The Shock of the SLU

Tutta Bella South Lake Union

While enjoying the new Tutta Bella that’s just opened its doors in the 2200 Westlake building, the conversation turned to the surrounding neighborhood of South Lake Union. Vulcan’s towers are rising around what used to be the only tall building around, which will eventually turn a flat part of the city an interesting urban room.

South Lake Union will probably never be same kind of space as Columbus Circle in New York:

Columbus Circle, June 2005

But Westlake and Denny shares some characteristics with Central Park South and West: a crossroads outside the central business district, made up of both residential and office towers, near an open space engineered to transform part of the city. The media and communications companies that formed the core of Midtown Manhattan have, in Paul Allen’s eyes at least, their counterpart in the biotech researchers that will one day fill his offices.

And as Veer, Rollins and others near completion, what used to be a somewhat desolate area after 6pm holds the promise of becoming much more lively. The ding of the (nearly empty) streetcar as it passed by Tutta Bella’s patio every 15 minutes added to the feeling of urban potential, however as-yet-unrealized.

Yet that feeling of being in the midst of a transformation is what gives the neighborhood its peculiar energy: right now, what does exist feels tremendously over-engineered for the amount of use it’s getting. One person at our table, who works nearby, recounted how her (new) bank branch has the kind of personal service usually associated with small-town America: there just aren’t enough customers yet to create a feeling of impersonality. Our dinner itself, at 8pm on a Friday night, on one of Seattle’s rare warm and sunny June days, took place on an open patio with nary a care about a wait for a table. The future is a foreign country, into which one has deplaned just a little bit earlier than the throngs whom the pleasant hosts expect to welcome any minute now.

2 Comments so far

  1. donte on June 29th, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    South Lake Union is getting plenty of money thrown at it, but money can’t buy soul. All this development to build an area with zero character. Blech.

  2. Peter (peter) on June 29th, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

    In re: Donte’s comment, one of the NYC developments that may actually be closer to what Vulcan is doing right now is the development of Rockefeller Center in the 1930s. John D. Rockefeller was left holding the bag after the collapse of the real estate market after the 1929 Crash, but decided to soldier on ahead anyway, confident that the space had long-term value. Time will tell if SLU will be the same long-term success… and if 2000s architecture will age as gracefully as that of the 1930s.

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