Photo by Michael Posluszny
Jim Bristow recreates Sunset Bowl.

At Large in Ballard: You had to be there

By Peggy Sturdivant

Jim Bristow says his neighbors begged him to have another block party after his Flamenco-themed party on Summer Solstice. If you’re a Ballard neighbor you absolutely know him: the neighborhood party guy. If you don’t know him by name you may remember him as the Ballardite who tried to save Sunset Bowl. If you live anywhere in NW Ballard on Saturday, August 16th now you know who was having the party with amplified music.

Before the party Bristow worried about the noise potential of the bowling alleys he built on the planting strips of his east-west block. Turns out the sound of the return of “Sunset Bowl” wasn’t an issue, but the classic rock and roll of 24 hr Diesel was a bit much for those who weren’t dancing in the street. Sounds like ‘you had to be there.’

By many accounts, all of 100-120 neighbors attending the party had a great time. Bristow brought out his Sunset Bowl collection, including actual pieces of lane, pins and balls. Kids Hula Hooped. Parents re-set the pins in the plywood alleys while their children teetered with bowling balls. Folks on their way to and from other parties heard the music and stopped to dance.

There were kids, dogs, parked Harleys, libations and tables of food. There was also an amplified rock band on a stage in front of Bristow’s garage. The weather was perfect; the block party/street closure permit was in order. However there was a north wind. The music wasn’t “excruciating” for those on NW 77th, but the pounding beat seemed next door for at least 20 blocks downwind.

Bristow admits that the band got a late start and probably should have wrapped it up by 10 p.m. instead of a bit later (reported end times vary between 10:30 and 11 p.m.). When the Seattle Police Department responded to a noise complaint the band was done and street clean-up was in process. “Looks like you’re having fun,” Bristow says the officer commented.

Bristow realizes he’s a social guy, known for his ‘keggers,’ back in the day. As a longtime resident and family man he still loves making community happen through neighborhood parties. “Everywhere you look in Ballard nice houses are being demolished to put up those blocky things and it’s all paved over. Supposedly all this building will create community, I think there’s less and less community building.”

As for the band, Bristow has known some of the members for over 30 years. The lead guitarist told him the “Rock and Roll Bowl” party was “probably the best gig we’ve ever had.” For 24 hr Diesel the sound system was “just right.” The band prefers block parties to playing in bars so the summer night in North Ballard was a high point.

The day after neighbors continued to bowl a little and thank Bristow for a great party. He also got an earful from a less happy neighbor, and remained blissfully unaware that the party’s percussion was a major topic throughout West Ballard the next day. “Any block can apply to have a party a month,” he pointed out.

It’s true that since 2008 the City of Seattle’s Climate Action Now (CAN) has partnered with the Department of Transportation to waive permit fees (otherwise $86) on block party and street use permits, and streamline the application process. An organization or individual on any block that’s not on an arterial, home to a bus stop or includes an intersection can apply for one block party per month. The applications are generally approved within 14 days and then allow neighbors to download street closure signs and neighborhood invitations.

Climate Action Now is part of a program to make Seattle more “green” with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Their website suggests ways to reduce energy consumption and carbon input: at home, in the yard, getting around, through climate protection, at your business and in your neighborhood. In your neighborhood suggestions include Green Seattle Partnership, Restore our Waters, buy local, neighborhood emergency preparedness, Trees for Neighborhoods, Department of Neighborhoods, P-Patch community gardens, Community Solar and volunteer. The city CAN site doesn’t mention block parties.

The free block party information is posted on the Department of Transportation page, noting that FREE Neighborhood Block Parties are part of Seattle’s effort to support healthy communities. Their website states: Applicants are responsible for contacting all affected neighbors to share the details of the street closure event and for cleaning up. Their suggested invitation says, “We’re having a car-free block party on…”

Which brings us back to Jim Bristow’s block, the home and beneficiary of his large collection of Sunset Bowl paraphernalia. It’s true that neighborhood block parties build community, reduce crime and perhaps even reduce our carbon footprint, although that seems the weakest rationale of the above, unless the block parties include information about composting, getting rid of gas lawnmowers, recycling and eliminating water pollution.

Last week’s “Sunset Bowl” party may not have reduced the carbon footprint in one night but it definitely built community, although the experience was different if you were dancing in the street or trying to get your grandson to sleep. Just remember, only one free block party per month.

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