Sunday, November 14, 2010

Belltown: the Belltown Rag

Not long after moving into my first studio in Belltown, a neglected, down at the heals neighborhood just north of Seattle's Pike Place Market, I met Ann Hirschi who had 'adopted' the second floor of an old wood-frame building on the corner of Second Avenue and Bell Street.

Ann was distributing 'A View from the Denny Regrade', her "first attempt to establish a neighborhood newsletter." Having messed around with 'zines' and small publications, I quickly volunteered to assist with the production. By volume 2 number 2, I had become co-editor and I continued to be very involved in it's production over the next seven years.

With it's abundant vacant space and cheap rents, Belltown was rapidly becoming an enclave for artists, designers and other creative types, arriving from all over the country, many attracted by Seattle's public funding for the arts. The Belltown Cafe had opened on First Avenue, just north of Bell Street, and it quickly became a prime gathering place. The stage was set for budding community organizers to get to work. Before long the writing and graphic skills of many new residents were featured on the pages of the Belltown Rag. The core group included Ann Hirschi, Mark Sullo, Ben Marks, Heather Ramsay, Phil Messina, Andrew Keating, Buster Simpson, Mary Wallace, Tina Hoggatt, Helene Silverman, Ibby Acosta, Jeff Christensen, Joan Paulsen, Craig Schwartz, Randy Eriksen and Ries Niemi. By the last issue in 1984, there were over 30 contributors.

The Belltown Rag was funded entirely through the sale of advertising to Belltown merchants, and it featured stories on issues affecting the neighborhood including affordable housing, development, displacement and homelessness, as well as interviews with long time neighborhood residents and business people. Short stories, poems, photography, artwork and news from our cultural fringe were all part of the rag. Here are some of the covers (etc.):

The third issue invited people to Belltown's celebration of Earth Day 1979, a "land roll" and tree planting.

A short graphic fabrication of the life of Austin A. Bell, the son of Belltown's founder was featured on the back page of early issues.

Miniature hotel room on the cover by Belltown artist, H. Ramsay.

Center spread with images of the Belltown Land Roll on April 22, 1979.

"Mr. Developer" by Andrew Keating.

Limited edition color xerox cover: "Mr. Developer" by Andrew Keating.

Cover photo by Mark Sullo of the cherry tree on 'r' block, decked in streamers and paper cherry decorations. Belltown's Christmas Tree was cut down on November 15th 1979 to make way for Market Place North.

The 1980 issue of the Rag, while billed as the 'last', clearly wasn't. The cover features a project by Ann Hirschi for the Bell Street Terminal Baths, and inside, "The 30 Year Sleep, or a Citizen Looks to the Future," a delightful 'Rip Van Winklesque' story glimpsing Belltown's future in the year 2010, by Phil Messina.

To get a better perspective on the neighborhood, an arial shot seemed in order so I called KIRO and Mark Sullo got to go for a ride and take this photo. Quite a different Belltown from today.

Back cover photo of construction site tracks also by Mark Sullo.

A cover photo of parts of my installation for Cerulean Blue Gallery by Mark Sullo.

Controlled demolition of the Olympic National Life Building, imploded to make room for the First Interstate Bank Center. Photo by Mark Sullo.

Cover art by Ries Niemi.

Back cover by Ries Niemi

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