2022 Find of the Month Archive

In-city living

bus stop near Westlake, 1975

As part of an effort to spur downtown residential development in the 1970s, Mayor Wes Uhlman created an In-City Living Task Force in conjunction with the Downtown Seattle Development Association. The group was charged with recommending zoning changes that would encourage development of housing in and near the central business district, as well as proposing other actions the City could take on this front.

The mayor had a vision for what downtown Seattle could look like:

The downtown streets of the city I visualize will teem with people around the clock – shoppers, workers, sightseers, and those who stroll for recreation and enjoyment. This throbbing sidewalk activity will discourage street crime and stimulate downtown business activity, in contrast with current trends. Various forms of retail trade, entertainment, and public facilities will fuse into a compact community with flavor and excitement unique to it – the kind of atmosphere which is impossible to find in the sterile suburban shopping center. People here will walk from where they live to the Public Market, the waterfront park, the Seattle Center, and a whole variety of new downtown attractions. And with this development of a central pedestrian community will come a reduction in automobile traffic and its accompanying problems. Ultimately, I see the downtown area blossoming into a gigantic trafficless mall, expanding from the Seattle Center to Pioneer Square and served by free, silent, non-polluting public transportation.

The 1972 groundbreaking of the 26-story Royal Crest Condominiums at Third and Lenora was seen as the first tangible evidence of the task force’s success in creating downtown housing. (Notes for Mayor Uhlman about the ceremony’s schedule included, after introductions and other remarks, “Mayor get in bulldozer and helps drive over or through something.”) The task force continued at least until 1977 and promoted other ideas including a monorail station in the Denny Regrade, extension northward of the “Magic Carpet” transit free-ride area, and a boulevard along Third Avenue.

Official city flower

Seattle Times cartoon

In 1946, momentum was building to name the chrysanthemum as Seattle's official city flower. About 30 local flower and garden clubs had banded together to request the designation and the Board of Park Commissioners favored the move. After discussion at a Harbors and Public Grounds Committee meeting on August 13, Councilmember Mildred Powell asked for an ordinance to be prepared.

However, at some point in the process, it was discovered that the dahlia had already been adopted as the city flower in 1913. The issue was referred back to the committee for further study, with Powell wishing to get further input from the public. The Seattle Times ran a weekslong poll to gauge the public's preferences.

At this point the heartfelt lobbying really kicked in. Proponents of the chrysanthemum, the dahlia, and the rose all wrote to City Council and also to the Times, extolling the virtues of their choice, sometimes at great length. The Times printed frequent updates to their polling results, with the mum taking the early lead, later overtaken by the rose.

Meanwhile, the Tacoma & District Chrysanthemum Society reported that one of their recent meetings had featured "a lengthy discussion" about Seattle's potential designation of that flower. They reminded the council that Tacoma had adopted the chrysanthemum in 1934 (as prominently noted on the society's letterhead) and thought it "did not seem practical" for two neighboring cities to have the same official flower. The letter concluded, "We are of the opinion that a more friendly competition between the flower lovers of our two cities would be maintained if Seattle would forgo the adoption of the Chrysanthemum."

The Times poll closed on October 1, and the paper reported that Councilmember Powell asked for the latest figures before bringing the issue to a vote in the committee. In the end, the Council punted, adopting the official slogan "City of Flowers" rather than choosing a specific species. However, the dahlia ordinance was not repealed, so it quietly remained the city flower despite coming in last in the Times poll.

Pest house

A 1907 petition from Beacon Hill residents reads:

We, your petitioners, property owners, and residents of the 12th ward do respectfully call your attention to the fact that the city of Seattle is maintaining a pest house being used for smallpox’s purposes within said ward located on Cedar River pipe line right-away [sic].

We your petitioners do respectfully maintain that said pest house is injurious to property values, and dangerous to health in said ward, and has for all the years last past stopped the growth of said city of Seattle Southward, and will continue so to do if not removed, now therefor we your petitioners do respectfully petition your Honorable body to at the earliest possible moment have said pest house removed from said ward.

Numerous articles in the Seattle Times over time reiterated residents’ objections - mainly economic - to the location in their neighborhood of the city's hospital for contagious diseases. They believed the presence of the pest house was “keeping many persons who would otherwise be anxious to build homes there from doing so.” Residents did not recommend moving the hospital to another location within city limits “where it might soon become just as objectionable,” but suggested the privately owned Blake Island as a possible solution.

Fast forward to November 1914, when a multi-part Seattle Times headline declared:

TORCH APPLIED TO OLD HOSPITAL
Between 300 and 400 Residents of Beacon Hill Join Hands and Circle About Structure as It Burns
Jefferson Park Now Free of Ancient Shack

The article reiterated how the Beacon Hill Improvement Club had been advocating for years for the pest house to be moved to another location. The new hospital at Firland had finally opened the week before, and the city told the club that “a public burning, in which the people who have been so persistent in their efforts to rid the community of the establishment might have the pleasure of applying the torch” was OK by them. The removal of the pest house cleared the way for the opening of the golf course at Jefferson Park.

Music at the market

Pike Place Market

This 1925 petition’s first line recently caught our eye:

We the undersigned tenants of the Public Markets request that the Wonderphones be put back in their former locations.

…which of course led us to want to know what a Wonderphone was. It turned out to be a type of microphone (which incidentally was used in KJR’s first foray into radio) but also a type of amplification/loudspeaker, which seems to be what was being referred to in the petition. The Wonderphones had apparently been used to amplify musicians in the market. The text continued:

A recent City Ordinance known as the Hawkers ordinance has been employed in stopping our music.

This likely refers to Ordinance 45452, which regulated "peddling and hawking" and prohibited the sale of anything but newspapers, magazines, bread, milk, and ice downtown between Denny and Dearborn. It seems that buskers were also covered by the ordinance as they might solicit funds.

The 76 petitioners argued for the return of music to the market:

We find it has hurt our business to such an extent that it will not be long before a good many of us merchants are out of business.

We have never received any complaints, as to its being a nuisance from the public or adjoining merchants.

Each and every one of us enjoyed the music.

The issue of music at the market came to the fore again in the 1970s. Street musicians were outlawed until a 1974 ordinance created a path for licensing and regulating them. A meeting of the Public Safety and Health Committee the next year specifically addressed musicians at Pike Place Market, and not everyone was as enthusiastic about them as the 1925 petitioners had been. One market vendor complained that "somebody mashing guitar, screaming at the top of his voice" hurt his business and asked for more regulations.

Rental housing

Eloraine Apartments

Clerk File 75125 from 1919 includes correspondence and data relating to a rental housing crisis in Seattle. The Tenants Protective Association wrote to the mayor urging him to support an ordinance regulating the rental market, citing significant and rapid rent increases and growing numbers of eviction notices. The file includes various notices of raised rents, data relating to increases in specific buildings, and correspondence from renters asking for help (one of which asked for "relief from the Rent Hogs").

A list of Quincy Apartments tenants shows significant rises from summer to November 1st; for example, from $35 to $60 for one tenant, and from $15 to $32.50 for another. Similar lists were included for a number of other buildings, with information compiled by the Tenants Protective Association.

There were also reports of all tenants being given notice to vacate the premises as new lease holders took over, and accounts of ownership changing hands multiple times within a year or two. A widow reported that the ceiling in her bathroom had fallen off six months prior due to a leak upstairs and had never been fixed.

At this time, leases on apartment buildings were apparently bought separately from the property itself, with leaseholders being responsible for maintenance and also for setting and collecting rents. This period saw a great deal of speculation in those leases with constant turnover of ownership. Each time the leases were sold for a higher price, the new owner charged higher rents to cover the cost of their purchase. One lease was reported as being purchased for $5500, with $3000 going to the previous owner and $2500 to the real estate firm that negotiated the deal.

The clerk file also includes financial statements from owners showing their income and expenses, including increases in their costs for coal and fuel oil, taxes, janitor salaries, and so on. Commenting on these accounts, the King County Fair Price Committee noted that "the reports show that in the most instances the present manager is not making a large profit, the high rental is due to the turn over of the lease – some houses have had the leases sold several times within a few months. It is a vicious practice which should be stopped by law."

Many correspondents blamed Japanese lease holders for the high prices. One tenant wrote, "The Japs are taking full advantage of the situation and the dividends will go to Japan...to increase the propaganda in that country for investment in the Pacific Coast States which Japan hopes and undoubtedly will control economically." Another tenant warned that "raising rents to such exorbitant figures is creating an unrest," and that "[i]f this Bolsheviki and I.W.W. tendency is to be stamped out in Seattle and the country at large," speculation must be curbed and rent stabilized.

Curfew in Ballard

Ballard City Hall

In a letter dated February 4, 1896, Ballard mayor George G. Startup explained his reasons for vetoing an ordinance recently passed by the Ballard City Council. Referred to as the Curfew Ordinance, the measure made it a misdemeanor for boys and girls under sixteen years old "to be on the streets, alleys, or public grounds of the City of Ballard" after 9 pm during the months of April through August, and after 8 pm the rest of the year. Exceptions were made if they were with a parent or guardian, or had written permission. Children found in violation could be fined up to five dollars or jailed for up to two days. The town marshal was to ring the fire bell each night to signal the start of curfew.

Startup’s list of objections included:

First, it is my opinion that the enaction of this ordinance will greatly injure the hitherto good name of our fair city. I submit that such an ordinance carried out and published to the world will convey the impression that we have in our young people of both sexes a great many incorrigibles and candidates for the reform school and that the authorities are utterly unable to cope with them without practically declaring martial law, which is a blotch on the escutcheon of any community even in the case of an emergency.

Second: I submit that we have less rowdyism here than will be found on an average when you consider the inefficiency of our police department which consists of only two men.

Third: I further submit that no good can come of a measure that authorizes the imprisonment of children under 16 years of age except they be actually guilty of some crime. I consider such a course to be demoralizing in the extreme for instance throw a half dozen boys & girls in to our common jail and imagine the result. They are then fairly launched on the highway to desperation and lawlessness. Such treatment of the young in my opinion tends to break down their manhood and womanhood and leads them on to recked [sic] and desperate lives.

Startup asserted that the majority of their constituents were not in favor of the law. Despite his objections, his veto was overridden by the council.

Police chief search

Richard R Foster

As Seattle looked for a new Chief of Police in 1946, Mayor William F. Devin recommended Richard Foster for the position in part because of his high scores on the examination. Devin saw the appointment as a move toward professionalizing the police force and creating a merit-based system that would help to eliminate cronyism and other problems in the department.

However, the City Council did not confirm Foster's appointment, with their stated opposition based around the fact that he was not from Seattle. Many citizens agreed with the council, writing letters and signing petitions promoting the view that the job should go to a Seattleite.

One resident, Nellie Casey Pappas, wrote a poem to express her opposition to the appointment:

Seattle! Just remember,
You want the world to know
About your wonderful scenery,
And everything you grow.

But it certainly seems funny;
When you want a Chief and pay him taxpayers' money
You try and send it to another City,--
And our men [patrolling] streets.
Oh! what a pity.

Of course we need a good Chief--
And businesslike too;
Surely Seattle has a man
To do this work for you.

Kansas City may be our relation,
But we have boys from our own plantation;
And why not keep our money home,
So our dear boys won't have to roam.

So Councilmen--take this one under advice;
We know Seattle will be glad--
Let us give our own men all the work we have.

At the bottom of the page after the typed poem, Pappas included this handwritten addendum: "If you can't find a man in Seattle that can do a good job. Let us have a Seattle Woman."

After the Foster appointment failed, Mayor Devin proposed SPD Sergeant George Eastman for the job and he was confirmed. Eastman served as chief until 1952.

Irish independence

Times ad for de Valera visit

In the summer of 1919, City Council discussed a resolution inviting Irish independence leader Eamon de Valera to Seattle. The resolution began:

Whereas, the people of Ireland, having for centuries suffered the long catalogue of wrongs and oppressions set out in the American Declaration of Independence, having, like the American Colonists, petitioned in vain for the redress of these wrongs, and having, like these Colonists, finally and reluctantly come to the conclusion that nothing but final separation from England could secure to them the natural rights of man, and therefore proclaimed Ireland to be a free and independent Republic and organized a government with Eamonn De Valera, a native of the United States, as the President of the Irish Republic...

After escaping from jail in England, where he had been held for his pro-independence activities, de Valera came to America to raise funds and rally support for Irish nationhood. The council's resolution ended with a determination to request that he visit Seattle as part of this tour "to address its people upon the condition of affairs in Ireland."

Apparently the language inviting him as the leader of Ireland was a sticking point, so another version was drafted without that designation. This did not go over well with some members of the council and Seattle's Irish community; the invitation as a private citizen instead of a president was "practically an insult to Mr. de Valera," as one man was quoted saying in the Seattle Times. The disagreement over language ending up causing the resolution to fail.

However, local citizens and groups such as Irish societies and the Central Labor Council continued to urge de Valera to visit, and he eventually did come to Seattle and Tacoma in November 1919. A letter to the editor in the Seattle P-I argued against the event:

Suppose the government of a large English city should invite a rebel and an outlaw to be its guest of honor and address the citizens as the pretended "president of the Republic of Alabama," in behalf of secession? As Americans would we regard this as anything less than an intolerable insult?

Naysayers aside, the P-I reported that de Valera was greeted by cheering crowds and a parade down Second Avenue.

Communes

Hoping to use zoning laws to regulate communes that were starting to appear in Seattle, some homeowners in 1971 petitioned the city to change the definition of "family" in the municipal code. A staff memo about the potential amendment noted that "undoubtedly, some of the objection is based on grounds of propriety, morality, deviation from traditional standards of building and grounds maintenance, loud music and noise, nighttime activity, and the like." The memo helpfully included a definition:

The typical commune consists of a loosely organized group of people living together in one dwelling unit and sharing in the costs and labor involved. Members are usually young and of both sexes. Any relationship by blood or marriage among them is only incidental. Membership in the group may change readily and often. The housing is usually rented. Maintenance of the building and grounds is often poor by traditional standards.

A proposed code change limited the number of non-related people in a household to five. At a Planning Commission public hearing, several citizens spoke in favor, hoping that requiring most occupants to be related by blood or marriage would reduce the number of rooming houses and communes. The hearing minutes report one citizen testifying that "the character of single family areas should not be destroyed by people moving in and out and flaunting the rules." A representative from the Central Seattle Community Council spoke in opposition, saying the amendment attacked a lifestyle and reduced individual rights. City department representatives were concerned about enforcement, particularly about having to ask to see marriage certificates.

Planning Director John Spaeth asked staffer Jim Berkey to investigate "some of the rooming and boarding houses that offer that 'new style of living'" and report back. Berkey checked out several houses in the University Park area that were reported by a neighbor to be communes and wrote up his findings. Details he noted from the houses included "moderately loud 'rock' music," windows covered in butcher paper, overgrown plantings, and a motorcycle. At one residence he noted that "a long-haired youth came out of the house and worked on a disabled car parked in the street." As a whole, he noted.

There is very little to distinguish the appearance of the communes from the buildings occupied by traditional families. The chief thing I noticed is that lawns were not recently mowed or weeds pulled. Perhaps concern about keeping up appearances according to "establishment" standards is anathema to typical commune residents. However, I also observed other properties in the area, apparently not communes, which had equally unkempt yards.

In the end, the proposed changes to the definition of "family" were dropped, at least in part because it would have unintended consequences for group homes for disabled children and other small-scale care facilities.

Rowdyism

The Seattle Sunday Times of December 11, 1942, ran on its front page an article titled, "Pupils lose school bus because of rowdyism." Roosevelt High School students from Laurelhurst had been behaving badly enough to warrant a warning two weeks prior that they risked losing bus service if their conduct did not improve. The paper reported that boys "have been pelting bus drivers with missiles, on occasion have lighted ‘stink bombs’ made of photographic films which generate poisonous chlorine gas, and their behavior generally is reported to be disgraceful."

Roosevelt’s principal attributed most of the trouble to a "hazing spirit" among sophomores who felt they "must show their authority" to new freshmen. (He said most older boys came home later due to sports and activities so were not on the bus.) With busses urgently needed for transportation of workers in war industries, the principal said the boys should recognize the privilege of having a bus provided for them.

A citizen named Donald Haas (who was also a regional vice president of the National Apartment Owners Association) sent the news clipping to City Council along with a letter decrying the "appalling rowdyism" and declaring it "a shock to the citizens of our fair city." He continued,

However, for such rowdyism amongst juveniles there is always a definite cause and a definite cure. When youth becomes a problem to the community and juvenile delinquency rears its ugly head the cause is always SUB-STANDARD HOUSING! The cure would of course be obvious, nothing less than a SLUM CLEARANCE PROJECT for Laurelhurst.

Haas closed his letter by asking Council to act so that "the slums of Laurelhurst may be cleared away and these poor unfortunates cured so that they will grow into honorable citizens!"