Seattle Culture

One of Seattle’s More Diverse Neighborhoods Is Bracing for Change

The ninth installment in the Neighborhood Walk series

By Steve Scher September 25, 2019


This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Seattle magazine.

This article appears in print in the October 2019 issue and is part of our Neighborhood Walk series. Click here to subscribe.

Wing Wong’s uncle, Frank Lioe, started Lioe’s Automotive Service at the junction of 14th Avenue S and Beacon Avenue S in 1990. Today, with property taxes rising and new buildings leading to less parking, it’s getting a lot tougher to keep the business going, says Wong. One result of reduced parking: They have to do a lot of car shuffling. A whiteboard hanging on the wall helps them keep track of where they park the cars they’re servicing. “A lot of changes,” he says, “but it is still our neighborhood.”

Even more new structures are coming to Beacon Hill—many are modern six- and eight-story apartment buildings planned for North Beacon Hill around the light rail station. While exploring the neighborhood, I talked to many residents who hope there will still be a place for them in the years ahead.

Angela Castañeda directs the Beacon Business Alliance out of the Seattle Public Library’s Beacon Hill branch, in offices that once housed one of the city’s neighborhood service centers (before budget cuts in 2011 moved it elsewhere). One goal of the alliance is to maintain the neighborhood’s long-standing economic and ethnic diversity.

WALLFLOWER: Beacon Business Alliance director Angela Castañeda stands in front of the Sunflower and Whales mural she’s working to save

A truly diverse city needs neighborhoods where small-scale entrepreneurs and local artists can find affordable spaces to work and grow. Castañeda is proud of helping to secure funding for the 2015 Sunflower and Whales mural project by artists Crick Lont, akaDozer, and Charms Won. But the mural, on a building at Beacon Avenue S and 15th Avenue, is threatened by demolition for new construction. Time for preserving and protecting the spaces is running out, Castañeda says. Groups must work together to help guide developers and city planners, she argues. “Everything has a value in community development. Culture, language, diversity are all connected.” To that point, the alliance offers meeting space for other groups, including Beacon Arts, the innovative Beacon Food Forest and Environmental Justice Beacon Hill Seattle, which is tackling the neighborhood’s notorious levels of air and noise pollution.

The women behind the counter at Despi Delite Bakery, a Beacon Hill institution, chat with regular customers in Tagalog and English as they fill orders. You’ll have to stand in line in the morning for bread rolls infused with the purple yam known as ube, which is mashed into a paste. But for many regulars, it is a taste worth the wait.

GATHERING SPOT: Despi Delite Bakery is a Beacon Hill institution, known best for its baked goods

I order the turon, a plantain surrounded by a spring roll wrapper and deep-fried; and the suman, coconut- and gingerinfused rice wrapped in a banana leaf. Alan Malla orders the maple bar. He says coming here is a treat; he stopped in more frequently before moving off Beacon Hill a few years ago.

Malla grew up near S Columbian Way off Beacon Avenue and remembers roaming the streets in the ’80s with his friends, riding BMX bikes and getting into places where they probably weren’t supposed to be. “It was pretty diverse. Lots of Asians, Japanese, Filipinos, blacks.”

He lived with his parents and grandparents. Two godmothers lived nearby. “When people came from the Philippines, they would stop at my grandparents’ house first, because they were all from the same province. That’s how we got to know our extended family.”

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