The Industrial History of South Lake Union

Much of Seattle’s past is pretty hard to recognize anywhere on our streets today. We have a few old buildings left—like Row House Cafe!—but most of the history is buried deep underneath ever-expanding construction. Especially in South Lake Union, a neighborhood that has been demolished and reinvented several times in its history, much of the community’s early roots are visible today only in our street names—Denny, Boren, Mercer, or so many others. Let’s take a closer look at these names, their stories, and the way this neighborhood has grown and changed.

Originally, South Lake Union was kind of a Seattle backwater. Lake Union was named by Thomas Mercer in 1854 because of his optimism that the smaller lake would soon be connected to Lake Washington and “united” by a canal. It took 80 years to finally build the canal, however, and for the next thirty years development of the Lake Union settlement stalled.

It wasn’t until David Denny—yes, of the Denny party, whose name lives on in Denny Way and Denny Park—bought the city’s largest sawmill from Lake Union and Lumber Company in 1884 that the neighborhood really took off. Denny renamed the mill Western Mill, cut a weir between Lake Union and Montlake, and was able to float logs and boards through. He and his wife Louisa Boren lived approximately where the Space Needle sits today, and had one of the most progressive households in Seattle—Denny was an early advocate of women’s suffrage, learned Native languages and could communicate with Natives in their own tongues, and befriended and gave land to Natives at a time when their presence in the city was banned.

In 1895’s financial crisis David Denny was forced to sell the mill, but he had ignited a wave of labor and industry along Lake Union. In 1916, the first wood-and-linen B & W Seaplane, known as the Boeing Model 1, first flew from Boeing’s hanger on Lake Union. Houses were springing up along the shores, filling with Eastern European, Russian, and Greek immigrants. Street cars were running along Westlake from downtown, just as they are today. Ford Motors and other auto manufacturers had plants on the lake. In 1917 the ship canal was finally completed, unlocking the full potential of the neighborhood, which was known as Cascade after the widely-esteemed Cascade elementary school constructed during the turn of the century, which operated until destroyed by an earthquake in 1949. The addition of Highway 99 or the “Aurora Speedway” in 1932 contributed to Cascade’s success and accessibility.

Unfortunately, the vibrant identity of Cascade Neighborhood declined throughout the 1950s as residential construction and use decreased and commercial development tools its place. In 1957, a new zoning ordinance forbade any new residential use, designating the area for manufacturing, and then in the 1960s seven blocks of mostly residential construction were bulldozed to make room for I-5, which carved up Cascade and cut it off from Capitol Hill, destroying its autonomous neighborhood identity and vitality.

And yet, South Lake Union is a tenacious neighborhood that has rebounded. Residents defeated another freeway measure in both 1995 and 1996 that would have cut off Cascade from Lake Union. Interest in the cheap land after the measure was defeated revitalized the community as a tech hub, and South Lake Union is once again a hive of commerce and opportunity for the whole city. We at Row House are proud to have an old Cascade structure that’s managed to transition with the neighborhood, and we hope you’ll come in some time, have a drink, and take a moment to remember the way waves of settlers, immigrants, and community builders who came before.

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Row House Reinventions of Classic Brunch Foods

We all know that Saturday and Sunday brunch in Seattle is a frenzied city-wide food fest. Throes of weekend revelers seek out new brunch spots that offer a new spin on American classics, but as you all know, after awhile it starts to feel a little same o ‘ same o ‘.  At Row House Café in South Lake Union, we like to mix it up every weekend with original chef’s specials featuring the season’s best ingredients in dishes inspired by country kitchens from around the world. And for those of you who are nostalgic about the classic American Brunch… not to worry, we’ve got you covered too! Have a look at a few of our favorite dishes that offer a new twist on some of the old classics:

French Toast—> 1000 Layer French Toast with Brie and Berries

Everyone loves French Toast. Traditionally a way of making use of stale bread, today it’s a sweet breakfast menu staple. At Row House Cafe, we take the concept of traditional French Toast and dolled it up—instead of bread, we use a big flakey butter croissant dipped in egg, for a peel-apart multi-layered glorious experience. And when you stuff it with brie and top it with seasonal berries, Ou la la, you’ll think you’ve landed in gay Paris! The decadent combination of savory french brie and the bright sweetness of fresh berries makes for a much more nuanced taste sensation.

Eggs and Bacon —> Eggs and Bacon Salad

Eggs and bacon have got to be the most classic American breakfast combo of all time. Unfortunately, they aren’t a particularly healthy duo on their own, and what these cholesterol-rich foods offer in flavor they lack in fiber. So we’ve modified this breakfast to be not only healthier, but to taste better and fresher. We poach our eggs, not fry them, meaning both less grease and a softer, subtler texture, and combine our applewood bacon with marinated veggies. We put that on a bed of mixed greens and douse it with a balsamic vinaigrette, giving a tangy flavor that compliments the saltiness of the bacon. This is a delicious, filling, savory breakfast that will leave you feeling satisfied and ready for your next yoga class.

Eggs Benedict—> Prosciutto Benedict or Eggs Sardou

American brunch lore has it that Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street stock broker, wandered into New York’s Waldorf Hotel in the late 1800’s looking to find a hangover cure, so he ordered “buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon, and a hooker of Hollandaise”.  And on that day, the American classic Eggs Benedict was born.  With all due respect to Mr. Benedict, we think our twist on his dish is one for the Waldorf cookbooks. We took his classic dish, swapped out the ham for a pile of prosciutto di parma and paired it with a serving of hollandaise drizzled country roasted potatoes. And then we took it a step further for our vegetarian friends, leveraging the classic Louisianan Creole dish called Eggs Sardou and substituted the meat with a hearty baby portobello mushroom and artichoke hearts, dressed it with traditional hollandaise and served it up on a bed of cheesy grits.  Sweet Home Alabama!……eh, N’awlins!

Row House Café……it’s just good food!

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Labor Day Brunch


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South Lake Union Art Walk Friday August 1st

South Lake Union Art Walk
Friday August 1st 6:00 – 9:00PM

Join us for an artist’s opening featuring a photographic tribute to the Center for Wooden Boats & Seattle Maritime History.

Row House Cafe is excited to present a combined show featuring Seattle maritime images from photographers Abby Inpanbutr and Paula Heath for the August 1st South Lake Union Art Walk.

We hope to see you here for this exciting event!


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Memorial Day Brunch and BBQ May 24-26

Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner! Bring down your friends and family to the Row House Cafe, we are having a Memorial Day Brunch and BBQ for this weekend! Take a look at our Memorial Day menu. Hope to see you here!

Memorial Day Menu For Web

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SLU Art Walk – Bronwen Houck’s photography May 2nd

Row House Cafe is excited to feature Bronwen Houck’s photography from her recent sabbatical in South and Central America. The format of many of her prints are not only physically enormous, but emotionally riveting as well. Her vast and ethereal landscapes are awe-inspiring and as a result of the sheer breadth and depth of the images, they appear to morph into abstraction. Houck’s images possess the ability to seemingly alter the architectural dynamics of the space in which they are shown.

You can view her website at, the event will be held on Friday, May 2nd we hope to see you here for this exciting event!

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Chris Maynard’s Feather Art featured in the Smithsonian

Check out this great article about Chris Maynard and his Feather Art in the Smithsonian!

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Jesse Level Art Exhibit


Opening Exhibit: Thursday May 24, 2012: 6:00PM

Artist in attendance; Refreshments will be served

Show Duration: May 24 through July 23, 2012

Location: Row House Cafe / 1170 Republican St, Seattle, WA 98109

Historic Cascade Neighborhood • South Lake Union • Seattle

“Cross Culture”

Row House Cafe is pleased to present “Cross Culture” an exhibition from artist Jess Level.

Level’s show will be in two parts. His opening show will feature his work that was inspired by his life in Spain: “Cross Culture: Across the Sea.” The second phase of his show will feature work that is more locally inspired: “Cross Culture: Bringing it Home.” The body of work he intends to show will contain both oil on canvas and pen and ink drawings.

Location, location, location

Level draws his inspiration from where he lives and the spaces in which he occupies. His work is a commentary on the local customs, events and life subjects – or livestock – that inhabit the perimeters of his vision. Whether on the coast of Spain or the coast of Washington, Level’s work captures the light and levity of societies and their history. For Level, it’s all up for interpretation.

Cross Culture

Art, in its multitude of forms, has always been one of society’s greatest escapes. Level’s work has an embedded levity, which celebrates life and light and is a welcome respite from the political turbulence of our time. On the surface, Level’s work is whimsical; yet with further study, social, political and economic dysfunction is found cloaked in abstraction. Things are not always what they seem.

A common theme throughout Level’s work is “paintings within paintings.” These multiple layers cause the viewer to dig deeper into the work, yet the deeper you dig, the murkier the waters become. We all are painfully aware of reality and what lurks beneath the surface, yet Level always focuses on the light.

In most of Level’s paintings, there are multiple stories being told in the same space. The paintings often feel like a frozen moment shared by multiple living stories. The mixing of mythologies (and other stories, like the history of modern art in Spain, the story of selling a painting, the story of building a canvas) creates a dialog of divergent planes. It’s conspicuous that it’s Level who gets to decide which ones belong together in this particular moment. The painting becomes an archival annotation of the birth of the new iteration of international or cross-cultural mythology.

When the stapled edges, canvas texture and crossbars of the canvases are exaggerated, it draws attention to the purposeful act of a painting’s construction. Art becomes an object to be handled, evaluated, thrown out the window, making the narrative message conspicuous and unavoidable.

It seems that any of the elements, whether it’s a human figure, an animal, or any object of a portrait, might be just an idea in the moment, remembered from a different time, or headed to a different place than the others. As some elements are grounded, others might run screaming off in different directions or slide from the edge of the painting. Perpetual motion.

Level’s mentor Julian Gomez praised his paintings as “rich and well painted reflections by a different sort of Amerikan whose vision of my country is just and flattering.” His color palates are a story in and of themselves and add to his play on light. As you fall into the paintings within Level’s paintings, it is hard to pull yourself back out with the same understanding at the beginning of your venture. There are worlds within Level’s work, when once you get lost in them, you forget about the larger reality. Level does not paint using source materials rather his work is stream of conscience based on experience and raw emotion. It is joyous, albeit haunting at times. Ultimately, Jess’s work is about space, light and reflection.

Artist bio

It was a long road that led Jess Level back to the Pacific Northwest, where he currently resides “in exile…more or less.” After crashing classes at The Savannah College of Art and Design and The New York School of Art, Jess landed a teaching position at a private college in Arizona. It was in that desert land where he was first introduced to the lovely Pilar, and it wasn’t long before she lured him to Spain in the fall of 1996. “A new life. New language. New rules. The freak show begins.”

“She led him there to paint, and after suffering all the consequences from that choice he became a poor, but famed artist in that weird and beautifully complicated land.” No longer crashing art classes, Jess studied personally with Spanish artists Julian Gomez and Antonio Marquez in Cáceres, from 1997 until 1999. It was during this period when his unique style was fleshed out and he began “painting things as they should be, not as they are.” Level’s name quickly spread across Spain, along with his art, after being commissioned for several murals throughout the region. Tragedy struck in 2006 when 86 of Level’s pieces were stolen from his studio in Oviedo, Spain. Things got worse when after discovering the identity of the perpetrator, Level’s immigrant status rendered him helpless in the foreign courts and a long battle ensued. He left Spain in 2009, without his stolen work, “after many battles with both love and state. From consequences that fell together from choices made, and the loss of many paintings…”

Jess Level can be reached at 206‐369‐7688 or You can also visit his website at  *Quotations above were taken from the artist

About Row House Café:

Row House Café is a neighborhood euro-bistro in South Lake Union, whose focus is featuring all the arts – culinary, visual and performing. A nod to the 19th century salon. Originally built in 1904 as work force housing, the cottages were rehabilitated and converted into a neighborhood café that opened in September 2010. For more information on Row House Café, please visit


Erin Maher


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The World We Live In

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The Stranger: Search a Tiny House for Art in South Lake Union

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