Photo of a grocery store building during the 1980s.

In Memoriam to Seattle’s Central District

by Shawn Richard-Davis


I think it is time we pay our last respects to the dearly departed, iconic Central Area (CD) spots we’ve loved yet never properly mourned. 

Earlier this week I drove past the southeastern corner of 23rd and Jackson, a site formerly known as Promenade 23. I witnessed, for the first time, a huge, beautiful, newly completed complex. My first thought was, “How many Black people will be living there?” I was not excited about this new building because it did not represent something that “belonged” to the community. Instead, I felt resentful. I’m being honest. In the months I spent watching this building taking shape, I felt the need to mourn that particular block of the CD. Gentrification has continued at an alarming rate in the Central Area. I do not claim to have the answers as to how this trend will be reversed. This is my cathartic way of mourning. 

I was born and raised in Seattle, and it has been my home for almost 60 years (Oowee). As a child, I resided with my family at a number of locations including 15th and Cherry, 18th and Jefferson, 28th and Norman, and the Yesler Terrace projects. My aunt and uncle owned a house on 28th and Norman where I spent much of my childhood. Additionally, my uncle owned two record shops in Seattle: Summerrise World of Music on 12th and Jackson and the Wholesale House on Rainier Ave South across the street from Borracchini’s bakery. For some residents, the late 1960s through early 1990s were good, prosperous times in the CD. Recently, however, the area looks less and less like the Black community of the past, and it makes me sad. I feel grief and loss for what once was a thriving community. 

Join me now in a memorial service for the Central Area. I think I hear the community gathering, and they are singing, “Oh my lord, lord, lord, lord. Oh my lord, lord, lord, lord. Um hmm, um hmm, uh mmm.”

ORDER OF SERVICE 

OPENING SONG: Back Down Memory Lane” by Minnie Riperton. 

OLD TESTAMENT READING: Lamentations 3:22-23. The Lord’s compassion does not fail. 

NEW TESTAMENT READING: Revelations 21:4. God will wipe away our tears. 

COMMUNITY READING: I Remember the Central District in a Special Way

Today we are going on an imaginary trip through the old Central District. We will name and remember favorite local spots that no longer exist. Some of these sites were businesses, stores, schools, and restaurants. There is no need to hold back your tears; cry as loud as you want when we visit these places. There should be plenty of tissue available. Here we go …

  • Summerrise World of Music 12th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. Not actually in the CD, but it was owned by my uncle, who lived in the CD and served the community. 
  • RL’s Home of Good Bar-B-Q Yesler Way. The best barbecue in Seattle, hands down! Cash only, and there was an accompanying sign that read, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” 
  • Little’s Mini Mart — Corner of 17th Avenue and East Jefferson Street, across from Providence Hospital. 
  • Inez’s Kitchen 12th Avenue and East Jefferson Street. 
  • La Mediterranean Black-owned restaurant near Seattle University (SU) and a favorite of my husband’s when we were attending SU. 
  • Central Area Motivation Program — 722 18th Ave. Though now renamed Byrd Barr Place, the original can never be replaced. My aunt, cousin, and husband were all employed there at one time. My son injured his head at the park next door when he was 4, resulting in his first stitches. Luckily his big sister was there and rescued him. 
  • Liberty Bank — 24th Avenue & East Union Street. A Black-owned bank where I had an account.
  • Frank’s Corner Store South 24th Street and Jackson Street. I used to buy red ginger and lemon here.
  • Jordan’s Drugs — Cherry Street. Open for late-night prescriptions. 
  • Catfish Corner Martin Luther King Jr. Way and East Cherry Street. I know they have new locations, but nothing beats the OG spot and staff. 
  • Promenade 23 — Included the Red Apple grocery store, Joy Unlimited Christian Bookstore, Lady Legs Hosiery, and Welch’s Hardware Store. 
  • BJ’s Beauty Supply 25th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. 
  • Hidmo Eritrean Cuisine 20th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. Rest in peace, Rahwa Habte. 
  • Heritage House/Cotton Club Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Dearborn Street. The R&B group Blue Magic performed there.
  • Carol’s Essentials Gift Shop 23rd Avenue, in the post office plaza. 
  • Helen’s Diner 23rd Avenue and East Union Street.
  • Thompson’s Point of View Union Street, just east of 23rd Avenue.
  • Philly’s Best Original location on 23rd Avenue and East Union Street. 
  • Sammy’s Burgers 26th Avenue and East Union Street. You needed patience and courage to order from this place. 
  • Eddie Cotton’s On East Madison Street. Home of the Soul Burger and the best shakes. 
  • East Madison Valley Cleaners My mother worked here for L.B. Haynes. He called me “Small Fry.” 
  • Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center (S.O.I.C.) — On East Madison Street and South Jackson Street. My aunt Hellyne worked there as did many African Americans in the ’80s. 
  • Deano’s On East Madison Street. This is for somebody out there. 
  • Oscar’s On East Madison Street. Whose spot was this?

SPECIAL SALUTE TO SOUTH SEATTLE’S HISTORIC PAST: 
(Read silently, but loud sobbing allowed.) 

REFLECTIVE MUSICAL TRIBUTE: “SOUF” by Rell Be Free

  • Zion Preparatory Academy — Both my children attended Zion Prep at both locations.Is there even a marker?
  • Rainier Cinema — Columbia City. It was our Black theater. 
  • Unforgettable’s Gift Shop — Rainier Plaza. 
  • The Wellington Tea Room — My daughter’s 8th birthday was celebrated here. 
  • Southwest Mortuary — Rainier Ave South and South Henderson Street.

PARTING VIEW: Yesler Terrace. Our family resided at 911 Alder St., Apt 799.

Our Yesler Terrace address: 911 Alder Street, #799 (upstairs east unit), Seattle, WA

RECESSIONAL SONG: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by G.C. Cameron. 

This concludes our service in memory of the Black Central District and surrounding neighborhoods. The community is welcome to celebrate the passing of these iconic places by regularly supporting our local Black businesses still in existence. Together we can keep hope alive! Also, please share any fond memories you have of the Central District. The history lives on in YOU!


Shawn Richard-Davis is a lifelong resident of Seattle, WA. She has a degree in criminal justice/police science from Seattle University. Shawn retired from Seattle Municipal Court Probation in September 2020 after 28 years of service with the City of Seattle. She also served 15 years as a domestic violence victim advocate in the City Attorney’s Office. Shawn is married to Gregory Davis, and they are the proud parents of Kaila Davis-Nsimbi and Jerrell Davis. Shawn attended the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington in 2013. This trip inspired her to start her blog, www.dreamin4freedom.com, as a way to share her experiences with her family.

Featured Image: A Central District grocery store circa 1980. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives.

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