2018 Find of the Month Archive

The "canoe-menace"

proclamation

In 1935, Kenneth Gilbert wrote to City Councilmember Austin Griffiths about his concerns relating to small pleasure craft in the city's lakes and harbor:

Newspaper accounts of the near-drowning of three boys clinging to an overturned canoe off Mercer Island are a forceful reminder of a matter which, apparently, has long been accepted as being inevitable as death and taxes - the canoe-menace...

Canoeing is an art more difficult to master than driving an automobile. I know whereof I speak because I was literally "brought up" in a canoe, and taught proper handling of it by expert "whitewater men" of Northern Wisconsin. Hence the sight now of one of these frail, tricky craft being handled by an inexperienced dub gives me the same feeling of horror as would the sight of a maniac armed with a gun. We license car-drivers and aviators, yet permit any blundering fool to take trusting companions out in a dangerous canoe, and drown them.

Gilbert suggested that all boat-renting establishments be required to have patrons sign a form highlighting the dangers of canoes and providing boating safety tips. He suggested that the form be signed in duplicate, so that the boathouse proprietor could keep one on file and the patron could take one with him or her on the boat "for further perusal."

Councilmember Griffiths wrote back to Gilbert to let him know that the City Council had appointed a special committee to study potential regulations. Gilbert replied that he was gratified that they recognized the problem, and continued, "It is my opinion that if it were not for the fools and criminals in this world, we could scrap 99% of our laws. Apparently, however, we MUST have measures to protect the innocent from the foolhardy and the thoughtless just as much as we must protect law-abiding citizens from criminals."

Women in the Police Department

proclamation

As the women's movement grew in the 1960s and 1970s, women in Seattle city government were fighting for access to jobs that were traditionally given only to men. Records from the Civil Service Commission in the early 1970s provide an example of this fight within the Police Department.

Police Chief George Tielsch wrote to the Commission in November 1971 asking for two promotional examinations to be scheduled, one for a Policewoman Sergeant and one for a Police Sergeant. He went on:

Two separate examinations are requested because the hazardous duty requirements for the majority of police lieutenant and sergeant positions make it completely inappropriate to considering assigning women to duties for which they are neither physically, psychologically nor emotionally capable of performing. Such duties are: round-the-clock, seven-day a week control of beat areas in the investigation of homicides, sexual assaults and armed robberies; as command officers in riot and crowd control; and participation in prisoner control and physical drill routines.

It is the immediate intent of this Department to establish a career ladder for policewomen to the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant. This will require establishing a specific number of assignments which can be handled by a woman. Areas under consideration for the assignment of policewomen supervisors are as follows: Personnel Division, Research and Development Division, Community Relations Division, Information Division, Internal Investigations Division, and Juvenile Control Division.

It is not my intention to assign policewomen supervisors to function in command positions within line units. Contrary to those who advocate increased responsibilities for women, it is fairly obvious that policewomen are not yet ready to lead officers into battle on this city's streets. However, policewomen can function quite well in those staff and service related areas mentioned above and it is my intention to limit them to such assignments.

Mildred Henry, director of the Women's Division of the Office of Human Resources, wrote to the Commission the following May to protest the sex-segregated exams. Henry wrote, "We feel that a police-woman who meets the minimum qualification" should be entitled to take the exam and earn promotion, given that "neither the position for police-officer or police-sergeant is classified as a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification" - i.e., being male was not a necessary requirement to do the job successfully. She also pointed out that the sergeant position as advertised "appears to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act...and the State of Washington's Revised Code 49.60.180...and City Ordinance 100642."

In 2014, 42 years after Henry's protest, Seattle appointed its first female police chief.

Aretha Franklin Day

proclamation

A staffer's note to Mayor Braman outlines City Councilmember Sam Smith's request to declare November 3, 1968, to be Aretha Franklin Day. The note explained that Franklin was "a well known Negro singer" who would be performing in Seattle that day ("P.S. TOP FEMALE VOCALIST FOR 1968"). The staffer noted that the proclamation would "show the young Negroes that the City of Seattle is interested in them." Mayor Braman okayed the idea, and this proclamation was released:

Aretha Franklin, a much beloved and well known national figure, has distinguished herself in her conduct and her contributions toward creating a better attitude of racial harmony and brotherhood in our now troubled land. Miss Franklin, in her travels to foreign lands and within the confines of this United States, has brought new hope to the age-old American Dream of black and white togetherness.

Outside of Miss Franklin's award winning achievements in the field of entertainment, no other prominent black person has won so much attention and praise from both the young and old. Coming from the home of a minister, the famous Reverend C.D. Franklin, Aretha has displayed her willingness to use her prominence in the battle for civil rights and law and order and justice.

As a gesture of goodwill and appreciation to Miss Franklin and to the entire black and white community of our city, who daily work toward a true state of togetherness and harmony, I, J.D. BRAMAN, Mayor of the City of Seattle, do hereby proclaim Sunday, November 3, 1968, as

ARETHA FRANKLIN DAY

and urge all our citizens to honor this woman who has done so much to bring honor to our land.

Franklin played a sold-out show at the Seattle Center Arena on "her" day, followed by a concert for prisoners at the McNeil Island penitentiary the following day.

Westlake Park

letter

The following letter from 1968 was found in records from the Mayor’s Office [sic throughout]:

Dear Mayor Bramon

I was reading about the plan being forward to you about the Westlake Mall Park
      This would be a mistake
it would and now does attract only those out of work and those people naturally are not the shoppers

Shoppers in this day and age have no time to sit around on benches and especially in the winter time

If you do have 2.5 million to spend it would be wise to consider a garage for free parking for downtown customers

The reason downtown has gone to pot is because people with cars are going to southgate, northgate and bellevue---the people downtown are composed mostly of office workers in a hurry to get home and the unemployed (either old age, beatniks and bums) The main thing is to attract more car owners into the downtown area and this can only be done by FREE PARKING---this day and age those who can and can not afford it---travel by private transportation---the car – and free parking will attract the car owner

Molly Aasten

Regulating bicycles

letter

Questions regarding licensing and regulating bicycles in Seattle have resurfaced periodically since the late 1800s. One relevant piece of legislation, Ordinance 68990, was passed on February 6, 1939, amending the license code to require registration and license plates for bikes. Related clerk files contain letters sent in both protest and support of the legislation, giving a glimpse into a debate of the time that still resonates today.

In addition to licensing and registration requirements, the ordinance declared certain bicycling acts unlawful, such as riding without a bell or lights, and carrying riders on handlebars. Penalties for not complying ranged from fines to time in jail.

Also considered for the ordinance was a clause stipulating cyclists be permitted to ride on sidewalks. It was this topic in particular that inspired most of the letters. “I feel that legal sanction of this practice will bring about a condition highly dangerous to small children who might be using sidewalks in front of their homes, particularly where there are hedges or shrubs limiting visibility,” wrote one resident. A letter in support of allowing the practice reads: “We have never heard of a pedestrian...being hurt or killed by a bicycle on the sidewalk—but oh! the tragedies that occur when a bicycle meets a motorist on the street!” Another letter in support struck a compromising tone: “Why not make it a misdemeanor if a cyclist does not dismount when meeting or passing a pedestrian on the sidewalk. With the bicycles licensed, an offender’s name can easily be obtained.”

The final version of the ordinance did not include any language about riding on sidewalks. The licensing requirement was repealed in 1948 at the urging of the Chief of Police, who instead advocated for a voluntary registration program.

Zoning

zoning map

Seattle’s first zoning code was established in 1923, and almost immediately citizens began trying to change it. The code defined two types of residental areas: First Residence Districts, which were generally single-family zones, and Second Residence Districts, which allowed apartment houses, hospitals, and a few other non-commercial uses.

In addition to single-family houses, other allowable uses in First Residence Districts included parks, libraries, railroad stations, churches, and schools. These latter two uses proved controversial among homeowners, as seen in Comptroller File 108679.

The CF consists of documents from the Mt. Baker Park Improvement Club, the Madrona Community Club, and the Inter-club Council of Lake Washington Clubs, all expressing concern that churches and schools are “detrimental to such residence districts, and to home owners residing therein.” They believed that “one of the primary purposes of the Zoning Ordinance is the protection of the home owner and the establishment of zones where nothing but residences will be permitted,” and argued that “for the interest of the entire City,” the law should be amended to prohibit these uses in First Residence Districts, as their inclusion was “inimical to the welfare of the people.”

The Mt. Baker neighborhood group agreed with the other two organizations about the need to amend the zoning code, but they did recommend including a loophole where construction would be allowed if “consent to such erection is obtained from all property owners within 400 feet of proposed schools or churches.”

The zoning code was not amended, and religious and educational buildings continued to be allowed in single-family zones.

A "whale bathtub" at Seattle Center

rendering

In January 1966, the Mayor, City Council President, and the owner of a private aquarium issued a joint press release announcing plans for a "marine park" to be built in the northwest corner of the Seattle Center campus. The park was to include "a whale and dolphin pool, seal and sea lion show tank, seal feeding pool and underground octopus grotto," and was meant to be a new home for Namu, an orca that was housed on the waterfront at that time.

While some citizens wrote to the mayor in support of the proposal, the idea also elicited criticism on many fronts, including:  

  • The need to pipe in salt water to the location, whereas the waterfront had more space and was a more natural place for a whale.
  • The "undignified" nature of whale and dolphin shows within shouting distance of the opera house and other cultural facilities. One writer noted that Seattle Center was meant to be "a cultural center, not a honky-tonk center." Another wrote that although many people were interested in a marine show, "many people are interested as well in go-go dancers, gambling, and vice of all sorts," but that should not determine City policy. KING Broadcasting released an editorial saying that "a whale bathtub and a feeding pond for seals" was not compatible with the overall goals of Seattle Center.
  • Objections to a privately financed attraction on the still-evolving civic campus, with citizens upset that aquarium owner Ted Griffin would be profiting off the public cultural space.
  • The "unavoidable stench" of "fish-eating mammals in a confined area" would limit enjoyment of other attractions at the Center, including restaurants.
  • Preferences for a competing proposal for a teen recreation center on the campus (although one dissenter wrote, "Never, never let the youth get in there - unless you put them in a distant corner with a 12 foot fence").

Namu's welfare was brought up by fewer people than one might think, but several did say he would be happier on the waterfront than in a pool. One child wrote that Namu "wouldn't feel so cooped up" if he stayed in the Sound. A letter from the Seattle Garden Club pointed out that "poor Namu's future is already short," and noted that by the time the park was ready to receive the whale, "the issue may very literally be dead."

The original construction timeline was quite speedy, with plans to have the attraction at Seattle Center fully operational by June of that same year. However, aquarium owner Griffin notified the City in late February that the architects believed opening by early summer was unrealistic, so "we therefore request permission to withdraw our petition and re-submit it at a later date." The project postponement turned out to be a lucky development, and the Garden Club turned out to be prescient. Namu died in his pen at the waterfront aquarium that July, after just over a year in captivity.

Equal pay for women

Petition

In an early attempt to promote equal pay for women, the Northwest Joint Council of the Building Service Employees International Union wrote to City Council in December 1942 asking the councilmembers to endorse a bill to be considered in the Washington State Legislature the next year.

The bill was to be based on a petition to the state's Industrial Welfare Commission, which was enclosed with the letter. The petition asked that an order be adopted "to the effect that no employers of labor in this state, employing both males and females, shall discriminate in any way in the payment of wages as between sexes, or shall pay any female a less wage, be it time or piece work or salary, than is being paid to males similarly employed, or in any employment formerly performed by males." (Since World War II was well underway at this point, there were many women employed in formerly all-male workplaces.)

Lest we think that the petition was a thoroughly modern document, it should be noted that it concluded with the proviso that "no female shall be given any task disproportionate to her strength, nor shall she be employed in any place detrimental to her morals or health."

In their letter, the Northwest Joint Council included a long list of labor unions which were promoting the bill. They also noted that the Board of King County Commissioners had already unanimously endorsed the measure, and added that they believed City Council "will also give favorable consideration, since it is the established policy of the City to pay its own employees on the basis of merit, without discrimination because of sex."

The City Council placed the letter and petition on file, but no further action seems to have been taken at that time.

Ballard streetcar holdup

Report of committee

Comptroller File 7212 contains the following letter from Mayor Thomas Humes to City Council, dated Feb. 12, 1900:

Gentlemen: -

During the time I have had the honor of being the chief executive officer of this city it has been my custom to give to known residents of the city, of good character, permission to carry a revolver upon their person in going to or returning from their places of business. In the spring of the year 1899 I gave such permission to Charles E. Plimpton and R.B. Matterson, with the express admonition that if any person should attempt to hold them up and rob them to shoot such person dead. On the evening of the ___ [sic] day of January, 1900, while said Matterson and Plimpton were returning to this city from the City of Ballard, and while on board the street car running between this city and the City of Ballard, a highwayman attempted to hold up the car and to rob the passengers on board, which attempt was frustrated by said Matterson and Plimpton, resulting in the death of the desperado. During the melee, in which a great many shots were fired by the desperado, Matterson and Plimpton, Plimpton received a serious wound in the arm, since which time he has been unable to follow his ordinary avocation and has been to some considerable expense for doctor bill and hospital charges.

In consideration of the gallant and noble service performed by these men on that occasion, I would consider it a just tribute to their bravery as exhibited upon that occasion in removing from our midst such desperado for the city to pay such doctor bill and hospital expenses. Any measure passed by you relieving Mr. Plimpton from the payment of this doctor bill and hospital expenses will receive my approval and I think of the people generally in this city.

Very respectfully,
T.J. Humes
Mayor

The Finance Committee considered the request, and recommended that $75 be appropriated from the general fund for Mr. Plimpton.

Mystery money drops

police memo

In the midst of a 1970 scandal related to police payoffs, money was mysteriously left in the Mayor's Office in what was described as a possible attempt to frame the mayor or his staff for wrongdoing.

The first drop was made in late May, when a man dropped off an envelope for deputy mayor Robert Lavoie and then left hurriedly. The receptionist brought the envelope to Lavoie, who discovered $500 in $20 bills inside. Lavoie immediately brought the envelope to Mayor Wes Uhlman, who then called the police.

Two weeks later, a different man brought in a second envelope, again directed to Lavoie. The receptionist, on alert after the first mysterious delivery, attempted to stall the man. He gave his name as "Mr. Johnson" but left quickly. This envelope contained $1000 in $20 bills, plus a postcard of a deer at Woodland Park Zoo.

The Police Department's internal investigations unit was looking into the money drops but keeping their inquiry quiet, waiting for something else to happen. Finally, about three weeks after the second envelope was delivered, a KOMO radio reporter asked Mayor Uhlman at a press conference whether he knew anything about money being delivered to any of his staff. The reporter would not disclose the source of his information about the money drops, but police theorized that some kind of set-up had been attempted, possibly related to the ongoing police corruption investigation.

The money was placed in the city treasury, designated as a gift from an anonymous donor. The police investigator on the case said he remained puzzled by the zoo postcard.

Licensing fortune tellers

An 1897 council bill sought to regulate anyone in Seattle hoping to make a living from looking into the future. The bill stipulated that "no person shall carry on or advertise the business of fortune teller, phrenologist, astrologer, mind-reader, palmist, or medium with the city of Seattle" without obtaining a city license. This regulation applied to both personal services and public exhibitions.

The license fee was set at fifteen dollars for three months or three dollars per day, if a three-month term was not desired. The applicant was to pay the fee to the city treasurer, obtain a receipt, and deliver that receipt to the city comptroller, from whom he or she would obtain the license.

For the purposes of the proposed ordinance, a fortune teller was defined as "any person who shall foretell or profess to foretell the future, and any person who shall tell or profess to tell any past or present event, happening or circumstance without actual personal knowledge thereof." The bill would have set the penalty for operating without a license at $25 (over $700 in today's dollars) and/or five days in the city jail.

Interestingly, one group was exempted from the licensure requirement. The bill stated that "no person shall be required to take out a license for the purpose of giving any exhibition as a medium when such person shall have the written endorsement of the minister of the Spiritualist Church in Seattle, or the written certificate of such minister that such person is a bona fide member of such church and is recognized by such church as a bona fide medium."

The proposal did not pass, although a similar bill (minus the exemption for Spiritualists) did become law in 1904.