Community Post

The success of Seattle’s Africatown Liberty Bank building has now been declared an Historical Preservation. The unanimous nomination decision was decided by the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board Members.

libertybankinterior11The landmarks preservation board meeting was held at the Seattle Municipal Tower on Wednesday February 5 to decide on a nomination as to whether or not the former Liberty Bank site at 2320 East Union Street, should be declared a Historic Preservation. And it was. A true success for Africatown.

Africatown community members Omari Tahir-Garrett, and Leith Kahl spoke before the panel and also presented a slide show. Both also made statements as to why Liberty Bank should become an historic landmark. Others from the central district community also made comments.

The landmarks preservation board members then heard comments and viewed a slide show presented by Capitol Hill Housing representatives.It was reported in the Central District News back on January 16, 2013 that Capitol Hill Housing had entered into an agreement with Key Bank, who had owned the building, and that CHH had planned to purchase the property and convert it into affordable housing.

The Africatown community then submitted information to the City of Seattle landmarks preservation board to consider a nomination for Liberty Bank

Liberty Bank was founded by James Purnell, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 84. Purnell was once president of the National Bankers Association and was an influential advocate for fairer banking services to minorities.

The building’s architect, Mel Streeter, was a well respected architect in Seattle and among the most prominent African-American architects in city’s history. His work can be seen at the African American Academy and John Muir Elementary School, among other places.

Members of Seattle’s Africatown attended the meeting to continue to advocate and preserve the cultural and historic fabric of the african american central district community, now known as ‘Africatown”.

Historic preservation, economy success, education, and cultural identity all make a substantial contribution to Seattle’s Africatown community.

The success of the nomination was the right thing to do.

It was the only thing to do.

Community. Culture.

44 thoughts on “The success of Seattle’s Africatown Liberty Bank building has now been declared an Historical Preservation. The unanimous nomination decision was decided by the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board Members.

  1. What will CHH do with the bldg now? I’m not sure I understand how the existing building could be converted into housing…?

  2. Anyone can write a “Community Post” here – you could, I could, Omari can….

    I can’t disagree that this isn’t necessarily a good thing for the neighborhood… a commemoration would have been more appropriate – a plaque or statue with historical information, but the building itself is neither particularly useful or interesting. I would be quite surprised if a bank moves in there again. So much banking is available online that branch banks are being closed, rather than opened, in most places.

    • Well said. Perhaps some of the building materials could be salvaged if a new building were to be built. Some beautiful wood was used in the construction.

      The site and the history is important, but I don’t see any significance in the building itself.

  3. Omari seems to thing if it is designated as a landmark that he would somehow gain control over the site. In reality, it just means development of the site into something useful to the community would be delayed for years if at all. Good job.

    • Those who oppose the historic designation would do well to make sure the landmarks board sees this video. Beyond belief in this day and age anyone would be stupid enough to film themself telling someone, “where are you from?… you don’t belong here…”. Sure isn’t how to win friends and influence people.

      • 100% it was Omari. He was proud of it at the time and posted it himself. Seems like he is a racist plain and simple.

      • Yes, here is the description where Omari informs the gentleman worker that his services are not needed, i.e. tells him “you belong in Asia”. “How did you get over here?” “Don’t you have a country?” “Go to Asia!”

        Omari says he’s the owner of the bank. I wonder if the preservation board knows they will have to give control of Liberty Bank to Omari?

        From Africatown May 21st.

        On the morning of Tuesday May 21, a worker presumed to have been sent over by key bank, was there taking down the two signs. Omari Tahir-Garrett, who’s father was a founder of Liberty Bank was across the street and saw the worker. Omari walked over and requested that the worker leave the signs in place, and that they not be removed. The worker was also informed of Omari’s association with the bank and Africatown’s current plans for the property.

        The worker informed Omari that he would call his boss, and the police. At the same time, there happen to be two SPD cars and an ambulance 1 block west of the bank. A female officer approached the worker, then the officer approached Omari. The officer was informed by Omari of the Africatown Community’s involvement and plans. Omari also stated that the signs, if taken down, must be placed back into his possession. The officer informed the worker, that this is a ‘civil’ matter.

        There are two brief video clips of what happened:
        Video of May 21, 2013 encounter with Key Bank(?) worker removing “Liberty Bank” and “Africatown/CD” signs.

      • Just for the record, the media have repeatedly and recently reported that President Obama stopped smoking several years ago.

    • Wow, you have to watch it until the end to get just how racist this is. I wonder if Omari cares how many internees lost homes and businesses never previously owned by any black person, to black Americans who benefited from the internment of Americans of Japanese descent. Pick any block from Jackson south for numerous examples. Then he’s talking about “Native Americans” when slamming this guy in the video for not being born in the U.S.? Ugh. A racist of any color is still a racist.

      • That depends. Some definitions of racism require the power to effect subordination. In the case of the Japanese they were subordinated by whites. While blacks may have gained opportunity lost by Japanese, it certainly was not blacks that drove them out.

        Not my definition mind you. I think Omar is a racist and a bigot. But that doesn’t make him wrong.

      • President Obama smokes cigarettes which is a really dumb thing to do. Does that invalidate his opinions and good ideas? No.

        Omari is a know racist. Does that invalidate his concern for the community and advocacy of black related history? No.

        You can’t discredit ideas by smearing people. Racists are people and deserve all the same considerations under the law and common courtesy. The landmark board rightfully upheld the law and will make decisions on this historic building.

      • No, smoking doesn’t invalidate the President’s opinion and good ideas on, say foreign policy, but he does lose credibility when he speaks on the dangers of smoking.

        Likewise, while Omari may be an authority in other areas, being a racist does limit his credibility on speaking about race. Or would you advocate listening to the views of a white supremacist on architecture but especially about racial matters?

        And while the question being asked by the board on the historical significance of the bank should be judged on the history and not an individual’s character, being as you say, a “racist and a bigot” does kinda invalidate his advocacy of black related history.

  4. I’ll side with Garret for several tangential reasons, but, first state that the structure itself is an impediment to progress – I realize that but don’t care.

    We don’t need CHH building cheap crummy housing. There is too much of it and it can be built anywhere.

    Unfortunately – A black owned bank is a historicaly rarity. It is significant. It should restored to function such an institution if commercially possible.

    In the interim they can turn the building into yet another brew pub. How about Teller’s Ale?. Black Bank Porter? Liberty Lager? Omari Pale Ale? There can never be too many pubs.

    Or, it could be the perfect building for a pot shop. A vault, armored teller windows, security equipment. How about some dope. Black gold? Garrett’s Green Revolution? Bankers Blend? Liberty’s Revenge?

    Or the Med mix could move in. They need the security such a place could provide. I know, we don’t really want them back, but, it could work.

    • Speak for yourself. I would love to have MedMix back, and I’m not alone. Don’t presume just because you didn’t like it, that nobody else did. The proof-positive of that was the consistent stream of customers.

      Clearly, the bldg is not commercially viable as a bank any more. If it were, somebody would’ve already developed it. Key didn’t leave because it was such a profitable branch for them, after all.

  5. From The Seattle Times. June 3, 1967

    Incorporation of Multiracial Bank To Be Approved
    By Archie Satterfield, Business Writer, The Times

    The Liberty Bank of Seattle, Inc., first multiracial bank in the Northwest, today was nearer the business stage.

    Jack C. Hood, state supervisor of banking, said last night that the bank’s founders had submitted articles of incorporation and that he planned to approve them.

    The charter will be granted upon approval of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

    The bank’s officers will include Negros, Orientals and Caucasians…

    …”Dr Jackson sees the institution as an opportunity for the people of the area to do things for themselves.

    He said members of minority races have been plagued by financial troubles arising from the lack of service from responsible lending institutions. Jack Richlin, a long-time grocer in the area, agreed.

    “WE KNOW the area will prosper if the people have an even break; if they have an opportunity to obtain loans under the same conditions as everyone else,” Richlin said.

    The name of the bank suggested by Luther Carr, is appropriate, the board members feel, because members of minority races will now have a better opportunity for economic equality.

    • I see the article as evidence for the unique history of the bank rather than against. I don’t care one way or the other. But – Omari has baid points on the issue. There is a legitimate argument for historical significance that at this point I am inclined to support. As I would expect others to support my advocacy for damming the ship canal and resurecting the Black River.

      • How does it honor the community if historic designation renders the building commercially non-viable? You can’t seriously believe anybody will open a bank branch there again? If the bldg is protected and no bank wants it, it sits. Yeah, abandoned commercial bldg’s are a terrific way to honor the community.

        It would be far smarter to allow new development and erect a commemorative plaque or marker with the new construction. That building is ugly as sin and not worth saving.

  6. I agree it’s a wonderful interesting and unique story. I just don’t see it as permission to ignore history and be racist. It’s not a case of “turnabout is fair play”. Did you watch the video?

  7. Once again,,,,,,the post referenced above was NOT posted by OMARI, it was posted by another Africatown community member,Ron Williams.

    • Are you saying the YouTube video I posted the link to does not feature Omari speaking the background? Hard to believe Ron world day such things.

      And in any case, why is it ok for anyone to say or post such things?

  8. Pingback: Central District’s Liberty Bank landmark bid moves to next step | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  9. The Central Area had the largest black home ownership per black population than any other US city. I am sure this bank had alot to do with it. More low income subsidized housing would take the building place, too much of that type of housing is contained in the CD.

  10. Absolutely correct Eyes. And my take on Africatown and other Faracon like entities is that they understand there is a high value intrisic to blacks in having availability of black owned and or operated institutions. They act as neccessarily self serving entities that provide services and build economies within the community. I use the term self serving intensionally for various purposes and not in the negative context. I mean self surving as in all commercial enterprizes must be, and two, that it serves a specific interest (black communities and their need for self sufficientcy) to a higher degree than other might.

    These situations of development are dynamic with alot of shifting factors, but, I think we can look at some interesting things surrounding the life cycle of let’s say a bank as it relates to rises and falls in the economy, emergence of black wealth, and development of the associated micro-economies.

    For instance, as a group of people come to have better jobs, home ownership, and economic power – partly as a result of tageted services as provided by Liberty bank and such – then this economy attracts the major banks such as Wells Fargo. Now a bank like liberty has to compete for the clientel that was entirely rejected prior to the existance of Liberty (or liberty in general). Now also all the crimes commited by larger banks set a regulatory system in place designed to consume and kill small banks such as Liberty. Now perhaps Liberty died by its own hand or not, probably the broader banking consolidation and regulatory pressure did play a hand, if not outright criminal assault.

    So then we have the loss of the very things that created equity (again a multi purpose term usage) in the black community. We see now also a shrinking or lack of growth in employment, pay, home ownership, and participation in the overt economy.

    So I ask – would it be beneficial to have institutions established around a culture and designed partly to work for that culture? Also ask if other such institutions do exist for yourself or others? To what extent do religious and racial groups self serve more or less than serve broadly. Is there or is there not preference by group or class? Is the effect of preference institutional racism. Would a black owned bank be any more preferencial, racist or or less so, or is it irrelevant so long as we find a way to provide economies for folks to work within.

    I suggest to you that Liberty Bank was historically important as an entity of the times during emergence of black economic power (within their own control, not to say that black economic impact did not previously exist), as a structure in the CD that saw development of a black middle class, and that now sits rotting as perhaps does some of that class that it served.

    The building and cultural implications surrounding it cannot be written off just because it is a dumb looking 50s 60s architectural school knock off with an 80s facade. It is ill sized and irrelevant as a building for a modern city. 95% of this kind of garbage should be bulldozed as soon as possible. But – as for this particular piece – must it go or is there a place for it. I don’t care. It is nothing to me.

    But it’s not really about me. Omari and Africatown think it is about them. I might agree some of the time.

  11. Other than Omari, who has decided that “the african american central district community” is “now known as ‘Africatown’”?

  12. Africatown is Omari’s idea, not necessarily that of the community, black or white. Chinatown is a great, but seems very different from Omari’s “Africatown”. Firstly, Chinatown was created out of necessity when Chinese people could not live elsewhere. Secondly, it was done in a community which was actually Chinese, not formerly majority Chinese. Thirdly, they didn’t go to the government to impose it; they just built their homes and businesses next to each other and self-financed projects.

    There was a time when the majority of the population was actually African-American where an “Africatown” or whatever name might have been appropriate for the time, might have sprung up organically. But it didn’t actually happen and it’s now a very diverse community, formerly majority Japanese, Jewish and African-American in various parts. People pass through these kinds of neighborhoods on their way to other parts. It is currently evolving as a kind of “Little Somalia” or “Little Ethiopia”, as well as various other groups including a large gay presence. It’s the CD.

    • Alan, you’re right that these things, when they really stick, emerge organically. I live on Cherry and I’d say it’s accurate to characterize it as Little Ethiopia. We have at least one Ethiopian owned business per block on my stretch of the street.

  13. Some may pass through these neighborhoods, but to some of all ethnic backgrounds it is a neighborhood where they chose to live. It is a real neighborhood in which to live.

    • It does show a history of concentration of blacks especially in several block areas on 23rd and on Yesler dating to the 1920s. Certainly mixes of various other ethnicities in the area, but, the concentrations appear fairly isolated block by block. Clearly the entire CD would not qualify as Afrikatown, but, certainly some specific areas could be franchised as such. The concept has a lot of validity and potential benefit. There could be afrocentric centers of cuisine and stylized centers of commerce. It could parallel themed centers like we foolishly see Barvarian themes. Other times you see turn of the 20th century themes, Victorian, etc. No reason an Afrocentric theme wouldn’t bring economic and social interest. We have to look at upsides to change. In Seattle we tend to oppose just about everything. Can we stand for something, even if it is black?

      • Can we stand for something, even if it is black?

        Do you think people don’t want an Africatown because black people are involved? What a nice, clear-cut drama with good and bad and if only people would do the right thing…

        On its own, it’s not a bad idea and if there were people interested and willing to put their money down and if people would visit, it could be done. Is there any indication that the black community beyond Omari and his band is actually interested? There are a few black churches, are they having any bake sales to build Africatown? Banners hanging?

        The Bank, Black History in the CD, other groups who came and left, Africatown, Chinatown – these are all separate issues.

  14. It is interesting that no discussion of preserving this bank or site was brought up in the neighborhood plan for the Central Area or throughout the extensive community outreach work done on the 23rd Ave action planning effort this past year.

  15. There seems to be individual and societal capitulation that incorporating identity or ethnicity into planning or even discussion is racisist or prejudicial in and if itself. Hear is where polar idealists such as Omari contribute to the opening of ideas that the rest of us can incorporate and even hijack for good cause (or I’ll). What if Afikatown is a good thing? Why is it wrong too support Afrocentrism. Is it wrong to support consumption of lutafisk in Ballard, Chinese food in Chinatown, kabobs in Windermere or piggy pudding in Broadmore?

    Afrikatown is an overdue theme. Hijacking an empty bank building seems reasonable and harmless. Especially when said bank was subject to the unholy pressures of bank policies of the 70s and 80s. Who loses and do I care? Who wins if Omari makes a mockery of the system? Can we hijack Omariism for the good if the community?.

    Think people. We can achieve something’s ng interesting and valuable. Omari is a tool, for change. We can sacrifice him and erect a great Leninist statue in honor and mockery of social stagnation. We could be seen as a social hub or continue as a decrepit nonidentity, perhaps market ourselves to WasteManagementInc as a landfill. The choice is ours.