by Mark Van Streefkerk
Estelita’s Library, Beacon Hill’s beloved justice-focused bookstore, library, and community hub, is moving into a brand new building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South in the Central District. The move is made possible through a pilot project by the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture called Tiny Cultural Spaces. The project seeks to transfer unused plots of city-owned land to arts and culture organizations. The move marks a new chapter for Estelita’s, a beacon for activism, learning, and joy in the South End.
The new location awaits some finishing touches, including a sign by Western Neon, before its soft opening sometime later this month. Once open, Estelita’s will continue to serve the community in COVID-safe ways. The 225-square-foot space with a 330-square-foot deck was designed by an all-womxn crew of youth students at Sawhorse Revolution, a nonprofit that teaches high school students carpentry and architecture by building projects that make a tangible difference in their neighborhoods. The small library features walnut floors, wraparound shelves, and rolling storage benches that can be rolled out to the deck on sunnier days. On the inside, coral and sea green paint schemes provide contrast and brightness in the space.
Sawhorse Revolution worked with Matthew Richter from the Office of Arts and Culture to select an organization for the Tiny Cultural Spaces grant. “Our students picked Estelita’s in a city-facilitated RFP process,” explained Sarah Smith, co-founder and executive director of Sawhorse Revolution. “The students designed it as well. They worked for 12 weeks with Olson Kundig designers and architects to interview Estelita’s, to learn more about the history of the struggle for racial equity in Seattle. From Estelita’s they learned about the historic Black Panther movement here. … Then they went through the whole iterative process of designing.”
Estelita’s founders — critical race theory scholar and educator Edwin Lindo, and his partner, physician and educator Estell Williams — were an integral part of the design process, as well as community members, and 3-year-old Estella herself. It is, after all, named after her.
Both hailing from the Bay Area, Lindo and Williams wanted to bring some of the Mission District vibe to Seattle’s frosty disposition. Estelita’s was conceived as a place for conversation, activism, and enjoyment. In May 2018, they opened in the old location of The Station cafe, another community institution that moved into Plaza Roberto Maestas across the street. The library and bookstore carries titles on Black and POC liberation movements, social justice, and is a home for Lindo’s collection of Black Panther Party newspapers, one of the largest in the country. Although the location was small, it was a bustling venue for salsa and sangria nights, spoken word events, chess tournaments, po’boy pop-ups, and more. “It felt like the warmth of what The Station had established was still in the walls,” Lindo said. “The same way we were afforded a low barrier to try and open this space in a community that welcomed us, we wanted to extend that to others.”
In the fall of 2018, Lindo was looking at the King County Health Equity Coalition website and found a page for grants. “We’re also in health care, and we try to find ways to bring equity to health care. This random grant was there, Tiny Cultural Space. I looked at it, ‘Hey, it might be worth applying for,’” he remembered. “It was the first grant we ever applied for.”
It seemed like a good time to explore their options considering the landlord of the Beacon Hill location had plans to tear the building down and build 68 luxury apartments, Lindo said, noting that long-term plans were complicated: “We don’t know when it’s going to happen.”
After Sawhorse students selected Estelita’s out of all the grant applicants, work began in March 2019. Not including COVID-related delays, the construction took about a year and a half. A grand opening might take place later this year, or even next year, depending on the state of the pandemic.
“Based on state regulations from the governor, we’ll have some opportunities for people to come in and engage with us, but as far as starting programming or events like we’ve done before, that will be our grand, grand opening,” said Williams.
Lindo is currently organizing around getting vaccines to incarcerated people, and hopes to use Estelita’s new location to provide COVID-related help for the community in any way it can. Lindo and Williams also want to advocate use of the city’s underutilized land for affordable housing. “There’s little lots around the whole city. Imagine putting two to four, one-bedroom apartments for families to pay $200-$500 a month,” Lindo said. “We need that type of transitional housing. To even contemplate what ownership could look like. Our community knows what it needs. Maybe we can play a role in that. It’s work that is so new that it requires imagination.”
According to the stipulations in the grant, Estelita’s will be on a no-fee lease. After three years, the process for transfer of ownership will begin, and in five years or less, Estelita’s will own both the building and the land. Lindo and Williams also have plans in the works for a mobile library truck to bring radical books to the people.
While you wait for Estelita’s opening, support them through their online bookstore on their website and at Bookshop.org.
Featured Image: The new home of Estelita’s Library in the Central District. (Photo courtesy of Sawhorse Revolution.)
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