Sunday, November 25, 2012

John Platt, Restauranteur St. Clouds, Madrona

John Platt has had an outsized impact on Central Area's Madrona neighborhood through his joint venture, St. Cloud's Restaurant
Photo: Madeline Crowley ©

There’s a lot of economic diversity here; it’s truly mixed. There isn’t one color or one economic strata, it has pockets of wealth and pockets of poverty.

About John:
One thing that has always impressed me about John is that his personality and his values, his warmth and care are so patently part of his restaurant, St. Clouds. It’s not only a community gathering place for a comforting meal, it also provides support for many community activities and puts aside one day a month to prepare a meal for the homeless. While at night, the bar provides space for Seattle musicians to play.

It draws a varied crowd, one that reflects the diverse character of the neighborhood. As he’s a connecting point for so many in this area, I started this series with him.

John is unusual in one respect; he was willing to give up a successful and fulfilling career to do something closer to his heart. Many people dream of this, not everyone does it.  He comes from a family tradition of community service; his grandfather was a Minister, his father a doctor who donated his time both in Afghanistan and at the Navajo Reservation. John’s brief experience living as a child on the reservation may have galvanized in him the value of service as part of life.

John on our Community:
One thing I love about Madrona is that it calls itself the Peaceable Kingdom. It feels like a phrase that does describe the community. People seem to return to that idea when they’re agitated.

I love the fact that I know the people who were the Black Panthers here. They did a lot of important community work although the violence gained focus. They organized a lot of big community projects.

Another part of our history that people don’t seem to know about is the jazz music here, especially the vibrant scene in the 1940s (Quincy Jones, Ray Charles and Ernestine Anderson all lived here). The Northwest African American Museum does a great job of covering that history.

The Central Area has strengths; it’s close to downtown but tranquilly residential. There are wonderfully sweet pocket neighborhoods throughout the area. There’s the refurbished Powell Barnett Park and the Madrona Beach, which are big, substantial places for people to gather outside. They both attract a mix of people from the community, which is important.

We live in an urban neighborhood that was historically black and is now mixed. There’s a lot of economic diversity [economic inequality] here; it’s truly mixed. There isn’t one color or one economic strata, it has pockets of wealth and pockets of poverty.

I remember being shocked when I saw the low percentage of African Americans in Seattle, in my world there’s a high prevalence of blacks. I didn’t realize that the rest of the city wasn’t similar.

Despite it being a mixed community, there seems to be a lack of communication between people. That became really clear at community meetings after Justin Ferrari was killed. There were some African Americans at that meeting, who were really angry, really frustrated. They said, new people move into this neighborhood but they don’t talk to us, they don’t even say, ‘Hi,’ but we were here first.

I went into that meeting believing that the Police needed to step up security. I realized after the meeting that it was more complicated. People who’ve lived here forever don’t feel safe because the police seem to suspect and accuse them. It’s a complex and delicate situation. That frustration comes from being downtrodden for so long and seeing housing prices go up while nothing changes for them.

At that meeting I also realized that there were a lot of people in the community that I’d never talked to before. It seems like people don’t talk to people who aren’t like them. It isn’t that I refuse to talk to anyone or that anyone has refused to talk to me, we just don’t talk. It cuts both ways the perceptions of who is rich and white are as unfounded as the perception of who might be young, black and violent. There are real misunderstandings.  Sometimes it feels like people are looking at each other and just drawing conclusions without actual knowledge of each other.

I wish we could be better, could figure out how to recognize differences and get past them. Since we’re not a homogenous community it might actually be easier to acknowledge those differences.

This community has stayed real when so much of America has decided to live only with people who are like them, who share the same ideas.

It’s hard to think of a natural way to bridge that communication gap. If we had a big Central Area party would everybody talk to each other? If I went, I might talk to the people I already know. I wish I knew what to do about the poverty, violence and despair and insecurity people feel here. I have no idea what to do, I would love to lend a hand but I don’t know where to even start. If someone had an idea, I would love to help. I don’t have any answers myself, though.

I wish there wasn’t a single gun in the community. I know the arguments on both sides, but in reality it just increases the cost of conflict enormously. Especially when there are teens with guns. It’s tempting to say that’s the family’s fault but what can you say to an 18 year old who is determined to do that? Kids that are buried in that gangbanger life, they increase the general tension in the community. A certain number of kids are going to do what they’re going to do.

Gun violence is a detriment to this community. There was the killing of Aaron Sullivan by Tristan Appleberry on our block, and the murder of Officer Brenton a few blocks away, the shootings around Garfield High, and then the shooting of Justin Ferrari. There are real security issues here.

Overall, though, it doesn’t seem safer and it doesn’t seem more dangerous. 

St. 1131 34th Ave. Seattle

[John was chosen for this project due to the role of his business in this community]

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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