Condos? OMG, WTF

The other night I saw a promo for an episode of “KCTS Connects” with Enrique Cerna about the condo boom in Ballard:

One of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods is getting an extreme makeover. Ballard is booming with new condos, new restaurants and new businesses. The area once known as a quaint Scandinavian corner of the city is becoming one of the hippest and hottest spots in town to work, live and play. But is the modernization of Ballard tearing the neighborhood apart?

I’ve been visiting Ballard for years, and while the area has always had a Nordic vibe to it, it isn’t anything like other urban ethnic enclaves in America. It’s not like Southie, or New York’s Little Italy, or half a dozen of the Polish or Irish neighborhoods in Chicago or any other big city in America. Frankly, the whole “Ballard-as-cultural-touchstone” is overrated.

That’s not to say that Nordic history doesn’t have roots in NW Seattle. There are several important Nordic cultural institutions still around, but how many of them are recruiting younger folks? These places were ebbing long before the condo boom.

I haven’t seen the show yet, but I’m sure there will be the usual smattering of “density is bad”, rich people, blah blah blah,” “new people, blah blah blah.” I can’t wait.


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    I am working on a blog post about this situation right now. It is disgusting what the condo and townhouse builders are doing to the quaint neighborhood in Ballard. I love those little wooden bungalows, but it seems more and more speculators are moving in. A house 2 doors down from my office just disappeared over the weekend, now replaced with a big hole and destined to be yet another ugly townhouse development.

    I love the fact that the condos and townhouses aren’t selling anymore. Too bad we can’t get the houses back they have already torn down, not to mention the Denny’s.

    David @

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    Well, think about it not like Little Italy in New York, but more like Jews in New York. Yeah, the Jews historically lived on the Lower Eastside, but then they made money and moved out to the rest of the city. Kind of like Nordies in Ballard. Ethnic homogenity only persists when it has to, rarely by choice, at least in the past. Ballard has only recently begun digging up its Scando past, for better or worse. Probably better because nowadays people want a neighborhood with a distinct culture and history.

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    It’s a tradeoff. 20 years ago Ballard was cool in it’s rundownness, cheap spaces to rent, Nordic feel. Now, there are some great restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues, but it’s lost something, and it’s not all Norwegians.
    Seattle in general has lost a lot of it’s gritty working class feel…it used be a very cool place to live where rents were cheap and the words ” world class” weren’t being bandied about to describe everything. It was a good place to be n artist because rents were cheap and views were “world class”.
    Now, how many of us could buy a home in Ballard?

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    My Goldy Itches spews:

    Having moved here from southern California 10 years ago, I never figured out what the appeal of Ballard was to begin with. As you drive up there from Fremont, you pass a string of shit hole looking blighted homes and businesses. Market Street is the only semi appealing aspect of Ballard. The rest of it is pretty much an eyesore.

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    Poster Child spews:

    I get tired of the inexorable march of progress (and growth) attitude as well as the “highest and best use” approach to development. I know some people see things as entirely black or white, and I’m pretty comfortable with shades of gray. I’m going to join with those who think, whether or not the charming Norwegian enclave view of history was a little overplayed) something has been lost in Ballard.

    When was the last time you were stuck on Market Street going 19 mph behind a little old lady peering through the steering wheel of her Buick with her seatbelt hanging out the door and her turn signal blinking block after block? We’ll never have that back again, and I’m going to miss that.

    If we could freeze time for Ballard, I’m sure some would pick the day before Ira Wilcox Utter moved in or maybe just before Judge Burke brought in Leary and Gillman to help attract the railroad. Others would pick five years ago or maybe ten or twenty.

    We’ll never get any of those times back again either. For some those were better times, and for others the best is yet to come, but we should be having the discussion rather than buying the developers’ plan wholesale. Who says Condos and Trader Joes is better than houses and marine supply shops? And Why?

    The loudest answer I’m hearing always seems to com efrom the people in a position to make the most money from the change.

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    My Goldy Itches spews:

    5 – When was the last time you were stuck on Market Street going 19 mph behind a little old lady peering through the steering wheel of her Buick with her seatbelt hanging out the door and her turn signal blinking block after block? We’ll never have that back again, and I’m going to miss that.

    My question is……why is that appealing? I just don’t get it. Am I missing something? What you describe is annoying as hell, and if there is less of it that’s a GOOD thing, not a bad thing.

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    All of you who complain about the demise of those cute little bungalows, consider this: the owners of those now-razed bunalows sold them.

    That’s right! Before there were evil developers creating housing options for peoper, there were Scandahoovian senior citizens, mostly widows I’ll bet, who put those bungalows on the market.

    So don’t just bitch about the newbies coming in changing the character of Ballard when it’s just as much Ballard characters pressing for the change!

    And I’ll be Mrs. Gustafson, Ol’ Ole Guiberson, and that scurrilous bunch of good-for-nothing Danes, the Kristensen’s, took the booty from the sale and beat feet out of this town with its God foresaken winter weather, and they’re now happily and wealthily ensconced in a condo in Chandler or Fountain Hills, AZ or 99 Palms, CA.

    If you don’t like development in your neighborhood, then organize with your neighbors to BUY the property at issue, then, at your expense, maintain it as a museum that honors your idea of what the neighborhood should look like. Just remember, however, that someday when you want to sell or develop, somebody will call you craven, greedy, and insensitive to cultural feelings (the worst of all Seattle insults) because you wanted to maximize your initial investment in your home.

    What’s good for the sushi is good for the bait…

    The Piper

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    Don Joe spews:

    Honestly, does anyone really believe lutefisk is worthy of cultural preservation?

    Now, lefse is an entirely different matter…

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    skagit spews:

    Don Joe, finally seeing you post again. (I don’t read as often as I used to…) Thanks for the book! Read it and agree with much of it. Looks like the changes to education will be towards a charter-school model whether privately or within the existing structure. Some of his ideas may emerge in that context.

    Now, Ballard. I love it and always have. Still offers a well-attended Nordic parade every year featuring many, many children honoring their ancestry. Still a lot of Scandinavians in Ballard.

    I like density and am appreciative of all the building as well. It is becoming a beautiful if expensive area. I am not one who equates progress with growth but I like what’s happening in Ballard.

    Just wish we had seventies pricing again. Now the 70s was the golden age in Seattle.

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    Marcel spews:

    Congratulations Piper Scott! First comment I do make agreement with.

    And let us all recognize that when the Scandinavians came to Ballard, they changed the neighborhood. They developed it. There were probably other people who said they were too rich, too tasteless, and changing it too much.

    So who really has the right to throw lutefisk around inside an ice house?? Yes?

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    Poster Child spews:

    Itchy Goldy at 6 “Having moved here from southern California 10 years ago”

    Say no more.

    It’s appealing because it was part of the landscape we grew up with and loved. Sentiment and tradition don’t always make sense, but often they actually do.

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    Broadway Joe spews:

    Lutefisk was probably invented on a dare……..


    Somewhere in Norway, circa 1400AD…….

    BJORN: C’mon Ole, eat it!

    OLE: But it smells like crap! Crap and lye!

    BJORN: There’s money in it for you……

    OLE: Oh, all right……


    And a tradition is born……..

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    Believe me, there are plenty of us who get constant phone calls from developers wanting to put townhouses up on our property. I own a home and a commercial site, and I am constantly telling potential buyers to shove off.

    The problem becomes when an entire street, such as NW 57th between 17th and 22nd starts to become townhouse city. Then the pressure is really increased on those who still have nice little homes there. It’s a domino effect.

    I’m not selling!

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    Lutefisk is better tasting than it looks, and better tasting than it smells. That sai, it’s kinda like fish jello.
    I entered the lutefisk eating contest in Ballard a few years ago, very likely the only Jew in the contest. I didn’t win, but I managed (barely) to not puke.

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    thor spews:

    I disagree with Will’s observation that Ballard has never been much of a Nordic enclave. It sure was as late as 20 years ago.

    The old families of Ballard still exist. They are everywhere. Now there are more than ever.

    Ballard is being transformed in a good way. Most people like the new condos. And they like youth returning to the place.

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    Vegetarian Mrs. Rabbit spews:

    Ballard has no trees, the only thing tall and growing are the condos.

    This is hip? This is cool?

    Treeless in Ballard may be hip and cool, but to natives, treeless is ugly.

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    Don Joe spews:

    @ 15

    Oh, I do, unfortunately, know what lutefisk tastes like. And, it’s not really the flavor that I find objectionable. It’s the texture.

    While I’m an ethnic mutt, I’m more Norwegian than anything else. Did you know that a Norwegian once married a Palestinian? They named their first child “Yasser Youbetchya”.

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    Will, Itchy Goldie

    So, in a way I with Will … losing the what was there about ten years ago is a small loss. However, losing waht was there 20 years ago, that is sad.

    My bigger issue is with Itchie, So you cam HERE from So Cal and could not see what all the fuss was about! I am less concerned with losing rundown Ballard than I am with replacing it with a tinker toy neighborhood filled with Kens and Barbies. (tanned of course).

    Itchie can’t figger what foks miss. Ballard was rundown but it was not a people kennel. I lived in SoCal while serving in the USN. GAK!!!!

    I hated SoCal, row upon row of homogeneous folk living in homogeneous housing, “Fun” was going to the beach or dried out mountains and telling each other how loverly the red sunset was. If it weren’t for an occasional chance to go to the barrio, Compton or the Jewish community, I woulda gone AWOL. Some nights I snuck onto the empty golf course just to be away from the crowds.

    The scary thing for me about a lot of this new development is that it is replacing real neighborhoods with SoCal style tracts. The arts ciommunities have mnoved from Pioneer Square to Cap Hil to Belltown and now …Marysville????

    Wjy would I want to visit downtown Ballard if all I saw there were the same fucked over chain stores I see at Southcenter??? Why woujld I wnat to live there if it is w/o character .. ya know like most pf B’vue?

    Having jumped in, can anyone tell me where people live on the Eastside and is neighborhood set by how much you can afford? Are multibiillionaires, billionaires, Centimillinaires, deamillionaires, millionaires, demi-millionaires, and just well off mif=dlle class folk each a seperate ethnic group?

    I think this may be so. As a photgorapher sometimes I take my SJ-ferrari with a GPS and wodner around B vue neighborhoods. I look for different kinds faces but I think the same family must own all the homes there. At least they look alike to me, but I never was good at telling Wasps apart.

    I find there are major ethnic communities on the Eastside … Hunt’s Point and Factoria, for example are very different from each other. Who could imagine a Goldberg’s in Hunt’s Point? Actually, I do not think there are any restaurants there. The paid help must bag it in!