Capitol Hill, widely known since the 1970s as Seattle’s gay neighborhood, is changing. As development and gentrification sweep in, many longtime residents have moved out. But is the gayborhood dying, or just changing? To newcomers, it may be difficult to imagine that it was ever any different. But Capitol Hill didn’t always have the city’s densest concentration of gay bars.
“In the ‘60s, ‘70s, the bars were down in Pioneer Square,” says Jeff Henness, owner of the Capitol Hill store Doghouse Leathers and former security manager at The Cuff, a popular gay bar. “Then they started moving up the Hill. Real estate on the Hill was cheap — the Boeing Bust.”
Plummeting employment at one of the region’s biggest employers meant that housing prices crashed on Capitol Hill. Around 70,000 lost their jobs, and working-class families moved off of Capitol Hill in droves through the ‘70s and ‘80s. Gay bars moved in, and in those spaces LGBTQ people found they could comfortably congregate in a way that was previously impossible. “There were a lot of gay businesses,” says Shelley Brothers, co-owner of The Wildrose, a lesbian bar.