Documenting the Central District’s Legacy—Before It’s Gone

The Shelf Life project captures life in the rapidly gentrifying CD.

It’s no secret that gentrification has encroached on the Central District (CD), once home to much of Seattle’s African-American population. The Jackson Street Red Apple grocery—a neighborhood hub—is the latest to fall by the wayside. With demolition of the store scheduled for 2018, local artists Jill Freidberg, Domonique Meeks, Mayowa Aina, Henry Luke, Carina Del Rosario, Inye Wokoma and Luzviminda Carpenter are racing against time to document the CD’s culture and highlight its humanity with their project, Shelf Life (Central District, 2301 S Jackson St., Suite 201; 206.866.6488;

Locals are invited to stop at Shelf Life headquarters, housed in a defunct sandwich shop next to the Red Apple store, to record their stories from the neighborhood, past and present. Portraits are taken of contributors (usually at Shelf Life headquarters), and their chronicles are then presented as short clips on the project’s website and various social media outlets.

“This is about telling stories about community,” says documentarian and oral historian Freidberg of the effort, primarily driven by volunteers and funded via grants and donations. “It’s about honoring the challenges and the legacy of the Central District,” adds Luke, a community organizer who also illustrates many of the participants’ portraits. 

The stories tell of the loneliness that can accompany the loss of a neighborhood, as Vicky Garner discusses in her clip, and include memories, such as those shared by Cecil and Phyllis Beatty, who speak of the Black Panthers building homes and feeding hungry children. They document both fond memories of the past and fears about the future.

As the neighborhood changes, Shelf Life stories carry the hope of tying the community together, long after buildings disappear.

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