Our neighbors Jason and Foxy organized our Night Out block party. Spruce Street was blocked off. Meat sizzled on grills. Neighbors heaped food on tables set out on the sidewalk. Music crackled from crappy speakers on someone’s porch. Babies passed from hip to hip while older siblings raced bikes and boxcars that my partner David built. The sun moved further west, casting its warm light on the faces of my beautiful neighbors. I grabbed my camera and clicked.
That was in 2014, our last summer in the Central District.
Carina del Rosario \ Spruce Street Boxcar Race. Photo courtesy of the artist.
I moved into the 1920s, one-story brick building on 18th and Spruce in 2007 when I quit my marriage, quit my job and rebooted my life. At the time, rent was about $775 for a one-bedroom. It was considered “affordable” at the time; the landlord said he wanted to keep it accessible to working-class folks. I could barely manage it, especially on a self-employed, single artist’s income. With the Japanese maples casting dappled shadows in the living room and the green expanse of the shared courtyard outside the bedroom, I signed the lease agreement hoping that, somehow, I would be able to scratch up enough work to keep this roof over my head. This was the kind of oasis I knew needed in which to regain my bearings.
"Belonging was never organic for me – not until the Central District."
And what a lively oasis it became for an eclectic group of good-hearted people: Jim, next door, would give me a pack of pork chops because the store had a 2-for-1 deal that day. On the other side of me, first Sean, then Stephanie then Romson would call through my kitchen window to share a treat or blearily ask for coffee, still in pajamas. Laila, across the street, would text me to say she just opened a bottle of wine, so I should come over for a glass.
My partner David moved into a unit across the courtyard and Foxy and Jason Davison moved in next to him.
“We’re a loud people,” she told us right off.
We’d hear their kids, Judah and Zion, running and giggling back and forth across the hardwood floors and out in the courtyard. And we’d find ourselves running around right there with them, dodging marshmallow missiles or flying snowballs.
As their family grew, they moved across the street, but that just expanded our shared playground and dance floor. David rented one of our building’s garages as a workshop. Judah and Zion would come over to help him build things, while Foxy and I hung out under the apricot tree with baby Trinity. We’d talk about family, work, changes in the neighborhood, race, love.
I’d pull up to our block in my car and Jason would yell from his driveway, “Binbingka!” – the Filipino rice cake I made for them. David and I would smell barbecue smoke and hear bass thumping from their house, and we would head over. There, we learned the Wobble and Cupid Shuffle. We celebrated the kids’ birthdays, played Spades. We talked about the kids’ upcoming play at Langston, Jason’s projects at Rotary or Flo Ware Park, and the Yesler Terrace kids I was teaching to document the change going on around them, around us.
I had not had any of this neighborliness since we left Scarlet Road in the Philippines in 1975. When we landed on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles, our elderly neighbors on one side were courteous but reserved, and the ones on the other side weren’t particularly welcoming to us brown folks. I went to Catholic school and we moved around, so I never went to the same school as the kids in the neighborhood.
As we got older, my family dispersed. My parents moved to Guam. My sister followed her husband to Tennessee then San Diego. My brother kept inching east and finally stopped in Las Vegas. I moved to Santa Clara, California, for school, then flowed with the Grunge Migration to Seattle in the early 1990s.
I sought out connection wherever I went and it developed out of mutual interest, not geographic proximity. Belonging was never organic for me – not until the Central District.
This image from that August night, Spruce Street Box Car Race, is now in Seattle’s Portable Works Collection. The City bought it just before Paul Allen’s real estate company, Vulcan, announced it bought Promenade 23 Shopping Center on 23rd and Jackson. That same week, Jim told me that my former landlord was selling the brick building on 18th and Spruce too. Almost simultaneously, Foxy texted me they were moving that weekend.
This corner of the Central District is where I not only found my bearings, but I found family. Now it’s history.
— Author Carina A. del Rosario is a cultural worker. Her visual art has been exhibited in the Seattle Art Museum, Wing Luke Asian Museum, Photography Center Northwest, among other venues. Her temporary public art installation for the Office of Arts and Culture’s Central District Art Interruptions 2015 featured illustrations of the children pictured in Spruce Street Box Car Race.