Seattle’s Great Walk/Run Neighborhoods

Seattle’s Great Walk/Run Neighborhoods – The Central District

Next stop in my new series on Seattle’s great walking and running neighborhoods, we visit a place very dear to me, site of where I became a homeowner: the Central District. I was drawn to the CD because of its strong African American history and cultural influence. Having grown up in Memphis and lived in New Orleans, I missed the Black cultural influence Seattle seemed to be mostly lacking. But in the CD, grocery stores carried Zatarain’s Jambalaya. You could hear R&B and zydeco coming out of houses, and gospel from street corner churches. I was curious about how the CD became Seattle’s Black neighborhood, so I looked into the history, which is rich, and you might imagine, also problematic.

A Very Short and Incomplete History of the Central District

Prior to white settlement, the Duwamish traveled from their longhouses on the Sound to the Great Lake right through what’s now the CD on paths that roughly parallel Yesler Way. They called it in Twulshootseed language Little Crossing Over Place.

William Grose was the first African American homeowner to settle in Seattle in 1861. You can see his house on 24th Avenue two doors down from the Meredith Mathews YMCA. His success as a restaurant and hotel owner led others in Louisiana and Mississippi to follow and populate nearby, making it the first Black settlement in Seattle. Many Black-owned businesses flourished along Madison and Jackson in the decades to follow.

In the late 1800s, the area became more mixed with immigrants from  Europe and Japan, and in the early 1900s, it was predominantly Jewish (Temple De Hirsch Sinai remains from that time.) Because of housing discrimination and segregation, the CD became majority Black during the mid-20th century when Jewish and Japanese populations moved to other areas.

When I moved to the area in 1997, I was clearly a part of a gentrifying trend. Institutions were already falling to newer restaurants and shops, and long-time residents were pushed out as homes and rents became unaffordable. In the past few years there have been efforts to counter gentrification trends. There are many black-owned businesses, and more support for black culture and community in organizations like Wa Na Wari, Midtown Square, Langston Hughes Art Center, Arte Noir and many other nonprofits and businesses. One of my favorite events of the year is the Walk the Block Art Festival that ranges throughout the CD in late September. Amazing food, music and street art… Put it on your calendar now.

What’s Great for Running, Walking and Exercise in the CD?

The CD is also home to the Unstill Life Half-Fast Walk & Run Club’s winter home for Wednesday night workouts – Garfield High School track, a great place to get in your timed distance and soft-surfaced workouts in any season. It’s a neighborhood gathering place where you can see families and friends getting their evening exercise while super-fit folks practice ultimate on the field. 

Garfield High School

We launch and finish our Saturday group routes at some of the CD’s unique cafés:

  • Alexandra’s, which has beautiful bistro-stylings and a crazy array of macarons.
  • Temple Pastries with sleek interior, cool plants and jaw-dropping baked goods (rye chocolate croissants!)
  • Broadcast Coffee has some of the best roast beans in the city and they offer creative espresso drinks. 

Our routes in this area go through historic neighborhoods with houses dating from the 1890s. You can check out Immaculate Conception Church from 1904, and parks named for Seattle’s many African American citizen leaders including Pratt Park with spraypark and exercise gizmos. One of my favorite blocks in the whole city to cruise along is 17th Avenue just south of Union–a row of 1920s apartment buildings, each a distinctive style, all stunning. 

Seattle’s Great Walk/Run Neighborhoods

Seattle’s Great Walk/Run Neighborhoods

While you’re in the CD, step up and check out these businesses:

  • The Postman, the best place to ship stuff, owned by a long-time Central District family.
  • Cappy’s Boxing Gym – for a righteous workout! 
  • Central Cinema – see a movie in a comfy chair with dinner and a drink.
  • 2020 Cycle – Salt-of-the-Earth guys will fix your bike, and they’ve got great re-sale.

Get fed in these spots: 

And there’s so much more! Go get some exercise in the Central District and take in the history and culture. No doubt I’ll see you out there.

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