Hostel has to hit the road
For years, the 84 Union Building off Western Avenue was "Seattle's Ellis Island," where many immigrants made their first stop in Seattle...
Seattle Times staff columnist
For years, the 84 Union Building off Western Avenue was "Seattle's Ellis Island," where many immigrants made their first stop in Seattle.
That legacy will end next month, when the 130-bed Hostelling International is closed and the building converted to 27 apartments by its owner, Harbor Properties of Seattle. "We gave some thought to letting them stay," said Douglas Daley, president and CEO of Harbor Properties. "But we are trying to create the highest and best use of the space."
In other words, the spot is worth more as apartments than as a place for those traveling on a shoestring.
So much of the city is changing in the name of "market value." Isn't it just as valuable to have a place that showcases Seattle to the world's travelers?
"It's always the backpackers being pushed aside for someone with more money," sighed Claire Walter, 24, of Devon, England, who was staying at the hostel last week as part of a seven-month trek around the world.
"It's the same in restaurants," Walter said of her fellow travelers. "It's not that we don't have money, it's just that we use that money to get around more."
Hostel manager John Burnett isn't sure where the hostel will move. Two possibilities — one in Belltown, another downtown — have fallen through.
Daley, of Harbor Properties, said the hostel has enjoyed a low rent for years; and that his company helped cover the rent after 9/11, when traveling fell off.
"We are trying to be good partners and are trying to help" the hostel relocate, he said.
Wherever the hostel lands, it certainly won't be the same as this building, with its view of Elliott Bay and its central location. Pike Place Market is just two blocks away; the train station and stadiums, a few blocks south. And the water? Right there.
A dorm bed costs $25 a night, and a private room with a private bath is about $85.
Ironically, last year was the hostel's best so far. Between 18,000 and 25,000 people stayed an average of two or three nights.
There is only one other hostel in town — The Green Tortoise, which relocated to Pike Street last year when its First Avenue building was demolished for new condos.
"They will be slammed this summer," Burnett said.
Duane Differding, 56, the hostel's operational supervisor, started here 16 years ago as a concierge. He maintains lists of staff-recommended outings and leaves copies on the wall.
His picks: Bicycling to Alki Beach; Discovery Park; the Olympic Sculpture Park; kayaking on Lake Union; and cycling the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Now Differding has to let longtime clients know that there will be no room for them at the hostel come summer: the Girl Scouts of America, a school group from Mystic, Conn. Another group called Trek America.
"These are organizations that rely on us," Differding said.
The closing, Differding said, was "a shocker."
"We were hoping that we could move to a better place," he said. "But this is the best place."
Hostels are unique in that they tend to put travelers in the middle of a culture, Burnett said. The shared rooms encourage community.
"In a hostel, ignorance of other cultures can't exist," said Burnett. "The more you travel, the more you really see how things are and put it in perspective."
"This is a place where people of different cultures and countries can live in a cooperative atmosphere," he said. "Strangers meeting strangers and becoming friends once they leave here. You can be friends for life."
One couple who met at the Seattle hostel wrote to Differding a few months later to say they were getting married.
And Differding? What will he do when the hostel closes?
As if I had to ask.
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
She got there too late.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
email@example.com | 206-464-2334
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.