West Seattle development: Ex-Charlestown Café demolition day

(WSB photo)
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.

32 Replies to "West Seattle development: Ex-Charlestown Café demolition day"

  • Wonkwaaa June 3, 2015 (11:19 am)

    New residents will never know good chowder.

  • Born on Alki 59 June 3, 2015 (11:31 am)

    Go to Pike Place Chowder. Same stuff and delicious as ever. It’s managed by Michelle who worked at the Charlestown and Webster’s forever. Also, the seafood bisque is to die for.

  • Ugh June 3, 2015 (11:46 am)

    3 projects now on CA Ave on 1 block between Andover and Charlestown.

  • Diane June 3, 2015 (12:08 pm)

    that is so weird that the developer rep would give you false information yesterday about date of demolition; wth? are developers so afraid of the wrath of community that they’re all resorting to stealth demolitions? (you know this happened on my block too, in Feb; zero notice; two 100yr old houses demolished to throw up 4 giant mod-boxes); and the stealth demolition, on a Friday night, of Charlestown Court apts recently; if these developers have legal permits, and Charlestown Café went through all design reviews, why wouldn’t they be transparent about demo/build dates? weird weird weird

    • WSB June 3, 2015 (12:13 pm)

      Diane, honestly I don’t know that it was “false” but that maybe they changed the plan. While I published it last night, he had replied to me on Monday, after reaching out to us unsolicited on Friday night with word that “groundbreaking” was set for Monday. I sent back a question Friday night saying “by groundbreaking do you mean demolition” but didn’t get a reply until Monday, which said next Tuesday; so that’s why what I published Friday night was kind of bet-hedging, saying the building didn’t have long. They originally had said this would be torn down in April so even now it’s a delay. That block between Charlestown and Andover has been so busy, I’m wondering if they’re just all sharing the same pieces of heavy equipment! But there’s no common ownership between anything going on on that block. Elsewhere, Intracorp, as I’m sure you know, has this one going, the Admiral East Apartments on the east side of the 3200 block of California, and some mixed-bag residential to come across the street on the west side.

  • Ugh June 3, 2015 (12:13 pm)

    True Diane. Interesting.

  • Diane June 3, 2015 (12:19 pm)

    I drove up California late last night to look at all the demolitions done or slated for demo soon (from your story yesterday); wonder if there’s any way to document the number of renters displaced from the older affordable apts; between Hanford and south towards the Alaska junction, there’s got to be hundreds of displaced renters; on the mega apt site between Hanford and Hinds, there were several older affordable apt buildings demolished; then along California heading further south, many more smallish older affordable apt buildings demolished; anyone else starting to have nightmares about waking up to demolition tractors eating your building?

  • Diane June 3, 2015 (12:23 pm)

    “I’m wondering if they’re just all sharing the same pieces of heavy equipment!”
    ok, we’re done; next in line

  • Norman June 3, 2015 (12:32 pm)

    I worked here for 10 + years as the kitchen Manager what a shame it had to go. :(

  • Darren June 3, 2015 (12:33 pm)

    There is a lot of construction going on in WS. Have you seen what’s going on at the site of the old Arbor Heights Elementary? They are really working on the new school

    • WSB June 3, 2015 (12:38 pm)

      We went by recently just to doublecheck it really had restarted! Overdue for an update on that and Genesee Hill, where framing has begun as well. Both still set to open fall 2016.

  • Eddie June 3, 2015 (1:24 pm)

    Was by earlier in the week to watch the demo and look at the Rhodes people were talking about. Saw that huge sign and wondered what will become of that? Did anyone rescue it for future nostalgia?

  • Mike Lindblom June 3, 2015 (1:52 pm)

    So we won’t get to smirk at “Vulva” in purple letters on the north side of the building, after today…

  • onion June 3, 2015 (3:57 pm)

    The Charlestown developers put protective boxes around the trees in the parking strip along California. I appreciate that thoughtfulness.

  • WS4life June 3, 2015 (4:50 pm)

    The last true old school diner in West Seattle to finally & sadly go the way of the dodo. Fond memories of my old neighborhood diner. Oh! the future I weep for thee

  • sbre June 3, 2015 (5:15 pm)

    I’ve been missing their BLT’s and pies!!!

  • David chew June 3, 2015 (5:51 pm)

    It’s been closed for a few years so there was plenty of opportunity for someone to buy it and open a new restaurant there. When that didn’t happen after a couple years it Became inevitable that someone was going to buy the property and build housing units on it.

  • H June 3, 2015 (6:53 pm)

    So sad

  • Brynn's Mama June 3, 2015 (6:56 pm)

    Didn’t realize it had been four years already. I told my daughter about the demolition, and she was very sad. We used to have weekly “date nights” there together, and she fondly recalls the waitress calling her “princess.” Still looking for the perfect location to go to so that I can create similar memories for my little guy.

  • David June 3, 2015 (8:07 pm)

    They did not put boxes around the trees out of the kindness of their heart – it was required by their permits

  • Wseattlelite June 3, 2015 (8:39 pm)

    WS4life, not sure if they totally meet your definition of old school diner, but the Chelan Café and Luna Park Café carry some old time ambiance café vibes.

  • brandon June 3, 2015 (8:41 pm)

    If you looking for old school diner, you still have Easy St. and Luna Cafe.

  • WestSeattleGirl June 3, 2015 (10:48 pm)

    We were walking by the site at 10:30 pm and spotted a shadowy figure with a shielded flashlight inside the husk of building still standing. The person appeared alone and was yanking on what may have been pipes or cables in the inside wall. We went to the 711 across the street and called 911 to report as construction site theft is rampant. But we saw the person exit around the back of the building after some car headlights flashed on it from the road. Police came fast but the person was already gone.

  • WS4life June 3, 2015 (11:46 pm)

    Yes good point both Luna Park & Chelan Cafe both have their own unique ambiance. Easy St. also great! But neither are the size in scope of the late Charlestown St. Cafe. The sense of community it offered is unparalleled in WS. These rich developers are single-handedly destroying any sense of charm West Seattle once had.

  • david chew June 4, 2015 (8:38 am)

    Rich developers are not the reason why the cafe is gone. The cafe closed due to economic reasons 4 years ago. Other entrepreneurs had ample opportunity to buy the property or lease it and establish another restaurant or other business but no one stepped forward to do so.

    It was inevtitable, then, that a developer would come along and develop it for housing.

  • Bad owner June 4, 2015 (8:45 am)

    Speaking of the trees, they haven’t been maintained for 4 years. They have grown out into the sidewalk and street so that you cannot walk or drive on the Charlestown side. Not taking care of graffiti despite dpd complaints? Bonus

  • notafan June 4, 2015 (10:11 am)

    The property owner wants top dollar (nothing wrong with that) and I’m guessing developers can offer more than someone wanting to start a business/restaurant, etc. The owners likely waited to sell.. why else would they let it sit for 4 years in this booming time of development in WS, ignoring the condition of the building. Neighbors are not happy with a 4 year old eyesore. The property owners live out of town. Thanks a lot. Wish I could repay the favor.

  • Julie June 4, 2015 (10:13 am)

    I drove by yesterday when I saw the kitchen window. The first thought that went through my head was how many moments I spent standing in front of that window, talking with the cooks and wait staff. Meal Makers was a place to be back then. Charlestown Street Café is missed. It is still fun to this day to run into the staff that used to work there as they are currently working in the area still. Nice memories.

  • Eddie June 4, 2015 (3:48 pm)

    Surprised there is not a construction fence around that attractive nuisance. Also surprised that big triangular Charestown Cafe sign is still in place.

  • BJG June 4, 2015 (10:28 pm)

    Family member looked at possibilities for old Charlestown space after closure, as had several corporate restaurant reps. Verdict was that there was nothing to save. The expense was prohibitive for demolition and total rebuild. So it really was a land-only deal from that point. Wish it wasn’t. We loved the place.

  • Thomas M. June 8, 2015 (9:38 pm)

    What are they putting up? More file cabinet design eyesores?

    • WSB June 8, 2015 (9:52 pm)

      Click “Charlestown Cafe” under the headline and all our previous coverage is archived, going back eight years. A rendering from the project is in one of the more recent stories.

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