A CITY ON A HILL | Ghosts of music scenes past

Much of Seattle’s civic establishment still thinks of rock music here as having begun and ended with one man — the late, great Jimi Hendrix — who essentially didn’t live here as an adult, and whose great achievements all took place after he left.
I, however, am interested in music that was made here, and with the people who made it here.
My specific interest in this regard, as many of you know, is the “indie” or “alternative” rock and pop scene, which began in the mid-1970s and continues today.
We’ve already lost many of the places where this music was made: The original Funhouse, the Lake Union Pub, the Ditto Tavern, Tugs Belltown, Squid Row, RKCNDY, or the Velvet Elvis Arts Lounge. The Rainbow in the U District and the Metropolis in Pioneer Square are now vacant storefronts.
We’re about to lose a few more: the old Weathered Wall on Fifth Avenue and the old KCMU/KEXP studios on Dexter Avenue.
But we’ve also managed to keep many of our beloved sonic refuges. The Showbox and the Crocodile, both vacant for years following their original rock heydays, each re-opened to have thriving second lives.
We’ve kept the Odd Fellows Building, where DIY promoters put on garage rock shows before Century Ballroom turned the second floor into a dance space.
We’ve kept the club on Eastlake now known as El Corazon. (I first knew it as the Off Ramp, but it had several other names before that.)
And Re-bar on Howell Street has remained in business for 25 continuous years, somehow, now surrounded by high-rise projects on all sides.
I believe all of these places need to stay. Whether they’ve remained music venues or not, we’ve gotta hold on to all the history we can.
There are two spaces that come to my mind. And I don’t know whether they’ll be sticking around for the long haul, but they’re well worth discussing.
The first is the Vogue Hotel building on First Avenue, north of Virginia Street. It was built in 1908, one of the first new structures in the original Denny Regrade.
Its ground floor has been home to the Vain salon and boutique for some 15 years now. Its upper floor (originally “single-room occupancy” hotel rooms, later a “commercial vice parlor”) is occupied by artists’ studios.
But before Vain moved in, the building housed a succession of three legendary, dive-y bars.
As Johnny’s Handlebar, it was a local pioneer in the 1970s gay leather scene.
As WREX (1980-82), it was the first local bar to host new music from unknown bands on a regular basis.
And as the first location of the Vogue (1983-1999), it was a landmark spot for both live music and DJ’ed performances.
Its dance events straddled the evolution of “disco” into techno, goth and other forms of EDM (electronic dance music).
Vogue’s live events introduced many of Seattle’s seminal ‘80s acts to their first audiences. Most famously, Nirvana played its first Seattle show there in 1988, to a “crowd” of perhaps two dozen people. Vain employees report that “grunge nostalgia” tourists still show up there.
Vain is a thriving business, now with three locations around town. The Vogue Hotel building, as last I was able to determine, is still owned by one of the Vogue nightclub’s former owners, who has no known plans to sell.
The second place I want to stick around is the old Triangle Grocery building on Leary Way, built in 1914. It’s across from the Hale’s brewpub.
It’s a signless, vacant-looking little wood structure, taking up the tip of a tiny angular block. The fact that it would be hard to combine with other land for development may be one reason it’s survived.
Since the late 1970s (with various “dark periods”), it’s been a recording studio under many names: Triangle, Wall of Sound, John and Stu’s Place, and a couple of incarnations as Hall of Justice.
But its best known identity was Reciprocal Recording. From 1986 to 1991, almost every famous, soon-to-be-famous, or still-unknown local band recorded there, along with many out-of-towners who wanted to capture the mystique of the place.
Nirvana’s first LP “Bleach” was recorded there. So were discs by Green River, Soundgarden, TAD, Mudhoney, and more; plus a lot of other works by a lot of other people in a lot of genres. At its peak, it was booked 17 or 18 hours a day. Owner Chris Hanzsek and resident freelance producers Jack Endino and Rich Hinklin tried to keep the microphones and the console settings as similar as they could, so as to minimize the downtime between sessions.
Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/producer Chris Walla ran it as Hall of Justice in the early 2000s, then closed it, then re-opened it. After he left Death Cab last year, the studio has been Walla’s main venture. As long as his landlady (Fremont land tycoon Suzie Burke) lets him stay, Walla could keep the place going for some time to come.
And let’s hope he does.
But if he ever does hang up his headset for the last time, the place should become a “grunge museum.” Just think of the tourist business it could generate — not to mention the gift shop merchandise (genuine thrift-store-flannel tea cozies!).

CLARK HUMPHREY is the author of “Walking Seattle” and “Vanishing Seattle.” He also writes a blog at miscmedia.com. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com