It was as if nothing had ever changed as a casual group of writers gathered outside for the reopening of the Hugo House literary arts center in Seattle on September 22, 2018. When someone would go up and ask if this was the line to get in, those already gathered would not even acknowledge something so conventional as a line. Such was the irreverent spirit of the evening. People were just there like they’d been many times over the years. Many recalled the original home for this arts center, a former funeral parlor, and had very happy memories of free-wheeling creativity.
The new 10,000 square feet home for Hugo House is different from the old home in fundamental ways. I can tell you from my own experience with Hugo House that much has changed but, despite that, the old spirit is still there. If you know where to look, you can even find remnants of the old. Some of the original floorboards decorate a section behind a little bar area. It’s like anything else that once was, you retain some keepsake that many new folks won’t notice but that can trigger a whole other world for old-timers.
That older world began with the founding of Hugo House in 1997 by Linda Jaech, Frances McCue, and Andrea Lewis. It was shortly after the opening of the original that I began to visit, make friends, and take classes. I fondly recall the passion of such beacons of light as Kirsten Atik and Charles Mudede. It was a different time and place. Anyone could literally walk right in, in the spirit of a community center, and wander through an art gallery, enjoy a spacious cafe, and perhaps contemplate taking in a show in one of two fully-euipped theaters. If they knew their way around, they could walk upstairs and use one of the open spaces to read, work, and just think.
The new Hugo House must deal with the plight of overdevelopment and outrageously high prices for housing in Seattle. It has become fortified for the new times and is housed within a condominium. Long gone are the days when you could maintain such a a non-profit community writing center within a quaint but lovely and spacious ole Victorian with a long inviting series of steps. Architecture firm NBBJ created the new structure that houses the new Hugo House. The structure is made up of condos with the lower level used by Hugo House. With a million dollar grant and the help of plenty of donors, Hugo House declares this a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” and, most reassuring, Hugo House has managed to secure the space in perpetuity.
It was quite a gathering to come out and see what’s new. The festivities began with an open mic, the first one in the new Hugo House. One highlight of the night, undoubtedly, was a presentation by celebrated writer Maria Semple. She took the opportunity to speak about what Hugo House has meant to her over the years. The sense of good cheer was palpable. Many times over the place reached capacity and required crowd control. All in all, a good time was had by everyone. You could talk, drink, dance, and participate as much as you wanted.
Last night’s reception gives all of us in Seattle who cherish the literary arts much to be hopeful for. While the actual writing classes don’t come cheap, the selection is very impressive and worth every penny. There is still work to be done in the actual physical space. The area for the 150-seat auditorium remains an open space as of now. And, as I say, the actual structure looks like any other condo you will come across in Seattle, a bit imposing, but in this case, a lot of pure hearts are doing their very best to inspire and educate writers from all walks of life.
Visit Hugo House right here.