A piece of Central District history was uncovered Tuesday afternoon after being buried under decades of change. The storefront at 18th Avenue and East Union had a building permit issued for renovation in mid-July, but from outside appearances it seemed not much was going on. That all changed on Tuesday.
“And as we peeled the layers off, all of a sudden we saw the sign,” said Michael Cozzi, who co-owns the building with his wife, Karen Moskowitz.
“Thirty-odd people screeched to a halt out there, and pulled over,” said Cozzi. “One guy said, ‘I used to get my candy from there in the 60’s’. I said, ‘What was your favorite candy?’ ‘Red licorice, a penny a stick.’”
Painted directly onto the building, the sign advertises “Regan’s Grocery and Chinese Food Center” in red and blue letters. “Pickup” and “Delivery” are offered, and the food is advertised as “Hot” and “Fresh.”
Cozzi, a musician and music producer, and Moskowitz, a photographer, purchased the building in March of 2010 after losing their artists work space on 12th Avenue between Pike and Pine in Capitol Hill.
“That whole area kind of got Belltown-ized,” Cozzi said. “We were there for 20 years.” As the area was transformed with condos and new restaurants, rents tripled, said Cozzi, and artists left the area. For Cozzi and Moskowitz, they didn’t have to go far to find a place where they wanted to settle. The building on 18th Avenue already housed Tougo Coffee, Gallery 1412, and New City Theater, and for Cozzi and Moskowitz it had the potential to replace the art hub they had to leave behind on Capitol Hill.
“It was of an age that if someone didn’t do something with it…it was going to be torn down. If a developer had gotten this they probably would have torn it down…but we were early enough to be able to renovate, and it made sense,” he explained.
What sparked this project, said Cozzi, was the discovery of historic pictures of the building during the feasibility study and property research.
“They have these pictures from 1937…we got one of this building and it looked so great. So we’re kind of just going back to that. It’s supposed to be a modern version of that.”
As he told me this, Cozzi was sitting in his new recording studio, which was a hair salon until a few months ago. Cozzi is a songwriter, lead guitarist, and producer of Sky Cries Mary, a globally recognized Seattle-based band that formed in the late 1980’s. The band regrouped in 2004 after five years apart. His recording studio in the 1412 18th Avenue building will be used for his own musical projects, as well as available for other artists to rent on a project oriented basis.
The corner location, which most recently housed a yoga and dance studio, is being reworked to be Moskowitz’s photography studio. Cozzi said it will be a “nice, daylit studio,” to be used for her photography business, and likely available to be rented by other photographers.
The sudden appearance of the historic painted sign was in stark contrast to the most recent facade of the building, which was nondescript, with a lot of the character of the 1910 building covered up by various remodels over the decades.
“It will be a lot more visible once we’ve done the place up,” Cozzi said of the building.
Unfortunately, code regulations are going to require that the Regan’s Grocery sign be removed from the building because the paint contains lead. Additionally, Cozzi said the siding is too far rotted in most of the areas to save it all, though they are hoping to find a way to restore and keep at least part of it. On the left side of the wall he pointed out an older sign that had been partially painted over. At first glance it appears to say “room” and “lies”.
“I think that used to say ‘dark room supplies,'” he said, pointing out half of the letter ‘K’ barely visible next to “room.” Fitting advertisement for the exterior wall of his wife’s new photography studio.
Ian Jones of Treebird Construction is General Contractor on the project. Parr Building LLC is listed as the building owner on the permit documents. New City Theater’s director is John Kazanjian.