When The Seattle Times asked readers to share their stories from 23rd and Union, many responses mentioned places long gone, like Mayrand Drugstore and Ms. Helen’s Soul Food — but the memories remain. Readers shared stories of diversity, fighting for civil rights and against wars, challenges, growth and more.

“23rd and Union was a microcosm of the world,” one woman said of her experience on the block, “a place where humans just wanted some justice.”

Here are some of our readers’ stories.

Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.


“On the east side of 23rd, maybe two doors north of Union, stood the curiously named Milt’s Recreation, a dark, smoky two-table poolroom a school chum first took me to in January 1967. Up to then, we’d played pool in the basement of my church, University Christian, our own much needed daily recreation following seven exhausting hours of school at nearby Roosevelt High.

My reciprocity-minded chum suggested we flash our skills at Milt’s, near his home. Milt, the 50-ish owner, resembled a fleshier version of the actor Warren Oates. His indoor pallor was well earned, as the room’s sole rays of invasive natural light only intruded when the front door opened. Milt rarely spoke, simply ruling his roost from the raised platform to the left of the entry, always reading under his lamp. I’d like to think it was the Daily Racing Form.

Over the decades, I’ve photographed now-long-gone Seattle buildings and businesses; alas, I didn’t have the foresight to ever train my camera on Milt’s. I don’t even know when it was razed.

If any regulars from Milt’s want to commune with me for a friendly game — and raise a glass to Milt and his establishment — I play most Sundays at The Rez tavern, 85th and Roosevelt, from about 1-3 p.m.”

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Steve Graham

“[Twenty-third and Union is] an absolutely definitive location within the Seattle hip-hop movement. In 1987, this corner was the key left turn as Sir Mix-a-Lot traveled from the South End to Capitol Hill in the song and video ‘Posse On Broadway.’

At this time, the hip-hop universe was experiencing a rapid expanse beyond New York City, and with that record Mix-a-Lot demonstrated one of rap music’s most powerful and enduring features — the ability to export nuanced elements of local culture elsewhere. Once the video appeared on ‘Yo! MTV Raps’ in 1988, folks from literally all over the world became interested in things like the quality of Dick’s burgers and the geographic layout of Seattle. Mix-a-Lot’s reference to ‘the rock man’ in ‘Posse’ was a reflection of the crack epidemic and the ‘war on drugs,’ which characterized much of the 1980s.

Among other things often available in this underground economy at 23rd and Union was marijuana. The resulting numerous arrests of primarily Black and Brown young people over subsequent decades are now contrasted by the white-owned dispensary which legally sells marijuana on that same corner. This troubling dynamic was captured in the 2016 song and video ‘Irony on 23rd’ by Draze.”

Daudi Abe

“I was born in 1946, not far from 23rd and Union. We shopped mainly at a local grocery store run by a Jewish survivor of Nazi Germany. Fred often showed us the tattoo on his forearm. My best friend was an African American named Sonny Blair. Often, we’d ride down to Maynard’s [Mayrand] Drugstore on the southwest corner of 23rd and Union to have a milkshake and ogle pictures of movie stars on the cover of Life. Later, I worked as a box boy across the street at the Tradewell, a grocery store chain that began in Seattle.

When I was 13, Sonny, I and a couple of other friends, including Charles Greene, were attacked by some new neighbors as we came out of Maynard’s [Mayrand]. Charlie ran down 23rd. In 10 seconds, he was out of sight. In 1968, Charlie Greene won a gold and a bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics. Charlie’s death less than a month ago brought up old memories of a neighborhood long gone.”

Michael Coolen

For 15 years, from 2002 to 2017, anti-war protesters stood at the southeast corner of 23rd and Union Friday mornings, holding signs and banners, waving at cars, and talking to passersby. At the end of 2002, with the U.S. posturing for war against Iraq, the Madrona-Leschi Citizens Against War began holding vigils in the Central District, soon settling at 23rd and Union.

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Despite protests across the country and the world, the U.S. invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003, but we continued to stand for peace. Wars continued. Sometimes we focused on the violence done in invaded countries, sometimes on military recruitment in our high schools, sometimes on the huge U.S. defense budget. People from the neighborhood joined us, shop owners brought coffee or flowers. Occasionally, someone stopped their car and picked up a sign and stood with us. Less often, someone would stop to rant at us.

23rd and Union had its own tragedies and victories: homes were torn down, businesses moved or burned, people became ill, sometimes a new business flourished or crashed. 23rd and Union was a microcosm of the world, a place where humans just wanted some justice.”

— Kathy Barker

“For years on Friday mornings, when taking my kids to school, we passed a group on the corner of 23rd and Union, holding signs, ‘Peace,’ or ‘End the Iraq War.’ Rain or shine, someone was there — just two or three, sometimes more, persistently reminding us to hope for peace in the world. I would ‘friendly-honk’ and drive by. Thank you to those determined folk, and yes, ‘Peace.'”

Stacey Jones

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“In the early 1970s, my white parents were not pleased with my choice of an African American husband, and relations were strained for some time, then lessened with the birth of their first grandchild. In about 1972, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and gradually declined over the next five years. But, in 1977, she organized a surprise birthday party for my husband which took place at Ms. Helen’s diner when it was on Union, just east of 23rd, because she knew he liked soul food. All of our family attended. By that time, Mom had lost her appetite and was not eating much. I sat next to her, and she ate every bite on her plate. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of how she put forth the effort in her last days to honor my husband and bring our family together. She died 10 days later.”

Judy Clark

“My parents, Jesse and Lottie Cross, owned the Sunshine Center Laundromat on 23rd and Spring from 1969-1975. I was ages 4 to 10 years old (my sister Daphne was 3 to 9 years old and my first cousin Wayne Johnson was 2 to 8 years old). Uncle Ike’s (today) was Jack in the Box, later Church’s Chicken. There was a Wigwam at the corner of 23rd and Union. Casey Family (now) was a Safeway store, and later became a skating rink. All of the shops on the strip where the laundromat was were Black-owned. There was a shoeshine shop next door, a Black-owned real estate office, a Black family-owned cafe and a beauty shop next to the post office.

The laundromat was a community hub. My parents were always willing to help people in the community and were very loved and respected. I remember being super excited when Ms. King would pull up in her station wagon with her seven kids to play with. On the Spring [Street] side, there was a hill (it’s still there); at the time it seemed huge. Daphne, Wayne and I would slide down the hill and wear the bottom out of our pants and get a good spanking. I have very fond memories of being at the laundromat. The community was a community with a lot of love, fun, laughter and looking out for each other.

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It was great to grow up in a community that looked like me.”

Felicia Cross

“In 2013, I lived at 22nd and Union. My roommate texted me at midnight to say that the card reader at The Neighbor Lady wasn’t working and drinks were free. I didn’t believe her, but I joined her anyway. A loose acquaintance was sitting at the bar, and we struck up a conversation. He lived around the corner. I invited him on a group bike ride later that week. He showed up, and we’ve been dating for nine years this April.”

Jenna Howes

[Twenty-third] and Union was where the civil rights movement of the 1960s first challenged the discrimination entrenched in the Northwest. Seattle citizens, Black and white, demonstrated for equal opportunity for jobs at Safeway on 23rd near Union.

By late October 1961, we had trained for nonviolent action, informed the whole neighborhood and held fruitless negotiations with store management. On Oct. 27 and 28, members of Seattle CORE and the NAACP picketed the Safeway, persuading shoppers with our hand-painted signs, ‘Don’t Shop Where You Can’t Work’ and ‘Don’t Cross the Freedom Line.’ The neighborhood complied — almost nobody entered the store. Before the next planned picketing, Safeway hired five Black cashiers, opened a hiring office in the Central District and promised more. We felt encouraged to pressure all the grocery chains and other employers. This began active years trying to open equal opportunity for jobs, for housing and for quality education, and then fighting ‘liberal Seattle,’ which started backsliding on each front, all while trying to raise funds to support the movement in the South.”

Joan Singler and Jean Durning

“The early 1960s weren’t kind to 23rd and Union. Seattle’s urban decay, in the eyes of many, was evidenced by large flocks of feral pigeons pecking in gutters and nesting on dilapidated homes nearby. But one group’s trash is other another crew’s treasure.

David Lee and I met in 1960 when he brought two city pigeons for show and tell. I’d just moved from the country, and we partnered up and joined other kids keeping pigeons in rickety backyard housing. Near 23rd was an abandoned house with pigeons nesting in the attic. One afternoon, we were squeezing out the barricaded back door and walked straight into a parked Seattle Police Department squad car. At 10, I remember the cold dread as we were called over to the cruiser’s window. Luckily, the policemen were amused when we showed the wiggling contents of our gunny sack. They let us off with a stern ‘be careful’ and the profound feeling that our respectful, nervous replies passed some test in whatever rating system cops use to cut kids some slack.

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I lost my friend David several years ago, but our story inspired a fictional book I wrote to honor those inner-city pigeon kid days: ‘The Featherhood.'”

Jim Jenner

“In 1945, as a 10-year-old immigrant to Seattle from Louisiana, I learned to ride a bicycle on 23rd and Union.

Two cousins and I decided to visit a friend who lived near 23rd and Union. I couldn’t ride a bike, so I mostly walked my rented one while my cousins slowly pedaled theirs along the sidewalk. One cousin then cruised downhill from 23rd and Union to 24th. I noticed that she had gained enough speed to stay upright without wobbling, so I decided to straddle my bike and follow her lead — except I didn’t know how to stop! I rapidly began to gain momentum and was heading into the four-way traffic at the bottom of the hill. Through my growing panic, I somehow heard my frantic cousin shouting, ‘Put your feet on the pedals!’ Then, ‘Push backwards!’ I followed her directions and cruised to a stop about 2 feet from her — and the traffic.

I had escaped what surely could have been a tragedy, but I now knew how to get a bike up to speed, and, more importantly, how to stop one. For some reason though, after we returned home, all riding our bikes, no one mentioned to our parents how I had learned to do so.”

Tommie Marsters

“My family lived between 24th and 25th on Union when I was a very little girl — from 1946 to 1952.

It was a very central and diverse neighborhood, just like now. Next door to us was the Chinese Kitchen, delivery only; they would give us sacks of didn’t-get-folded, for some reason, fortune cookies. And around the corner, on 25th, lived a (to me) very old lady who had a jar filled with candy, and next door to her a multigenerational Japanese family. I would visit and eat sticky rice and drink green tea. The young grandson, Henry, would dress me up in various kimonos, just like a doll. It was such fun (and they had turtles!). Then came Donna May’s house, with chickens and goats in the front yard. And across the street lived an African American family, whose daughters had the best birthday parties. Up Union was a small grocery store, and we would walk up and buy strawberry ice cream after dinner (no home freezer of course). My mother and I could hop on the bus and be downtown instantly. I was lucky to live there for a while.”

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Barbara Welch Fuller

“On Feb. 26, there was a ceremony held to dedicate a statue of the Black artist James Washington and also a fountain he designed earlier for the 23rd and Union space, the Fountain of Triumph. The event was organized by the James Washington Foundation with [the] Rev. LaVerne Hall, president. The program was designed to open with different language speakers, introducing their short greeting in different languages, including Irish, Japanese, Chinese, French, a Native American dialect and an African dialect. 

I was the Chinese speaker, and incorporated the following comments:

My brother Wing Luke was the first person of Chinese or Asian ancestry to be elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest. When he was out in public, he was always glad to meet and talk to artists when they were in the crowd because he also was an artist. James Washington was one of those artists that Wing met. Quintard Taylor, founder of BlackPast, told me there was a famous legal case in Seattle, where a Black family could not buy a house. I told him, ‘I know about that case because my brother Wing Luke was the attorney for the trial, while I was attending Garfield High School just up the street at that time.’ After school, I would take the bus to the courthouse and sit sketching the folks in the room. Unfortunately, Wing Luke was lost in a plane accident and the Wing Luke Museum was named as a memorial.

James Washington knew about that legal case for the Black family. When the Wing Luke Museum held art auctions for the museum, James Washington kindly donated his stone carvings to support that effort. One of the jobs I had during the auction was to display the artwork on stage. When I held the dense James Washington carving, it felt as if the artist had lifted the soul of the bird out of that stone and created the beautiful shape of the art piece. That is the way I have long regarded the sculptural work of James Washington.  

So, installing the statue of James Washington and his Fountain of Triumph at 23rd and Union makes it sacred ground. I will think of that and the relationship between Wing Luke and James Washington every time I drive by this space.”

Bettie Luke

“I worked at the 23rd and Union state liquor store, off and on, for two decades. I worked the store one night during a freak and intense snowstorm [that] took out the power at the exact moment a half dozen street kids came through the entrance. They ransacked the lobby in total darkness, and there was nothing we could do to stop them.

The store was located at 23rd and Madison the night the SuperSonics won the World Championship. Empty lobby the last half-hour of the game, exploding with activity the last hour and a half until we could get the door closed, complete with cheerleaders with pompoms.

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I managed the store the day of the Rodney King riots. The higher-ups urged me to close the store, but I declined. Thinking back, what I remember now are the faces, some faces with names, many with not, every face a story, every story a connection, every connection a memory. In 20 years, I learned from that community to (1) stick up for myself, (2) to think of being polite as an art form rather than as a chore and (3) understand that the closer I drew to my own soul, the closer I drew to God. To say that my time at that store enhanced the quality of my life is to say the very least.”

Dann O’Keefe

“I grew up at 980 21st Ave. from 2 to 16 years old. I loved it, it was different from now as so many changes have occurred. I am 78 now, so that was 1945-1960. My two sisters, Rose and Delores, and I loved this house and our neighbors. It was so safe we could make potholders on our loom and sell them house to house.

On the southwest corner of 22nd and Union was a store called Itsey Brenners, the owners were Itsey and his sister Yetta. The first job I had was sweeping the floor of that store for candy (I was about 9). When they closed that store, they opened Brenner Brothers Bakery at 28th and Cherry.

On the southeast corner of 23rd and Union was a drugstore named Marion [possibly Mayrand Drugstore], which was the first store that had Ebony, the first Black magazine. Later came Sepia magazine. What a thrill it was to have these Black magazines.

The whole area was our home; what a fun, fun life and time that was.”

Gloria VanZant-Dow