SEATTLE — For the first time in decades, the Black population in the Central District zip code is less than 10%. Historical records from the city show at one point in the 1960s, the Seattle neighborhood was made up of 90% Black residents.
“The neighborhood was beautiful,” said Earl Lancaster, the owner of a barbershop in the area. “If you needed some support or somewhere to go, you just go right down the street to your friend and family, and you can get it.”
Earl’s Cuts and Styles has been in the Central District since 1992. Lancaster and a client recently reflected on the changes in the neighborhood.
“You've been here 50 years, so you saw the transformation,” said Lancaster.
“Deano's and Oscars and all those places are gone. Helen's gone. Thompson's gone. It's just everybody's gone," the customer recalled. "I remember when it used to be all kinds of Black restaurants.”
New developments increased property taxes in the neighborhood, forcing people and business owners south.
“It doesn't happen overnight. This is over a 10 to 15, 20-year period that it takes place. I remember coming to Seattle in the early-mid '90s to get my haircut by Earl when he was at Midtown Center when I was just a young pup,” said developer Jaebadiah Gardner. “So, to see the change in the neighborhood now, this is one of the biggest reasons why we're doing the work that we're doing because we want to make sure those folks who may have been pushed out of the neighborhood get an opportunity to come back and live close to where they work, close to where they go to school.”
Gardner’s company, Gardner Global, and other partners brought two properties on 23rd and Union.
The group acquired Mount Calvary Church and its parking lot in the summer of 2021 for $3.75 million and recently closed on the teen center across the street from the church for $4.3 million.
Gardner said both properties will be transformed into mixed-income, mixed-use, affordable housing apartment buildings with ground-level retail for work-live lofts for artists.
Gardner said half of the units will be affordable housing.
The church will eventually house the Sarah Queen, an homage to his grandmother Sarah Queen Gardner. She was brutally murdered in Spokane in 1997.
“She was an entrepreneur," said Gardner. "She was one of the first Black women to open a beauty salon in Spokane. So, I thought it would only be right to pay homage to her and the legacy of Black women in entrepreneurship through the building.”
Gardner said he and his partners' mission is to build Black wealth.
“It's all about trying to chip away at the egregious wealth gap that exists in America and trying to make sure that Black Americans get a piece of that wealth that we've been traditionally disenfranchised from for so many years,” said Gardner.
Gardner said the Central District has always been about community, and there is still a tight fabric of amazing, incredible Black artists, entrepreneurs, small business owners, project managers and directors in the area.
“It's just been diluted," said Gardner. "So, what we got to do is re-up a little bit and also change the narrative. We're still here, you know what I mean, and so a lot of what's important for us is to make sure that we show folks the other side of the table, which is this is the positive side of making sure you elevate not only just Black voices but Black wealth and Black opportunity."
Gardner said it will take at least a year and a half before they start construction on the new buildings.