With none of Seattle's big fish showing much interest in saving our vintage waterfront streetcars, our best hope may lie in the generosity of a used-appliance salesman.
None of our local gazillionaires have taken me up on my generous offer to have them bail out our waterfront streetcars.
After laying out a plan to keep our vintage, wood-trimmed trolleys running on tracks along the waterfront, through Pioneer Square and down through Sodo, I didn’t hear a peep of support from anyone named Schultz, Ballmer or Hansen. Or from a McGinn or a Constantine. Or from anyone at the Seattle Art Museum — the institution that kicked the trolleys off the waterfront in the first place.
Who did call was Reasonably Honest Dave.
“I’m not exactly what you’d say is a big fish in this town,” he said, being true to his name.
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Since 1974, Dave Arnold, 58, has fixed up old appliances and resold them from a cluttered store on Capitol Hill. Today it is called Dave’s Appliance Rebuild. Most Seattle homeowners who have been tight on money have bought used stoves or washing machines there over the years, me included.
I went to see him in his office — really a chair amid stacks of parts and motors. Nearby sat some antique stoves, including a combo wood-burning, electric range from the 1930s with a sign: “Own a piece of Seattle history!”
“My business is going the way of the buggy whip,” Dave said. “I guess I’m drawn to things that don’t make a ton of monetary sense.”
Enter our five castaway trolleys. When Dave saw the city of St. Louis might spirit them away for the fire sale price of $100,000, he thought: Even I can compete with that.
“I’d like to save the trolleys for Seattle,” he said. “So I’m willing to buy them, to help keep them here where they belong.”
My face must have betrayed what I was thinking, because he added: “I do have the means to do this.”
I also heard from the owner of a Sodo warehouse who said he, too, would be willing to buy the trolleys, store them and then donate them back when there’s a plan for their use. He asked not to be named.
Deputy Manager Jim Jacobson of Metro Transit, which owns the trolleys, said such a deal could work. Any final decision rests with the Metropolitan King County Council.
The bigger stumbling block is whether the revamped Seattle waterfront, once the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down, will include a streetcar line at all. There’s been talk of everything from moving sidewalks to solar-powered trams. But nothing practical — or true to our railroading history — like a streetcar.
Also there is no maintenance barn (the Seattle Art Museum tore it down.) A new barn for a streetcar line being built on First Hill doesn’t have space for the trolleys.
Reasonably Honest Dave is reasonably accurate about what all this means.
“The powerful and the connected in this town do not want these trolleys,” he said. “They never have.”
Why that is I’m not sure. It’s true there are practical issues — the trolleys require raised stations that aren’t compatible with low, modern streetcars. Plus they’re old, and their appeal is not all that sophisticated. But look at, say, New Orleans. It has 20 miles of tracks, and manages to run hundred-year-old streetcars as well as newer models. People love it.
Dave says he’s in this because he loves recycled stuff, and because he feels the tug of that old flannel shirt and blue tarp Seattle.
“The city’s becoming more beige all the time,” he said. “I just decided I don’t want to sit here and let another piece of our culture get away.”
To that end, there is also a group called Save Our Streetcars. They’re rallying people to petition City Hall and show up for a July 12th waterfront meeting. (Learn more at saveourstreetcars.org.)
As for you gazillionaires and art elites, you’re always welcome to do the right thing.
But I bet for this to happen, it’s going to have to come from somewhere else. From below. From a whole bunch of Reasonably Honest Daves.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.