Central District resident captures history of the neighborhood through personal stories

Just after Justin Ferrari’s shooting death, Central District resident Madeline Crowley began attending community meetings, where she noticed “people weren’t really listening to each other.” Crowley says that despite the neighborhood’s diversity, there seemed to be a lack of connection to the past, and to each other.

“My hope is that if we hear each other’s stories, that may facilitate some openness and

Madeline Crowley's Central District history project website

Madeline Crowley’s Central District history project website

bridge gaps,” Crowley says. “Besides, the history of this neighborhood and the personalities in it are fascinating.”

Crowley set out to document the neighborhood’s history through the stories of its residents through a project she calls “The People of the Central Area.” She’s posting her interviews, which now number 17, on a blog here. Crowley started her project in November 2012 with an interview with John Platt of St. Clouds restaurant. She plans to interview about 30 to 50 people in total, wrapping up the project about this time next year.

Crowley had a lot to say about her favorite experiences working on the project:

It’s enlarged my sense of the Central Area and changed its ‘geography’ for me. I drive down a street and see a house that I now know was occupied by a young Sephardic girl in the 1920s. It’s nearby another house where a young Chinese boy played kick the can in the street with his two best friends, a Japanese kid and an African-American kid in the 1940s.

The neighborhood is now becoming populated (for me) with other people’s memories. Since I didn’t grow up here this has added immeasurably to my love of the area.

More importantly, though, is that it’s enlarged my small experience of the world. If I listen to people carefully I learn what it might have been like to be sent from your home, from most of your possessions, to see your parents stripped of their business and to grow up in an American concentration camp as happened to the Japanese-American population in the 1940s (they were the largest ethnic group in this neighborhood at that time).

Or in another example, I’ve listened to what it was like to hide from the police in a backyard during the Black Panther period, and what it was like to be a white neighbor of the Black Panthers who knew them and supported them. While in other cases, when someone lived further away and didn’t know the Panthers personally, they were afraid during their marches. All of these things are ‘true’ in that they reflect the different experiences of people living in the neighborhood.

I’m interested in each person’s ‘truth’ in their story, not in finding a singular truth as I don’t believe memories function that way.

We plan to reprint excerpts of Crowley’s interviews on occasion. In the meantime, you can read them on her website, and donate to keep her project going.

4 thoughts on “Central District resident captures history of the neighborhood through personal stories

  1. Wow…Thanks for doing this…this is an amazing and incredible project this is exactly the type of thing that the CD needs thanks for showing the richness and diversity here….truly a beautiful project!

  2. These stories are really great. Makes one appreciate the rich diversity and multi-cultural history of the Central District. Bravo!

  3. Thanks for this article, and to Ms. Crowley’s efforts. A few co-workers and I were talking about this very thing, TODAY. We’ve often lamented the need for a community continuity project or effort to string together the vibrant and significantly valuable history of the Central District.

    It seems it’s being lost due to gentrification, intentional ignorance, and with some class (racial) undertones, instead of being connected.

    Ms. Crowley’s work is a great step in changing that. I applaud and welcome it. Will definitely pass around the word on her project so it has a great outcome.

    • Hi! Thanks for the very kind words.

      I wish I had more interviews up. I have another 7 to come: Michelle Purnell-Hepburn, Jacqui Lawson, Dave Holden, Carver Gayton, David Buerge (who gives fascinating background on the original people in the area, the Duwamish Lake People). I am working as fast as I can when I’m not at work.