2015 Find of the Month Archive


Russian refugees

In 1923 - six years after the Russian Revolution - Frank Pease wrote the following letter to City Council:

Mr. President and Members of the Council:

Press accounts tell us of the President's decision to admit to our country the Russian refugees who have been drifting about the Far East for months past, and about whom probably as much is known to yourselves as to the writer. Should these refugees enter this port, may I suggest the propriety of your body appointing a committee to cooperate with other community groups - business and social - to formulate some plans of reception and placement, something which will be in accord with your own position as to the necessity of extending help to the distressed, especially to those afflicted under these circumstances. These refugees are, I believe, all conservative persons with numerous women and children among them, persons of business, technical and cultural accomplishments, and thus not likely to be (or but temporarily) a burden upon either the city or national community, and thus also especially worthy of your consideration. Remnants of those forces which stuck to their guns to the last possible moment against the destructive forces that have wrecked Russia, for a long time their plight has been one of great distress, and it is highly commendable that the President has taken steps to relieve a condition little short of shameful.

It strikes the writer that just at this time, should the official and conservative interests of this city take it upon themselves to arrouse [sic] local and even national interest in these refugees, such a movement would possess particular significance and merit if and when originating in Seattle, and go far to offset the erroneous opinions existing elsewhere that Seattle is notoriously a "red center." It would be, indeed, one of the most striking opportunities in this direction since Seattle became so unfavorably reputed. In fact, even should the President or any group at Washington possess plans for their placement, it would still be highly desirable to have these refugees routed through this port, as their reception could be and doubtless would be thoroughly covered by national press representatives, motion picture concerns, etc., and their official consideration and welfare afford a concrete example of Seattle's stability of sentiment in such an instance.

Should you decide to take up this matter, I would be pleased to appear before your committee with further suggestions. Surely the official and conservative interests of this city have here an exceptional opportunity to notify the nation that Seattle is not one step behind any other city of section in its adherence to the principles of law, order and conservatism upon which our best interests are based. And I beg further to suggest that there be applied in their instance, not so much charity as methods of constructive industrial and social placement - their qualifications being such as to facilitate this - so that, without further distress, these undoubtedly worthy people can be absorbed into our national life with a minimum of suffering and confusion. In short, here is an excellent opportunity to show the mettle Seattle is made of when it comes to opposing bolshevism in any and all of its malignant manifestations. Thanking you for your every consideration, and trusting you will give this matter your customary prompt consideration, I beg to remain, 

Very truly yours,
Frank Pease


Thanksgiving power outage

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A headline in the November 27, 1942, edition of the Seattle Times has a tidy summary of the previous day's calamity: "Power Fails; Thanksgiving Cooks Sputter." Overloaded feeder lines created outages in Ballard and in several defense worker housing projects in the South End, in some cases lasting until 8:30 pm. According to the Times, this caused "considerable consternation in the kitchens of housewives preparing Thanksgiving dinners."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer dug into the human drama of the holiday power outage. Noting that "many turkeys needed only a short time more in the oven and in other homes the birds didn't even have a chance to get warm," the paper painted a picture of sad would-be feasters: "In the late afternoon, while guests lighted candles and stood around bare dinner tables, many families tried to heat their vegetables on oil circulating heaters. In some homes, the pumpkin and mince pies, ordinarily the dessert course, were being eaten by the children while they waited for the main course." At 5:00 in one household, a family and their guests "were still standing in the kitchen, looking hopefully at a half-cooked bird and munching breadsticks."

Seattle City Light took the heat for the outages, but the article did not note the underlying reason why too many turkeys in ovens caused a power failure: wartime conservation restrictions put in place by the federal government. In a December 9 report to the War Production Board, Superintendent E.R. Hoffman analyzed the Thanksgiving fiasco and noted that the limits were too restricted for Seattle's power needs.

Hoffman's report observed that while much of Seattle still used coal and wood to heat their houses, many homes had "electrically operated oil burners or coal stokers," so assumptions about electricity not being needed for heating purposes were not accurate. He also noted that the new housing built for the estimated 100,000 people who had come to Seattle "due to war activities" was largely outfitted with electric ranges and hot water heaters. Overall, he argued, the wartime restrictions were too stringent to keep up with demand, especially on holidays when everyone was using electricity at the same time. Hoffman also noted that the holiday failure "caused us some humiliation and in addition much adverse publicity."


Open vs. closed town

In 1915, Charles Hooper wrote a ten-page letter to City Council expressing his views on an ordinance regulating dancing in establishments where liquor was sold. He noted that since “every intelligent person of course understands” that the law was meant to address “the so-called social evil,” that therefore his remarks would be limited to that topic.

By “the so-called social evil,” Hooper meant prostitution, and he went on at length about his views on the subject. He saw himself not as an “ill-informed, ‘goody-goody’ agitator, nor…[a] licentious man or dive-keeper,” but as someone who approached the problem from a purely practical perspective. Although granting that “there is a bit of truth” to the theory that “youth must have its fling, and that it is not altogether wrong for a youth to sow some wild oats,” he considered prostitution “an evil.” But he asked the Council if they believed it would ever be eradicated, as clearly he did not.

His letter discussed how Seattle was aiming to be a “closed town,” where prostitution happened out of view. He compared the experiment with New York City, and said that when they had attempted to close the town, public dance halls were not actually reduced, and “prostitutes were scattered about the city…plying their trade in private apartments among the people.”

Instead, Hooper advocated for Seattle to be an “open town…where women of ill fame could congregate in certain restricted districts.” He goes on to make several arguments for this position, including the danger to children of having prostitutes among the general population, and the danger to young men of not recognizing a prostitute by her profession, since she would not be in her “proper environment.” He also believed that young men would choose their wives based on lust and not love, and pointed to Seattle’s number of divorces, which he called “a disgrace to the name of our city.”

Hooper concluded his letter: “I have written to you because of the love I bare [sic] this city, because I am proud of it, and because I wish to see it arise from its present unorganized condition brought about by the practise of false principle, to a better state and condition.” The Council placed his letter on file.


Football on the grass

letter

In December of 1920, a citizen wrote the following letter to the Board of Park Commissioners, to the attention of Park Superintendent E.R. Hoffman:

Your very proper letter of November 24th has come, calling my attention to the fact that son George played football on the grass in Mt. Baker Park on November 21st. This certainly is true.

Further, your letter is as gracious as any letter of its sort could be.

There are a few thoughts that ramble through a father’s mind, however, in this connection. Your first paragraph tells of your commendable efforts to keep Mt. Baker Park presentable, maintaining the entire area as a park rather than a play-ground. The fact remains, however, that there is no suitable play-ground for kids anywhere in the park; they are ruled off the grass everywhere. Now my son has told me occasionally of his playing football on one particular small strip. I do not think that more than one 100th of 1% of the grass in the entire area has ever been trampled by his feet. His trespass, therefore, has been of a very minor nature.

Further, there are lots of boys who live in Mt. Baker Park without a place to play. This is not a case where gangs from other parts of the city invade a particularly likely spot but the children of the people who live in that park, like myself, who pay the taxes to keep things up, do not have a decent place to kick a football.

Your last paragraph states that you are not attempting to deprive the boys of any pleasure. Sorry to say that nevertheless it has exactly this effect.

I presume the only fair thing to do is to warn the kid and so on, but it goes very much against my grain as a father who is helping pay the taxes for your Board to use for maintenance to have to tell my kid he cannot play on one particular small strip of lawn, where a lot of the boys have been in the habit of kicking a football and indulging in a big of that play which President Hoover’s Commission on Child Welfare, at least, has just pronounced an inherent right of childhood. This Commission, by the way, through Secretary Wilbur, announces that “Uncle Sam is not going to rock the baby to sleep.” It is the duty of each community, he says, to provide suitable places for its children to play. This condition is not being lived up to in Mt. Baker Park to any reasonable extent.

Very truly yours,
George L. Buck


Aquatic park

drawing of proposed park

In a November 1951 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the newspaper makes the case for building a “great aquatic park” on the northwest shore of Seward Park. This was seen as solving two problems: the lack of comfortable facilities for spectators to watch the Seafair hydroplane races, and a lack of admission-charging capacity for those events.

The paper pointed out that “thousands of men, women and children…last year stood for long, uncomfortable hours along the shores of Lake Washington” to watch the races. The proposed aquatic park would seat 20,000 people, and also would provide restrooms and concession facilities. Diving towers could “provide entertainment during lulls in the other events.”

The park could be used not only for Seafair hydroplane races but also crew races and waterskiing championships. The paper posited that the existence of the park could draw “even more and bigger on-water events” to the city. They believed this would create a virtuous cycle whereby more events would draw more spectators, and the additional spectators would bring in even more events. These events would cause “the national publicity spotlight [to] be turned on our city in a way in which no other city in the country could compete,” going so far as to argue that Seattle could “out-do” Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

To accommodate the 20,000 spectators, the newspaper proposed building a 27-acre, 5000-car parking lot on the hills in the middle of Seward Park. The paper notes that some might say “Seward Park’s natural beauty might be affected,” but that those doubters “can take heart” because the parking area would only be visible from the air, and the trees around it would remain. Furthermore, the seating area “would be built at a place where very few trees exist now anyway.”

In addition to allowing thousands to watch events on Lake Washington in comfort, the admission fees to the park would help Seafair to become more self-sustaining. The P-I specifically mentioned the high cost of bringing Olympic crew races to Seattle.

The newspaper was careful to call their idea “preliminary,” “a point of departure,” “a tentative idea,” and so on. While “there might appear to be some objections” to their plan, they wanted to get Seattle talking about the proposal and generate other ideas to solve this Seafair spectator problem.


Loitering

In 1967, City Council was considering what was referred to as the “loitering law.” The ordinance would make it unlawful “to loiter or prowl in a place, at a time, or in a manner, and under circumstances that manifest an unlawful purpose or warrant alarm for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.” Examples of suspicious behavior included “flight by the actor upon appearance of a peace officer, refusal to identify himself, or manifestly endeavoring to conceal himself or any object.” Any person deemed suspicious should not be arrested without being given an opportunity, “if practicable under the circumstances,” to explain his or her presence.

After reading a newspaper article about the proposed ordinance, Seattle resident Patrick Nesser wrote a strongly worded letter to the Council expressing his opposition. He began by saying that he had previously made verbal comments “during the ‘Garbage Crisis,’ ‘the Go-Go fiasco,’ ‘the Namu in the Center mess,’ the ‘Bullfight baloney,’ ‘the Timothy Leary ban,’ and ‘the Light Show comedy routine,’ but that he had never before submitted written comment on an issue before the Council. He asked Councilmembers in this case to “be careful before you have another ‘mess’ on your hands.”

Nesser wrote that he understood the police chief’s interest in reducing the crime rate in the city, saying he shared that concern himself – “but I must say an ordinance such as is proposed is not only legally unconstitutional, but morally is a ‘black eye’ to any so-called ‘forward-looking’ metropolitan area. Who is to say when or how a person looks ‘suspicious’? A patrolman, who after all is human first and a police officer second – subject to all the prejudices and emotional responses as the rest of us??”

In addition to Nesser’s letter, the Council also received a petition signed by 36 citizens opposed to the bill. The petition stated that “every American has a constitutional right to just stand around or walk around without a purpose, and without having to give any account of himself to police.” Despite these protests, and those of many who attended a public hearing on the bill, the Council went on to pass the law, which became Ordinance 95876.


Bees in the city

In August 1953, Robert Chase wrote to City Council with a complaint about his neighbor’s beehives. “The bees sting my children while playing in the lawn, sting my wife while hanging up clothes, sting the baby in the crib.” He said he had talked to various authorities and discovered that the city “has no laws on the books prohibiting bee-keeping in the city altho they have laws on other farm animals and insects pertaining to quantity – how kept etc.” He asked that legislation be passed to regulate beekeeping.

The chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee asked the King County Humane Society for the Defenseless to investigate. The society’s manager found five hives on the neighbor’s property and declared his opinion that five hives on a lot that size “constitutes a definite hazzard [sic] to the children and the neighborhood.” He also noted that around 150-200 pounds of honey was likely being produced, creating bad feelings among the neighbors because the owner was making a profit from the source of their annoyance.

He recommended that if City Council wished to pass an ordinance, bees should simply be added to the category of regulated animals and the Poundmaster be given permitting and enforcement power. Meanwhile he said the Society would encourage the owner to move all but one of the hives off the property “for the building of a better feeling of good will among his neighbors.”

The Public Safety Committee then asked the Director of Public Health, S.P. Lehman, to look into the matter and respond to the Humane Society’s report. Lehman questioned the advisability of legislation, saying that the number of hives appropriate for a lot would vary widely depending on lot size. Given the low number of bee-related complaints, and the state Bee Inspector’s concerns that reducing the number of bees would “interfere with proper pollinization of fruit trees,” Lehman suggested that no legislative action be taken at that time. He recommended that Chase contact the Health Department’s sanitation division for assistance if he needed it.

Chase protested the lack of action toward legislation, and complaints similar to his trickled in over the ensuing years. A 1972 ordinance regulating beekeeping appears to have been the first city legislation specifically addressing the issue, almost 20 years after Chase’s complaint.


Rapid mass transit

Municipal News

The April 6, 1957, edition of Municipal News looked into the question of whether plans for the soon-to-be-constructed Seattle-Tacoma-Everett Freeway should include provisions for a future mass transit system. The newsletter, published by the Municipal League, reported that the two questions needing to be considered were "whether the Seattle area will need a rapid mass transit system and whether the freeway is a logical route for such a system."

The article noted that "inclusion of the requested provisions will save the residents of the Seattle metropolitan area many millions of dollars in acquisition and construction costs when a rapid transit system is built." The Municipal League highlighted the need for integrated planning between transit and highways, possibly including utilities as well.

The two major obstacles to adding mass transit to the plan were money and time. The article noted that while up to 90% of the $16 million price tag could be paid for with federal highway funds, "that would, of course, reduce the total of the federal funds that would be available for other projects in the state." The extra planning time involved was also seen as a negative, given that the freeway project had already been delayed for several years.

In the end, mass transit was not built in coordination with Interstate 5. Currently, light rail is expected to reach Lynnwood in 2023, 66 years after this discussion took place.


Baseball Opening Day

In 2014, the Seahawks became the latest local sports team to have a parade in their honor after winning a championship. Comptroller File 99481 gives us a glimpse of a similar event almost 90 years earlier, at the opening of the season following a year in which the Seattle Indians baseball team had won the Pacific Coast League pennant.

The president of the team issued the following invitation to the Seattle City Council in April of 1925:

We herewith extend to you a cordial invitation to attend and take part in the opening day ceremonies, attendant on the reception of the victorious Seattle Baseball Club.

We feel sure that you are deeply interested in the success of our civic institutions, baseball being our national sport, we are arranging a “Welcome Home” for our CHAMPIONS.

A big parade is being organized, and we ask you to lend your presence in the parade and at the park. The parade will start at 12:45 and we will be pleased to have automobiles at your disposal, the machines to be stationed at the fourth avenue entrance at 12:15, Wednesday April 22nd.

Seattle comes under the head of Double “A” classification in baseball, second only to major league clubs. We are the champion city of the Pacific coast, not only in baseball but in spirit and we are striving hard for a record breaking attendance so that we can flash to all the world that Seattle is the greatest minor league baseball town in the U.S.

Thanking you kindly and assuring you of our highest regards, we are

Faithfully yours,
Chas. L. Lockard
President, S.B.B.C.


Millionair Club

In 1938, the head of Seattle’s Millionair Club wrote to City Council requesting free bus transportation to enable the city’s orphans to attend the club’s St. Patrick’s Day party. The letter from M.G. Johanson began, “Would you share a little joy?” He compares the “wholesome” party to a “’trip through Fairy-Land’ for the little orphans.”

Johanson was not afraid to ask for community support for the organization he founded in Pioneer Square in 1921. He sent out tens of thousands of letters each year to solicit contributions for the club’s work in helping Seattle’s homeless and unemployed citizens.

The wordy letterhead on the 1938 letter sums up the charity’s work and philosophy (“Object: Relief without embarrassment…Endorsed: By every force for good”) while also appealing for monetary contributions, job opportunities, and donations of food, clothing, and household supplies.

letterhead

Johanson led the Millionair Club for 53 years, waiting to retire until he was 86 years old. The organization – now in Belltown – continues today with a professional staff and expanded services for Seattle’s neediest citizens.


Farewell to Joe Smith

Joe Smith was a reformer and journalist active in Seattle politics around the turn of the 20th century. During the Spanish-American War, he was both a soldier and a war correspondent for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. After returning to the Northwest, he focused his journalistic attentions on issues closer to home for newspapers including the P-I and the Seattle Star. He was an activist for progressive causes and an advocate for political reforms, helping to found the Seattle Municipal League, a civic reform organization. Because of his activism and his nose for corruption, he was not always the most popular man around City Hall.

Smith apparently announced he was leaving the city in 1908, which spurred the following “Resolution of Regret” from the City Council:

Whereas one Joe Smith is about to leave the City of Seattle for the good of Seattle, and

Whereas, he makes such announcement at the hour when the old city council goes out of commission,

Therefore, be it resolved, that the retiring members of the city council do hereby express their regrets that Mr. Smith failed to leave long ago and express their ardent wishes that aforesaid Joe Smith do return within a short time to give the new city council the same bum steers in the Star that he gave the retiring members of the city’s legislative body.

The retiring members got their wish, as Smith continued writing about and participating in Seattle politics, including spearheading a successful movement to recall Mayor Hiram Gill in 1911.


Martin Luther King Jr. Day

The following "Times Troubleshooter" column from the October 8, 1970, edition of the Seattle Times was found in the Don Sherwood Parks History Files.

School holidays protested

"We have a Medger [sic] Evers Swimming Pool, and now the Seattle School Board has decreed that all Seattle schools will close on Martin Luther King's birthday. As we all know, Dr. King, living and dead, has long been a very controversial figure.

"I feel that the School Board should leave such a decision up to the citizens of Seattle, as has once been suggested. When we don't close the schools to honor Lincoln's birthday - why should we do so for Dr. King?

"The Seattle School Board and Dr. Forbes Bottomly have too long bowed to pressure from the Central Area. I think it is just about time the majority, instead of the minority, should have a voice in establishing such a celebration, or to refuse." -- Protestor

Troubleshooter: The School Board establishes the school calendar each year. Days that are federal or state holidays are school holidays. Some holidays are set by local ordinance, and the board has the option to accept those days as school holidays. The law requires 180 days of instruction.

"The name of the Medger [sic] Evers Pool resulted from a recommendation from Model Cities and the community," a school-administration spokesman says. "The recommendation was passed on to the Park Department and administration. It was the consensus that the name was appropriate.

"The naming of Martin Luther King's birthday as a school holiday resulted from lengthy discussions by the School Board. It was felt that since no black American had ever been so honored, and that since Dr. King was a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and since youth generally identified strongly with Dr. King, that naming January 15 as a memorial was highly appropriate.

"The School Board had strong support from many members of the teaching staff and from students city-wide. The fact that Dr. King was in some eyes a controversial figure is of little consequence inasmuch as the same thing could be said about most of the famous men in history."