2020 Find of the Month Archive

Fair employment


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.