FIRST REPORT, 11:06 AM: We’ve been following the final run-up to the demolition of the former Charlestown Café – and contrary to our most recent information from Intracorp, which plans to build 27 live-work and townhouse units on the site, the teardown is happening now. Just started – thanks to the person who tipped us; the heavy equipment wasn’t there when we drove by around 9 am.
The Charlestown Café closed in April 2011, after its final few years brought a variety of challenges:
Less than three years before it closed forever, it was shut down for five months following a fire in February 2008. That fire happened just days after the café ownership found out a retail-development proposal that had threatened to cost them their lease had fallen through, giving them a reprieve; first word of that proposal had brought a groundswell of public support via a community campaign in early 2007 (in our early days of covering news on WSB). After the restaurant closed in April 2011, a mixed-use-development proposal surfaced but didn’t go far; two years later, the Intracorp plan appeared, and that’s what’s going forward now.
ADDED 12:57 PM: The aforementioned community campaign eight years ago was spearheaded by Mark Wainwright, a former Admiral Neighborhood Association president who has been involved in other community-advocacy efforts along the way too. We asked him today for some thoughts on the end of the line for what was the Charlestown Café:
Was walking the dog last night and decided to wander by… I walked up the not-so-good alley (which I believe is being improved – yea!) and gazed over the old and beaten remains of the Charlestown Cafe.
Its easy to look forward to the demolition, as the building is a mess, but I do remember those breakfasts…
And how important a place it was when people in the surrounding blocks needed a warm place with food and coffee during that big winter storm and power outage we had years ago.
When Petco proposed a store on that site, I wasn’t too excited. I wasn’t a dog owner back then (am now), but regardless I wasn’t excited.
Lot’s of people weren’t excited – for lots of reasons. People wanted the Charlestown Cafe to stay exactly as it had been. People didn’t like the idea of a national retailer. People though a big store and big parking lot was a waste of space for housing. People thought lots of things.
But we managed to come together as a group – and not make it about Petco or other stuff. We came together out of a desire to support our neighborhood, to support our “Mickey Mouse pancakes,” and to show everybody involved in that whole thing that we gave a damn. And Petco walked away.
I learned a lot – about organizing people, about our neighborhood, about Larry Mellum (Charlestown Cafe owner), about the property owner (the name escapes me, but I think they own a ton of Seattle lots and live up in Edmonds). Most of all, I learned that people can make a difference.
I’m not down on this new development – it was going to happen sooner or later, and I’m looking forward to what comes of it. I’ll freely admit that I’m all for building more housing, because I believe that our current high prices (rent and for sale) are (at least partially) a result of high demand and low supply.
But really, I’m excited about the future. Maybe my daughter’s next best friend will live there. Maybe a teacher will live there. And maybe we can all make some new memories together there in the future.
Good memories, tho. And good Mickey Mouse pancakes.
Charlestown update: Mostly gone. pic.twitter.com/IQfVFLTxFw
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) June 3, 2015
ORIGINAL REPORT, FRIDAY NIGHT: Four years after the end of its run as a restaurant, the much-vandalized ex-Charlestown Café building is in its final days. Dan Swallow from development firm Intracorp told WSB late tonight that they plan to “break ground” on the site Monday; city records show the demolition permit was issued a week and a half ago. 14 townhouses and 13 live-work units are planned for the site; the Southwest Design Review Board OK’d the plan six months ago. (WSB file photo)
MONDAY UPDATE: The actual building demolition is not planned until next week, we’ve confirmed on followup.
Two West Seattle development-related notes today:
CALIFORNIA/CHARLESTOWN: Thanks to those who messaged us to say crews are on site at the former Charlestown Café site again today, continuing
deconstruction work that started last week. No heavy equipment on site at last check – this part of the work is being done by hand – but we’re checking with developer Intracorp to see about the timetable for full demolition of the four-years-vacant building, which has been ravaged by tagging/graffiti vandalism at an increasing pace. A 27-unit complex, split between townhouses and live-work units, is planned; we noted its land-use-approval decision four weeks ago. ADDED 1:03 PM: Dan Swallow from Intracorp replied to our question: “Current activity is abatement. Actual demo and heavy equipment will be end of April/early May.”
HOUSES ON SLOPES: Today’s Land Use Information Bulletin has two notices for single-family houses proposed in the 5400 block of 23rd SW (map). The notices are out because, the city says, building on these sites would require a variance of the city’s Environmentally Critical Area rules regarding “steep slope buffers,” and each one says, “This comment period may be the only opportunity to comment on the environmental impacts of this proposal.” The notice for 5462 23rd SW is here; for 5456 23rd SW, here. The comment period is open for two weeks, until April 19th.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
If you have been hoping to hear about another restaurant taking over the two-years-closed Charlestown Café – you’re likely out of luck.
While the first post-closure proposal for the site has long since been scrapped, a new one is in play – and it is primarily residential.
City records show that Intracorp – the same developers behind the 3210 California proposal a few blocks north, as well as another proposal across the street from that – is pursuing a plan for six 5-unit townhouse buildings “around a central drive aisle” on the ex-café site.
(April 2011 photo by Kathy Mulady for WSB)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Almost one full year after the “closed forever” sign went up on the Charlestown Street Café‘s door – a new sign is up on the property at 3800 California SW:
We noticed the sign over the weekend, as did others (two WSB’ers sent us notes – THANKS!), and this morning we spoke with John Wunder at Associates West, the West Seattle brokerage handling the just-launched search for someone new to lease the property.
Wunder confirms that the most recent development proposal for the site (reported here shortly after the restaurant’s closure last April) fell through, though he doesn’t know why, since his firm was not involved with it.
Who’s taking home part of what’s left from the now-closed Charlestown Street Café? Above, that’s Donna from Giannoni’s Pizzeria in Westwood Village, with son LJ – who picked up several items, including tables and a huge salad spinner – and they weren’t the only local restaurateurs we spotted. There also were souvenir-seekers, like one West Seattleite who told us she was hoping to find something small, maybe a menu, though after wandering around the offerings during the preview time, she hadn’t found anything fitting that bill just yet.
By 10 am, the restaurant was fairly full, and as scheduled, the auction began, legendary local auctioneer James G. Murphy himself led the calling, with Ron Hannon at his side:
Here’s a wider look at their portable-podium-with-PA setup, plus the assistant who has to go find each item that’s being bid on, lifting it aloft till the bidding ends:
As of about quarter past twelve, the auction had moved into the kitchen. We’re going back shortly to check on whether it’s still going. Backstory in case you missed it: The café closed April 3rd, with its owner citing economic reasons (as well as the difficulty of operating without a long-term lease). There’s a development proposal in progress for the site; we reported last Monday on the plan.
2:30 PM UPDATE: Just stopped by. The remaining Murphy personnel on the site say the auction finished about an hour ago, and everything went except for a few countertops.
A sight seen before at other notable shuttered businesses – the Corner Inn (2008 coverage here), the Gee/ex-Huling auto enterprises (2007 coverage here) – is outside the former Charlestown Street Café right now: The truck carrying equipment for James G. Murphy Auctioneers. In about half an hour, they’ll be taking bids on hundreds of items left over from the café operation, which shut down on April 3rd. The auction site opened for “previewing” at 8 this morning, and a few people were wandering through when we stopped by a little while ago:
12:49 PM UPDATE: We’re working on a separate story about the auction itself – which is still under way as of about 20 minutes ago (we went back to check)!
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In our first report on its then-imminent closure, we mentioned spotting a “mixed-use” development proposal in the city files. And now we’ve finally spoken to the developer who is working on it.
His name is Lobsang Dargey. His firm, Dargey Enterprises, is based in Everett, where they built Potala Village - not unlike, he told WSB, what’s envisioned for the California/Charlestown site (if you check their website, you will see this project identified as Potala Village-West Seattle).
But before the project ramps up – a change, he says, is needed:
Thanks to the WSB’er who called (206-293-6302, 24/7) to let us know that the Charlestown Street Café has just turned up on the schedule for auctioneers James G. Murphy Co. (And thanks to Rob, who just sent a note about the same thing.) The auction is scheduled at the restaurant site (California/Charlestown) at 10 am April 29th, after a two-hour preview period 8-10 am. The full catalog is not online yet, but some items are up for preview right now. (In case you missed it, the café “closed forever” – as the paper-plate sign in our photo declared – on April 3rd, with owner Ron Hanlon citing the economy.) Murphy handles many auctions in our region, and this announcement revives memories of the auction for another beloved longtime restaurant – the Corner Inn, back in 2008 (WSB coverage here).
Story and photos by Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
At 2:45 p.m. today, the last meal was cooked and served at Webster’s Charlestown Street Café.
Hesper Guerra, a waitress at the restaurant for two decades, raised a little plastic glass of apple cider, tears sliding down her cheeks, and gave a toast. The staff gathered behind her raised their glasses, and dabbed their own tears.
The last customers of the restaurant left slowly, shaking hands with owner Ron Hanlon, sharing their thoughts on what the restaurant has meant to them.
“The food is great, but the love is better,” said Debbie Coscorrosa, who followed Hanlon from Webster’s restaurant to the Charlestown.
(Our first report, as the café’s doors opened one last time this morning, is here)
Story and photos by Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The scene at the Charlestown Street Café is dramatically different a few hours later as fans crowded through the doors for a final Sunday morning breakfast.
Servers swiftly seated customers, teared up while taking orders, and hugged their “regulars” goodbye.
Among those giving and getting hugs: JoAnne Morrison (pink vest), who picketed in front of the Charlestown a few years ago to stop the landlord from demolishing the restaurant, came in for the last breakfast and ordered a spinach omelette. “Everyone is so friendly and nice, I just got to know everyone,” Morrison said.
Morrison said she had breakfast every Sunday at the Charlestown, and often for lunch or dinner during the week as well. From now on, she will probably just make breakfast at home on Sunday, she said.
Owner Ron Hanlon was out getting more groceries, said waitress Tama Warrior, who was working her final shift, along with Hesper Guerra. We’ll try to catch up with him later as he prepares to lock the front door of the cafe for the last time today.
5:55 PM UPDATE: We’ll publish Kathy’s final update a bit later this evening; she says the doors did not close at 3 pm spot-on, nor for a while afterward, but we went back a little while ago and found the final sign on the finally closed door:
Two people were waiting outside when the Charlestown Street Café opened moments ago for its final day in business after 32 years (and two more followed them in a moment later).
Everything’s up and running despite last night’s power problem. First in line, arriving about 20 minutes before 7, was Mike (photo above), doing a puzzle while he waited; he told us he had just decided he “might as well come here the last day.” We’ll be checking in during the day; the restaurant is scheduled to close its doors for good at 3 pm, with a note on the door sternly warning “last seating at 2:30 pm.” As we first reported one week ago, owner Ron Hanlon says the economy has done what first a development threat and then a fire couldn’t do – force the popular café’s doors to close.
6:41 PM: Tonight, the Charlestown Street Café was to be serving its last dinners, since it’s closing for good at 3 pm tomorrow – but when Dave got there a little while ago, he found that note on its door, saying it’s closed tonight because the power is out, back in the morning at 7 am. (The outage is shown on the City Light map – just one customer, just that spot, “cause unknown.”)
7:59 PM UPDATE: WSB contributor Kathy Mulady, who’s covered the Charlestown’s travails since 2006 and reported the WSB followup after the closure announcement, talked to the Seattle City Light crews that are on scene right now. They told her a transformer blew and they’re waiting for a new one. Oddly, Kathy adds, the outage didn’t affect the big sign out front. It, perhaps defiantly, blazes on.
West Seattle journalist Kathy Mulady has reported on the Charlestown Street Café‘s ups and downs over the past five years, for the Seattle P-I and for WSB. Following up on our Sunday report of the café’s imminent closure, she went there today to cover the first day since the bad news hit.
(Café owner Ron Hanlon and longtime staffer Shavaun Bartlett)
Story and photos by Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Ron Hanlon is done, and so is the Charlestown Street Café he has owned for more than 30 years.
Customers strolling in for their regular breakfast or lunch today were stunned by the note on the door announcing that the restaurant that has been so much a part of their lives will be closing for good at 3 p.m. next Sunday, April 3 (as reported here yesterday morning).
Hanlon said he will stay open long enough to serve a final meal to the after-church crowd, but that’s it. There will be no last-minute rescue this time.
“It’s very sad. This has been a community gathering spot for a long time. The landlord wants to move on,” said Hanlon. “A long-term lease for us is out of the question.”
The last four years have been a roller coaster for Hanlon and his regulars.
The business survived threats of demolition, a kitchen fire that closed the restaurant for four months, and was finally done in by a sour economy that refuses to rebound.
“The bottom fell out of the economy and we never recovered,” said Hanlon, who turned 65 this year, but insists he isn’t ready to retire.
Just a few weeks ago he bought new chairs for the restaurant, thinking that he would keep going.
(ADDED 12:41 PM: The note on the Charlestown Café door)
Thanks to the WSB’ers who called and e-mailed with this news, which we have just confirmed: The Charlestown Café is closing its doors. A sign on its front door says that it’ll be shutting down as of 3 pm next Sunday (April 3rd) and blames economic conditions. It’s endured a lot in recent years – first a development threat that rallied community support for the restaurant; then, shortly after word that the development plan was dropped, a 2008 fire closed the café for months. One year after its reopening, we followed up with owner Ron Hanlon, who candidly discussed the economic challenges (including the fact he had a month-by-month lease).
(WSB photo from 2009)
ADDED 3:51 PM: Rooting around now to see if there’s any hint at the site’s future. City files show some activity last June on a proposal for a “mixed-use multifamily building with commercial on the ground floor,” but no dated activity since then – we’ll be checking tomorrow to see if this is an active proposal. There’s no indication in online records of any change in ownership. The proposal that surfaced in 2006 ultimately emerged as a single-story building that was to be a new home for Petco; the plan was dropped in early 2008, and as reported here a month ago, Petco is moving to Capco Plaza at 41st/Alaska.
This Tuesday will mark 1 year since West Seattle’s Charlestown Cafe reopened after repairs from a fire that came on the heels of a long fight over its site’s future. Seemed like the time to check in to see how things are going – and we found out some surprises:
Story and photos by Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
The one-year anniversary of the re-opening of Webster’s Charlestown Street Café is a bittersweet celebration for Ron Hanlon, owner of the West Seattle fixture.
A fire in the stove hood in February 2008 closed the Charlestown Café for months while Hanlon, the café property owner and the insurance company haggled over details. The restaurant with the something-for-everyone menu finally reopened June 30 last year. Just in time for what some have nicknamed the Great Recession.
Hanlon’s longtime business partner Larry Mellum moved on earlier this year, expanding Pike Place Chowder to Pacific Place downtown. But Hanlon is staying put at Charlestown, and in West Seattle, where he has owned restaurants for 30 years.
“I’m going to ride this to the end,” he said this week.
The video above shows Charlestown Cafe staff greeting Ted, the first customer to walk through the door on the restaurant’s grand-reopening day – he arrived a few minutes after 6 am, as the beloved restaurant is back in business almost five months after a fire shut it down. We’ve talked with co-owner Larry Mellum, who’s also been interviewed by at least one TV crew so far (that’s a channel 7 photographer you see in the video above), and says he’s thrilled for this day to have finally arrived. More video and pix, including an interview with Larry, coming up. ADDED 6:34 AM: Another clip — a quick look inside, just before the first customer arrived:
ADDED 6:52 AM: Just before the customers began arriving, we talked with Larry about what’s changed at his restaurant, and what hasn’t: Click to read the rest of Charlestown Cafe is open again!…
Just checked with Charlestown Cafe co-owner Larry Mellum, and he confirms the grand reopening is still on for 6 am Monday (as first reported here a week and a half ago; then we showed you photos last Monday of the CC team getting everything ready), almost five months after the fire that shut the Charlestown down. We’ll be there to bring you the online equivalent of a live report. Says Larry, in an understatement: “Should be fun!” (WSB Charlestown Cafe coverage is archived here, newest to oldest.)
Tama and Sacha are two of the Charlestown Cafe team members working hard today to get the beloved restaurant back in shape for its grand reopening, now just days away, as first reported here last Thursday. It’s been a long and bumpy road to get the restaurant reopened after the February fire that at first left cafe co-owners hoping they’d only be closed for “days”; here’s one reason it took so long:
That’s the new hood system required as a condition of reopening. But as our photo shows, it’s in place and ready to go, and the place was abuzz with work when we stopped by earlier today:
Our Charlestown Cafe coverage — not just the fire, but also the development controversy that unfolded in preceding months — is all archived here.
6 am June 30th. Here’s the update that just came in from Charlestown Cafe co-owner Larry Mellum, 4 1/2 months after the fire that forced the beloved restaurant to close for a while:
The Fire Dept. has approved our new Hood System so we are “good to go!!” This week we will finish getting the restaurant put back together and cleaned-up. Believe me it has been a long and frustrating process but the end is near. So, we will make it official. We will be re-opening Monday, June 30th at our usual time 6:00 a.m. … The support we have received from this community has been incredible. We at ‘Charlestown want to thank you all very, very much!! We will see you on the 30th.
If you missed the original news of the February fire, you can catch up with our Charlestown Cafe news archive (newest to oldest), which includes the most recent update from Larry a week and a half ago, when he told us he’d just had a meeting with his staff to see how many he’d have to replace (since the restaurant had been closed so long) – and he reported “Everyone showed up!”
When last we updated you on the repair work to get the Charlestown Cafe open again — it’s now been four months since fire forced it to close — co-owner Larry Mellum was hoping for a reopening around June 10th. We just checked back with him today, since that date’s almost here; here’s his reply, with two bits of news:
Things are progressing well on our construction. I will try to give you a more specific “reopening” date later this week but we expect to be open before the end of June.
I know many people have asked about our staff and what will happen with them. Last week we held a meeting to get an idea of how many people we will have to replace. Everyone attended!!! So, it looks like we will have a good staff to “reopen” with.
If you want to catch up on all our WSB coverage of the Charlestown Cafe — both the fire situation and the development proposal that had been tabled just before the fire hit — check out this archive.
Thanks to PS for snagging and sending that photo this morning. As we reported last weekend, the Charlestown Cafe finally has its permit to proceed with the work needed to get the restaurant back in shape after fire damage closed it in February, and then co-owner Larry Mellum told us a few days later that we wouldn’t see a lot of site activity immediately because the new hood is being built offsite. He’s hoping to reopen next month sometime; a lot of CC fans are anxiously awaiting that, like PS, whose e-mail accompanying the photo included: “… activity this morning at Webster’s! At last! Mmmmmmmm. French toast!” (Reminder, you can find out the latest on the CC situation any time by going to the WSB Categories list down the right sidebar and clicking Charlestown Cafe; WSB Categories archive all coverage that we filed under those categories, in newest-first order – you can also use the links next to their titles to add specific categories to your RSS reader, if you read WSB that way.)
Quick followup to our update the other day mentioning the permit’s been granted for repairs to the fire-damaged Charlestown Cafe: We heard back from co-owner Larry Mellum, who explains you’re not seeing signs of work onsite because “The hood is being fabricated offsite … We will know a little more by the end of the week but at this juncture it looks like we COULD be opening around the 10th of June. It is early so don’t hold me to that but it is looking that way!!”
Two weeks after Charlestown Cafe co-owner Larry Mellum told us the restaurant finally had the green light for the work needed to recover from the Feb. 4 fire that closed it — the city website reveals a permit was officially granted Friday. We’re checking for an update on the timetable for reopening. (You can see all our archived Charlestown coverage here.)
Just in from Charlestown Cafe co-owner Larry Mellum:
I finally have some good news to report. Everything is finally signed sealed and delivered!! Meaning that the Charlestown St. Cafe project is finally underway. I will do my best to keep you aware of our progress but as I have said previously, this is a four week project. Which means we should be open for business sometime around June 1st, with any luck possibly Memorial Day weekend.
It’s been almost three months since the Feb. 4th fire that closed the restaurant; we’ve been chronicling (scroll through our complete Charlestown Cafe archive here) the ups and downs of the owners’ quest for repair approvals ever since. Ironically, just days before the fire, we had reported the shelving of the controversial plan to build a Petco store on the site.
We just checked in again with Charlestown Cafe owner Larry Mellum; in our last update three weeks ago, Larry’s co-owner Ron Hanlon told us they were still awaiting the final go-ahead for work to start, and they couldn’t set a reopening date yet. Today, Larry tells WSB that the work required for the restaurant to reopen post-Feb.-4-fire still hasn’t begun:
The project has not yet started. We have been waiting for our Landlord and their insurance carrier to get the required construction proposal and deposit back to the contractor. To date that has not happened due I believe to some administrative glitches within their operation. … We are as anxious as you to get the Charlestown going again. Thank you again for all of your support.
Whenever the work starts, the cafe owners say it’ll take at least four weeks from that point to get it finished so the Charlestown can reopen. (You can always find the latest WSB coverage of the Charlestown Cafe situation atop this archive.)
Friday is the two-month anniversary of the fire that (temporarily) shut down the Charlestown Cafe, ironically just five days after we had reported the news that the most recent development project appeared to be on terminal hold. So we just checked in minutes ago with Ron Hanlon, co-owner of Charlestown Cafe, to see how repair work is going – when last we heard from co-owner Larry Mellum two weeks ago, when he announced the landlord had agreed to go ahead with fire repairs, he had hoped it would take about a month from that time to reopen. But according to what Hanlon just told us this morning, looks like it’s going to be a little longer than that. He says they’re still waiting for a couple things including a permit for the work. He’s hoping they will be able to set a firm date within a week or so. (You can find our archived Charlestown Cafe coverage, including the development controversy, the fire, and the recovery, by going here.)
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