2020 Find of the Month Archive

Spanish flu

quarantine table

Health Department reports written at the end of 1918 called out the efforts to combat the outbreak of Spanish flu that had begun in Seattle that October and was still ongoing. The Commissioner of Health, Dr. J.S. McBride, wrote the following to Mayor Ole Hanson:

When the present influenza epidemic reached Seattle it necessitated prompt and drastic action to prevent a repetition of the experiences of some Eastern cities. A closing ban on all Churches, theatres, schools, dance halls, and all places of public assemblage, followed later by an order preventing stores and public offices from opening before ten o’clock A.M. and forcing them to close at three P.M., together with the State Board of Health regulation requiring the wearing of masks, was enforced. A vaccine was made up in our laboratory and furnished to all physicians free of cost, over 200,000 doses being given out.

He noted that these measures had largely brought the epidemic under control, but that “indiscriminate mixing of people during the peace celebration” in late November caused cases to rise again. Efforts to fight the disease early on were hampered by World War I, with a large influx of soldiers and war workers into the city, while a number of doctors were away on military service.

McBride’s report recounted how an early October survey of hospital facilities found that only 12 beds were available for influenza patients. The decision was made to turn the old courthouse into a temporary flu hospital, which at the time of his writing had cared for 1003 patients who “otherwise would have been denied either nursing or hospital treatment, and undoubtedly saved many lives.”

A separate report by the department’s Quarantine Division included this description of the outbreak:

The fall of 1918 ushered into our city the dreadful epidemic of so-called Spanish Influenza, and we were totally unprepared to cope with this virulent monster that racked the souls of both city and country throughout the entire world a few months previously. Handicapped by routine red tape at first, later by the careful physician (careful not to report his cases), the “Doubting Thomas” of the laity, and in many instances the gross neglect on the part of persons having the disease in a mild form, the loss of life, health and happiness has been appalling. It may be said here for those who have given their every energy, and in a number of cases their lives, in combatting this scourge, that the crown of a martyr is much too small, and we hope to see in the near future ample hospital facilities to care for the needy sick, and the necessary laws, both municipal and state, regulating quarantine. Spanish Influenza is still with us, and in all probability will be for some time to come. Absolute, strict quarantine, and that alone, is the only remedy. Penalties for physician and layman alike for unreported cases, isolation in hospitals when possible, and fumigation in all cases, regardless of type, should be the requirements.

Meanwhile the Sanitation Division noted that “considerable effort has been expended in enforcing the ordinance against expectoration” but asked that the Police Department take over ensuring citizens’ compliance. The epidemic eased in 1919 and gradually tapered off, overall hitting Seattle less hard than many other cities.

Fair employment

petition

In the last months of World War II, eight Seattle citizens wrote to City Council to request an ordinance be enacted that would “make it unlawful and provide a penalty for employers in the city to discriminate against citizens in this community because of race, creed, or color.” State law already prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, but employment was not covered.

The letter tied the need for such an ordinance to the greater war effort. “We are deeply concerned with democracy and the extension of democracy to all the people in our community…In World War II, those that have already died, and those that are yet to die, will have died in vain unless every man and woman throughout this nation of ours shall have the right to worship God as they please, work wherever their abilities permit, and to mingle among our citizenry without fear of discrimination.”

In their report on the petition, the council’s Judiciary Committee noted that a similar bill had passed in the state’s House of Representatives that year, but was indefinitely postponed in the Senate. The state bill had provided for a paid commission and staff to enforce the law. The committee noted, “It is manifest that such an ordinance covering all ‘employment’ would require a like enforcing agency and prosecution could only be in the Police Court. It is plain that the city, lacking the broad legal powers and the financial resources and enforcing machinery of the State, is in no position to create and finance such an enforcing agency.” Thus the committee recommended the petition be denied.

The citizens’ group tried again in January of 1946, this time submitting a proposed ordinance focused mainly on City employment and contracting, alongside a petition with almost 100 pages of signatures. The cover letter calls out some of the prominent signatories, including state legislators, labor and religious leaders, the King County Sheriff and King County Prosecuting Attorney, and writer Langston Hughes. The letter encouraged adoption of the ordinance to “give renewed hope and faith to our citizens that democracy is vitally alive in the city of Seattle.”

Supporters of the issue were also persistently lobbying at the state level and finally broke through in 1949, when the Washington State Legislature passed the Fair Employment Practices Act.

Floating stadium

rendering of proposed floating stadium

Fresh off the high of the successful 1962 World’s Fair, local developers were looking for the next big building project. Seattle was hoping to attract professional sports teams and needed a stadium plan to do so. In 1963, a group of companies put together a proposal which began, “The Seattle World’s Fair was the product of bold imaginative thinking…the idea within these pages fits that mold…bold, imaginative, forward looking!” That idea? A floating stadium.

The planners envisioned a 75,000-seat multipurpose venue with a retractable roof, at a tentative cost of $15 million. The site could be used not only for professional football and baseball, but also for Seafair water events. Apparently another group was proposing to build a stadium in the Kent Valley; the floating stadium group strongly argued that a more central location was better for financial success.

The proposed site was the waterfront at the foot of Harrison Street in Interbay, with an extension of the monorail built to reach it. The planners noted that the site “has been platted since 1889, with no apparent improvements.” They believed the stadium, “along with the present Century 21 facilities, will afford the world’s foremost civic and athletic complex.” Parking facilities built for the Fair could be repurposed to serve the stadium, and attendees could arrive by water as well as by land.

A stadium on water obviously would have some unique engineering challenges. Naval architect L.R. Glosten wrote a letter of support in which he proposed a system of concrete pontoons spread out under the facility, as well as a wave-dampening breakwater around the perimeter (“which could undoubtedly be worked into the overall design in a very attractive manner”). He noted that stability was a concern not for safety reasons, but simply to maintain a level playing surface on the field.

City Council’s Parks and Public Grounds Committee asked several City departments to look into the plan, and the responses were not as enthusiastic as the boosters had hoped. The proposal was placed on file and apparently not pursued further.

"A disgrace to any respectable community"

1891 petition

In 1891, almost 100 concerned citizens petitioned the mayor and city council regarding a saloon license application for the southwest corner of Fourth and Pike. The proposed saloon would be in the same building as the Juanita House, which the petition described as “private lodgings of a respectable kind only.” The petition (which was titled “A REMONSTRANCE”) explained,

[t]he proprietor is in no way connected with the applicants for said License, and [does] not wish a Saloon in the building…and we believe the application is made only for the money there is in the Saloon business, that there are several Churches around in the neighborhood of said corner, and that people pass by said Corner in going to and coming from their several places of worship, and that there is a District School on Pine Street, between 3rd. and 4th., and also the University where Children pass daily in going to and coming from the said several Schools, that it is strictly a residence portion of the City, with business houses on Pike St; THEREFORE we humbly ask that the application for a License be not granted.

The proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick O’Brien, wrote separately to concur with the petition to deny the license. They wrote that they were “endeavoring to keep a respectable class of persons as lodgers,” and that if the saloon license was granted they would be forced to give up their business because they would be unable to “secure a desirable class of people.”

Apparently their wishes were overruled, as the archives holds two additional letters from Mr. O’Brien, both dated two years later, with complaints about the “annoyances and disturbances” caused by the saloon downstairs from the rooms where his family and his lodgers lived. He claimed that the owner, a Mr. Hull, conducted his business “in a disorderly and disreputable manner – that is he permits and encourages drunkenness on said premises and lewd women to frequent his said saloon and to become intoxicated.” The customers would “drink and carouse nightly from about 10 PM to about 4 AM,” and their “vile and profane language…can be distinctly heard in my rooms,” depriving him of sleep every night and making it difficult to keep his rented rooms occupied. He declared the saloon “a disgrace to any respectable community,” but it is unclear from the records whether or not city officials ever got involved.