Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington

Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington

Capitol Hill is the second most densely populated neighborhood in Seattle, Washington, United States, after Belltown (in northern downtown). It is the center of gay life in Seattle and also a center of the city's counterculture, while also home to some of the city's grandest mansions and many attractions.

The origin of the neighborhood's name is disputed. According to one story, James A. Moore, the real estate developer who platted much of the area, named it thus in the hope that the Washington government would move to Seattle from Olympia. According to another, Moore named it after the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, his wife's hometown. It is thought by the editors of HistoryLink that the true story is a combination of the two.

Prior to Moore's naming it so in 1901, Capitol Hill was known as Broadway Hill.

Due to its one-time large Roman Catholic population, Capitol Hill was frequently referred to as Catholic Hill up until the 1950s.Fact|date=February 2007


Capitol Hill is bounded by Interstate 5 (I-5) to the west, beyond which are Downtown, Cascade, and Eastlake; by State Route 520 and Interlaken Park to the north, beyond which is Montlake; by E. Pike and E. Madison Streets to the south, beyond which are First Hill and the Central District; and by 23rd and 24th Avenues E. to the east, beyond which is Madison Valley.

Its main thoroughfares are Lakeview Boulevard E.; Bellevue, 10th, 12th, 15th, and 19th Avenues E.; and Broadway (north- and southbound) and E. Pine, E. Pike, E. John, E. Thomas, and E. Aloha Streets and E. Olive Way (east- and westbound). Of these streets, large portions of Pike, Pine, Broadway, 15th and, to a slightly lesser extent, Olive, are lined almost continuously with streetfront businesses.

The highest point on Capitol Hill, at convert|444.5|ft|m above sea level, is in Volunteer Park, adjacent to the water tower. Capitol Hill is also responsible for half of Seattle's 12 steepest street grades: 21% on E. Roy Street between 25th and 26th Avenues E. (eastern slope), 19% on E. Boston Street between Harvard Avenue E. and Broadway E. (western slope) and on E. Ward Street between 25th and 26th Avenues E. (eastern slope), and 18% on E. Highland Drive between 24th and 25th Avenues E. (eastern slope), on E. Lee Street between 24th and 25th Avenues E. (eastern slope), and on E. Roy Street between Melrose and Bellevue Avenues E. (western slope).


Capitol Hill contains some of Seattle's wealthiest districts, including "Millionaire's Row" along 14th Avenue E. south of Volunteer Park and the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District. It also has many distinguished apartment houses, including several by Fred Anhalt. However, the neighborhood did not fare so well in terms of architecture in the decades immediately after World War II. Architect Victor Steinbrueck wrote in 1962 of the "tremendous growth of less-than-luxury apartments" that at first "appear to be consistent with the clean, direct approach associated with contemporary architecture" but whose "open outdoor corridors" totally defeat their "large 'view' windows" by giving occupants no privacy if they leave their blinds open to enjoy the view. "Most tenants close their blinds and look for another apartment when their lease runs out." [Victor Steinbrueck, "Seattle Cityscape", University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1962, p. 73.]


Always an eclectic neighborhood, since about 1980 Capitol Hill has also had a reputation as the center of gay life in Seattle, although it has never been as exclusively gay as The Castro in San Francisco.

It also has a reputation as the heart of trendy Seattle, and was the neighborhood most closely associated with the grunge scene, although most of the best-known music venues of that era were actually located slightly outside the neighborhood. Further, Capitol Hill is heavily associated with drugs and street life by area residents. In this sense, the neighborhood more closely resembles San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood than The Castro.

A stroll down Broadway or through Cal Anderson Park reveals a wide diversity of people, with couples walking dogs, punks hanging out on street corners, technology workers who commute to work across Lake Washington buying groceries and, in the evenings, club-goers from all over Seattle and Bellevue visiting the scene for a night out. Shopping in the numerous retail stores and boutiques offers everything from African art to Hot Topic and there are many used and vintage clothing stores on Broadway, a few art galleries along East Pike and Pine Streets, and music stores specializing in hip-hop, dance and electronica, gothic and industrial, or rare used records.

Most of the Hill's major thoroughfares are dotted with coffeehouses, taverns and bars, and residences cover the gamut from modest motel-like studio apartment buildings to some of the city's grandest and most venerable mansions, with the two extremes sometimes cheek-by-jowl.

The neighborhood figures prominently in nightlife and entertainment, with many bars hosting live music and with numerous fringe theatres. Capitol Hill is also home to two of the city's best-known movie theaters, two of them part of the Landmark Theatres chain both of which are architectural conversions of private meeting halls: the Harvard Exit, in the former home of the Women's Century Club (converted in the early 1970s) and the Egyptian Theatre, in a former Masonic lodge (converted in the mid-1980s). There is also Seattle's only cinematheque, Northwest Film Forum, which in addition to screening films, teaches classes on filmmaking, and produces film alongside Seattle's burgeoning filmmaking community. The Broadway Performance Hall, located on the campus of Seattle Central Community College (SCCC), also hosts a variety of lectures, performances, and films.

Landmarks and institutions

Registered Historic Places on Capitol Hill include the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District, in which is located the original building of the Cornish College of the Arts; Temple De Hirsch Sinai [] (but the historic Temple De Hirsch was largely demolished in 1992: only a few columns and the front entrance remain); Volunteer Park, in which are the Seattle Asian Art Museum and Volunteer Park Conservatory; and The Northwest School.

In addition to Volunteer, parks on the hill include Cal Anderson Park, Louisa Boren Park, Interlaken Park, Roanoke Park, and Thomas Street Park. Lake View Cemetery, containing the graves of Bruce Lee and his son Brandon Lee, lies directly north of Volunteer Park, and the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery north of it in turn. Also on the hill are the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, Holy Names Academy, Seattle Hebrew Academy, and Seattle Preparatory School; St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle University, and Seattle Central Community College.

Bars and clubs

At least since the 1970s, Capitol Hill has played a prominent role in Seattle's nightlife. Prominent bars in the 1970s, inevitably also full-scale restaurants, were the upmarket, elegant Henry's Off Broadway, owned by The Schwartz Brothers, local Restaurant and Business Entrepreneurs Bill and John Schwartz, and two Broadway "fern bars" owned by Gerry Kingen. (Kingen also turned the Red Robin from a single tavern at the southern end of the University Bridge into a restaurant chain.) The bars at his Boondocker's, Sundecker's, & Greenthumb's and Lion O'Reilly's & BJ Monkeyshines were both popular with a young crowd, mostly heterosexual and single. Lion O'Reilly's had a last hurrah as "Lion O's Rock Hard Cafe", which resulted in legal action by the Hard Rock Cafe chain. Surviving from that era, with a rougher-hewn version of the same style, is Canterbury Ales and Eats on 15th Avenue E.

With a similar look, but far more emblematic of what was to come, was the Brass Door (later known as Brass Connection when they secured a hard alcohol license) a bar and disco with a predominantly gay male crowd and occasional drag shows. It played a key role in moving the heart of Seattle's gay nightlife scene from relative hidey-holes, mainly in the Pioneer Square and Belltown neighborhoods, to higher-profile venues, mainly on Capitol Hill and especially in the Pike-Pine corridor.

In the late 1980s, another gay bar, Tugs Belltown, moved up to the Hill (corner of Pine and Belmont) and became Tugs Belmont. In this new venue, it played a key role in Seattle's burgeoning fringe theater scene. Possibly the first bar in Seattle since before the Prohibition era to regularly host theater performances, in the early 1990s it was the primary home of the Greek Active Theater, founded by Dan Savage (working pseudonymously as Keenan Hollohan).

Under Washington State's liquor laws, until the 1990s it was virtually impossible to have a bar that served hard liquor without having a full restaurant: at least 40% of revenues had to come from food. Drinking establishments were (and still are) divided into "bars" with full licenses and "taverns" that could sell only beer, wine, and hard cider.

The scene along the Pike-Pine corridor was never exclusively gay. In the 1990s Moe's, on Pike just east of Broadway (now named Neumo's) transformed a former Salvation Army facility into a combination bar, restaurant, and performance venue, with local and national acts as well as dance nights, and became for several years one of Seattle's most prominent musical performance venues. Now Neumo's and nearby Chop Suey continue that live music tradition and dozens of trendy (and friendly-but-divey) bars and clubs cater to gay- and straight-themed nightlife.


Besides the inevitable large Seattle-based chains—Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee (now owned by Starbucks), and Tully's Coffee—Capitol Hill has been home to some of the city's most prominent locally owned coffeehouses.

The now-defunct Cause Celebre coffeehouse and ice cream parlor on 15th Ave. E. started life as a worker-owned collective, but was eventually bought out by one of its founding members. From about 1978 until the mid-1980s, it declared itself to be "Capitol Hill's living room."

B&O Espresso (at the corner of Belmont Ave. E. and Olive Way, hence B&O: Belmont and Olive), founded 1976, could be considered one of Seattle's oldest surviving coffeehouses, except that it has transformed over the years into more of a restaurant. One of B&O's claims to fame is that the band Pearl Jam conceived of their name while at this coffeehouse.

Through most of the 1990s, the Cafe Paradiso (now the Caffé Vita on Pike) was one of the few all-ages music venues in Seattle, slipping through the cracks of the draconian Teen Dance Ordinance by being, in theory at least, a no-dancing venue.

The minuscule Coffee Messiah (early 1990s – 2006), decorated in religious kitsch, serving little but coffee and vegan pastries, was also an all-ages performance venue for several years. The crowd frequently spilled out onto the pavement (especially because they could not smoke inside). Acts ranged from punk rock to drag cabaret, including a cross between the two known as Pho Bang (which later continued at other venues).

Present-day coffeehouses on the Hill include the local chains Caffe Ladro, Caffé Vita (two locations), and Top Pot Doughnuts, as well as Bauhaus Coffee, Cafe Dharwin, Espresso Vivace Sidewalk Bar, Faire, Fuel Coffee, Insomniax (two locations), Joe Bar, Kaladi Brothers, Online Coffee (two locations), Uncle Elizabeth's Internet Café, Stumptown Coffee (two locations), People's Republic of Koffee, and Victrola Coffee & Art (two locations).

Espresso Vivace's primary location on 901 E. Denny Way/1512 11th ave just a block off Broadway has been closed since mid-2008 due to Sound Transit Light Rail construction, but a new location will be opening when construction of a new building is completed further north on Broadway E. The Espresso Vivace sidewalk bar on Broadway, and Espresso Vivace Alley 24' South Lake Union location are still open to business.

Several Capitol Hill coffeehouses use mezzanines or similar architectural devices to add more seating to their relatively small spaces; some take significant advantage of nearby sidewalks for additional seating. Espresso Vivace's Broadway location has only sidewalk seating, and that seating is technically on the property of the bank next door. Bauhaus takes advantage of its high ceiling not only for a massive wall of books (mostly encyclopedias and other reference books), but also to place additional seating over the food prep and serving area; it also spills out onto the sidewalk onto E. Pine Street and around the corner to Melrose, with sidewalk seats providing a view of the northern part of downtown.


While many of Capitol Hill's churches began as suburban congregations serving to establish the newest neighborhood of young Seattle, they have changed with the neighborhood to reach out to the poor and homeless and those living with HIV, as well as continuing their work of encouraging the faithful.

A few of the original churches include St. Joseph's on 19th Avenue E., which anchored a large Roman Catholic population on the east slope. The imposing edifice of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral overlooks I-5 on the west side of the hill and is home to a large Episcopal congregation and the seat of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. All Pilgrims' Congregational Church combines the former congregation of First Christian Church with that of Pilgrims' Congregational. The Nisqually earthquake permanently damaged First's sanctuary across the street from SCCC (then the only other church on the Broadway strip, now demolished).

There are a number of other Christian congregations on Capitol Hill without church buildings of their own. Grace Seattle, Presbyterian Church of America, meets at Volunteer Park Seventh Day Adventist Church on 13th and Aloha. Church on the Hill was started by the Advent Church, which used to be on Madison; it meets at at the Capitol Hill Community Center. Sanctuary, Southern Baptist, meets at Piecora Pizza, and Church of the Undignified, Church of the Nazarene, has a storefront on Pike.

One recently founded church does have a building: Westminster Presbyterian Church—behind SCCC—became Capitol Hill Presbyterian (new church development) at Easter 2006, when Church at the Center merged, with the liturgical music going from classical music to indie rock.

A number of immigrant populations worship throughout the neighborhood as the population diversifies, including Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian and Vietnamese. There is also a longstanding Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of the Assumption, which separated from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in the 1930s.

Two landmark church buildings near Group Health Hospital no longer hold congregations. The First Methodist Protestant Church of Seattle, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now the headquarters of the Catalysis corporation. As of 2007, the former First Church of Christ Scientist is being remodeled into condominium apartments.

There are no remaining Jewish synagogues on Capitol Hill as such; Reform Jewish Temple De Hirsch Sinai, whose Alhadeff Sanctuary was designed by B. Marcus Priteca, among others, is just south of Madison, and hence technically on First Hill. [ [ Temple De Hirsch Sinai] ]

Recent history

On the first day of the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, protesters were driven out of Downtown Seattle and up Capitol Hill by police using tear gas, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets. Following the creation of a 46-block protective zone around the Washington State Convention and Trade Center on the second day, Capitol Hill became the focal point for protests as WTO protesters and residents protested the WTO and police use of force to disperse the crowds. [cite news | url= | title=Second straight night of confrontations rocks Capitol Hill | publisher=Seattle Post-Intelligencer | author=Scott Sunde | date=1999-12-02 | accessdate=2007-06-18]

External links

* [ Capitol Hill] on SeattleWiki
* [ Capitol Hill Community Council] site
* is at coordinates coord|47.622942|-122.316456|type:landmark|display=inline,title
* [ The Capitol Hill Block Party] , which features local bands every summer.
* [ A page of images showing Seattle neighborhoods]
* Heather MacIntosh, [ Preservation in Capitol Hill] , "Preservation Seattle" (online publication of Historic Seattle), February 2004
* [ Capitol Hill: The WebComic] , A satirical cartoon about Seattle's Strangest neighborhood
* [ Capitol Hill Triangle] : Discover an insider's blog on eating, drinking & events within walking distance of Capitol Hill
* [ ClubFly Capitol Hill] : Gay bars, clubs and a google map
* [] : Capitol Hill Community Blog
* [] Capitol Hill Night Life and Beyond


* Kathryn McGrath, " [ Clubless in Seattle] ", University of Washington "Daily" Online, October 3, 1996: on the Teen Dance Ordinance.

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