Willie Washington stood on the porch of his Central District home on the corner of 26th Avenue and East Pine Street and stared at what remains of his 1970 Cadillac DeVille convertible.

The front and inside of the car were destroyed in an arson early Wednesday.

A racial epithet had been spray-painted on the trunk.

The 55-year-old African-American man shook his head.

“It’s like a 1955 mentality,” Washington said.

The car was deliberately set on fire around 1 a.m. Wednesday after the trunk was spray-painted, according to the Seattle Police Department. The fire is being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Late Wednesday morning, Washington said, he was struggling to make sense of the incident in a neighborhood that residents describe as friendly and diverse.

“I don’t know how I feel,” Washington said. “I’m still trying to process it.”

Washington said he woke up to someone at his door who told him his car was on fire. Firefighters doused the blaze in five minutes, he said, but by that time the Cadillac was “burned pretty good.” Police estimate the damage at $20,000.

“It had the whole street lit up,” he said.

He didn’t see the graffiti until after the blaze. He said he hopes the fire was started by someone for reasons that weren’t racially motivated, but he added that someone sprayed racial epithets on his retaining wall in the past.

“I don’t want to believe someone still thinks like that,” he said.

Down the street, resident Lori Robb said she was surprised an incident being investigated as a possible hate crime would occur in the neighborhood, which she and her partner moved to nine months ago. It’s a diverse neighborhood, she said, with several other gay couples and people of various backgrounds.

“We love it here,” Robb said. “When we moved here it seemed so friendly. Everyone knows each other and everybody introduced themselves.”

Washington has lived in the same house his entire life, he says. He has no plans to move.

“I don’t have any issues with anybody,” he said. “I’m just hoping one of my neighbors has a surveillance camera.”

Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2517 or pcornwell@seattletimes.com