by Susan Fried
The Liberty Bank Building holds the history and the future of the Central District within its walls, a building that stood on the corner of 24th Avenue and Union Street for 50 years. The site where this new building stands once hosted the first Black-owned bank west of the Mississippi, which opened in 1968, and witnessed years of gentrification in this historically Black neighborhood.
Now, the site offers affordable housing with an eye on cultural preservation and equity The Liberty Bank Building will start taking applications Nov. 1 for the 115 apartments available at affordable rates. The building is scheduled to open in February of 2019.
The new development is a collaboration between four community organizations that wanted to retain some of the history of Seattle’s Central District at a time when the neighborhood is undergoing rapid gentrification. The four organizations, Africatown Central District, the Black Community Impact Alliance, Capitol Hill Housing and Byrd Barr Place made a commitment to the community, signing a formal Memorandum of Understanding that helped guide how the project was implemented. Those commitments included designing a building that connects with the Central District’s history, supporting Black-owned businesses, securing African American ownership of the building, and holding the Central District as a hub of the Pan-African Community.
The building developers formed an advisory board of longtime community members, a former executive director of the original Liberty Bank, the daughters of the bank’s original founders, and civic and religious leaders to help with recommendations on ways to preserve and honor the history of the original Liberty Bank. The new building incorporates many of their ideas, including the the use of the original bank vault doors as part of an art installation and the use of art throughout the building that shows the history of the bank and the neighborhood. Artists Al Doggett and Esther Ervin curated the art that is on display in the interior and exterior of the building.
The apartments are designed to be affordable for the average Seattleite. The units are income restricted with the the applicants applying to rent the units required to verify their income. They must earn between 30, 50, and 60 percent of the area median income.A studio apartment will rent for $526 and $1,053 a month; a one-bedroom unit will rent for $563 to $1,128; and a two-bedroom unit will go for between $677 and $1,353 a month, depending on income. Renters will have access to a 3,000 square-foot rooftop deck, an outside courtyard and a community room.
As the Liberty Bank Building nears completion, the property across the street at the corner and Union Street and 23rd Avenue, known as the Midtown project, is seeking input from the community. People interested in discussing the future of Africatown and the Midtown site can attend a community design conversation on Saturday, Oct. 27, from 11 AM to 2 PM at the Carpapapa building at 1110 23rd Ave.
Featured Image: A bus stop is conveniently located across the street from the Liberty Bank Building on Union between 23rd and 24th avenues. (Photo: Susan Fried)