If you’ve ever been to, or played a show at, The Josephine, the charming run-down performance space in north Ballard, you know its magic. About three years ago, I played a few shows there myself as a bass player in a four-piece, including a benefit that raised over $1,000 for a friend of a friend who needed brain surgery.
As of Tuesday at 10 a.m. though, The Josephine has stopped hosting music shows.
The space was run by a handful of tenants who lived onsite and volunteered their time to work live sound, the door and clean up. Now it has shut its doors. Why?
“Because someone complained that we were not following codes or ordinances in regards to usage,” explained Malaki Stahl, a leaseholder on the space. He, along with his wife Olivia, who both have day jobs, maintained the Josephine’s calendar and shared booking duties. “The city sent inspectors, we complied with their initial statements of violation, but they also spoke to the owner, so he told us we had to cease.”
The closing comes as a blow to local musicians of all ages. Stahl said the morale around The Josephine is low. “The rent of the space is high,” he said, “and we generated an offset with the small amount of money we kept from shows — usually the bands walked with 75 percent. Now we will have higher rent, and the space will no longer be a community hub of sorts.”
The space at 608 NW 65th St., constructed about 100 years ago, has been serving as a music venue for decades. In the 1920’s it served as a movie theater – known as both The Olympic Theatre and the Woodland Theater — and it was rumored to be home and venue to The Sun City Girls, a well known American experimental rock band.
“The main reason I opted to rent there,” said Stahl, “was the history.”
The Josephine, it might be noted, was not the most pristinely kept place. Solo cups and beer cans often piled up in the corners. But it was energetically warm; a welcoming place for an all-ages show and a home to up-and-coming bands without many other options. Ultimately, its grey area status and alleged lack of adherence to city codes did it in. There is worry among other Seattle musicians that its closing could affect other venues on the fringes — setting a precedent for closing these resident-worked performance houses.
“We won’t reopen,” said Stahl, “not in the same space at least. We are not evicted, yet, and so for now we will be doing benefit shows in other locations to help us eke out rent for the next couple months, and we are seriously considering becoming a non-profit and trying to go above ground. The danger there is apparent though from the huge lack of all-ages spaces in the city. It has always been a huge problem to keep one from being bullied closed by the city even when they were legit, so we'll see.”
The Josephine will certainly be missed by musicians of all ages — and by Stahl, himself. “It was an important place to a lot of people," he said, "now and historically.”
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