2009 Find of the Month Archive
- West Seattle secession
- Complaint of firemen's wives
- 1960 rapid transit plan
- "Cubic air" ordinance
- Segregated military recreation center
- "Graftitis" in the City Council
- Seattle's first stoplight
- Labor relations in early Georgetown
- Old Woodenface pitching contest
- City Light customer attitudes
- World's Fair housing crunch
- Fire engine pollution
In 1960, the Seattle Transit System published a report exploring public transportation options as part of the Central Business District Comprehensive Plan process. The document looked at how high-speed rail might fit in with Interstate 5, then still in the planning phase.
The authors stated that rapid transit "can provide a practical means for moving people in lieu of providing all the highway lanes that are and may be desired." Pointing out that the proposed freeway route "takes for all time the most direct and the lowest cost right-of-way," they argued that rail should be designed into the freeway plans, as developing another route and right-of-way would be "ill-advised and nonsensical."
The report continues with a detailed outline of a potential rapid transit system to be established in the median of the freeway, stretching from Tacoma to Everett. Trains would operate at speeds up to 70 miles per hour, with a capacity of 40,000 passengers per hour on each track. Two downtown stations were envisioned - one at Westlake and Olive and the other at Fourth and Jackson - as well as a maintenance shop on Holgate.
The document includes detailed plans for the downtown stations, maps outlining the proposed route, and charts showing travel times and capacities, as well as analysis of legislation needed to fund and administer the system. Despite all the planning, the proposal ended up becoming another of the area's unbuilt rail projects.
In late 1904, Presbyterian minister and civic reformer Mark Matthews gave a lecture in which he claimed that certain City Council members exhibited symptoms of "graftitis" (i.e., corruption). The Council discussed his accusations (sadly, before the days of taped meetings), and appointed a three-member subcommittee to visit him and ask for specifics. (Bonus fact: the resolution establishing the committee was signed by Comptroller John Riplinger, who was later prosecuted for embezzling city funds.) Matthews would not provide details at that time, but did offer to appear before the Council and give his evidence, "provided he be allowed to deliver his address uninterrupted by members of the Council."
He was invited to do so, and his speech is preserved as a Clerk File. He stated up front that he believed at least four Councilmembers were "immune" from graftitis, but then went on to enumerate 19 different "symptoms" of the disease, including:
Matthews wrapped up his address by stating he would not discuss the matter further except before a grand jury, if one were to be called. In spite of the charges, Council President Hiram Gill was elected mayor in 1910, and apparently continued many of these corrupt practices until public outrage finally grew to a critical mass. Reverend Matthews was instrumental in a successful recall campaign that removed Gill from office in 1911.
In 1924, the city installed its first traffic light on a trial basis. A memo from the Traffic Subcommittee of the Board of Public Works described the pilot project and made the case for installing lights on a permanent basis.
Almost a full page is devoted to explaining how the growing number of automobiles was beginning to create traffic tie-ups, especially given the "human weakness of 'beating the other fellow to it.'" At that time, traffic was controlled by police officers' whistles and arm gestures, and "semaphore signals." These consisted of "four semaphore arms bearing the words 'Go' and 'Stop.' The officer rotates this signal to indicate the direction traffic shall flow."
Several reasons were given for the desirability of an "Automatic Manual Control Electric Signal," including greater visibility of signals and increased freedom of movement for the officer on duty. A 30-day test of an automatic signal was done at 4th and Jackson, one of the three busiest intersections in the city. Although the signal allowed for both automatic and manual control, the officer did not manually change the signal, determining that the automatic timing worked better.
The committee was pleased with the results of the test, reporting that traffic now cleared by 5:45 pm instead of 6:15 or later, and that the number of collisions at the intersection had dropped significantly. Another plus was that an officer was free to follow any vehicle violating a traffic law to issue a ticket, as the signal would continue to operate without him. (This was compared to the semaphore system where "traffic runs wild" as soon as the officer leaves the corner.) The report stated that local businesses were so pleased with the signal's operation in the afternoon rush hour that they requested it be used in the morning as well, and thus "the morning patrolman has been supplied with a key to the signal and turns it on at 7:00."
Given these results, the committee recommended purchase of the signal at a cost of $685.
From 1921 until at least 1968, the Seattle Times ran a pitching contest in conjunction with the Parks Department. At playfields all over the city, kids would line up to try their hand at throwing baseballs toward a wooden frame called "Old Woodenface" or "Old Woody." Old Woody served as an "automatic umpire" - any balls that went through the hole were considered strikes. Thousands of contestants tried their hand each year.
The Times gave the contests extensive coverage, sending a reporter and photographer not only to the finals but also to the dozens of preliminary rounds. One article predicted that "the Christy Mathewsons, the Walter Johnsons and the Grover Cleveland Alexanders of the future will all register from Seattle and will owe their start to fame to Old Woodenface." (Indeed, the 1931 winner went on to play professional baseball, and Fred Hutchinson's brother won the contest in 1923.) The contest sometimes included pitching duels between local officials, and throughout the 1930s the finals took place in Sick's Stadium before a Rainiers game.
Not everyone who wanted to participate was able to, however. A newspaper article about the 1922 contest discussed the girls who wanted to have a go at Old Woody, stating that playfield superintendent Ben Evans had been asked "hundreds of times" when the girls would have a chance. Lillian Burns, an adult playfield leader, advocated for the girls, saying that they had been "practicing just as hard as the boys."
Evans was quoted as responding, "All right, all right… But first, we must decide the great big important question, 'Who is the champion boy pitcher of Seattle?'"