cursing, all drunk and high and whatever, and he would just watch the red light turn on, and off, and on, and off. How could anything be so steady in such an uncertain world? So it went until the one night that was more horrible than all the last, and he found himself floating up to those lights, sitting on top of one, the flashing beam painting his little legs. He had to be dead, right? He had to be a ghost. And now he had a ghost job, up there, to sit on the tower and make sure the world was okay. To stop the world from making more ghosts like him. Maybe he could save every child.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Seattle Center Monorail

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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In the many years I've lived in Seattle, I've heard a myriod of complaints about the Monorail. It's a toy, people say. Too short. Goes from nowhere to nowhere. Is too old. Is too slow. Isn't the future we were promised.

Built for the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, the one-mile track starts near the Armory, curves through MoPop (sometimes rebrands are eye-rolling, but this one makes so much sense) before heading up 5th Avenue.

The ride is short, only two minutes or so, with a top speed of 45 miles per hour. There are two tracks, and two trains, but unless a major event is happening at the Center only one operates at a time. But you knew all this already, right? There is not much mystery about this tiny transit system, this boutique teacup of a train. It's like a proof-of-concept that never got the green light to go beyond its diminutive domain.

The Monorail has enjoyed fifty-plus years of being a Seattle icon, an avatar on the flag we like to wave. Elvis rode it, after all. It's part of our self-image, or consciousness, and our extended identity.

It's a safe ride — mostly. There was a two-train collision at a choke point at Westlake station once, and after the price to fix a door was quoted at outrageous numbers, the Seattle Opera Scene Shop (which is sadly being closed, displacing some of the greatest artists and craftspeople in our region) came in and manufactured new doors for a fraction of the price. A fire in a electrical system led to a Seattle Fire Department evacuation of a train via ladder. It is a safe ride (nobody has died riding it, to my knowledge), but something about it feels a bit unsafe, as if the car might just list off the rails and slump to the ground. Maybe that's why expansion never happened.

Not that people didn't try. They say the original line was supposed to be be an extended region-wide system, to the airport and beyond. but it wasn't until 1997 that a grassroots effort to expand the Monorail made it to the ballot. Over the years, four votes to fund the initiative and spin up a new transit authority were passed, until a fifth vote dismantled the whole system in 2005. The plan was scuttled by bad management, internal politics, external politics, bad public perception, and the utter disbelief from City Hall that the people could actually mandate the kind of regional transport system they want without being told what they want.

That this plan didn't work ultimately is less painful with the furthering expansion of Sound Transit's wonderful subway system. But it's still fun to think that if the Green Line had been built on time — and, that's a pretty big 'if' to swallow, given the way their agency was run — it would have been twenty-six years old when the Sound Transit line to Ballard opens in 2035.

Maybe the whole thing was a pipe dream to begin, but wasn't that the promise of the original monorail? A little dreamy future in the middle of this town with an identity crises about being taken seriously. But then again, maybe we should have stopped with our plans when they were pre-parodied by a Simpon's episode. It might have saved us some heartache.

But for those of us that love the Monorail — I ride at least once a month or so — there will always be a bit of dream that I could ride all day, along the elevated tracks, through the city, watching the sun sink below the Olympics as I'm taking the train home.

Today's prompts
  1. Action movie — The call came at 10:39 am, echoing over the loudspeaker at the fire station. A truck carrying explosive charges for the Space Needle New Years' celebration just crashed into one of the Monorail support posts causing a huge explosion. The support collapsed just before the train approached, and now a car full of tourists was dangling over Fifth Avenue....

  2. Meet-cute — It was love at first site, at the World's Fair, and it was a two-way street. Time stopped when they saw each other. Holding their breaths, neither could look away. But one was on the Monorail train about to exit, and the other was on the platform about to board. They saw each other through the glass, the shuffling crowd of the World's Fair pushing and commanding them onward. But there was no way to let an opportunity like this past. Drastic action must be taken.

  3. Musical — The players: the young woman who just lost her husband to cancer. The homeless man, a skilled musician, whose personal battles overrode his talent. The precocious twins with perfect pitch and a tap-dance routine. The off-duty cop with a heart of gold on her way to see her sweetheart. The dandy with the pocket square and waxed moustache. The drummer from the streets who plays buckets for change. The setting: a one minute monorail ride, and when the doors open, the rest of the world.

  4. Horror film — The drivers all talked about it. That feeling when you crossed Denny, that feeling of a hand suddenly grasping your ankle. Of pulling you, like it wanted you under the train, on the track, in the wheels. And that one driver who swore, after feeling that creepy sensation (five drivers had quit because of it), that she saw a young girl in a pretty dress standing on the tracks. Just standing in the middle of the concrete platform as the train approached. It was too late to break. The driver screamed, but there was no girl on the tracks. "It was her," some said: a girl who was killed in a traffic accident at Denny and 5th, caused when her father looked up out of his window to see the train pass overhead. The girl whose spirit now cursed the line forever.

  5. Noir film — Ripe pickings at Bumbershoot. All those tourists with their backpacks. Easy to move among the crowd on the Monorail run and pick a few pockets. Grab a few wallets, a few phones, a few watches. Slip off into the crowd before anyone notices. Standing on the platform at Westlake, getting ready to move through the crowd, a tug comes at the thief's sleeve. A kid. "I saw you," the kid said. "I saw you and I'm gonna tell on you," the kid looked around conspiratorially. "Unless you teach me how to do it too."

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Mercer Arena

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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I drove past the Mercer Arena yesterday, and those machine pickers had already started to tear it down. Soon, in its place, will be an extension of the Seattle Opera, room for more of their civic outreach, design and staging studios, and more offices.

The arena started life as the Civic Ice Arena in 1928, a large rink for public skating and fun. The exterior was changed dramatically in the early 60s to fit the vibe of the World's Fair, and during the fair it saw some famous faces: Ella Fitzgerald sang there, as did Nat King Cole, and the Count Basie Orchestra, just to skim the cream from the top of the list.

It was a popular mid-sized music venue. Nirvana played their last US show there. Led Zeppelin played there twice, as did Bruce Springsteen, Jane's Addiction, the Melvins, the Cure, Ozzy, Sonic Youth, Everclear, and yes, even Britney Spears. But maybe, if performances can resonate through time and you can close your eyes and feel their ripples, the one we still feel most today is when Elvis came to the world's fair and played the Mercer Arena.

But still, the venue was best known for sports. The Seattle Totems, a local hockey team, played from the late 50s to the mid 70s. The Seattle Reign started their...well, reign, in the venue, as did the short-lived Seattle Smashers (Vollyball) and Seadogs (soccer).

Personally speaking, this is one venue I'm not going to feel nostalgia for. I know I've been to shows there, but for the life of me I can't remember what they were. It is, in my mind, as it has been by the city for years: condemned. Sometimes you hear of a plan for a place, and you mourn the changes that will take something vibrant and leave something sterile. This is not one of those times.

But still, let us take a moment to tip our hat to the building that has sat empty since 2003, but which once held so many individual memories and experiences. Thanks for your service, Mercer Arena. See you in the building afterlife.

Today's prompts
  1. 1927 — They were clearing the ground before they brought the steam shovels in to do the real digging of the foundation for the new ice arena. Reggie was the first to find a bone, but no way it was human, right? But then one of the other fellows found a skull, and another right next to it. No way they were gonna build this new arena on top of an old cemetery, not with the curses that would follow them all. But then that foreman Jack came in, and that dog just spit on the ground and said "Get the truck. I want this land cleared by sundown or I'm docking your pay."

  2. 1961 — Her first architectural review. There were competing plans for the new facade of the Arena, to get it ready for the world's fair. She was presenting after the favored firm, Kirk, Wallace, McKinley & Associates, and rumors were they already had it clinched. But their vision was so pedestrian. She was going to show something novel and new, yes, but also something that would change the way people think about this building. They were showing a new skin, but she was showing a revolution. If, that is, she didn't vomit in front of the committee from nerves.

  3. 1968 — It was like she had a spotlight on her. You couldn't take your eyes away. Joanie Weston, the Blond Bomber, right here, skating derby in Seattle. She was fast, wicked, and driven. Nobody could beat her. And you, all of six years old, skinny legs and chubby face, wearing that hideous dress with the bow your Mom made you wear that you hated, sitting next to your hollering jerk brother, and there she was owning the arena with her brilliance. It was then you knew what you were destined for, and it wasn't playing with dolls. And more than that, you knew just what you had to to become a roller derby star, just like Joanie.

  4. 1997 — Rock show next door to Opera Night. Just a normal evening at the Seattle Center. But when the doors opened at the same time for both venues, tuxes and gowns found themselves mixed into crowds of flannel and ripped stockings and torn baby doll dresses. It was one dude from each, drunk from contraband flasks they squirreled into their retrospective shows because they were mad they got dragged out on game night. They came face-to-face right outside the Mercer Arena, and after shouldering each other because neither wanted to make way, they turned to face each other, and the shouting and fighting began.

  5. 2016 — It was just a dare: break into the old Arena and last the night, win $50 from all of their friends. Dead simple. It wasn't like a haunted house or anything. Some big, old, dumb building like this can't be scary, right? Plus, in the backpack, there was a huge maglite, snacks, and they had the big down puffy coat on, gloves, and even some rope for some reason. They were ready, until, that is, they entered the main hall and heard a child's laughter from somewhere up in the rafters.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Lake Washington Boulevard

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

What would Seattle look like without John Charles Olmsted? The famous park designer, who formed the Brookline, Massachusetts landscape architectural firm Olmsted Brothers with his brother Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., was hugely productive. Over the founders' lives (the firm ran continuously from their founding, past their deaths, and almost into the 21st century: 1858-2000), they designed hundreds of parks and college campuses, all around our nation. Their father, Frederick Law Olmsted, was the co-designer of New York's Central Park, and is considered the father of architectural landscape design, so, you know, nothing big to live up to.

Locally, Olmsted designed the University of Washington campus (as the grounds for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition), not to mention Woodland, Volunteer, Cal Anderson, Seward, and Green Lake Parks, just to name a few.

He also designed Lake Washington Boulevard. Eight meandering, gorgeous miles that wind from where Montlake Boulevard and 520 meet, south through the Arboretum, and then ending up hugging the shoreline of the lake, with diversions to curve through parks, until it ends at Orcas street, at the entrance of Seward Park.

Did you know that the boulevard is considered a park? At least, it's managed by the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department. The city shuts down stretches of it a few times each Summer for family bike rides, which are awfully fun. Kurt Cobain lived briefly, and died suddenly, on the street.

Olmsted arrived in Seattle in 1903, called on by the city leaders of the day who were inspired by the City Beautiful Movement, spending most of May of that year visiting sites throughout the Seattle area, learning the land that Seattle owned, and learning of the privately owned amusement parks that Seattle came to buy.

Olmsted imagined a string of parks, connected by boulevards, making emerald ribbons throughout the Emerald City. He even complained of the rain, writing home to his wife nearly daily. Olmsted's plans for the city were submitted in July of that year. The city council adopted it in November.

Lake Washington Boulevard was actually a number of segmented boulevards, but were renamed as one in 1920. If you're feeling uninspired at any time, a walk through one of the parks that it bisects or skirts, or a ride along its lengths by bike or even by those strange conveyances, the automobile, might break some ideas loose in your head. I was so inspired on a recent drive, on the way to our Reading Through It Book Club at the Seward Park Third Place Books. The light on the water. The people out for strolls. The windy slow traffic.

Of course, perhaps not everything is always perfect along that beautiful stretch. Who knows what horrors lurk along along its length? Maybe we can uncover a few of them today.

Today's prompts
  1. Olmsted — He was tired of the company — they seemed to never want to leave him to his thoughts. Some 3,000 miles from his home and family in Massachusetts, not even a walk along this beach was lifting his spirits, thanks to the yammering cohort. Perhaps it was the naked ambition of these Seattle people, so eager to seem sophisticated and worldly. Perhaps it was the damnable weather, always gray and drizzly. He stepped away from his group, saying he'd be back shortly, and climbed up a bluff, into the dense undergrowth. He was hoping to see a vista, a place for a clearing and a bench for a nice panorama of the water, but the foliage was thick enough to block any view from this angle. Then, even before he heard anything, a rank animal musk came across his nose. A branch cracked, as if stepped on by a heavy foot. Taking a rasping breath, he slowly turned.

  2. The walker — Every night that bastard walked his dog. He'd leave his million dollar house with the view of the water and Mercer Island, and walk down to Seward Park. He'd leave the path, and break into the woods, tying the whimpering dog to a fallen tree, before walking on a bit longer. Then, at a little clearing, alone, he would unwrap the little bundle — his most dreaded secret — and prepare the ritual that brought him so much relief.

  3. The child — the problem was that Daddy didn't see. Not really. He'd pick the child up, put them into the seat on the front of the bicycle, and they'd go for a ride along the water. It was so much fun, until they got to the tree. The child would try to remember to close their eyes, but they never could. They always looked up. They always saw. And Daddy never listened when they tried to warn him.

  4. The teenager — He was just minding his own business. Hanging out on the beach, smoking a cigarette. Trying to not get caught smoking that cigarette. The lady looked, like, totally normal. Kind of boring. Middle aged, maybe. Wearing a business skirt and short heels. She had pearls around her neck. She just walked right past, stepping on his backpack, not even noticing. Kept walking. Went right down to the water, and she didn't even stop. Just kept going in, up to her knees, her waist, her neck, and then, swear to god, she went under. I mean, what the hell was he supposed to do?

  5. The grandmother — This was back in the 60s, but she remembers that boy down at Ranier Beach like it was yesterday. He just wouldn't let up, trying to impress his friends and show off, bugging her. So she got on her little bike and rode up the shore. Four miles, if she remembered correctly. Four miles until they chickened out and turned back, getting into the white part of the shore. Four miles to the beaches where it was all white people and only white people. Everybody knew that was a bad idea, but she did it anyway. What was the worst thing that could happen? People are people, and all she wanted was to sit on the beach and read her book in peace. Surely, they'd just let her do that, right?

Seattle Writing Prompts: the PI-Building Globe

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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This globe was first raised over their building at 6th and Wall in 1948. The Post-Intelligencer — a combined name (the Seattle Post merged with the Intelligencer in 1881) that feels like a commentary name — had its headquarters there, in a building that is now housing City University. You can still see the round entry where the globe sat before they moved it to the newer waterfront building in 1986.

The P-I was a Hearst paper. During it's long run, northwest novelists Tom Robbins and Frank Herbert were employees, as was EB White (as in Strunk-and, and Charlotte's Web) for a spell after he got fired from the Seattle Times ("A youth who persisted in rising above facts must have been a headache to a city editor" he wrote later. He also wrote, after reading his journals of his time in Seattle, "As a diarist, I was a master of suspense, leaving to the reader's imagination everything pertinent to the action of my play").

The globe is certainly an icon in this town. Any montage worth its salt is sure to show it. It currently belongs to the Museum of History and Industry, but exactly what they have planned for the big metal ball of steel and neon has not yet been revealed. But, wherever it goes, it will still inform you: "It's in the P-I".

Surely, there were thousands of stories that took place as that globe turned and the desks turned in their reporting. But let's try something different, if you're game. Let's think of a few stories that take place all within view of the PI Globe.

Today's prompts
  1. The Jogger — Back then, going through Myrtle-Edwards at night wasn't the best idea, but a tough guy like him wasn't gonna get scared off his nightly run by some hoods in a park. But when a charley horse in his calf pulled him up short by one of the pocket beaches, he could hear the lapping of the water against the rocks and wood. And he could hear the voice coming up low and stranled, "help me, please!"

  2. The Artist — Finally, a show in New York. Working around the clock was worth it. But the loft space that used to look at the water now looked at that damn new building for the paper. And they lowered that kitschy monstrosity on top, and lit it up, ruining the light in the studio. Nothing doing, the paintings had to get finished. Even if the seeping influence of that glowing ball found its way into them....

  3. The Accident — It was just their luck. The road was wet, just on Elliott where it turned. The Camaro they jacked was powerful, but with bald tires. They slid, sideswiping that other car, then careening into a parked car, smashing the front-end. Now they had to choose: run for it, or stop to help the woman they just hit.

  4. The Informant — He kept to the shadows across from the paper, up their on 6th. He risked lighting a cigarette, then cupped it in his hand so as not to draw attention to himself. That reporter knew where he was. She'd want to know all the details, and he was ready to spill. Damn the consequences. Ain't no good having connections when they all just gonna turn on you. Best thing you can do is turn on them first, and get out of town. That's just what he planned to do. He pulled his hat down to shield his eyes from the rain, and waited to for the dame to get off her duff and come find him.

  5. the Chaplain — The bay was well protected, both by these inland waters they'd been exploring on the Wilkes Expedition — still going strong in 1841 — and by the natural land forms that curved about it. Jared Leigh Elliott, chaplain on the Vincennes, had borrowed a glass to observe the shore from the ships rail. Suddenly, he had a vision through the scope that quite shook him. A vision of a globe, lit by some ghastly ominous light, with letters surrounding, quite clearly spelling "IT'S IN". A moment later, the vision was gone, and Elliott scanned the land again, trying to find whatever it was he surely must not have seen. Wondering if he was having a fit. He heard the steps behind him, knew it was the captain come to chat. Wondered exactly if he should tell him what he had seen. A glowing world. Why would the lord visit such strange visions upon him?

Seattle Writing Prompts: Harborview Medical Center

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

The beacon on the hill! Harborview is infamous in Seattle, a place of great healing, a place most people in the city hope to never visit. A massive employer, with 24/7 staffing. It's the only Level 1 trauma center in the state, and also serves parts of Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. If you've ever seen those red and white helicopters flying fast and low over Elliott Bay, chances are good they're on their way to one of the three landing pads on top of the Harborview parking complex.

To enter the emergency department at night, you pass through metal detectors. It's a nod to the fact that if you're shot in the city, you're probably going to end up at Harborview. And what if the person who shot you wants to make sure the job is finished?

Opened on First Hill in 1931, Harborview began its life in a much more modest way, as a six-bed welfare hospital in 1877, then called "King County Hospital". In 1906 it was in Georgetown, and had 225 beds. Now, after its recent expansion, it has 413 beds.

Hospitals seem like dark places to people who don't work in them, or visit them frequently. They represent our fears, the places we least want to be. But then, I think about Fred Rogers' quote about his mother:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world."

The fact is people choose to work in hospitals because they want to help people. If you look at a hospital and see fear, remember to look again and see professionals who will be there for you or your family in times of the most dramatic need.

But then, not every story should be about the good things, should it? There are a million stories in the naked hospital, and I only have foom for five writing prompts.

Today's prompts
  1. The rain is coming down in slanting waves, and maybe it wasn't smart that the bird was flying at all in this, but when somebody needs help, those helicopter pilots push their luck. The EMT was sitting in the ambulance, and after the wheels touch down, the EMT waited for the rotors to stop like regulation says. But then the helicopter door buckles. A face presses against the windshield in a scream. The door flies off the side with amazing force, and a dark blur exits into the inky night. The EMT rubs their eyes. What the hell was that? The rain beats down in waves.
  2. Parking passes are impossible. You work in the hospital? You talk to one man. He's cornered the market. He knows how the system works. He's greased the wheels, and now you have to butter up to him if you don't want to pay through the nose for the day rates. He's one of the highest powered surgeons in the city, so this is just a fun side game to him. If he doesn't like you, there's no way you're gonna be able to park. Too bad you're the auditor who is here to investigate him.
  3. It had to happen on her shift. She had a lot of beds to cover, but they put those two in the same room. One, a machinist biker who got his knee smashed by a little old lady in a Mercedes. Totaled his body and his Softail. The other, a computer programmer who got drunk and fell of a balcony. All was chill for most of the night, and then the two of them started talking politics. Now it was full on war between two immobilized pissed-off men. And their families.
  4. That little damn button. It takes away the pain, but it makes everything groggy and sleepy. Still, the patient pushes it when the pain makes everything else seem inconsequential, and tries to sleep the rest of the time away. But one time, that reassuring beep doesn't happen. It's been hours, surely. And furthermore, where is the nurse? Someone should have come in twice in the time its been. And the patient was hungry. Where could dinner be? And why does it feel like the entire hospital is deserted? In fact, why couldn't they see the lights of the city downtown like usual?
  5. This was what they always did. When first in college, they wandered every hall in every building, finding every nook and cranny. Mapping all the places they could go, and the places they could go, but probably weren't allowed to. So now, in their first weeks as a residence, knowing the sprawl of this massive building was something important. Is there roof access? Can you get up to the walkway around the tower? Which elevators are the fastest? What are the most efficient routes? What they didn't expect was that door in the lowest levels of the basement. And more than that, who could have expected what, and who, was behind it when they found it unlocked the first time they tried?

Seattle Writing Prompts: the Macy's sky bridge

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

A photo posted by Martin McClellan (@hellbox) on



Standing on the northeast corner of Third and Stewart, looking south on Third, one sees a sky bridge. It connects a parking garage to the building that once housed The Bon Marché, one of three powerhouse retailers that bounded out of the wellspring of Seattle in the olden days. The other two being, of course, Frederick & Nelson, and the still-standing, and now heavily politicized in the age of Trump, Nordstrom (which stands, ironically, in Frederick & Nelson's old building).

The Bon — now a Macy's that is downsizing its store by selling floors of office space where once there were mattresses, kitchen goods, fine crystal, and other standard department store fair — stood connected to its parking garage by this one appendage. I can't tell you how many times I've crossed it, on the sixth floor.

We don't have many sky bridges in Seattle (if you're from the Midwest, you may know them as skyways), there's one a few blocks east connecting Nordstrom to Pacific Place Mall; there's a long windowless one that walks across the roof of the King County Administration Building — that diamond faced wonder caught between the jail and the King Country Superior Court — for walking prisoners from their cells to their hearings; there are two in the Market, and up the street, one from the end of Lenora to Alaskan Way; there's the massive bridge that connects the two parts of the Convention Center where it's bisected by Pike, an expanse turned into display area during conventions, where goods are hawked above the bustling streets of the city, much like bridges in olden Europe used to contain apartments and stores.

It turns out we don't have many sky bridges because the city makes property owners pay for them. Macy's, in fact, paid a fee of $31k back in 2010 for this very skybridge, up from the original $300 when it opened in 1960. Or, about the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle.

Seattle politicians aren't very circumspect with their views on the rank inequality of sky bridges:

“What a sky bridge does is it takes people off of the right of way and puts them up in the air, and leaves usually the people who aren’t good enough to go in the buildings down below,” City Council member Jean Godden said. “It’s really not very friendly.”

Surely, given all this, we can find our way around some writing prompts that take place stories above the street?

Today's prompts
  1. The ticket booth on the west side of the bridge had a little window, but when she was working, tucked back in there, she couldn't see down the length of the bridge. But, they gave her a little screen attached to a camera so she could see who was coming. Except, that evening, the camera went dark just seconds before she heard the gunshot.
  2. It was really strange. Never before had Snowy done anything but execute his duties as a seeing eye dog with aplomb. Yet, this morning he wouldn't budge at all. Half way across that damn sky bridge, he sat down and turned into a statue of a dog, resolute and still. What could have made him do that, all of a sudden?
  3. He was terrified of heights. Every step across the bridge always came with a prayer that the big one wouldn't strike while he was on the bridge. Turns out, maybe he was worried for a very good reason....
  4. Maybe it was unromantic. Her friends certainly tried to talk her out of it, but if there was one thing that brought the two of them together, it was their love of sky bridges. And since she'd be the one proposing, she was gonna do it as she damn well pleased.
  5. It was kind of amazing, the sort of thing you'd never expect, the sort of transformation that only happens once in a person's life. But there she was crossing back to her car, and what had happened in the past hour inside the department store had changed her so much, that she barely recognized the woman in her memory who had crossed the other way not even an hour ago.

Seattle Writing Prompts: SeaTac Airport

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Using the word-mashing logic of SeaTac, we should have named the lake to our east SeaBelle. To the North, perhaps we could make a region called SeaEver, and perhaps our ferry runs could be SeaBain, SeaVash, and SeaBrem.

But despite its awkward name — and being one of the only cities in the world, to my knowledge, that employs CamelCase — we do all find ourselves drawn to SeaTac's engine-roaring shores now and again.

This time of year, the smart are taking short jaunts to points south for some mid-winter sun. Not that bright, I flew to Chicago last weekend (it was quite nice, in fact, so you can keep your Mexican sun weekends for now).

Airports are one of the great transition points of the world, and although they are also now ridiculous semi-public undressing places, once you're through the curtain of security there are delights to be had. Just wandering the terrazzo floors, gate-to-gate, looking at weird little shops and people who are either late and rushing, or early and dragging.

And every plane that takes off or lands, in those two-minute spreads, is full of people jetting through the air at tremendous speeds, carrying with them all the stories of their lives. Some of those stories, surely, happen because of people coming together in unexpected ways at the airport. I'll bet we can exploit that for some good writing fodder today, yes?

Today's prompts
  1. In security — Why had he worn the tie shoes? Of course the laces knotted when he was trying to get them off at security. And behind him was one of those pushy people reaching in front of him to grab trays before he had his stuff settled. And his pants were falling down without his belt, and he dropped his phone and it nearly cracked. Then, when he was just about to walk into the backscatter machine, right as his bag was going through the x-ray, he heard the scanning agent yell out "bomb!", and people came rushing in.
  2. In the secure zone — She hadn't gotten a license to practice massage just to rub the shoulders of travelers in the airport, but a job is a job and this one came with benefits. She almost never saw anybody she knew, except that one day where she was pushing her elbow into the back of some businessman and she saw her sister walk by the booth. Her sister that had disappeared ten years earlier...
  3. On the plane — It was just a fact of life: never speak Arabic to a friend or on the phone when you board a flight, lest some scared white American have a paranoid waking dream about you, and suddenly police are taking you off the flight. So when that woman across the aisle started looking, there was nothing to do but ignore her. But when she leans over, as the airplane starts taxiing, and says "I know who you are", there's nothing to do but listen to what she's gonna tell you.
  4. In the terminal — Nobody knows how the raccoon got through security to begin with, or why somebody had it as a pet. But there's one thing for sure: a scared raccoon in an airport is a serious disruption, and as the new security guard on duty, it was gonna be their job to catch that furry little bugger and put it back where it belonged.
  5. In baggage claim — In one of the greatest coincidences in the world, they had almost met five times before they had their first date. Each time, was in the airport, waiting on luggage. Each time, had they seen each other, they would have fallen in love. Each time, some twist of fate kept them apart. Five twists of fate conspiring against two people. Just think about what could have happened....

Seattle Writing Prompts: Kerry Park

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Ah, Kerry Park. As Seattle views go, it's hard to beat this one, and that's in a city with more vistas than West World. Have you ever been? It's crowded, nearly all the time (except, ironically, the day I dropped by to take these photos).

On a clear day, you can see Rainier, and if it's dusk, you can see the lined-up jewels of planes in formation on their way to SeaTac, no doubt each one carrying excited tourists, those eager to be home, and flight crews eager to knock off shift. If you're the kind of nerd that loves sighting expensive camera equipment in the wild, the lenses used here will surely impress. Everybody brings their best gear to Kerry Park. The opening credits to 10 Things I Hate About You were filmed there, as was the cover photo of a 1989 hardcore album by the band Brotherhood, which I only know about because one of their fans (or band members) made note of it on the Kerry Park Wikipedia page.

The park was a gift of Albert Sperry Kerry (that name!), and his second wife Katherine Amelia Kerry (his first, Mary Ellen Kerry, died young). He lived at 421 Highland, just down the street from the park, which the Kerry's donated to Seattle in 1927. The famous sculpture in the park, Doris Totten Chase's Changing Forms was commissioned by Kerry's three children, and installed in 1971.

People come to Kerry Park mostly for the view, but I love to walk through Kerry Park to look at all the people looking at the view. Teenagers cruising in cars with loud stereos, tourists who heard that it can't be beat, Queen Anne residence jogging by or walking their dogs, wedding photographers shooting couples in full dress, photographers with massive tripods shooting golden hour, it's a busy intersection, and that gives rise to so many story possibilities.

So here are a few, all of which may have happened, in Kerry Park, today...

Today's prompts
  1. 5:35 am — She was always nervous about jogging before the sky got light, but if you want to run marathons, you don't let fear stop you. Running with a friend always helps, though, and that day Joanie was going to meet her at Kerry Park, to run the loop around the hill a few times. What she wasn't expecting was to see the still body laying on the grass, wearing what looked like Joanie's running jacket.
  2. 10:12 am — An accident in front of the park. Happens all the time, fender bender as the morning light was particularly sparkly on downtown and the Space Needle. The difference, is that usually people who hit each other don't fall in love. And these two almost don't themselves, until their argument about who was at fault is interrupted at just the right time.
  3. 1:30 pm — Twice a day, on nice days, the three of them go up the hill. One is the bride, one is the groom, one is the photographer. They rotate through the roles. The bride always starts the fight. She runs off with the photographer. The poor groom is left, bereft, to find a way home when he has no money. Stupid sucker tourists....
  4. 6:45 pm — The end of the reunion. It took a year to plan, people flew for thousands of miles to come, and the family had never felt so close. All twenty of them would be leaving tomorrow, but they decided to do one final group picture with Seattle in the background. Each one has a memory of the past few days and what they learned about people they thought they knew. Each has a new secret to take home with them. Each one deserves their own short paragraph. Where did they come from? What is their relationship? Who is the oldest person in the family? The youngest?
  5. 11:59 pm — He didn't spend two freaking million dollars on a condo with the best view in Seattle only to be woken up at midnight by some goddamn band in leather and white pancake makeup — god, wasn't KISS passé!? — pretending to play their pointy guitars while a car blasted their godawful racket and some production interns shined red gelled lights on them, and idiots with cameras shot low angles to make them look wicked. He was going to give them a piece of his mind. And since they were all probably drug addicts, he made sure to grab his pistol. Just to protect himself, of course.

Seattle Writing Prompts: More Moore

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Theaters have a special place in the history of cities. It's more than memory, although I've certainly seen some notable performances at the Moore Theater over the years (odds are pretty good you have as well). Theaters take up a huge amount of space on the grid, but are only lit up with activity and people a few hours a day, at best. The rest of the time they lay in wait, a few people prepping, practicing, staging, or constructing, but otherwise, they're empty.

During the day, the gates across the front entrance may be slightly cracked, and you wonder who is inside. Perhaps you catch the person changing the letters on the marquee. Perhaps you think you hear sound check leaking out. Perhaps you see the tour buses, the sides popped out to allow for more sleeping space, parked in front or on Virginia between 2nd and 3rd.

The Moore is the oldest still-active theater in Seattle. About half the capacity of the grander Paramount across town, the theater feels both grand and tiny when full and a performer is on stage. You can see the expressions on their faces, the intimacy is something amazing.

It opened in 1907, which means as its doors were first thrown wide, just north workers were still sluicing away parts of Denny Hill, in the second regrade effort. The Moore's purpose was to house (in the adjoining hotel) and entertain visitors of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a grand world's fair in 1907 (we all know what the fair grounds of the 1962 world's fair became, so what became of the grounds of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition? They became the University of Washington campus).

For many years the Moore was a movie palace, and under the name Moore Egyptian it hosted the first SIFF festival in 1976, before the folks that ran it moved the theater to the old Masonic Temple on Capitol Hill, and kept the Egyptian name.

The Moore has a second balcony, that has a separate entrance off Virginia, which bypasses the grand lobby, and offers more modest bathrooms. Speculation is that this was for racially segregating theater goers, but historians have not been able to uncover definitive proof. Other speculation is that the balcony was for economic segregation, which was defacto racial segregation as well. Feliks Banel wrote a great piece on this that was published on My Northwest.

Now, isn't that enough to give us some ideas to write about?

Today's prompts
  1. The theater is dark. A match strikes and flares, a candle is lit. A quavering hand walks it across a bare stage, one shy step after another, all the way to the front. The candle is placed, ever-so-carefully in front of its bearer, who clears their throat, and addresses the supposedly empty theater with something they've wanted to do in public their entire life.
  2. The theater is bustling, and outside the door on Virginia, trying to hustle a fifty-cent ticket to the high balcony, is our hero. There's a Vaudeville act coming through they keep hearing about, and they're gonna see it no matter what may come. The ticket acquired, they hop the stairs two at a time to get in, and grab an empty place on a wooden bench up front. But when the first act rolls out, they see that rich fellow who did them wrong, sitting right down there on the floor. Nothing — and I mean nothing — is gonna stop them taking their revenge.
  3. The theater is about to riot. The crowd is sick of waiting. They're booing, throwing illicitly imported bottles at the empty stage. The stage manager goes once more to try to convince the band, now an hour late, to get a move on. They're doing lines and gulping whiskey in the dressing room. But at the sight of the stage manager, they decide it's time. "Fucking singer been gone a long time" one of them says, and another goes over to knock on the toilet door. It opens. There is the singer, slouched on the toilet, needle in arm.
  4. The theater is rented for the afternoon. There's a single mic on stage, and only twenty-five people in the audience. Nobody can believe they got this lucky, especially that person sitting right in the middle, who is holding an envelope from the DNA testing firm that conclusively proves that the man about to walk out onto the stage is, in fact, their father.
  5. The theater is closing. Who goes out anymore? Everything is virtual reality now. Every seat is front row. You could sit on the damn stage if you want, and feel it when your favorite musician walks over to you and kisses you. But there's one more night to get over first, and it's gonna suck. Touring asshole comedian, the house not even half sold. But then, in a standard security sweeping, someone finds a duffel bag tucked under a seat. And inside, it sure looks like a bomb.

Seattle Writing Prompts: ghosts and fires

New column! Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Butterworth Building, 1969

The Butterworth Building is haunted. Just ask anybody who works at Kells, the Irish pub in the basement of the building.

Opening in 1903, purpose built as a mortuary for the firm Butterworth & Sons, it was likely the first building in the United States to provide full mortuary services under one roof. In fact, the grand man himself, Edgar Ray Butterworth, is credited with having coined the terms mortuary and mortician. So, take that, rest of the world who then adopted terms invented in Seattle. Tell all of your funeral-nerd friends!

Speaking of firsts, it was the first building on the west coast to have an elevator — although the 1st avenue face of the building is only three stories, if you walk around back to Post Alley, you'll find another two below them. Kells is in the former embalming room and crematorium, or the stables and storage for funeral wagons, depending on who you believe.

The building was in the news a few weeks back after catching fire, which is when I started reading about it. Isn't it funny how this little three-story wonder can have such a history? At the end of the post, I'll include a second shot from Flickr, when the building was an engineering firm in the 1960s.

If you search for information about the Butterworth Building, you will find many writings talking about how haunted it is.

All of which gives us some nice potentials for:

Today's prompts
  1. You're a bartender at Kells, and it's closing time. You just got the drunks out, and the last load of glasses put away, and the bar wiped down. The door — you swore it was locked — opens, and a man in black stands before you.
  2. You're a kid, eight years old, and you were chased out of the market after stealing an apple from a fruit-stand. You hide in the old mortuary stables, and you overhear the stable boy talking to a girl he fancies, and he tells her something that changes your life forever.
  3. You're a firefighter, and you enter a smoky room at the top of the building, wearing your respirator. You're making sure the place is clear of people. A buzzing sound and flickering light catch your attention. A device, metallic and round and decidedly futuristic catches your attention. You reach out for it...
  4. You work in the engineering firm on the ground floor, as a draftsmen. You're working on a piece, cigarette in mouth, when a cop walks in. Talks to your boss. You see the boss point at you. The officer removes his hat and walks towards you with a sympathetic look on his face.
  5. You're a construction worker excavating years of really crappy remodels inside the Butterworth building. You're working on this one part of wall, when you feel a loose brick. It wiggles free, and a blast of cold air hits your face. You put your flashlight up and look inside....

Engineering office, 1969

Seattle Writing Prompt: the pyramid atop the skyscraper

New column! Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Did you know that someone lives atop Smith Tower? Petra Franklin Lahaie holds the lease. She cleared the space after a water tower was removed, converted it into an apartment, and made her home there with her family and her massive Chihuly chandelier. The New York Times did a great piece, with photos, and Evening Magazine took their cameras inside in 2011.

What a stellar piece of Seattle skyline that building is. A wood frame skyscraper 38 stories tall, the tallest building "west of the Mississippi", as we like to say in Seattle, when it was built, Smith Tower opened in 1914. Its builder, Lyman Cornelius Smith, whose moniker you may know when attached to the company name Smith Corona, bought the land when on a trip out west from his native New York in 1909. Did you know the building still employs elevator operators?

Ivar Haglund once owned the building, as did the property holding firm Samis, a company started to control the interests of that other Seattle iconoclast, Sam Israel (somebody really should write a book about him), a few years after their namesake died.

But it's that apartment at the top that has always captured my fancy. Here are five writing prompts based on that pyramid, and Smith Tower.

Today's prompts
  1. It's 1915 and the newly opened building was built with the apartment up top. Who lives there? What is their daughter like? Does she get into trouble and go on adventures?
  2. It's 1975, and an elevator operator in Smith Tower witnesses a murder through the door cage as he is going down. Worse yet, the murderer saw him. Was he alone in the car? Does the story all take place inside of one hour? Does it spark something bigger? Do they end up in the pyramid as it was, with the decaying water tower?
  3. It's 2000 and the Kingdome is about to be demolished. What does a young street hustler have to do to get up to the top to watch the destruction? Can they even make it? Can they make it to the glass bulb at the very top?
  4. It's 1941 and German and Japanese aircraft are bombing Seattle. What can people in the building do to keep it safe? How can they fight back against air-strikes, like London saw during the Blitz. What if there's a German traitor in the building?
  5. It's 2025 and the big one hits. Who works on floor 15, what part of Seattle do they need to get amidst the rubble, and how will they get there? Do people die? Does the building go down?