Almost 10 years ago, I took the Amtrak train from Minneapolis home to Seattle for the holidays. As a broke college student who’d never taken the train across the country before, being welcomed home by the hustle and bustle of King Street Station felt overwhelming, and also right. The South Downtown area, with King Street Station and Union Station, built in 1906 and 1910 respectively, have served as an entry point to Seattle for over a century.
Today there is a new homecoming of happening at King Street Station.The iconic building at the heart of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Seattle is now home to the region’s next generation of musicians, performers, and recording artists. The Rhapsody Project, Totem Star and Red Eagle Soaring, three local music and performance-based non-profits, have moved into the second floor of King Street Station. The station still serves Amtrak passengers, but the upper floors now serve artistic, rather than transportation, connections. This transformation shows the creativity of Seattle in reimagining our historic places, and maintains the legacy of a hub that brings people together.
Historic South Downtown (HSD) is proud to have invested in both Totem Star and The Rhapsody Project, helping to develop state of the art facilities for cultural work in the area. Through our community-driven grant process, HSD awarded over $242,000 to support The Rhapsody Project and Totem Star, who used the funding to redevelop the entire second floor, installing music, performance and recording studios, program space, and bathroom facilities. Both programs deliver their programs and interact with the community using an inclusive and anti-racist lens.
“Working with Daniel [Pak] and Joe [Seamons] has been a phenomenal experience. They are powerful community leaders and will be valuable partners in this community in the future,” said HSD’s Executive Director Kathleen Barry Johnson.
King Street Station will be the first ever headquarters for The Rhapsody Project, which will use the space to host music classes, workshops, open mic nights, dance classes, and events in their new 1,000-square-foot-space. Co-founded by Joe Seamons and Ben Hunter in 2013, The Rhapsody Project serves Seattle’s BIPOC youth through its programming.
“By giving people the space to explore their own cultures, and root themselves in the layers of their identity, The Rhapsody Project provides tools for people to explore their heritage,” reads their website.
For them, moving into The Station Space, means more arts mentorship program opportunities for the youth in our community and being on a central transportation line enables makes it all the more accessible.
Meanwhile, Totem Star started as a mobile recording studio out of South Seattle in 2010. Since then, Totem Star grew into their space at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, a 225-square-foot-space in West Seattle. Now, they continue to grow and thrive, moving into a 2,000-square-foot-space. Totem Star “brings people together from across the city, across invisible boarders and across cultural lines,” said co-founder Daniel Pak in a video featured on their “new home” landing page. “The kind of collaboration that happens at Totem Star… is hard to find anywhere else.”
In South Downtown, music, art, history, and celebration run through the veins of the community. From the early 1930s to the 1960s, South Jackson Street was the heart of Seattle’s Jazz scene. At the Louisa Hotel, one can see historic jazz murals that once decorated the walls of the Black and Tan Supper Club. Ray Charles is said to have played his first paying gigs at the Black Elks Club, then located at the northeast corner of South Jackson and Maynard Ave South. Nirvana played its first Seattle show at the Central Saloon, which still stands in Pioneer Square. Some people say grunge was invented at the Metropolis, an all-ages venue at Second Ave and South Washington Street.
Today, anyone walking through Hing Hay Park on a sunny day will hear buskers and see members of the neighborhood enjoying games of ping pong, music, outdoor exercise, and conversation. In Occidental Park, you can grab a delicious cup of coffee, enjoy live music, and toss horseshoes under a canopy of London plane trees.
Music has long been a connector throughout our communities, with King Street Station representing a connection point for Pioneer Square and the Chinatown International Distric (CID). Now the two come together to restore and nurture a vibrant music as a prominent presence in the heart of South Downtown.
HSD is driven by the connectedness of our neighborhoods. For generations, community members turned to each other to build resilience in solidarity. HSD’s service to the community happens through community-led projects and a board embedded in the community. We continue the legacy of turning to one another and concentrating resources where our neighbors need them.
As a local grant maker, HSD works to ensure the funds it distributes support community-defined priorities. The structure of our Board of Directors is an example of how we accomplish this. HSD’s Board of Directors is made up of community members from Pioneer Square and the CID; residents, business owners, non-profit leaders, and other community members help steer the work we do in our neighborhoods.
“It’s critical that our grants are community-driven. We broadly define our grantmaking areas, and then ask the community to tell us what they value most,” explained Johnson. “We convene a Community Review Panel to review grant applications and select the most compelling ones. You can hear the results when it comes to The Rhapsody Project and Totem Star. They speak for themselves!”
Created by the legislature in 2007, HSD’s purpose is to respond to impacts of ongoing construction and operations of major public projects and land use decisions in these neighborhoods. The organization has grown to support community programs that improve the lives of local residents and friends.
HSD is funded by a combination of direct allocations from the State of Washington and some County and City investments. Between 2019 and 2022, HSD granted about $7.5M to local organizations and projects, including $550,000 in additional emergency funding during the first year of the pandemic.
The Station Space will host a grand opening event for Totem Star and The Rhapsody Project on November 11th at 11:00 a.m. Join us, and other community members and partners, to celebrate incredible additions to the neighborhood.
Ashley-Nichole Holland was born in Hawai’i and raised in the suburbs of Seattle. After moving to Bellingham for several years after college, she is returning to her roots, and bringing her skills and passion to Historic South Downtown as their first Communications and Policy Associate.