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Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington


Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington

Capitol Hill
Seattle Neighborhood
Queen Anne.

Map of Capitol Hill's location in Seattle

Capitol Hill is a densely populated residential district in Seattle, Washington, United States. It is one of the city's most prominent nightlife and entertainment districts, and the center of the city's gay and counterculture communities.


Capitol Hill is situated on a steep hill just east of the city's central business district.

The neighborhood is bounded by Interstate 5 (I-5) to the west, beyond which are Downtown, Cascade, and Eastlake; to the north by State Route 520 and Interlaken Park, beyond which are the Portage Bay and Montlake neighbourhoods; to the south by E. Union and E. Madison Streets, beyond which are First Hill and the Central District; and to the east by 23rd and 24th Avenues E., beyond which is Madison Valley.

Capitol Hill's main thoroughfare is Broadway, which forms the commercial heart of the district. Other significant streets are 10th, 12th, 15th, and 19th Avenues, all running north-south, and E. Pine, E. Pike, E. John, E. Thomas, and E. Aloha Streets and E. Olive Way, running east-west. Of these streets, large portions of E. Pike Street, E. Pine Street, Broadway, 15th Avenue, and E. Olive Way are lined almost continuously with streetfront businesses.

The highest point on Capitol Hill, at 444.5 feet (135.5 m) above sea level, is in Volunteer Park, adjacent to the water tower. Capitol Hill is also responsible for half of Seattle's 12 steepest street grades: 21% on E. Roy Street between 25th and 26th Avenues E. (eastern slope), 19% on E. Boston Street between Harvard Avenue E. and Broadway E. (western slope) and on E. Ward Street between 25th and 26th Avenues E. (eastern slope), and 18% on E. Highland Drive between 24th and 25th Avenues E. (eastern slope), on E. Lee Street between 24th and 25th Avenues E. (eastern slope), and on E. Roy Street between Melrose and Bellevue Avenues E. (western slope).


Prior to 1901, Capitol Hill was known as 'Broadway Hill' after the neighborhood's main thoroughfare. The origin of the neighborhood's current name is disputed. According to one story, James A. Moore, the real estate developer who platted much of the area, named it thus in the hope that the Washington government would move to Seattle from Olympia. According to another, Moore named it after the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, his wife's hometown. It is thought by the editors of HistoryLink that the true story is a combination of the two.

Due to its one-time large Roman Catholic population, Capitol Hill was frequently referred to as Catholic Hill up until the 1980s.[1]

Capitol Hill contains some of Seattle's wealthiest districts, including "Millionaire's Row" along 14th Avenue E. south of Volunteer Park (family residences on tree-lined streets) and the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District. It also has many distinguished apartment houses, including several by Fred Anhalt, as well as a few surviving Classical Revival complexes such as the Blackstone Apartments. However, the neighborhood's architecture did not fare so well in the decades immediately after World War II. Architect Victor Steinbrueck wrote in 1962 of the "tremendous growth of less-than-luxury apartments" that at first "appear to be consistent with the clean, direct approach associated with contemporary architecture" but whose "open outdoor corridors" totally defeat their "large 'view' windows" by giving occupants no privacy if they leave their blinds open to enjoy the view. "Most tenants close their blinds and look for another apartment when their lease runs out."[2]

Since 1997, Capitol Hill has hosted the Capitol Hill Block Party annually in late July.


Large-scale gay residential settlement of Capitol Hill began in the early 1960s. Accordingly, this district is also home to a sizable number of gay and lesbian couples.[3]

It also has a reputation as a bastion of musical culture in Seattle and is the neighborhood most closely associated with the grunge scene from the early 1990s, although most of the best-known music venues of that era were actually located slightly outside the neighborhood. The music scene has transformed since those days and now a variety of genres (electronica, rock, punk, folk, salsa, hip hop and trance) is represented in the people and venues.

Most of the Hill's major thoroughfares are dotted with coffeehouses, taverns and bars, and residences cover the gamut from modest motel-like studio apartment buildings to some of the city's grandest and most venerable mansions, with the two extremes sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder.

The neighborhood figures prominently in nightlife and entertainment, with many bars hosting live music and with numerous fringe theatres. At night enthusiastic (and at times eccentric) people fill the streets enjoying the diverse entertainment and the culture of openness and acceptance. Spontaneous street parties have been known to break out with music playing and people dancing in the streets like on Election Day 2008 and the freak snow storm in December 2008 (snow is very unusual in Seattle and can stifle transit). In these instances, police officers observe but will usually let the revelling continue. When clubs do shut down at around 2 AM, people can now flock to the plethora of new street vendors opening up as well as the late-closing restaurants serving quick and tasty food.

Capitol Hill is also home to two of the city's best-known movie theaters, both of which are part of the Landmark Theatres chain. Both theaters are architectural conversions of private meeting halls: the Harvard Exit, in the former home of the Woman's Century Club (converted in the early 1970s) and the Egyptian Theatre, in a former Masonic lodge (converted in the mid-1980s). There is also Seattle's only cinematheque, the Northwest Film Forum, which in addition to screening films, teaches classes on filmmaking and produces film alongside Seattle's burgeoning filmmaking community. The Broadway Performance Hall, located on the campus of Seattle Central Community College (SCCC), also hosts a variety of lectures, performances, and films. These quaint theaters respectively host showings for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) and the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival every year. Both festivals are notably remarkable in their own right.

With a rich and diverse history, Capitol Hill has been a bastion of arts and culture. Boutiques dot the commercial streets, specifically in the Southern Pike/Pine area. The neighborhood boasts a number of small performing arts theaters, including the Erickson Theater, the Balagan Theater, and the Annex Theater. There are also a number of dance studios, most prominently Velocity Dance on 12th. Not far away, Richard Hugo House hosts literary artists-in-residence and presents a wide variety of public performances, classes, and other events throughout the year. Public art, both government-sponsored and not, can also be seen throughout the neighborhood.

Landmarks and institutions

Registered Historic Places on Capitol Hill include the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District, in which is located the original building of the Cornish College of the Arts; Temple De Hirsch Sinai (but the historic Temple De Hirsch was largely demolished in 1992: only a few columns and the front entrance remain); Volunteer Park, in which are the Seattle Asian Art Museum and Volunteer Park Conservatory; and The Northwest School.

In addition to Volunteer Park, parks on the Hill include the exquisite fountain and lawn themed Cal Anderson Park, Louisa Boren Park, Interlaken Park, Roanoke Park, and Thomas Street Park. Lake View Cemetery, containing the graves of Bruce Lee and his son Brandon Lee, lies directly north of Volunteer Park, and the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery north of it in turn.

Also on the Hill are the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Northwest School, Hamlin Robinson School, St. Joseph School, Holy Names Academy, Seattle Hebrew Academy, Seattle Preparatory School, Seattle University, Seattle Central Community College, and St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral.

Bars and clubs

At least since the 1970s, the Hill has played a prominent role in Seattle's nightlife. Prominent bars in the 1970s, inevitably also full-scale restaurants, were the upmarket and elegant Henry's Off Broadway and two Broadway "fern bars" owned by Gerry Kingen. (Kingen also turned the Red Robin from a single tavern at the southern end of the University Bridge into a restaurant chain.) Lion O'Reilly's had a last hurrah as "Lion O's Rock Hard Cafe", which resulted in legal action by the Hard Rock Cafe chain. Surviving from that era, with a rougher-hewn version of the same style, is Canterbury Ales and Eats on 15th Avenue E.

With a similar look, but far more emblematic of what was to come was Brass Connection which was a bar and disco with a predominantly gay male crowd and occasional drag shows. It played a key role in moving the heart of Seattle's gay nightlife scene from relative hidey-holes, mainly in the Pioneer Square and Belltown neighborhoods, to higher-profile venues, mainly on Capitol Hill and especially in the Pike-Pine Corridor.

In the late 1980s, another gay bar, Tugs Belltown, moved up to the Hill (corner of Pine and Belmont) and became Tugs Belmont where underwear parties were held. In this new venue, it played a key role in Seattle's burgeoning and sexy fringe theater scene. Possibly the first bar in Seattle since before the Prohibition era to host regular theater performances, in the early 1990s it was the primary home of the Greek Active Theater, founded by sex columnist and Capitol Hill resident Dan Savage (working pseudonymously as Keenan Hollohan).

The scene along the Pike-Pine corridor was never exclusively gay. In the 1990s Moe's, on Pike just east of Broadway (now named Neumos), transformed a former Salvation Army facility into a combination bar, restaurant, and performance venue, with local and national acts as well as dance nights, and became for several years one of Seattle's most prominent musical performance venues. Now Neumos and nearby Chop Suey continue that live music tradition and dozens of trendy (and friendly-but-divey) bars and clubs cater to gay- and straight-themed nightlife.

In late 2007, the 500 block of East Pine was demolished for a condominium/street-level businesses project that as of 2012 is only now coming to fruition. The 500 block housed the Manray gay bar as well as gay-friendly Cha Cha Lounge, Bus Stop, Kincora and the raunchy Pony (which was supposed to be only a temporary venue before its demolishing). The block has been described as a "hub for Seattle music, nightlife, art, fashion, and small business".[4] Though most of the bars and clubs on this block have relocated (including Pony), the lower Pike-Pine corridor has a distinctly different feel west of Broadway.

The current hubs of Capitol Hill nightlife are on Pike and side streets between Broadway and 12th Ave, 12th Ave itself heading east from Pike, Olive Way from Melrose all the way to Broadway, and portions of Pine and Pike West of Broadway. There are over 100 bars and clubs currently in the Capitol Hill area.


Besides the large Seattle-based chains—Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee (now owned by Starbucks), and Tully's Coffee—Capitol Hill has been home to some of the city's most prominent locally owned coffeehouses. The neighborhood is considered a test market for coffee houses by Starbucks Corporation. The company has opened three unique versions of the chain at different locations on the hill. The testing being done included unique decor, differentiated food and drink menus (e.g. specialty teas) and the sales of alcohol. These three locations are: Roy Street Coffee & Tea, 15th Ave. and most prominently at E. Olive Way.[5]

The now-defunct Cause Celebre coffeehouse and ice cream parlor on 15th Ave. E. started life as a worker-owned collective, but was eventually bought out by one of its founding members. From about 1978 until the mid-1980s, it declared itself to be "Capitol Hill's living room."

B&O Espresso (at the corner of Belmont Ave. E. and Olive Way, hence B&O: Belmont and Olive), founded 1976, could be considered one of Seattle's oldest surviving coffeehouses, except that it has transformed over the years into more of a restaurant.

The minuscule Coffee Messiah (early 1990s – 2006), decorated in religious kitsch, serving little but coffee and vegan pastries, was also an all-ages performance venue for several years. The crowd frequently spilled out onto the pavement. Acts ranged from punk rock to drag cabaret, including a cross between the two known as Pho Bang (which later continued at other venues).

Present-day coffeehouses on the Hill include the local chains Caffe Ladro, Stumptown Coffee Roasters (two locations), People's Republic of Koffee, Victrola Coffee Roasters (two locations) and new arrivals Porchlight, Analog, Broadcast, and Cupcake Royale (with other locations throughout Seattle).

Espresso Vivace's primary location on 901 E. Denny Way/1512 11th Ave just a block off Broadway was closed in mid-2008 due to University Link construction, but a new location is now open in the Brix condos building further north on Broadway E. The Espresso Vivace sidewalk bar on Broadway, and Espresso Vivace Alley 24' South Lake Union location are also open for business.

Several Capitol Hill coffeehouses use mezzanines or similar architectural devices to add more seating to their relatively small spaces; some take significant advantage of nearby sidewalks for additional seating. Espresso Vivace's Broadway location has only sidewalk seating sharing a part of the lot with the bank next to it. Bauhaus takes advantage of its high ceiling not only for a massive wall of books (mostly encyclopedias and other reference books), but also to place additional seating over the food prep and serving area; it also spills out onto the sidewalk onto E. Pine Street and around the corner to Melrose, with sidewalk seats providing a higher northwestern view of downtown, including the Space Needle.

Book Stores

Book stores, popular in the city, also find an anchor in the neighborhood. There are seven book stores: Elliott Bay Book Company, Bauhaus Books & Coffee, Twice Sold Tales, Horizon Books, Pilot Books, Spine and Crown Books, and Ada's Technical Books. The most recent addition is


While many of Capitol Hill's churches began as suburban congregations serving to establish the newest neighborhood of young Seattle, they have changed with the neighborhood to reach out to the poor and homeless and those living with HIV, as well as continuing their work of encouraging the faithful.

A few of the original churches include St. Joseph's on 19th Avenue E., which anchored a large Roman Catholic population on the east slope. The imposing edifice of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral overlooks I-5 on the west side of the hill and is home to a large Episcopal congregation and the seat of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. All Pilgrims Christian Church combines the former congregation of Seattle First Christian Church with that of Pilgrim Congregational Church. The Nisqually earthquake permanently damaged First's sanctuary across the street from SCCC (then the only other church on the Broadway strip, now demolished).

The oldest black church in Seattle is located on 14th Avenue, between E. Pike and E. Pine streets. The First African Methodist Episcopal Church was originally incorporated in 1891 as the Jones Street Church (when 14th Avenue was called Jones Street). The church was constructed in 1912, replacing the large house where congregations were previously held on the same site. The facility has been remodeled and expanded to accommodate the growing membership. It was designated as a Seattle landmark in 1984.[7]

There are a number of other Christian congregations on Capitol Hill without church buildings of their own. Church of the Undignified (Nazarene) meets at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church building, and Transit Assembly meets in homes across Capitol Hill each week.

One recently founded church does have a building: Capitol Hill Presbyterian (PCUSA), located on Harvard behind Seattle Central Community College, was formed on Easter 2006 when Westminster Presbyterian Church merged with Church at the Center. Capitol Hill Presbyterian has liturgical music that draws on indie rock and a strong arts influence. They are home to 21 recovery groups each week--AA, NA, CA, and CMA.

A number of immigrant populations worship throughout the neighborhood as the population diversifies, including Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian and Vietnamese. There is also a longstanding Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of the Assumption, which separated from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in the 1930s. Christ our Foundation, a Filippino congregation, meets weekly in the Capitol Hill Presbyterian building.

Two landmark church buildings near Group Health Hospital no longer hold congregations. The First Methodist Protestant Church of Seattle, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was remodeled and is now occupied by an interactive design and marketing firm. As of 2007, the former First Church of Christ Scientist is being remodeled into condominium apartments.

There is one remaining Jewish synagogues on Capitol Hill. Temple De Hirsch Sinai (originally established in this location in 1908, whose Alhadeff Sanctuary was designed by B. Marcus Priteca, among others, is just south of Madison, and therefore technically in the Central District.[8]


  • Kathryn McGrath, "University of Washington Daily Online, October 3, 1996: on the Teen Dance Ordinance.

External links

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