It is Thursday afternoon in Pioneer Square and an odd entourage is gathered in a gutted, thrashed room on the third floor of the deeply-storied J & M Hotel, above the cafe and cardroom of the same name.
Paul Cheoketen Wagner, a musician and a member of the Salish tribe, kneels on the floor and sprinkles wild celery root into a pan heating on a portable gas burner.
Sitting on the dusty hardwood floor are Kurt Fisher and his business partner Brittany Shulman, a real estate and developing duo that bought the J & M from Jack Buttnick in November 2014 through their company Seneca Ventures.
Teresa, a woman whom Fisher met while wandering Seattle and the one who extended Fisher’s invitation to Cheoketen Wagner, slowly beats a drum as smoke begins to rise off the celery root.
A kid — I later learn his name is Zach, and that he is Shulman’s assistant — dressed head-to-toe in H&M gear watches wide-eyed as Cheoketen Wagner takes the drum from Teresa and starts a beautiful, rhythmic chant while he circles the room, beating the drum with increasing force.
The red light of Fisher’s GoPro blinks on the window sill. A photographer clicks away.
Cheoketen Wagner winds through the small, filthy rooms for over an hour, stopping at the back of the building to relight the celery root.
“There’s not a lot happening over here. It’s the heaviest over there,” he says, motioning to the southeast corner of the building, “I think we are going to have to speak directly to them. They are lost souls. Sometimes you have to speak straight to them. They get so lost they won’t leave.”
A cornerstone in Pioneer Square since 1889, the three-story brick building was built on the corner of First Avenue South and South Washington Street following the Great Seattle Fire, which gutted fledgling Seattle’s core.
Fisher is intensely aware of the vast history of the building he and Shulman recently acquired for $3.2 million dollars.
“Other than the Space Needle and Smith Tower, you’d be hard pressed to find a more historically significant building in Seattle. Maybe Merchant’s Cafe,” says Fisher, a youthful 49-year-old in a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, a suede coat, Levi’s and black motorcycle boots.