The other day, amid the last months of the Pioneer Square restaurant and foodie Mecca, The London Plane, a distinguished-looking older gentleman wandered in. He was Walter Carr, the founder of Elliott Bay Books, paying tribute to owner/manager Katherine Alberg Anderson on the 10-year run of her pretty and tasty restaurant on Occidental Mall.
Anderson was touched by this kindly gesture, for London Plane was very much in the spirit, now endangered, that led to the opening of Elliott Bay Books one block away in 1973, in the Globe Building. The Globe was owned and restored by the developers who made Pioneer Square come back to life: Alan Black, Dick White, Ralph Anderson, Grant Jones, and Bill Baillargeon of Seattle Trust and Savings Bank.
Anderson put it this way about her dream and Carr’s: “A place to come in out of the rain, full of warmth and conversation, a place to find friends (in the form of books, food, flowers, or people!), a refuge.” Seattle used to have affordable spaces for such idealism, notably the Brasserie Pittsbourg, the restaurant that launched the Pioneer Square revival.
Ah, the 1970s in Seattle! I remember that inspiring time when a bunch of us scribes were launching Seattle Weekly a block from Elliott Bay Books, Tom Corddry and others were starting news and music radio KZAM, and Carr and Rick Simonson (previously a hamburger-flipper) packed in the city’s readers at Elliott Bay. I used the front table at the Brasserie for sketching out idealistic ventures.
Anderson was all of two years old when Elliott Bay Books debuted, so the visit from Carr felt like a blessing and coming full circle. Her restaurant was full of ideals — locally sourced food, small-batch producers, food-knowledgeable waitstaff, a bakery on site, flower shop with flowers she grew herself on a family farm, inventive menus, buzzing inside and on its patio with Square regulars.
In the end, Anderson and business partner Yasuaki Saito (Matt Dillon was an original co-creator) made the anguished decision to close on Dec. 24. Diners, summer outdoor breakfasters, vendors, foragers, farmers — all sorry. Maybe somebody will find a way to keep the handsome, two-level space (a former bank) going.
But it was not to be. Rents are high and the lease (with Martin Smith) has expired. The Square has become so ominous that it had to close for dinner, since staffers were nervous about heading to their cars in the dark. Crazies would harass the outdoor diners. And the full costs of all those services made it a tough go, particularly when the pandemic hit.
I’d be amazed if there’s a new incarnation. The odds against these warm places out of the rain are now very long. A city that can’t keep places safe from hostile intruders. Super-heated real estate prices. Staffing shortages. Inundations during pro sports events. Non-local banks and property developers. Given these odds against quality and localism, we should just be grateful that Ms. Anderson created the London Plane (named for nearby trees), gritted her teeth, and stayed the course, exhausted her investors’ capital, and showed what Seattle was once capable of doing.
Ah yes, the 70s, and thanks for remembering KZAM. I’d add a shout-out to the memory of Linda Farris, whose Pioneer Square gallery provided another jolt of brash optimism and energy.
The New York Times yesterday ran a big story on the half-deadness of downtown San Francisco, a condition which also afflicts Seattle. Unless that problem can be solved, even entrepreneurs as capable and brave-hearted as Katherine Anderson won’t have much luck in Pioneer Square. Too much of her natural customer base is living and working away from the central city now.
I am grateful indeed for her years of giving so much pleasure to Seattle and Pioneer Square. And I’m sorry, too, especially after her anguished plea for help from the Mayor and Seattle City Council:
“We are on the brink of having to lock our doors … our staff can no longer take being on the front lines of mental health and harassment patrol. ” (September 2021 Post Alley)
Apparently, no help came.
Thanks for the story and the excellent perspective. Of course I loved the 70’s (and Pioneer Square) — although things were still a little rough back then. But at least there was hope and a belief that we were on a positive trajectory. The future seemed bright.
I will miss London Plane. It was my favorite place to celebrate Mother’s Day with my daughters, partly because it was such a beautiful space but also because, after enjoying a fabulous lunch, I could walk around and, in a festival of enlightened self interest, choose a gift from LP’s selection of perfectly lovely and useful objects for my girls to give me to mark the occasion. It was such a handy way to get exactly what I wanted on that slightly ridiculous holiday. And LP made the most spectacular crackers in Seattle.
What I loved most about LP was that it was very much in the spirit of those great places you mentioned from the early days of Pioneer Square’s revival in the 1970’s, as well as many others: Cafe Society, City Loan Pavilion, Grand Central Bakery, David Ishii Books, Trattoria Mitchelli, Peter Cipra’s glorious Prague, and Design Products Clothing, owned, operated and curated by the beautiful and irreplaceable Vicki Tsuchida. I miss them all.
I’m proud to say that I wasted my youth in Pioneer Square, wandering from place to place, pretending to work but mostly just wallowing in that glorious scene. Thanks for reminding me of all that. And thanks to Anderson and Saito for keeping that spirit alive as long as they did.
For those of us who didn’t make it to Seattle in time for the 1970s, it’s sad to hear about all we missed. But it’s also inspiring to hear about all those creative spirits that led to decades of Pioneer Square flowering as an oasis that was the perfect home for London Plane. I was lucky to get to enjoy it after moving here, and I just placed my last order of flowers. Katherine and her team have a lot to be proud of, and their painful decision to close is both understandable and underscores the challenges facing Seattle today.
Elections have consequences. Seattle citizens spoke loud and clear when they threw out City Attorney Pete Holmes in the 2021 Primary, and then elected Ann Davison in the General. Mayor Jenny Durkan finally did SOMETHING and announced she was not running for a second term; the voters chose the more-moderate, more experienced Bruce Harrell over Leftist Lorena Gonzalez. Small business owner and former longtime (when the City Council was responsible) City Council staffer Sara Nelson defeated extremist Nikkita Oliver for City Council Position 9. And on election night, challenger Kenneth Wilson, who did not have any professional campaign staff and rejected most professional advice, was within five points of City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda in Position 8.
The Primary for Seattle’s seven District City Council seats is in just 223 days; the General Election is in 321. Two current District Councilmembers, Lisa Herbold in D-1 and Debora Juarez in D-5 wisely opted out of reelection campaigns. Seattle voters will have the opportunity to throw out a few others, and regain control of the direction of our once-great city.
When Pioneer Square was run down in the 1960s, there were a few idealistic developers who saw an opportunity to fix up old buildings, rent spaces to good ideas, especially galleries and fine restaurants. Then, after the 1971 effort to save the Pike Place Market, Mayor Wes Uhlman sensed the drift and added Pioneer Square to the portfolio, appointing Art Skolnik to oversee the process. Some developers, notably Alan Black who had a business office in the Square and Richard White, a gallery owner, led the way to this transformation. A key attraction was the Kissel’s Brasserie Pittsbourg in the basement of the Pioneer Building. And key rent payers were some public agencies such as Metro and the Puget Sound Regional Council. Today we see some of the negative factors: street crime, impact of the sport stadiums, shortage of housing (partly due to height restrictions), high rents charged by non-local developers, the departure of civic-minded owners, and migration away by art galleries. London Plane was a heroic effort to defy these negative factors, and unfortunately that gamble didn’t work out.
As a Post Alley News neighbor and business owner (and a former employee of Walter Carr at Elliott Book Books), I share in your concern for PSQ’s viability and your sadness over London Plane’s departure. You can see my Facebook biz page (@mjwhitephotos) for photographs I took of their outstanding work during Covid in March 2020, making and distributing hundreds of meals every night for front-line health workers. It was an incredible inspiration of a caring community at work!
However, I need to call you out for your word choice in enumerating the ills that plague our neighborhood, specifically your “hostile intruders” and “crazies.”
Like every business owner and housed resident of PSQ, I want the homeless, mental health and addiction issues to go away. I personally want a massive, New-Deal-type intervention to get people off the streets so places like London Plane can have a fair chance. Believe me when i say that the environment here is horrible for my studio portrait business. This will be a long winter for me!
But an esteemed publisher such as yourself does not need a lesson in George Orwell to know that word choice matters.
Your “Crazies” refer to men and women with severe mental health issues who, if our society had its priorities straight, would not be in the streets, but would be properly housed and treated in institutions or maybe the community health programs that JFK launched 60 years ago, but have never been properly supported. (Just saying, this issue is not new!)
“Hostile intruders” (who are more often than not — with exceptions! — unhoused humans looking for bathrooms, warmth, food, or spare change) refer to people who remain in PSQ because the services and shelters that sustain them are here.
Is the threat to workers and others as you describe real? When there is a “perception” of danger, there is danger. Case closed. I agree with much of your general outlook. As long as we don’t address the issues with the street population that are the source of much of this fear, PSQ will never thrive.
I have seen the population of tents and vestibule sleeping decline massively in PSQ in the past year. I know people who lived beneath the 1st & Yesler awning for months who are now in apartments and other forms of housing, thanks to massive organizational and governmental intervention.
But we are experiencing a humanitarian crisis that extends far beyond the PSQ alleyways, so much more needs to be done.
However, the crisis will only be solved if community leaders such as yourself accept the premise that it is largely humans with serious needs — not “crazies” or “hostile intruders” — who require intervention and help. Dehumanizing the issue with language may be cathartic for you, but does not serve our community.
I shamelessly associated myself with Mark White’s wise and compassionate observations. Thank you for letting me “hitching a ride” with you.