Neighborhood gem Beacon Hill right next to heart of city

Sitting so close to downtown, it still surprises residents of Beacon Hill that their neighborhood is as overlooked as it is.

When Oscar Castro moved to Beacon Hill 13 years ago, he was shocked to find that in Seattle, of all places, there wasn't a single neighborhood coffee shop. The closest thing was the Texaco station on Beacon Avenue South, near the area's north end.

Tired of going to a gas station for a cup of Joe, Castro, with his brother Luis Castro and Tim Prichard opened Java Love nearby. Since then, a few more small cafes now dot the landscape, but it still has that away-from-the-city feel.

Residents stroll the sidewalks, parents bring kids to Jefferson Park, and such stores as the Red Apple supermarket or MacPherson's Fruit and Produce stand provide popular neighborhood anchors.

Beacon Hill's seemingly slow pace may change, and quickly, once Sound Transit's Beacon Hill station for the light-rail system is completed in three years at Beacon Avenue South and South Lander Street.

"It's going to be discovered. In 10 years it will be unrecognizable," Prichard said. "Once the rail station is open it will go condo crazy." As Castro puts it: "It's black gold waiting to be had."

Beacon Hill is bordered by Interstate 90 to the north, Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South to the east and Interstate 5 to the west. It stretches nearly to Tukwila, but the Beacon Hill Chamber of Commerce puts the neighborhood's southern boundary at South Myrtle Street.

At the north end sits the historic former U.S. Marine Hospital, built in 1934. The art-deco building now houses the Pacific Medical Center and the headquarters of

The shops along Beacon Avenue South are diverse and include Asian video stores, a yoga studio, Mexican restaurants and the Beacon Hill Pub.

The neighborhood is one of the city's oldest. It was named after Beacon Hill in Boston by financier M. Harwood Young, who came to Seattle from Boston in the late 1800s.

Since then, it's long been home to waves of immigrants. For years, Italian immigrants ran bakeries, restaurants and shoe shops along Beacon Avenue South.

By the 1950s, the neighborhood was predominately Asian American, and that group still makes up more than half the neighborhood's population.

In recent years there has been a growing Latin American, African American and African immigrant population as well.

"It's really diverse. We're a mixed bunch of cookies here," said Brent Moore, a Seattle police officer who has lived in Beacon Hill for 10 years and brought his son to Jefferson Park to play.

Moore's wife is of Japanese descent and he is African American. He's proud of his ethnically diverse neighborhood where residents speak a variety of languages.

The residential architecture is a mix of classic box homes, Craftsman bungalows, apartments and town homes.

When Moore bought his home 10 years ago, it cost $170,000. The median price of a home in the area sold for $327,500 last month, up 13 percent from the year before, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

"I love it, it's central. You can get anywhere you have to in the city," Moore said.

Moore's neighbor, Todd Lefkowicz, said he loves how friendly everyone is. When he moved to Beacon Hill four years ago, he was busy digging in his front yard when Moore approached him and asked if he needed any help.

"He showed up a half-hour later with a shovel and we were digging up dirt together," Lefkowicz recalls.

"You hear about the 'Seattle chill' where people aren't so friendly — I really don't feel it here."

Population: 34,903 (2005 est.). By ethnicity: 54 percent Asian American, 19 percent white, 18 percent African American and 9 percent Hispanic.

Housing: Of 12,244 total housing units, 6 53 percent are owner-occupied, 41 percent are renter-occupied and 6 percent are vacant.

Nearby medical facilities: Harborview Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center, Group Health Central Hospital.

Public facilities: Jefferson Community Center, 3801 Beacon Ave. S., a central gathering place with facility rentals, playfields; pottery and print-making studio, basketball court, lighted tennis courts, children's play area.

Jefferson Park Golf Course, owned and maintained by the city of Seattle, operated under contract with Premier Golf. Dr. Jos Rizal Park, 1008 12th Ave. S. It has a view of downtown and Elliott Bay. The park has a dog off-leash area and picnic areas.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf