Except for a wall painting of a screaming baby head over the steel door, it would be easy to miss the entrance to Crybaby Studios in the Pike-Pine corridor on Capitol Hill.
Down steep stairs, the music rehearsal and recording studio endures, still rocking 24/7 with the labored sounds of practicing musicians.
Today, as glossy condos rise over chic boutiques and people walking pedigreed dogs replace those living in their cars, the neighbors “don’t want us to go away because it brings a lot of character to the block,” says studio owner Leigh Stone, with a wry smile.
The neighborhood — defined by many as the long, narrow slice of land stretching from Interstate 5 to 12th Avenue, surrounding Pike and Pine streets — has “completely changed” in the past seven or eight years, says real-estate agent Andrew Jackson, managing broker for Windermere Real Estate’s Capitol Hill office.
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“The Pike-Pine corridor 15 years ago was kind of a dead zone,” he says, sipping an Americano in a bustling coffee shop on Pike Street.
Now, besides shops, bars and restaurants, the area bristles with newly built, as well as reclaimed loft condos with prices typically running from $200,000 to $1 million.
And, despite a slight dip at the depths of the recession, prices have skyrocketed over the years, though comparing prices can be misleading, given owner improvements, says Jackson.
Originally, units in one converted warehouse were stylish, but not luxurious and featured plywood floors and inexpensive kitchen units.
Nonetheless, of the building’s units, a studio loft apartment of about 800 square feet, including the mezzanine, originally sold for $275,000 in 2000.
In 2011, the same unit was snapped up immediately for $350,000.
A penthouse unit of about 1,000 square feet originally sold for $435,000 in 2000. The current owners bought it in 2005, for $925,000.
The median value of condos (not just those recently sold) on Capitol Hill, including the Pike-Pine corridor, was $261,100, up 5.1 percent year-over-year, according to the Zillow Home Value Index.
The median rent for apartments on Capitol Hill was $1,593 in August, up 12.3 percent year-over-year, according to Seattle-based Zillow.
The median value of all single-family houses (not just those recently sold) on Capitol Hill was $822,800 in August, up 5.5 percent year-over-year, according to Zillow.
Demand remains higher and inventory lower than other parts of Capitol Hill, Jackson says.
Stone witnessed the metamorphosis. With her ex-husband, she developed the studios in the late 1990s while living in the building’s second-floor loft.
The condo building across the street — the converted warehouse cited by Jackson — used to be a dark, abandoned hole whose every window was broken, she says.
Homeless people slept in cars at nearby Cal Anderson Park. Supermarkets were nonexistent, but food-as-fuel could be found at a few, well-worn taverns and ethnic eateries.
Then things began to change. The urbane — albeit quirky, neighborhood with bars where everybody knew your name — or at least, your face, started to morph into a round-the-clock destination for partygoers.
In came the boutiques, the restaurants, the bars and now, the cocktail lounges peddling designer drinks, as well as condos to house those who wanted to be near the action.
On one little stretch of 12th Avenue, a gelato place, D’Ambrosio; a wood-fired bagel cafe, Eltana; and a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, Momiji, have all opened within the past year.
The sidewalks are often crowded and the neighborhood is considered a “walker’s paradise” and got a rating of 98 (out of 100) from Walk Score, walkscore.com/score/broadway-and-e-pine-st-seattle-wa-98122, a Seattle company that provides automated walkability ratings.
And now, as demand grows and space gets tighter, businesses are squeezing themselves into unlikely cubbyholes, yesterday’s basements and storage rooms.
The change in the neighborhood has alienated some of the earlier residents.
“It kind of felt like we were living in the midst of someone else’s party,” says Ed Telcs, who lived in a condo in the heart of the neighborhood for a decade before moving out.
Yet the neighborhood’s original, zany character remains.
It’s more likely to reveal itself once the partygoers have gone home — in the scattered artist cooperatives and live/work studios that harbor innovative souls who continue to feed the neighborhood’s creative fire.
In the bicyclist, pedaling nonchalantly down Pike, his bike pushing a cart with giant speakers playing alternative rock.
Those now attracted to the neighborhood tend to be true night owls and die-hard urbanites who thrive on the crush of crowds, the throb of high-decibel music and the sheer vibrancy of a densely packed part of town populated by gay bars and bike shops, avant-garde theaters, artist studios and secondhand stores.
It doesn’t hurt that services, from supermarkets to dry cleaners, have set up shop to support the growth.
From a seat by the window in the Mexican fast-food restaurant he owns on Pine Street, Rancho Bravo Tacos, Freddy Rivas can see his recently purchased condo at the end of the block.
He’s putting in a hamburger stand nearby, on Broadway, and loves the area so much that even if his restaurants were elsewhere, he’d still be living here.
“It felt like where I was meant to be,” he says, adding, “I love to see people on the streets. Something about that I find very comforting.”