Everyone Brings Change to Madison Valley

Guest post by Py

I bought my Madison Valley house in 1977. It had been abandoned for four years and was an unlivable, derelict structure sliding off its dirt foundation. But my partner, an architect, saw its promise.

We approached the design of our total remodel of the house by setting some principles, one of which was “fitting in with the neighborhood” and preserving its charm.

We kept the “bones,” but otherwise stripped the house down to the studs and beams. Now the only things visible of the original house (built in 1900) are the beams in the basement. (We used materials from the old house inside the walls and under the siding.)

In terms of appearance, we looked at two factors: visuals and scale. The size of the house, in footprint and height, remains essentially the same as it was in 1937. If you compare photos from 1937, 1957, and 1997, it’s clearly the same house. With some interior design effects, we were able to add an upper floor without changing the overall height or shape of the structure. On the interior and at the back facing the alley, we gave ourselves more freedom.

In terms of concrete (literally) improvements that affect the whole block, we jacked up the house and replaced the dirt foundation with poured concrete. Outdoor, I launched an all-out war on ivy, which was a haven for rats from the Arboretum. Removing the ivy also resulted in a bonus — a beautiful old retaining wall, built sometime between 1937 and 1957, hidden behind the ivy.

Although traffic and parking were not such significant issues back then, we created off-street parking for our two cars.

And, perhaps most important, we were welcomed by neighbors who were happy to see someone come in and revitalize what had been an abandoned and neglected structure.

In the nearly 40 years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen many people come and go, bringing with them remodels and new construction, as well as smaller improvements. All of these people brought changes of various magnitudes and, both concrete and intangible. Each, in her or his own way, contributes to the vitality of our neighborhood.

Similarly the more dramatic developments along Madison have changed the neighborhood — in good and bad ways. I’d like to describe three of the changes I’ve seen.

Belle Epicurean

Before I came to the neighborhood, the site of Belle Epicurean was a little gas station. At the time I arrived, it was a small bicycle shop, called “Velocipede.” It warmed my heart to watch two guys build a little business into an enterprise that they later had to move to larger quarters on Capitol Hill. The building has changed purposes a number of times in the last few decades, but kept largely to the size and scale of the original building. For a while it was a video store and I remember my neighbor and his sons walking up the stairs on the weekends to rent movies. Now it’s Belle Epicurean, a quiet, charming spot for good food.

Café Flora

Café Flora is a good example of a business that demolished one building and built anew. If memory serves me, the restaurant replaced a laundromat that was so unsavory-looking I couldn’t imagine even walking in the door, much less trying to get something cleaned there. And now—talk about charming and fitting in! Now we have one of the most inviting buildings in the neighborhood, housing a thriving business. Unfortunately, though, the café — and the proliferation of small businesses along the street — also brought significant parking problems, mitigated somewhat by the parking zone established by the city.


Plans to build a hospice for AIDS patients raised serious opposition from the community — especially from surrounding businesses. However, the architects designed a building that looks like it belongs here. Its scale, building materials, and the way it sits on the lot makes it seem as if it’s always been there. Visitors enter the parking lot (tucked away out of site) from the side street instead of clogging traffic on Madison. It didn’t take long for opposition to fade and I think most of us see Bailey-Boushay as a positive change to Madison Valley.

Change: Positive and Negative

I write this to help us appreciate the growth of our community and to counter those who dismiss opposition to the building of a large multi-purpose building in place of City People’s Garden Store. It isn’t a “not-in- my backyard” opposition.

The structure is significantly, to say the least, out of scale. While there are multi-story buildings on the north side of Madison, the difficulty of building on the steep slope has discouraged builders from putting large structures on the south side. Buildings on the north side encroach little, if any, on the green area above the arboretum. On the other hand, the building proposed for the south side wipes out a green area that stretches more than a block and abuts the city’s green zone that includes the pea patch. 

And then there’s the effect on traffic and parking! The businesses on Madison don’t have as big an impact on traffic compared to what we can expect from the new building. In addition to traffic generated by the businesses planned for the proposed building, there are 75 apartments planned. There are buildings with apartments already in place on Madison, but the number of apartments doesn’t even approach the number planned for the new building.

Entrance to the included parking lot for the building is on Madison (the only location that’s at all feasible). We can expect parking for the residents to take up a significant portion of the parking lot, leaving a smaller number of spots for businesses. Even so, we can expect parking to spill over into the residential streets. PCC would bring a high-volume customer arrival and departure nearly around the clock and would have a great negative impact on traffic that is already difficult. In short, the opposition of Save Madison Valley to this proposal is not a fear of change in and of itself. It stems from a sober analysis of the negative impact of the project on our community. You can find more information about Save Madison Valley at savemadisonvalley.org.