Northgate Mall / by Akira Ohiso

Today I work in Northgate across from the mall.  I arrive early so decide to walk around the mall before work.  Most of the businesses are closed before 10am except the Starbucks in the food court.  Seniors walk back and forth along the length of the mall in small groups.  Seattle Parks & Recreation organizes walking program for seniors.

I walk from the food court to California Pizza Kitchen which is at the north end of the mall. Vending machines, massage chairs and kiosks line the middle of the long dimly-lit corridor.  A big white chair with giant eggs around it awaits the arrival of the Easter Bunny.  A flat screen hangs desperately from the ceiling to catch the eyes of passerby with advertisements, but it doesn’t seem to be working as many storefronts are empty and dark.   This could be because big changes are coming to Northgate.  


On a daily basis, I witness the rapid progress of the light rail project as it snakes up to Everett knocking down houses in its path.  When completed the rail service will connect Seattle-bound commuters to employment while also expanding the dimensions of the metro area.  The I-5 traffic is predicted to decrease, but Americans like the luxury of their cars of convenience and will guzzle gas if the commuter experience is an inconvenience.

Everett, with a local community college, could become a new target of gentrification. 

I walk around the outside of the mall. When you visit the mall in a car you don’t notice sidewalks along the perimeter, the Macy’s drop-off canopy and entrances to department stores that are locked for security purposes.  These spaces are now underused as shoppers are funneled through the electric doors of the mall entrances.


Around one corner, I notice a burglar alarm cover in an Art Deco style that looks like it is from the original construction of the mall which opened in 1950. It was one of the first malls in the United States and has gone through several renovations and expansions in subsequent decades.  The National Bank of Commerce was at this location.  Today, it’s a Bank of America.


The vacuous parking lot is empty most of the time except around the holidays or during big sale weekends.  Otherwise, the sprawl is antiquated as traffic is online these days.  On a side note,  the Green River Killer lured Tracy Ann Winston from the Northgate Mall in September of 1983.  In 2017, Anthony Bourdain did a episode of Parts Unknown in Seattle, highlighting the curious number of serial killers hailing from Washington State.  

In addition to Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, other famous Washingtonian killers include Ted Bundy, John Allen Muhammed, the Beltway Killer, and Robert Yates Jr.   On Bourdain’s Seattle episode, he posits that the year-round cover from evergreen trees helps hide bodies for a long time allowing decomposition to occur.  An anecdotal Quora entry titled “Why Are So Many Serial Killers from Washington State,” points out the historical transient and fluctuating population created by economic booms and the states inability to address the demands of increasing social issues.  

As a transplant to Seattle, I do notice that police work is much different than my home state of New York. Whether it’s a Libertarian ethos or the progressive policies of city government, I often see few police cars patrolling or officers on the beat.  

The latest social issues are homelessness and opioid addiction, which are turning Seattle streets into tent cities and encampments.  These two issues are often lumped together, but, in my opinion, mutually exclusive.  While some are experiencing homelessness and addiction, many are not addicted and trying to obtain affordable housing in a city that is still adjusting to the consequences of astronomical economic growth and rising housing prices.  

We often see the human suffering of addiction and homelessness and the desperation that plays out via crime and vagrancy.  It’s hard to bear witness to, but often unseen injustices of power and privilege are ignored, normalized and systemized.

Two weeks ago, a young married white male with a job, a house and no history of criminal activity drank too much, played video games then walked outside and shot and killed a woman in her car.  Next, he shot a bus driver who managed to drive his passengers to safety.  He got in the woman’s car and crashed head-on into a senior citizen killing him as well.  Someone I know was behind the bus when the shooting happened. She witnessed the man acting like he was in a video game.

The public reaction afterwards was minimal in comparison to the outrage of a person sleeping under an awning.  In my opinion, the angry white man is much more dangerous.


As I walk along the east side of the mall, I notice that some of the outlying lots are fenced off with land use signs and pictures of large apartment complexes.  The mall is again planning for major renovations as the light rail nears completion.  The new Seattle NHL team is planning to build a practice arena and Simon Properties, the owner of the site, envisions more retail, hotels and housing.  

I stop to take pictures of skybridges connecting the mall to a parking garage.  A corpulent man in a security car with a yellow flashing light slowly drives by, eyeing me suspiciously.  I stand my ground and make eye contact.  He drives off.  For most of my life, I have accepted  and internalized these interactions without much thought.   It’s just how things are.  Today, with self-awareness and a better sense of my identity, the experience is painful and infuriating.  Still, if I was brown or black I might be in jail on trumped up charges or dead, my  iphone mistaken for a gun.  Privilege.