2014 Find of the Month Archive
- Grand Opera House fire
- Preventing watershed pollution
- Complaint about hippies
- Industrial School of Seattle
- Chicken complaint
- Stranded Filipinos
- Employment agencies
- Beer and baseball
- "Cutlet Curfew"
- Unsanitary Board of Health headquarters
- Children's Orthopedic Hospital
On January 20, 1917, the Grand Opera House's janitor, George Matsu, discovered a fire burning in the middle of the theatre's balcony and called in a fire alarm. The fire spread quickly and engulfed the entire building, collapsing the dome less than 45 minutes after the blaze was discovered. Battalion Chief Fred Gilham was killed when the roof collapsed on him. Eight other firefighters, along with a policeman, were seriously injured with burns and broken bones. Guests at the hotel next door were evacuated because of the danger of the fire spreading.
Within two days, the City Council charged its Public Safety Committee with making an investigation of the disaster and of relevant city laws and how they were enforced. Resolution 5497 stated that "the recent fire in the Grand Opera House, with its fatal results, shows the necessity for strict building regulations and efficient enforcement thereof as well as honest inspection, especially in relation to places of amusement where large numbers of people gather day and night." The investigation was to be undertaken so that "the chances of a recurrence of such fires may be lessened or prevented."
The committee found that the theatre had been declared unsafe several times in the years prior to the fire, but also that it was no more unsafe than other buildings constructed in the same period, before the fire and building codes were improved. Hearings devolved into byzantine discussions about whether a former superintendent of buildings had been removed by the mayor for refusing to issue permits for changes to the theatre, but in the end no blame or responsibility was assigned. Defective wiring was assumed to be the cause.
Proving that anything can and will be used for advertising purposes, the Aero Alarm Company ran a large ad in the Seattle Times the very next day, claiming that had their alarm been installed, "Seattle's pioneer theatre would be standing intact today."
In 1906, three sanitary engineers gave a report to the mayor, city council, Washington State Board of Health, King County Medical Society, and the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad on "the advisability of permitting the construction and operation of a railroad in Cedar Valley." Concerned about Seattle's city water supply in the Cedar River Watershed, the officials had requested information about sanitary conditions and potential pollution from the project.
The report outlines the work undertaken to investigate the issue, specifying that "the proposed location of the railroad, as indicated by stakes, has been followed practically from end to end, and the adjacent strips have been examined at such points and to such an extent as seemed desirable or necessary." The engineers paid "particular attention to the configuration of the ground and to the nature of the soil."
They determined their main question to be "whether pollution of the surface of the proposed right of way and of the vicinity by the wastes of the human body can be prevented; and, if it cannot wholly be prevented, whether contamination of the river can be guarded against." This was "by no means a simple matter, for construction involves the introduction of large numbers of men into the watershed, whose wastes must be prevented from reaching the river."
They found there was not adequate gravel and sand in the area to effectively filter sewage, meaning that efforts must be made to keep all waste away from the water in the first place. The report outlines specific areas where camps could be built on good soil at a distance from the river, and makes detailed recommendations for building and maintaining latrines. Workers would have to follow strict rules about human waste under penalty of dismissal, and the site "in all respects must be under constant competent sanitary inspection and control, far more stringent than, under ordinary conditions, is necessary."
With those recommendations and cautions, the board had "no hesitation" in saying the project could be done without undue danger to Seattle's water supply.
In September 1970, Mayor Wes Uhlman received the following letter from an anonymous writer. The original was written in all caps with copious underlining.
Seattle got so bad with hippies, I just had to get out of that city. I couldn't take it. That Pike Place Market is a rat's nest of hippies and Pike Street is like a Skid-Road with hippies. All the stores cater to hippies with hippie clothes in their windows. Even with hippie store clerks in some stores on 3rd Avenue. They all write their hippie friends to "come to Seattle and get on welfare. They'll feed us in Seattle. If they don't hire us they'll feed us good. Bring your free loving gals, we can all live in the public market. The cops don't bother us here, they love us.
The mayor and police are on our side, no fuss, no bother. We block the side-walks and sell our dirty papers on 3rd and Pike and 4th and Pine and all over Seattle. We have taken over the lower level of the Pike Place Market, it's ours. Let your hair and whiskers get longer and clothes dirtier, so they won't hire you - but they'll feed you free on welfare."
"Of course we've got to keep in good with the mayor and cops to live this life of Riley. Don't go up to Vancouver, B.C. The mayor and city council up there are getting wise to us and running us out of town, but not Seattle, they love us here." Your hippie pal.
Folder "Anonymous 1970," Wesley Uhlman Subject Files (Record Series 5287-02)
Clerk File 12099 contains a 1901 report about the Industrial School of Seattle, submitted by the Municipal Guardian and Superintendent, Major C. Newell. The report explains that the school was founded by the Boys and Girls Aid Society of Washington, whose mission was "to help boys and girls of school age that had no earthly helpers, educate and instruct them in the duties of this life, so prepare them that they might go out in the world useful and good citizens in society."
The school was forced to move from its first living quarters at 35th and Union because local parents "objected to our children attending the public school for fear their presence would contaminate their children." After a temporary move to the old East Seattle Hotel on Mercer Island, the children relocated yet again to the Sarah B. Yesler Home, where they had "suitable lodging, boarding and school accommodations all under one roof."
Seattle police immediately began to bring homeless children to the organization, and the school board provided teachers, desks, and books. At the time of the report, the school served 22 boys and girls, many who had "roamed the streets of Seattle day and night with no place to sleep except in drygoods boxes or under side walks." The report praised the good progress many were making in their schoolwork, noting that some students would "surpass many of the children reared in good homes."
Newell wrote that the County Commissioners "have treated us in a most kindly manner" by providing money for food and rent, and that the City Council "has come to our rescue" by providing $60 per month toward the school's expenses. He also noted that "the merchants and business men of this city have responded to our call for help in a most gratifying manner," supplying an organ, a large steel range, a desk, and many other donations of money and goods. Pointing out that "nearly every large city in the Eastern States has homes of like nature," he believed the local business community felt that Seattle "must not be behind other cities in caring for their homeless boys and girls."
In September 1945, Hildur Hughes wrote to City Council with the following complaint:
The war is now over and with it should go some of the inconveniences we put up with because there was a need to do so. The raising of chickens became a neighborhood pest and those of us who forbore raising them put up with the unsanitary conditions that arose, the ugliness, the flies they carried and the shrill cry of roosters every morning at about 4:30 or 5, in order to patriotically share in any assistance to the meat shortage.
The war is over, but the chickens persist. Homes are close to each other in our neighborhood. To illustrate, the home to the left of us is 20 feet from ours. The garage of Charles Wall's home (to the right) at 4828 49th So. is only 11 feet from our corner bedroom. The Walls raise chickens - lots of them and roosters - dozens of them. We asked them to do away with the roosters because they disturb our sleep every morning very early. We felt we were making a concession in not complaining about the unsanitary and unsightly chicken coops. But nothing has been done and the crowing is getting lustier every morning.
I believe in law and order. If I did not I would walk into the Wall yard and cut off the heads of those roosters - no doubt the chickens too. You, all, would feel the same. But I believe in law and order and not in neighborhood quarrels. Can you people do something about this situation. We hope to make a home here but find ourselves irked by these chicken nuisances. Will you please inform these people that where homes are built so closely, that it is unsportsmanlike, unneighborly, poor citizenship, inconsiderate, selfish as well as illegal to continue the practice of raising chickens. Please help us in this respect.
(Mrs.) George W. Hughes
The Department of Health and Sanitation sent out an inspector to investigate just over a week after Mrs. Hughes wrote her letter. His conclusions were succinct:
We find that this chicken house is built well above the ground so as not to constitute a rat harbor and is kept in a sanitary condition.
At the present time there are no roosters on the premises.
We find no case for complaint.
His report was forwarded to Mrs. Hughes. No further response from her appears in the city records.
The following petition, dated December 18, 1899, was sent to the City Council:
Gentlemen: Reciting to you the fact that a band of men women and children, known as "Philippinos," seventeen in number, consisting of nine men, four women and three children, are stranded in our city, absolutely destitute of funds or means of support, owing to their wearing apparel being held by one of the local hotels for debt, their working paraphernalia, consisting of costumes, juggling tools, trapeze fixtures slack wire and other tools of trade being held in a neighboring city, also for debt, leaving them absolutely powerless to help them selves to a livelihood here or means in which to travel, and from the further fact that they are here, not as criminal, vagrants or paupers, but as innocent victims of mis-placed confidence, having been bilked on every hand by schemers, until now they are utterly helpless. We your petitioners ask that you appropriate a sufficient amount of money for their maintenance until action can be had on the Federal Government, tending to their deportation.
The document was signed by the president and the secretary of the Charity Organization Society. A couple of weeks later, on January 2, Council passed an ordinance appropriating $80 "for the payment of the costs of transportation for certain indigent persons natives of the Philippine Islands and now in charge of the Charity Organization of Seattle."
In 1902, a group of ten men sent a letter to the City Council to complain about the conduct of an employment agency called Russell & Russell.
As the men related the story, they went into the agency on June 2nd and signed up to work as laborers for a Northern Pacific Railroad project. They were told that the work would last until the 4th of July and that they would be provided transportation to the work site, "and on this representation, took the job, paying therefor one dollar each" to the agency for the referral.
The men found that the job was not as advertised. "Instead of being transported to the work, we were obliged to walk ten miles after leaving the [train] cars. The work lasted, for some of us, a week, and while we were there, men arrived daily from the employment office until the work ceased" - meaning that the agency kept soliciting referral money from workers even though doing so shortened the contract for all.
The men told the Council that in addition to the dollar fee to the agency, they also ended up paying "return fare and other expenses, which amount to more than the wages received." They asked for laws that would "properly restrain" agencies from misrepresenting the jobs they are furnishing so as to "prevent the recurrence of conditions similar to the above."
The Council's Labor Committee reported that "the charges made are in the main true," and recommended that "a new and more stringent ordinance" be enacted to regulate the operation of employment agencies. Indeed, new regulations were passed the following year.
Comptroller File 145668 contains the following letter from the Seattle Baseball Club:
December 22, 1934
To the Honorable City Council
The Board of Trustees of the Seattle Baseball Club Inc. has instructed the undersigned to respectfully call to the attention of your honorable body that at no time during the 1934 playing season of Baseball at the Civic Auditorium was the selling of beer and the drinking thereof the cause of boisterous, noisy or objectionable conduct on the part of any one in attendance. That from careful observation it was learned that in almost every case the drinking of beer was done in a temperate manner.
That the members of the Board of Trustees feel that to curtail or abridge the right of the public to purchase beer at the playing field, of the Civic Auditorium, would certainly be denying it the privilege accorded said public by the repeal of the 18th Amendment.
C. Norman Dickison
Seattle Baseball Club Inc.
In 1965, the Seattle Junior Chamber of Commerce led the charge to amend a decades-old law that prohibited the sale of packaged meat after 6:00 pm in Seattle stores. The ordinance stated that a "licensed meat salesman" (i.e., a butcher) must be on hand for customers to make a purchase. Since butchers did not work past 6:00, this meant no meat could be purchased after that time. The Chamber collected over 15,000 signatures from citizens who agreed it was time for the law to be changed, and some media outlets joined the campaign as well.
Clerk File 252480 includes six editorials run by KAYO Radio asking for evening meat sales. One of the spots noted that the existing ordinance was written in 1931 "when refrigeration and other protective devices had not reached the development of today's modern equipment." Another editorial noted that it was possible to buy fresh fish and poultry without a butcher being on hand, "and this one fact makes the antiquated meat ordinance ridiculous." KAYO also noted that in both Spokane and Tacoma, it was possible to buy meat after 6:00 - "Why not Seattle?" In summary, "We must concede that it surely takes a qualified butcher to cut and wrap your fresh meats property, but it completely escapes us why it takes a butcher to sell that packaged meat."
A cache of postcards addressed to "MEAT, KIRO Radio" shows that KIRO had also been involved in the issue, soliciting opinions from the city's meat consumers. Messages on the postcards ranged from "Meat Yes" to "I have long resented the ruling that interrupts the sale of needed meats - hours have nothing to do with our needs." to "I definitely would like to see the 'cutlet curfew' abolished."
|Postcards in support of amending Meat Ordinance, 1963
Postcard Collection (Record Series 9901-01), Seattle Municipal Archives
The Director of Public Health was somewhat reluctant to change the ordinance, other than to strengthen it to include poultry, rabbit, and fish. He noted that the original law was written because meat from animals with diseases ("tuberculosis, brucellosis, trichinosis…") was being sold, and because "unscrupulous operators were adulterating the meat…through the use of preservatives, water, flour, ketchup, borax, sulfides, benzoids, tomatoes, blood…" and pointed out that the ordinance had done its job of keeping the meat supply safe. However, he seemed to see the writing on the wall, and recommended that a committee be appointed to write any amendments. The ordinance was indeed amended in April 1965 to allow the sale of prepackaged meats between 6:00 and 9:00 pm.
In 1904, the following article appeared in the Seattle Times:
CONDEMNS OWN QUARTERS
Health Office Complains of Unsanitary Condition of Yesler Way Site
Asks to Have City Houses Vacated - Board's Headquarters Unsanitary
Worse than many private houses condemned by the health department, is the judgment of the city health officer, regarding the Board of Health's headquarters, located at Fifth Avenue and Yesler Way. Included in this verdict are the three city houses, located in the same block and fronting on Terrace Street.
The health department asks that these houses be vacated. A communication has been addressed to R.H. Thomson, superintendent of buildings, bridges and wharves. A copy of the letter so addressed, on file at the health office, contains the following comment:
Health Office Unhealthy
The health office itself is in a most unsanitary condition owing to condition of the walls, which have not been kalsomined or papered in fifteen years, and it is doubtful if the building was ever painted. When ladies honor the department with their presence, as they are often compelled to do to make complaints, they throw up their hands in holy horror on account of the conditions.
Garbage is dumped in the vacant space west of the health office, in rear of Nos. 416, 417 and 419 Terrace Street, by the tenants and by the public in general. Plumbing in these three buildings is defective in every detail. The health department earnestly suggest that these three buildings be vacated. We close houses every week that are less unsanitary than these.
Office Should Be Sanitary
It is supposed that this office should be a criterion for the public to copy after, but whenever they do so we have good reasons to enforce the various sanitary ordinances. It would be a great help to this department could it have the entire top floor of the building we now occupy. The amount of desk room and air space we have had the past few years has been very limited.
Proving that NIMBYism is not a recent phenomenon, a petition was signed by over 30 Queen Anne residents in 1908 protesting a proposal to build a Children's Orthopedic Hospital in their neighborhood. Their reasons included:
- The proposed lot was "entirely too small";
- All but one of the other lots on that block contained "a valuable residence" with families who had spent "many thousands of dollars in making permanent improvements";
- The lots were "in the heart of a choice residence part of the City" and property values would "greatly depreciate" for many blocks around if the facility was built;
- The hospital was to be used "for the treatment of deformed and crippled children and especially those who are deformed because of Tubercular troubles, and...the sight of said crippled and deformed children being constantly before the residents in the vicinity of said hospital will be a constant source of annoyance and in fact may cause permanent injury to women under certain conditions of health and cause their children to be hideously deformed who are born under such conditions."
The petition stated that of course the signers believed the purpose of the hospital was "commendable" - but "under no circumstances" should it be built in their neighborhood. The City Council's Health and Sanitation Committee was apparently persuaded by their argument and recommended that the Board of Public Works reject the permit. However, the permits were eventually approved, and a facility known as Fresh Air House was built on the site. The hospital expanded nearby a few years later, and in 1953 moved to the present Laurelhurst site of what has become Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center.