CITY LIFE down Fawcett

Published on May 6th, 2014 | by Jeff Libby


On Fawcett

Past Firehouse No. 1. Past the roughs in McCormick Park, shouting above the fountain’s rush. Past a marooned mid-century bunker of a building, poker-faced without neighbors, brick end walls like blinders, like sound attenuating devices.

Three beats along Fawcett Avenue, penciled in. Here. Here and gone.

If a city is a cloud of streets, can a single street be navigated on its own, pavement as finite as a penciled line, like walking a foot-wide parapet and observing only parapet and sky? Without the air, the sounds and smells, the stolen sideways views, intersecting streets, the errands undone, good intentions, imagined injustices, all of it washing across the 2-D yellow lines as easily as an eraser over abstraction, curb crunched, roiled overgrown flattened grass. Fawcett interruptus.

How do you even begin, without first getting here from somewhere else? The way, for instance, Fawcett emerges from the side of Tacoma Avenue South at South Fourth Street. The street grid opens and bends. It bends with the headland bending to the Sound.


between houses (photo by Jeff Libby)

If an urban street is a linear expression of a cloud-shaped dream, partial then by definition, can it suggest anything less than everything it is not? And if it suggests the whole, even if the suggestion is about dissonance between part and whole, then the street is inseparable from its network.

A Route 66, an Alien Highway, a Pacific Coast Highway – these are separate streets, vast byways that amount to routes between. They are about transference, about disembodiedness and hunger – scenic, rootless landscape. But in a city, in a place of people, a street is both between and of, both route and place. A lone foursquare house on Fawcett, in the very strangeness of its isolation, suggests the dream every house contains, of a neighboring house. The urban street, by definition, dreams of density, of houses packed close, of block parties and pedestrians.

There are urban streets more something in quality than Fawcett. There are leafier streets. Streets more packed with well-tended homes, more dematerialized by corporate mirrored glass. Streets that wind and hide along ravine tops. Streets that dive abruptly down a hill to the sea. But in their very satisfactory completeness, these streets tend to nourish only the endemic thing that they contain. Fawcett, in its weird, hallucinogenic unfinishedness, at least along its most urban stretch – traveling approximately north-south from Wright Park conservatory to Dome – is that odd linear runway of Point A to Point B that in its very unsatisfactory actual, manages to expose desire and intent beyond its own boundaries.

Near the north end of Fawcett, you walk to the jingle of door bells into a bike shop. You find a bicycle for sale that is brand new, has existed for a year maybe less, and is already the last one. The one with the big fat tires, for exploring the moon. On the other end, after traveling roughly 1.7 miles south, through micro-extended blips of residential domesticity and equal parts obliterated landscape of hell – known on maps as Court E – you come to a chainlink fence topped by razor wire, with a faded lettered sign, “NO CAMERAS OR VIDEOS.” Coils of rope and floats and weights are piled in the asphalt lot – things that net fish that have swum forever and might know better.


foursquare alone (photo by Jeff Libby)

In between, along the way, a Buddhist temple in an old Spanish tile church. An art gallery in a brick house, with a back stoop barely big enough for the two canvas backed chairs looking over downtown and tide flat. A coffee micro roaster, too, across from a marine repair shop, with a gorgeous wood and steel bar that never opens, is just a spot for a child to be occupied while the parents work, a guitar in the window unplayed.

Not that a street should delaminate into a succession of slim vignettes, be restacked as nothing more than pictorial inventory. But it is a street after all. All of it amounting in the end – theoretical cloud networks or not – to a gravity-bound allocation of manufactured resources. You come for a moon bicycle. You come bearing fish. It is tactile in the end, if it draws traffic. One curb delineating the west uphill side, the other the east downhill side. Hilltop above, industry below. Decades, and then another, past and passed by. Vehicles delivering and departing. People musing, deciding.

It is difficult enough, even when you want something, just to remember the way, let alone the exact location and shape of the destination. What was the name? How was it spelled? For instance, with the suave condos at Jefferson – parked like a three-story ship prow at Fawcett’s southeast corner, across from Franco Fish – eight one-bedroom units built during the ‘aughts boom. They are each meant to project something like a modern villa in urban mini, to be a lofty home port for a single gritty city kid. An artist’s name has been appropriated for each. “The Picasso,” “The Matisse” and so forth, looped in black metal cursive above luminous garage doors. And at the south tip, “The O’Keefe.” Shorted one “f.” Nothing more than a spelling error. Just a single missing “f.” But still not caught, not one diligent fact-checking fan among all the reviewing authorities stamping drawing sets through the building process. As though Georgia O’Keeffe, what with all the excitement, and being a woman for that matter, could only be partially remembered. Abbreviated spellings for abbreviated living. Wanting to leave sooner, wanting to return sooner. Piloting down the dark street. Lock the door, retreat to clouds.


boat traffic (photo by Jeff Libby)

And the ruins, lopped low, down to the poured concrete stairs that lead nowhere, into the fields of Court E. Men sleep in their vehicles through the afternoon, parked below the blowing grass. They stir at the sound of footsteps, then are still again. Above them, above the grasses, above Fawcett and fronting another street, a gargantuan apartment block looms down, barely touches the ground, with a cold metal sculpture outside, leaned against sky.

At the intersection with 15th, by the drive-in laundry, you return again past the blip of single-family houses. Seven of them, on the downhill side, warm with the repetition of roof pitch and tidy porch. Cozy enough for the end house to send a tendril of bent-branch fence fingering north along the sidewalk into more void, and trees. A boy there shoots hoops in the driveway, into a basket on wheels.

Fawcett is prospect. Mostly dream still, only enough refuge to underscore its tenuousness. Things hold on here with a dream shaped elsewhere. The seven huddled houses. A lone foursquare. The shops. The park of arguments. Moments just shy of momentum. While down below, a few blocks closer to the sound, the university is nearly booming. Its buildings keep going up, but haven’t yet climbed high enough, not to this lateral stretch of old hill above inland sea. From here it is still so easy to see elsewhere, to see anywhere but here, the smokestacks a-fumphin’ all day long, gauzy boom of another tanker coming in.


below Fawcett (photo by Jeff Libby)

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About the Author

Jeff Libby is an architectural designer and furniture maker. He hunts forests in the hides of old wood and enjoys sounding out the tectonic daydreams of bricks. Currently he is at work on his first batch of switchel for the season.

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  1. Pingback: Letter from T-town | around back, at birdloft

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