June 7

Lasting Legacies

Integral to the area’s past, these organizations define South Lake Union today and will continue sculpting its character well into the future.

South Lake Union is a neighborhood defined by change. Over the last few years, empty warehouses have transformed into company headquarters, trendy restaurants, and mixed-use buildings. All the while, SLU has managed to retain its original character thanks to the intrepid businesses, nonprofits, and research institutions that have called the neighborhood home for decades.

These pioneers saw potential here before anyone else and laid the foundation for what is now the city’s hottest neighborhood.

Kenmore Air

An Aviation Stalwart Wets its Beak in South Lake Union

It’s a quintessential sight in the Northwest—seaplanes cruising onto and soaring from Lake Union, their deft pilots threading between boaters and kayakers all summer long. The 580-acre lake is a Federal Aviation Administration–designated airport, with a large chunk of flights coming from one source: Kenmore Air.

Founded in 1946 along the shores of Lake Washington, the aviation firm has offered flights from Lake Union for decades. That operation was enhanced in 1992, when the company purchased Lake Union Air, its biggest competitor at the time. Today, Lake Union flights are an integral part of Kenmore Air’s business.

“During the peak of summer, we have four daily flights to Victoria, and then our flights to the San Juans,” says Director of Operations John Gowey. “Probably 80 percent of our passengers fly in and out of Lake Union.”

The company is also keen on fostering good community relationships. One step in that direction has been to upgrade a number of its single-engine, propeller-driven de Havilland Beaver planes to the larger and quieter de Havilland Otters, a change that’s helped business as well as community relations. Gowey is excited about the addition of these new planes. “They can carry more people, so you’re running fewer airplanes, and they’re quieter, which is a good thing for the surrounding neighborhood.”

Another thing that’s good for the area? The lake itself. “To have something like that in your backyard, where you can get on a seaplane and connect to 40 scheduled destinations,” Gowey says, “that’s a tremendous resource to have.”

13 Coins

Impeccable Food that Stands the Test of Time

Amid the recent flurry of restaurant openings in South Lake Union, 13 Coins remains a steadfast anchor. Known for its high-backed swivel chairs and booths, the eatery has been serving everything from benedicts to steaks 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since 1967.

“The brand itself is bigger than any one person that works here,” says restaurant manager J.J. Hoffmann. “That brand has built its own legacy, and that’s why it has stood the test of time.”

While the restaurant has expanded—13 Coins boasts locations in SeaTac and Bellevue, with a Pioneer Square location in the works—the original SLU outpost remains iconic. All-night restaurants have long been the domain of fast food joints and greasy spoons, but 13 Coins fills a void for round-the-clock upscale-casual cuisine.

13 Coins hosts an eclectic mix of patrons. There’s the lunch rush of area employees, plus a strong contingent of diners from the nearby Mirabella retirement community. “It’s all walks of life,” Hoffmann says. “You can’t pin down who you’re actually going to get coming through the door.”

In an ever-changing area, the venerable institution has learned to adapt. A California developer plans to erect a 42-story tower at the current 13 Coins site, but the restaurant and developer are working to keep 13 Coins in the neighborhood for decades to come.

Graphica Inc.

An SLU Tastemaker Goes Big While Staying Small

When branding agency Graphica Inc. moved from Magnolia to South Lake Union in 1996, it wasn’t landing in a hip location. “It was ghost town-ish,” CEO and cofounder Kim Falcon says. The company moved into a building freshly renovated by the Low Income Housing Institute—they had been told it was previously a rundown spot where grunge bands practiced in the basement.

Graphica remains in that same office space 20 years later, and Falcon’s business has grown along with the neighborhood.

As life science and technology companies sprung up, Graphica earned their business and started designing their annual earnings reports and other materials. Word spread of the agency’s excellent work and its clients now include many of the neighborhood’s major science firms, including Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and Fred Hutch.

“They’re trying to make a difference by curing cancer and illnesses,” Falcon says. “If we can help what they’re doing, that’s meaningful to us. The culture here is very humanitarian.”

Though it has landed huge clients, Graphica remains a boutique firm, allowing Falcon’s team to become intimately familiar with the business. “We bring value by being a business partner,” she says. This approach applies to each of Graphica’s projects: “What is the goal for this brochure? Do you want to educate? Get them to buy something? Everything we do has to have a strategy involved.”

Today, Graphica devotes more of its time to branded environments. By customizing office design elements—including the entire Juno Therapeutics campus and the 400 Dexter building—Graphica is helping define the neighborhood’s aesthetic.

To read about more lasting legacies, pick up the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Discover South Lake Union magazine.

Story by Jake Bullinger and Photos by Stuart Mullenberg.

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