For a Seattle Enclave, Isolation May Be Its Salvation

For a Seattle Enclave, Isolation May Be Its Salvation

South Park, one of Seattle’s dwindling blue-collar pockets, is on the rise. Yet the scruffy, geographically isolated enclave has managed to transform itself without losing its soul to gentrification, causing outsiders — including other Seattleites — to take notice.

Situated on the western shore of the Duwamish River in a hard-to-reach corner of the city, South Park has turned its relative remoteness and affordability into an advantage, attracting creative entrepreneurs who otherwise might not be able to set up shop in one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. (Rents are cheaper here.)

A hip wine shop, a brewery and a handful of new restaurants and bars greet interlopers who cross the neighborhood’s main artery to mainland Seattle, the South Park Bridge.

Home to several Boeing operations and a slew of fabricators and machine shops, the heavily industrial neighborhood was considered one of Seattle’s grittier areas for decades — when it was even considered at all. Things began to percolate a bit about a decade ago with the opening of Loretta’s Northwesterner, a tavern known for its burgers, but suffered a setback when the South Park Bridge was closed for a four-year repair.

Now, though, with the bridge’s reopening in 2014, South Park has seen a revitalization that has not yet brought on full-bore gentrification. Industry remains prominent in the area, protected by zoning and geographic forces, including being hemmed in by the river and a phalanx of highways.

“Perhaps the upside of being located farther afield is that a close-knit community’s been formed that’s flown relatively under the radar — and thus been less susceptible — to gentrifying forces,” said Cynthia Brothers, the founder of Vanishing Seattle, her one-woman organization that documents endangered small businesses and cultural institutions on Instagram and other mediums.

“If everything is too polished and finished, it’s super boring,” Ms. Soerens said.

South Park also appealed to Dan Slemko, who moved to the neighborhood in 1997. The 60-year-old former Boeing employee owns a waterfront home on the Duwamish River, which sounds sexier than it is. Seattle is a city known for its pristine waterways, but the Duwamish was so polluted that it was declared a Superfund site in 2001. It’s a working river in a working-class neighborhood. It’s slowly getting cleaner, as is South Park.

Shortly after Mr. Slemko got his last box unpacked, he drove to the now-defunct County Line, a raucous saloon near the South Park Bridge, and promptly got his headlights smashed out.

Many neighborhoods would perhaps enlist law enforcement to deal with such an establishment. But not South Park: According to Loretta’s owner Scott Horrell, a group of residents instead designated a night to drink together at The County Line — to meet the rabble rousers on their own turf rather than calling the authorities.

Such is the welcoming spirit of South Park in a city that in recent years has been dynamically changed by population growth, with many newcomers reshaping Seattle.

When the bridge closed in 2010, South Park became even more choked off from the rest of the city (there are alternative access points, but they’re few and mostly intricate), which had an effect that surprised and encouraged Mr. Horrell.

Central to South Park’s transformation has been Mr. Horrell’s business partner, John Bennett, who has developed a knack for scooping up old buildings in hardscrabble neighborhoods like South Park and nearby Georgetown, and subsequently resisting the urge to replace them with shiny new condominiums.

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