The Great South Seattle Conflagration

During the October 12, 1977 World Series game in New York Howard Cosell famously said “ladies & gentlemen the Bronx is burning” as he watched a fire erupt nearby:

Except if you watched that video you’ll notice that he never actually said his immortal phrase. Seems like an urban legend.

But what’s not an urban legend is that there were dozens of fires a day as economic incentives encouraged landowners to burn their buildings for insurance money (wikipedia covers it well).

It feels like something similar is going on in South Seattle right now at the corner of 23rd & Rainier.

Earlier this week, the 7-11, which had been closed for a few months, finally caught fire. Here’s the aftermath:

Having a hard time getting the scale of that?

No problem, I’ll just step back into the adjacent lot where the abandoned Burger King was – until it was burned down (a local wit spray-painted the ruins with “Where is your king now?”):

Maybe that’s not clear enough, so let me wander across 23rd St and take a wider angle photo for you.

I can do this because the lot there is also clear, the fruit stand having burned down over a year ago:

If you’re not a local it might be hard to tell what you’re looking at but take a peek at the condos in the rear.

If I panned 180 degrees you’d see Buddha Bruddah – and if you could see one block further through it, you’d see the empty lot where the burned out remains of Borachinni’s used to be. That one was a 4 alarm fire; we watched as the fire department dumped thousands of gallons on it – and it still took hours to get under control.

How about instead I pan right instead?

Across Rainier is another vacant lot. I remember the building decaying; I am told it may have burned.

You get the theme.

What’s more, I’m pretty sure we’re going to see some more. The GreaseMonkey (visible in the photo earlier) closed and the windows are already smashed:

And on the opposite corner the old hair salon is boarded up, awaiting incineration/immolation:

So what’s going on?

I’m pretty sure we have some good, old-fashioned insurance fraud taking place.

With the new light rail stop nearby, the neighborhood is gentrifying and these buildings are economically worthless relative to the value of the land. And the neighborhood is in transition and its not sure the new occupants actually used these businesses.

So the landlords close shop and our neighborhood arsonist has free reign. Fingers crossed for insurance money and then just sell the land!

It is a magical time to be a pyromaniac in South Seattle. Or a landlord.

Hopefully this will end soon; we are running out of abandoned buildings to burn. And in a few years once the lots are filled I’m sure the neighborhood will look great again.

In the meantime, I’ll update this blog post with any photos of new empty lots.