Above: The Track House aflame, downtown Olympia, Washington, March 18, 2023; photog by Lizzie
Elves. As a twenty year old I resided in downtown Olympia, Washington on Fourth Avenue at the Ray Apartments. There were eight apartments in the building; four of the eight residents of the Ray, including the apartment manager, Marie, had lived in the building for thirty, forty years. Marie (like all the other apartment building managers encountered in downtown Olympia during the '80s) spoke with that slight Southwest Washington accent, more pronounced than the general inflection typified by other Northwest residents. I grew up in the Northwest, my family moving to the area in the '50s, so anyone who had their roots in the area going back more than one generation was endlessly fascinating. Marie had lived in the Ray since the 1940s, originally with her mother, and had never lived anywhere outside of the South Sound. Marie was ever cheerful, smoked cigarettes constantly, spent her days watching television. The Ray Apartments came furnished, and many of the tables and chairs appeared to have been home made. The coffee tables featured built-in ashtrays. A few months before my moving into the Ray the K label began, which involved the acquisition of a Post Office Box to receive mail. This was crucial as I suspected my living situation to be unstable in the foreseeable future (I was living in the Capitol theater Building at the time) and wanted to make sure whomever was interested in K (and certainly this would include folks the world over) would be able to easily contact the label. The United States Post Office is located five blocks south of the Ray on Jefferson Street. Walking to the Post Office became a daily ritual. The five block journey involved walking up a pedestrian staircase over an embankment created when Jefferson Street was rerouted in the early '70s over a railroad tunnel at 7th Avenue. This rerouting of Jefferson Street had isolated one lone house from the rest of the downtown residential neighborhood surrounding the Post Office and Library. This wooden, two story structure abutted the railroad tracks. It was painted white and had a detached garage, and was the last house in that residential area before the urban landscape melted into warehouses and industrial architectural ephemera (there were rail tracks all through that area servicing the warehouses, which have since been torn up). The house was occupied by an elderly couple, a man and a woman. They appeared to have lived in the house for a long time. One imagined they may have lived in the house while working in downtown Olympia (the man was clearly used to working with his hands), and had remained in the house through their retirement. The house itself dated from the late 19th century and the couple living there prob did as well. The woman wore glasses, the man white shirts and suspenders. He was often out in the yard surrounding the house, gardening. He used a walker, moving slowly around tending his beautifully nurtured vegetables and flowers. If you walked by the house in the evening you might see the couple through the window, sitting together on their couch watching television. One day, while walking along the 7th Avenue sidewalk I passed the house. The man was in the yard (with his walker), bending over to examine some daffodils growing along the sidewalk. The man looked up and saw me and addressed me directly. I stopped. We talked about the flowers, but mostly he spoke to me about myself, as if we had known each other for a long time. His voice had the same inflection as Marie, that elfin Southwest Washington ring that suggested knowledge derived from experience. He called me "Dearie". It was a shocking encounter. Until then I was unaware that I was not invisible. I decided to ask Marie about the couple and the house the next time I paid my rent, but I forgot and then never did. Several decades later the house was occupied by assorted folks many of whom made music. Events took place in the house and the surrounding yard. Though many of the residents were people I knew and worked with closely, I never felt comfortable visiting the house or attending the shows. It felt wrong. K moved into the Temple Beth Hatfiloh building at the corner of 8th Avenue and Jefferson Street, halfway between the house and the Post Office. Often people contact K about where to play music shows in Olympia. For a long time I attempted to keep an updated list of contacts for the various house venues in town to pass on to interested artists. The house was by the twenty-teens a regular house show host. At some point the contact information for these shows became out-of-date which happened frequently, maintaining such a list was one of the many Sysyphusian tasks with which I distracted myself. No one seemed to know anything about shows at the house. All inquiries led to naught. One afternoon I walked down the pedestrian staircase to 7th Avenue and knocked on the door of the house. A woman opened the door. Her name was Elena, she was wearing a lovely old dress, with lace. I explained that I worked at a local record label, K, and was interested in obtaining information about who was currently organizing events at the house. She appeared to be unfamiliar with the idea of a "local record label" but she believed me and welcomed me into the house, showing me around explaining the philosophy of the house toward art, music, literature and performance. The interior of the house was well swept and tidy, and also completely filthy. Elena, too, was stylish, well put together and comfortable dirty. She had a fairy tale quality - - - if I'd happened upon a gingerbread house in the middle of the forest and Elana had greeted me after a knock on its door, I would not have been the least bit surprised. In that elf-like way she reminded one of the man who lived in the house when K first started (though he was impeccably clean). Elana was so enthusiastic about the house as a venue and a cultural institution, it was impossible not to be swept up in her love and promise of art, and the house. At the end of the tour Elena provided the necessary contact information and it was added to the list. I never saw Elena again, but am so grateful to her for her love and care for the house. It was in good hands.