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Demolition, development, and documentation of Richard Hugo House

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Hugo House

Poet and students will capture history of literary center in documentary film

On the front steps of a historic, gray building in Capitol Hill, award-winning poet and UW senior lecturer Frances McCue filmed a video for a crowdfunding campaign.

“All around us in Seattle, cranes are going up, buildings are coming down,” she said. “This old building has been here since about 1906.”

Originally created to be a mortuary, the building has been home to a literary center called Richard Hugo House since 1996. The center offers readings, workshops, open mic nights, and other events for local writers.

This spring, the building will be torn down to make way for a mixed-use apartment building. A team of UW students, graduates, and filmmakers are working with McCue to produce a documentary film, “Where the House Was,” about the history of Hugo House, the writers who have visited it, and its legacy in a changing Seattle.

McCue, who co-founded Hugo House with two other Seattle writers, Linda Breneman and Andrea Lewis, described the space as an epicenter of American literature in the group’s crowdfunding video.

Luckily, the nonprofit won’t disappear with the building’s demise. The new structure will include apartments, space for Hugo House, and an outdoor cafe.

McCue said this makes the demolition a more positive experience.

“We’re actually making it a happy story,” she said. “The developers and architects are designing the new building around the small non-profit of Hugo House. They’re taking a lot of care, instead of erasing it and replacing it with something plastic. And that’s really fun to watch.”

Team Demo Hugo, the group creating the film, includes students from a variety of academic disciplines including anthropology, geography, English, art, and neuroscience. Award-winning filmmaker Ryan Adams, whose work has appeared at film festivals throughout the country, will act as the cinematographer. 

McCue, in addition to leading the project, will write the film’s narration in the form of a poem.

Capitol Hill has been changing rapidly over the past few years, and Hugo House is just one of many art spaces transforming alongside the city. Cali Kopczick, the film’s assistant producer and a recent UW graduate, said she’s witnessed a myriad of changes to Seattle’s art scene since her freshman year in 2011. 

“Things are changing really quickly in Seattle right now, and this is a chance to pick through that and to take stock of it,” she said. “This is a bit like a time capsule, but not as musty. It’s a bit more thoughtful.”

“Where the House Was,” will include personal stories of Capitol Hill residents through filmed interviews and a photo booth set up in front of the building on the day of demolition. 

Tyler DeFriece, who manages the film’s social media accounts and crowdfunding campaign, thinks the film will provide a meaningful response to a situation widely perceived as negative.

“You read about it in the newspapers, about all the change and how bad it is,” he said. “But we’re showing a thoughtful response to all this change, instead of just lamenting.”

Team Demo Hugo’s Indiegogo campaign ends Dec. 20. Contributors to the campaign can receive perks like digital downloads, stickers, T-shirts, poetry postcards, and, for those who give a little more, front row seats at the demolition.

McCue said donors have the unique opportunity to follow the past, present, and future of Hugo House.

“Capitol Hill is exploding with development,” McCue said. “It’d be nice to have a way of taking that in with some sense of curation and intelligence. It’s a way of making something happen in a neighborhood that gives you a voice about the arts, and a close-up of keeping track of just one thing, watching it go away, and seeing what that means.”

To donate or learn more about the project, check out Team Demo Hugo’s Indiegogo page here:

Reach Podcast Editor Katie Anastas  at Twitter: @KatieAnastas

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