“The story is really a women’s story — [a] women’s leadership story,” Maria Batayola, chair of the Beacon Hill Council, told the Emerald regarding the decades-long journey leading up to Historic Seattle’s recent acquisition of the “Garden House” property on Beacon Hill.
In a 2016 lawsuit brought by then-owners the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs (WSFGC), a covenant that had guaranteed the property’s use for community purposes was deemed invalid, preceding a domino effect that ultimately put tenants of the property in a state of uncertainty. Tenants at the time included the Italian language school Dante Alighieri Society and Beacon Arts, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides opportunities for artists and community members on Beacon Hill to create. The covenant had been part of the agreement between the Jefferson Park Ladies’ Improvement Club and the WSFGC when the former gifted the property to the latter in the late 70s.
Even before the pandemic, small BIPOC-owned businesses and restaurants in the South End faced systemic barriers to success, including lack of access or resources as well as the ever-looming threat of gentrification and displacement. The pandemic only magnified these barriers. The processes of applying for vital loans and grants and pivoting to a greater online presence, all while somehow trying to maintain business as usual, were overwhelming without help. That’s where the Essential Southeast Seattle collective (ESES) comes in.
Family-owned Beacon Hill restaurants Baja Bistro and Kusina Filipina were known for more than just their delicious, authentic recipes. Their customers and neighbors were welcomed like family when they came to dine. That was partly why the loss of both restaurants was so painful. After a change in building ownership led to a rent hike, the Paraiso family closed Kusina in 2017, and Baja shuttered after 25 years in 2020 due to the pandemic. The closures also reflected the decades-long trend of displacement and gentrification in Seattle. With the support of the Beacon Business Alliance (BBA) and a community-minded developer, these two legacy restaurants are planning to reopen in the same neighborhood they were previously forced out of.
Baja and CheBogz — the latter is owned by Paraiso family sisters Trixia and Paula — are returning to Beacon Hill, splitting a storefront space in the new Colina Apartments.
“It’s almost kind of like a fairy-tale story for People of Color,” Trixia said when reflecting on moving the restaurant back to Beacon Hill. “You don’t really get this opportunity to have a landlord say, ‘We want you guys here so that we can keep this community as diverse as it was before.’”