At Large In Ballard: Market of Memories
By Peggy Sturdivant
It was a coincidence that I had started writing a column about the Sunset Hill Green Market at the same time that demolition started on the buildings on the southeast corner of 65th and 24th NW. They are now related by ownership, and redevelopment.
Even as I was waiting for a callback from Bill Parks, the man who connects the two, demolition on the former Viking revealed a mural that had been in hiding. Painted on that thick paper that used to cover lathe and plaster the Viking figure was more similar to the Leif Erikson statue at Shilshole than to the gnome-like Viking who had been overlooking the bar. Did anyone know the mural was underneath or had it already been forgotten?
When I learned about the earlier Viking I was already pondering the question of how to hold onto what we can no longer see and touch. If I discard the brown chair where I always read to my daughter, where she sometimes slept, will I lose the memories of the sweet times? What will jog them, the way that my grandmother’s wedding ring on my hand pings me with the memory of when my grandfather gave it to me.
Those were my thoughts while walking up the alley to the Sunset Hill Green Market for coffee beans, when I slipped on moss. It was just like hitting a patch of ice. This is what it comes to in Seattle I thought, a moss accident while on the way for coffee.
When you hit a patch of ice you can’t hold on. The same is true of slipping on the mossy side of the alley. You can’t hold on. And it turns out to be true for buildings and uncovered murals. The trick for all of us, as we age, as Ballard changes, as the past seems to disappear, is how to hold on to what’s most dear?
I work with a lot of folks in their late 80’s and early 90’s, helping them to set down the stories that didn’t get written down, and in some cases, were never even told. My students have already left the homes where they raised their families, have had to triage keepsakes versus discards, regard their objects with the eyes of a later generation. My Cancer Lifeline writer Janet Hasselblad puts it this way, “When do treasures become things and then stuff and then clutter and then junk and then garbage?" What have we all carried, to help us remember the past, and enjoy our present, that someone else will jettison?
With its old-fashioned façade the Sunset Hill Green Market is a magnet for those who want to remember and share stories from their past, especially around the time of Ballard High School reunions. Perhaps it’s the photographs on the walls showing other neighborhood markets in the early 1900s. Out-of-towners find the market to ask about local history, revealing that their father was born near by, their grandmother lived across the street when she first arrived from Denmark, as did an uncle who fished. They reminisce about the two dressmakers on the block, the soda fountain at the drugstore, the neighborhood bustle.
One woman appeared at the Green Market to tell about when the location was a cobbler’s shop, her father was the cobbler and she was born in the apartment upstairs. Another time a very tiny older woman came into the store when Josh Munsen was working. She looked at the photographs on the wall, particularly that of H. Jacobsen Groceries. She recalled they gave her free treats, candy and pickles. She spotted this year’s Ballard Historical Society calendar propped in front of the cash register: Ballard Beauties. According to Josh she got mad enough to almost spit. Ballard Beauties! Without including her? w
No doubt the owners at The Viking heard their share of stories, as did the “Two-and-a-half” Barbers on 24th, where it’s now rubble behind the chain link fence. Starting in late spring of 2015, when the Ballard Lofts project is complete, that neighborhood will have its own green market. The developer Bill Parks specializes in listening to what everyone has to say, and then trying to do what he is able. The he plans to open and expand the Green Market, with the goal of providing what will enhance the community.
But when the old apartment building on 32nd NW has also been taken down and carted away, and the replacement Sunset Hill Green Market built so that each neighborhood has one, will visitors still share stories about winning the Miss Norway contest or what they remember in the neighborhood?
Bill Parks’ family dates back to the 1850s in Seattle. He can appreciate the mixed feelings that people have about change. Some objects keep their value; the treasures remain treasures even to non-family members. Other objects don’t fare as well, the cookie ornaments that eventually crumble, the buildings with asbestos tiles and lead pipes, a mural painted directly over an exterior wall.
It’s like hitting that patch of ice. One minute you’re upright and the next you’re just slammed on the pavement. But if we’re lucky we’ve kept our hand aloft, the one holding the item that’s breakable. And if we’re lucky we have not hit our heads or broken any bones. The memories will be intact, although we will have to find other, perhaps safer, ways to dislodge them.