Where We Live

(Editorial note: I have to write in snatches of time throughout the day, like naptimes. This section is a hodgepodge of different drafts and I’m not really happy with it. Check back…..someday…. for a cleaner, better, less wordy version. Or just skip it entirely.)

Look, I’m going to be honest with you. Unless you have an unquenchable appetite for reading about someone else’s deliberations about electrical outlet placement and towel bars, you might find yourself a bit bored trying to work through the archives. No, trust me. Really. I can’t even read it and I wrote it. Deadly. Boring.

Here, as a community service to the three people who will someday read this, is The Great Squares FAQ , with far more information about us that you would ever care to know. Go ahead. Knock yourself out, all two of you.

Q: What is this Pioneer Square of which you speak?

A: Okay, I’m going to tell you but you must understand…I’m trusting you to keep the sheer awesomeness of this place under wraps. We’re Seattle’s best kept secret and, frankly, we like it that way.

If you aren’t from Seattle, Pioneer Square is a neighborhood on the south end of Seattle’s downtown, kind of sandwiched in between the International District (AKA Chinatown), the baseball and football stadiums, the waterfront, and the business and retail core of central downtown. It also has massive old historic buildings that have been turned into pretty spectacular loft condos, big open offices, quirky boutiques, amazing art galleries, slick clubs, and beautiful open cobblestone plazas and parks.

Quite simply, it’s the single best location in town.

Sounds cool, huh?

Well…not so fast. Along with all the cool buildings and groovy businesses, Pioneer Square is also host to a HUGE collection of social services, including a heavy concentration of mentally ill and addicted homeless people.

Q: So…lots of homeless people?

A: Uh…yeah. You could say that.

It’s the single grittiest neighborhood in the city, with an enormous homeless and transient population on the streets and in the parks 24/7, occasional late night drug dealer on drug dealer violent crime, and open drug dealing at all hours of the day.

It is not at all uncommon to see people on the street passed out, vomiting, urinating, buying/selling/using/thinking about using/wishing they could use drugs, talking to themselves, or just sleeping.

There are beer bottles, condoms, needles, and rats the size of Buicks in the alleys.

It is not Disneyland.

(Editorial comment: In Seattle, Pioneer Square has a reputation for being a “dangerous” neighborhood but, really, take it from a local. It’s not. It’s gross sometimes but it’s never, never, never dangerous. Ever.)

Q: Wow. Aren’t you kind of concerned about your kids being exposed to that kind of stuff?

A: That’s a fair question, I think.

Dealing with these kinds of issues on the street, let alone with children, isn’t for everyone. We get that.

Even though it’s not dangerous at all, our kids are sometimes exposed to things that many parents would find objectionable, if not downright horrifying. Drunk transients vomiting and peeing in the streets. Figures sleeping in doorways. People staggering around in below freezing temperatures with a bare foot and a foot wrapped in a paper bag, screaming at some terrifying unseen voice. Open low level drug dealing that we walk right through, where sometimes the dealers tell the kids jokes. These are semi-regular events in Pioneer Square.

We expected the kids to ask questions, and they did, but over time the discomfort over the homeless population faded to background noise. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that homelessness/mental illness/addiction is no longer scary to us. It’s sad, it’s frequently painful to encounter, but it isn’t scary. I personally don’t think it’s such an awful thing for children who have every benefit on the planet, plus some, to be up close to those who are the most fragile and vulnerable. It’s good for us, as adults. It’s good to see that it’s wonderful to have heat and a warm bed and medical care and people who love and care about you. It’s good to be reminded of what you have.

I will also go out on a limb here and tell you that anecdotally, I think having children in the Square is also good for the homeless and transient population. They tend to be nicer to children that they are to adults, or maybe even nicer to children than they are to themselves. I’m not trying to portray the transient population as some kind of “noble savage” or anything but on the whole, they’re decent folks. Sometimes pure crazy, frequently disgusting, often talking to voices that cannot be seen, often drunk or high, yes, but also human beings. I have stories, oh, I have stories that would break your heart. Ask me about Chico and baby J sometimes. Just ask me.

Again, look…. not for everyone but for us and our values and our way of life, it’s a great fit.

Q: There has to be some reason why you’d want to live there, right? What’s right about Pioneer Square?

A: The Square is just a great place to live. It’s beautiful, the street scene doesn’t really impact you once you get used to it, and it’s chock full of great spots for a cup of coffee or a falafel or a cheesesteak (cheesesteaks at Tat’s…one of humanity’s great achievements).

The benefits of the larger area? Amazing. AH-MA-ZING! For one thing, we almost never have to get in a car . We can walk or hop a free bus almost anywhere we want to go. It’s just wonderful, so wonderful it’s hard to explain. We go whole weekends never getting in the car but with an action packed agenda. We don’t just talk about these things — we actually go. Every weekend. No joke.

We are, in no particular order, a 2 minute walk to the Seattle Art Museum , a 5 minute walk to the awesomeness that is the International District, including Uwajimaya, and the Wing Luke Museum , a 10 minute walk to the Pike Place Market , a 5 minute walk to the an 8 minute walk to the baseball stadium and a 5 minute walk to the f ootball stadium . Also at Qwest field, besides football, we can check out Seattle’s professional soccer team, the Seattle Sounders .

For free books or children’s storytelling hour, we can walk three minutes to Seattle’s incredible downtown public library.

The Seattle waterfront is 2 blocks from our place and there is a bike and walking path that runs the length of the waterfront to the and Mrytle Edwards park, both lovely places to bike, walk, play, and have a picnic.

With a little more time, you can walk about 10 minutes to Westlake Center (or on rainy days, we hop the light rail from the Pioneer Square station and get off in the basement of Westlake Center) catch the monorail and ride 5 minutes to the Seattle Center to the Seattle Children’s Museum , the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Seattle O pera , the Pacific Science Center , and lots of open green space for running, playing, and kicking the soccer ball.

The is also host to a steady number of major events every year, including our beloved Folklife Festival and a number of regional ethnic festivals. For grown-ups, there is fabulous live theatre there with the renowned I ntiman , the Seattle Reperatory Theatre , and the Seattle Shakespeare Company .

A really special treat is to go to the fabulous

We’re also a quick 10 minute walk to the flagship Nordstrom and the excellent shopping at and throughout the Pike/Pine retail core, as well as two big movie theatre multiplexes. With the new light rail in place, we can walk a half block up to the bus tunnel, get on the light rail, and get off at the base of Westlake Center and be at a movie in about 15 minutes. Door to door. No driving, no parking. It rocks.

Seattle is also home to some world class restaurants, most of which are a five to ten minute walk door to door. We aren’t the latest “restaurant on the scene” kind of people so it’s an occasional kind of things for us & we never leave downtown, ever. Too much good stuff here. Though these aren’t the new kids on the block any more, our hearts belong to Palace Kitchen and Il Terrazo Carmine and we love, love, love Etta’s for a weekend brunch. We also LOVE heading over to the International District for dinner (the food court at Uwajimaya in early evening is the BEST). Again….we just walk over. 5, 7 minutes tops.

Again, we really go. Things like this aren’t a huge production, although we do sometimes have to schedule a babysitter, because we are right there. No travel time. No traffic jams. No circling around looking for parking. We just go. It’s awesome!

Q: Uh…is this like a phase for you guys?

A: Oh, no. You went there. You went there with the “P” word. No, Mom…it’s not. Sorry.

Q: So, where *do* you live?

A: Well, it’s a long story. Basically, we spent six years of looking for an affordable family-sized condo in Seattle’s then white-hot real estate market with no luck. Family sized condos basically don’t exist in downtown Seattle. After giving up on downtown living, we bought a house in Seattle’s Madison Valley neighborhood and then, unexpectedly, a double-sized condo on the edge of Pioneer Square came on the market at the right price at the end of 2007. We took a deep breath, held hands, and jumped back into downtown.

We were VERY lucky to sell our house in Madison Valley just as the market began to slide. We moved into a rental house in Madison Park and went to work on the condo, very aware that we were building a family home that we might never be able to sell. It’s a very different process from building or remodeling a freestanding house with market value. Scary as hell.

Anyway, our place is 2300 square feet, split on two levels, with a 600 square foot terrace ringing the upstairs level. The building is one of the rare modern buildings in Pioneer Square, built in 1985 after the original Olympic Block building collapsed during restoration. It is a great location with fantastic neighbors, underground parking, and a well kept building. The only problem was that the unit itself was a mess, with ripped out light fixtures, filthy carpet, shredded wooden floors, appliances that didn’t work, and a crazy layout. Ergo, the “great” price.

In what can only be described as a freakish leap of faith, we ripped everything out to the slab and outer walls and rebuilt the condo specifically for a big urban family. From the first post until Jan/Feb 2009, this blog is almost entirely about the construction agony and ecstasy as we demolished, planned, permited, and built and built and built.

We had permit trouble.

We had neighbor trouble.

We lost our shirts in the terrifying 2008 stock market plunge and ran WAAAAAAAY over budget and feared we wouldn’t be able to finish the project.

We had to rip out our neighbor’s ceiling to move the plumbing.

We had to shut down a major street in Seattle — twice — and hire a crane to bring things in and out.

The staircase…oh god…don’t even get me started about the staircase.

When we were finally ready to move in…a long simmering dispute with Seattle’s Soviet-style gas company kept us out an additional week. You can read me vent here and here and here and here.

And you know what?

It was totally worth it. We love it. Our children love it. We LOVE the neighborhood. It’s home, for good.

Q: Okay. That sounds insane. Can we actually see the results of this senseless and foolhardy venture?

A: Sure. Scroll below.

(Editorial note: we moved things around so dramatically that there aren’t true “before and after” shots but you can kind of get the spirit of things.)

Before. This soaking tub and bathroom (you can see the doorway there) were demolished and the staircase was moved here:

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After:

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Upstairs is the living space. This is before (use the windows and the skylight to the left as guides):

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And this is after. The glass box came about as a way to keep our toddler from falling down the stairs…with that locking glass door, he can run wild upstairs and I never have to worry:

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Here’s the entire wall before:

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And here’s after:

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Before:

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After. One set of the sliding doors was turned into french doors, the other was turned into a picture window:

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There’s no before for this shot below because there was a wall dividing the room that started right where the TV is now. Our goal was to make a “loft” that still has bedrooms and bathrooms with doors. This upstairs space is roughly 1200 foot space and holds the kitchen, the family room, the playroom, the gift wrapping room, all three dining rooms, the bowling alley, the bonus room, the exercise room, the study, the media room, the massage room, the laundry room, and the butler’s panty. Oh, and the music room. That too.

Nah. Not really.

It’s just one big space. For us, it works beautifully:

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Before. This is the corner where the guitars are hanging in the picture above. Notice the sliding glass door on the right is opening into the stairwell:

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After:

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Swinging around from the picture above, you see the kitchen.

Here’s before:

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Here’s after. Use the skylight for perspective. It didn’t move. You should also know It’s never this clean:

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Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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All the bedrooms and bathrooms are downstairs. This was a double sized bedroom before….

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After, cut in half. There’s no room for a closet in these bedrooms so the children all have an “open” closet hanging on one wall:

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There are three bathrooms downstairs, all of them have been moved to new locations. Here’s a before shot:

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Here’s after:

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This is the after shot of what is now the master bedroom. There are no before shots because this was originally a crazy little warren of dark closets and bathrooms and the stairwell and a laundry closet. It has an open bathroom in the room but a small room for the toilet. The Great Open Bathroom Debate was a fun exercise in marital diplomacy:

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There’s a tiny little walk in closet right behind the TV you see on the wall to the right, below:

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Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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The hallway outside the bedrooms is somewhat similar in the before picture, below:

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After:

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Then outside to the terrace!

Here’s before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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Special bonus just for Pioneer Squares readers:

The great photoshoot meltdown!

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Finally, here’s a Q & A specifically about kids + the Square:

Q: Where do the kids go to school?

A: So here’s the word on schools: there is no single school for downtown kids so sections of downtown Seattle are fractured into sections for schools. There’s no “neighborhood” school for us. Our two oldest children go to a private K-12 school in Madison Valley, the Bush School, a decision that pre dates our move to the Square. It remains a wonderful fit for us. For now, I drive the children to school in a car but I hope that the kids will begin taking the bus in the mornings when they are both in middle school (2 more years).

Q: What about Halloween?

A: No trick or treating in a neighborhood with no kids, of course. We rely upon the kindness of friends to include us in trick or treating in their neighborhoods. We go all out for Halloween, though. Best. Holiday. Ever.

Q: What about the noise? Aren’t your kids bothered by the noise from the street?

A: We knew that this building had a reputation for being noisy because there is a large club right next door (Trinity) that pumps the bass until 2 AM. Also, we wanted the older children to be able to function in their rooms at a normal level while their little brother slept. We wanted the bedrooms to be sound proofed from each other. As a result, we took aggressive measures during the rebuild, including replacing the windows, selectively using a product called “Quiet Rock” as drywall, using as much insulation as reasonably possible, and double drywalling where we couldn’t afford the Quiet Rock. We explored lots of other options but these proved to be the most cost effective. If you are interested, you can read about it in the archive or call Dyna Contracting directly. I am pleased to say that the soundproofing was very, very, very effective. We still use a small fan in each room to provide a little white noise but you really can’t hear anything at night. Quiet Rock…welll…rocks!

Q: What about friends? Do your kids have friends? Aren’t they lonely?

A: They do have friends, of course. We host playdates and sleepovers and birthday parties and they go to these things at other houses, just like every other kid in town. Children live in much denser places, with much less space than we have, all over the world. Plus, we have a big family & things are pretty lively around here. So, no…I don’t think they are lonely. I wouldn’t live anywhere with my children that I didn’t honestly believe was the best place for them. I believe that Pioneer Square is the most interesting, most invigorating, most exciting, most fun place for my kids to live in all of Seattle.

Q: Where do you grocery shop?

A: Strangely, this is probably the question I get asked the most often. For grocery shopping, we can walk about 8 minutes to the International District and shop at the fantastic Uwajimaya or — be still my beating heart — we walk 11 minutes to Pike Place Market. Toilet paper, cat litter, dry cleaning, dentists, ball gowns, books, diapers…you name it, you can find it in downtown. Since we have three guinea pigs, I do find a weekly trip to a Petco is necessary and we do also shop at Whole Foods, especially for organic versions of cereals and crackers and things you cannot get at DeLaurenti’s.

DeLaurenti’s…have you been lately? It’s even better than you remember.

Q: What do your kids do without a yard?

There are no parks in downtown Seattle with any kind of play equipment for children. Even the Seattle Center doesn’t have a playground. We have dog parks but no playground for kids. It’s fucking criminal. Even if you discount the number of kids living here (they exist…and the numbers are growing!), you can’t argue with the sheer numbers of tourist kids coming through. Wouldn’t it be welcoming to have a playground for them to blow off steam?

At any rate, we do take long walks to Myrtle Edwards park to play on the beaches and ride scooters& bikes there and we do lots and lots of walking around town but for a regular playground park experience, we have to drive. I hear rumors that the International District is working to refurbish the playground there, which would be fantastic but for now, there’s no playspace at all.

Q: Why do you keep referencing Six in the City in the archives?

That was the original name for our blog. See, the plan was that we were going to effortlessly add a sixth member to the family and we drew a fifth bedroom on the condo plans and started doing fertility treatments….annnnnnnd…nothing. For almost two and a half years. We haven’t even gotten close. It was depressing. We began to brainstorm new names, Jeff came up with Pioneer Squares, and I almost fell down on the sidewalk laughing. It’s so perfect.

Q: Squares? Really? Aren’t you guys just self deprecating hipsters?

A: Sadly, no. I rock the mom jeans.