2023 Find of the Month Archive

Hotel discrimination

Hungerford Hotel postcard

Renowned Black tenor Roland Hayes came to Seattle in March 1942 to perform at the Metropolitan Theater. He elected to stay in a private home during his visit, as two prominent local hotels had declined to accommodate him except under conditions where he would remain largely unseen by other guests (for example, taking meals in his room).

The situation inspired numerous Seattleites to contact City Council, with many tying the issue to the war effort. Letters argued that the discrimination faced by Hayes brought "disgrace to our city" and "discredit...to the cause of democracy." One writer declared, "We want no Hitlerism here in any shape or form."

Helen Harris, who was the Minorities Chairman of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, wrote:

...Last week, we read that Roland Hayes, here because thousands of people want to pay money to hear him sing, could not stay in a Seattle hotel unless he stayed in his room, used a freight entrance, had no visitors except in his room, etc.

The city licenses the hotels here, they are supposed to operate under city ordinances. Why is such a condition tolerated? Cannot the city council do something to prevent Seattle getting such bad publicity as comes from this forcing of Roland Hayes to stay in a private home if he is to be treated as a citizen of the United States should be treated? It is not only in this country that unfavorable publicity is aroused, but it provides marvelous ammunition to Germany, for instance, which recounts the tale of American lynchings, injustices and discriminations as justification for itself and evidence of hypocrisy in us in our condemnation of their treatment of the Jews.

Pearl Buck, in a letter to the New York Times, said recently that we shall have to decide whether we are - or want to be - a democracy. If our decision is in favor of democracy, then we must cease having a subject race - the negro, and give full freedom and respect to every individual, whatever the color of his skin. Here, certainly, is one place where the City Council, the Hotel Association and the people of Seattle can demonstrate that they really want a democratic country, with freedom and justice for all.

Hayes himself told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he believed Nazi propaganda had increased racism in the US, but added that "there was enough of it here already without the Nazis."

Professional hockey

Seattle Center Coliseum

In January 1982, the financial troubles of Colorado's professional hockey team led to inquiries from a potential buyer's agent about whether the Seattle Center's Coliseum could host a relocated NHL team beginning with the 1982-1983 season. This would involve increasing the seating capacity, updating lighting to broadcast quality, and meeting other NHL standards.

An internal Seattle Center memo discussed the idea in less than enthusiastic terms. The biggest issue was the short timeline, as preseason would begin in early September (less than eight months away). The Coliseum already had bookings for 164 days from September through the following April, most of which would need to be cancelled to accommodate the hockey schedule. The memo noted:

The request for space for an NHL franchise comes on extremely short notice and at a time when booked events are either contracted or definitely confirmed to the promoters and to do anything at this time, other than to honor those commitments, would invite legal consequences for which we have little defense... With more advance notice, it is conceivable that a smoother transition from trade show business to hockey might be accomplished, but to attempt such a change in less than a year is inconceivable.

In addition to the timing, there was also concern related to the logistics of converting the venue from hockey to "dry floor" events; two days were needed to switch between them, leading to even more days when the facility could not be rented. The memo also questioned the "marketing mix," as it was anticipated that hockey would mostly serve the same 15,000 people, while the 20 events that would have to be cancelled to make way for a hockey season would represent several hundred thousand varied attendees. The memo asked, "Do we want a mix or a single activity?"

A final concern was the viability of a team in Seattle at that time:

There is a real question of whether or not hockey could draw and maintain an audience of 15,000. If it could, conceivably it would be a financially successful venture for the Center. If it could not, we stand the chance of another team failing, with the subsequent problem of re-filling the Coliseum dates not to mention our P.R. It is my own feeling that hockey would not last long here where other more established professional teams are even now facing serious difficulties.

The (remodeled) Coliseum did eventually become home to an NHL team but not until 2021. Meanwhile, the Colorado team ended up becoming the New Jersey Devils.

Integrating golf clubs


The Washington State Board Against Discrimination held a public hearing on September 9, 1959, on the matter of non-white golfers being barred from joining golf clubs in Seattle. The clubs in question were private organizations but were affiliated with Seattle’s city-owned golf courses. While the clubs did not have discriminatory bylaws, rules such as requiring applicants to be sponsored by current members effectively kept their doors closed.

The hearing began with several Black golfers testifying about their experiences being refused membership. The lead witness was Robert Wright, who had been rejected more than once. He had then attempted to form an integrated club at Jefferson Park but the Park Board denied the application. Another golfer said he was told the club he applied to was afraid of losing membership in associations if they accepted him.

Tournaments were run by local golf associations, who required membership in one of the clubs to participate. When Black golfers who were rejected from existing clubs opted to form their own organization, the Fir State Club, that club was denied entry into the 1954 tournament because the existing clubs were deemed sufficient. Wright's son Billy, who won the National Public Links championship in 1959, had not been able to play in the city amateur championships in some years.

Officers of the clubs also spoke at the hearing. (The clubs had formerly been named after the three municipal courses; after being told by the Park Board that they needed to either adopt non-discriminatory policies or stop using the course names, all three men's clubs opted for the latter.) The president of the Bayview (formerly West Seattle) club denied that they engaged in discrimination, but conceded that they had no Black members and could not recall any white person being rejected for membership. The Beacon Hill (formerly Jefferson Park) club's president acknowledged that two of the Black golfers who were rejected were qualified to join, as they "are of good character and are good golfers." Other documents in the file indicate that one concern was about non-white members attending their dances and other social events.

The captain of the Seattle Tennis Club, which hosted city and state championships, testified that non-white players regularly participated in their tournaments and used club facilities "without incident." He told the board that he "did not know of any other sport than golf which holds championships in Seattle which are not open to all players." Another witness reported that Black golfers were able to play in tournaments in Tacoma, Spokane, and the Tri-Cities, and that "the problem is localized in Seattle."

Volcanic eruption contingency plans

Fire Dept newsletter with drawing of erupting volacno

As Mt. St. Helens started to rumble in 1980, city agencies began preparing for possible effects on the city. When the eventual eruption and ash fall mainly impacted areas to the east, Seattle loaned city employees and heavy equipment to the state and to the city of Yakima to assist in cleanup, but also continued to assess how a future volcanic event could impact public services if significant ash fell on Seattle.

A report in the Fire Department Central Files details expected effects on various City departments. For example, City Light anticipated potential equipment issues with a buildup of ash, the Building Department focused on ventilation in city-owned buildings, the Citizens Service Bureau expected to step in with public communications, and the Parks Department planned to protect the zoo, aquarium, and outdoor pools.

Other local public agencies were also making contingency plans. In a letter to Mayor Royer, Metro's executive director described their preparations for transit service and water pollution control. If there was ash fallout in the middle of a workday, Metro committed to getting people home, estimating that they should be able to continue operating buses for at least two days with their backup supply of air and oil filters and masks for employees.

The letter described joint planning efforts with the city's Engineering Department, which had resulted in recommendations to keep ash out of the sewers at all costs, as it could clog pipes and tanks and destroy motors and pumps. Yakima had to release raw sewage into local waterways when ash got into their systems, and Seattle agencies wanted to prevent this from happening locally. They advised asking the public not to hose or sweep ash into drainage systems, but instead to shovel it into piles for later disposal. To remove ash from streets, the recommendation was to first spread wet sawdust and then pick up the sawdust/ash mixture. Metro was looking into whether this mixture could later be used as compost.

Bay Freeway

map of planned Bay Freeway

As part of a planned system of new highways in Seattle, city engineers plotted an east-west expressway called the Bay Freeway. It was to connect SR 520, Interstate 5, and SR 99 south of Lake Union roughly along Mercer Street. A bond issue was passed in 1960 to fund the project, and it was incorporated into the city's comprehensive plan.

Anti-freeway sentiment in the city grew throughout the 1960s and led to the cancellation of the R.H. Thomson Expressway in 1970, but the Bay Freeway was still a go. Plans approved that year included an elevated section that critics believed would wall off Lake Union from the rest of the city. Letters and telegrams came to the City Council from constituents expressing their opposition. Some had questions about the project's funding, but many just did not believe the freeway was desirable or necessary. Representative quotes included:

"I am totally opposed to the construction of the Bay Freeway. Freeways have amply proven themselves individually ugly, divisive to the aesthetic unity of a city, and generative to more cars than they can handle. Seattle freeways, especially, are eyesores."

"I am at a loss to understand how, in the face of mounting evidence against the desirability of further freeway-building in the city, the Council nevertheless is considering additional freeway construction… it's been demonstrated time and again that additional freeways do not relieve congestion. In fact, they tend to worsen it by attracting an even greater volume of traffic, which, in turn, raises further needs for more freeway building."

"[M]y main objection is the physical and artistic damage to the remains of a possibly lovely city, mine as well as yours."

After a lawsuit and a court judgment stopping the project, City Council put the project before voters in a February 1972 referendum. Fifty-five percent of Seattle voters were opposed to the plan, and the Bay Freeway was canceled.

Animal hydration

drinking fountain

A Public Drinking Fountain Committee was convened in 1908 to determine the need for public water sources throughout the city. Various communications were sent to City Council to be sure that the needs of horses were taken into consideration. A petition from the King County Humane Society requested installation of "a sufficient number of drinking fountains that will accommodate at least two horses at a time."

City Council received pleas from residents of Interbay for a fountain "for man and beast" to be installed at 15th Avenue W. and Grand Boulevard (now Dravus Street). They noted that this "large and populous district...surrounded by manufacturing, milling, railway and other commercial interests" was a busy travel route between downtown, Ballard, and Fort Lawton. One writer noted that with the steep grades in the area, "I know of a great deal of suffering that has been caused to teams by lack of water along the road." No public water was currently available in the area, so that "the traveling public are compelled to ask for water at the adjacent stores or barber-shop."

Concern for hydration was not limited to horses. A resident of West Seattle wrote to Council requesting "a combination drinking fountain which contains a sanitary drinking fountain for the horses, a bubbling fountain for the people, and a sanitary fountain or arrangement where the small animals, such as dogs etc. can get a drink."

The fountains outlived their usefulness as the horse and carriage era ended. In 1943 the Superintendent of Water W.C. Morse was looking into removing a horse drinking fountain from Pioneer Square, as the drain connection was failing and causing damage to the nearby pavement. City Council asked that the fountain be left there but requested that the Parks Department should plant flowers in the water trough.

Rolling Stones concerts

The Rolling Stones announced that they would play two shows at the Seattle Center Coliseum on June 4, 1972, one at 4:00 and the other at 10:30. All tickets were to be sold at Memorial Stadium on a day in early May for $6 each, with a limit of four tickets per person.

Ticket sales did not go smoothly. Fans started gathering the day before and about 2000 slept overnight at Seattle Center. By the time the sale started, thousands of people were mobbing the two ticket booths and some were fainting and panicking in the crush. Eventually police were called to manage the crowd and were able to organize the lines. In response to a query from the Times Troubleshooter, the police chief explained that having tickets sold first-come-first-served in one location was stipulated in the band's contract. He added that "the ticket agency acted in good faith by having eight off-duty police officers for crowd control. Unfortunately, the fervor of the crowd was more than the officers could handle very effectively."

Given the chaos of ticket sales and the difficulties inherent in holding two large concerts in short succession, much thought was given by Seattle Center staff to the logistics of the day. A few days after the shows, Seattle Center's director wrote up a report. First he described the seating strategy:

It has been our experience that at Rock Shows it has become nearly impossible to keep avid rock-fans from leaving their seats, pressing toward the stage and jamming the aisles. Consequently, for safety sake, we use what we call "Festival Seating." All chairs have been removed to allow for free flow of the people on the flat floor.

For security, "fifty-eight large athletic type personnel (football players, etc.) dressed in green ROLLING STONES T-SHIRTS (some with long hair) were effectively stationed across the front of the stage and other areas inside the building." He praised the band's crew as "most cooperative and very professional."

Seattle Center staff used newspapers, radio, and TV ahead of the event to publicize their security and crowd control measures to set expectations and "reliev[e] the minds of parents who are concerned." They made clear that alcohol and drugs would not be allowed into the venue, and that those attending the first show would need to clear out quickly in preparation for the evening concert. The director felt this publicity was an important element in the ultimate success of the day:

Handling 28,000 people is not easy. Be patient, let the people know what is going on and what you expect of them, they will respond. But, DON'T spring in on them all of a sudden – THEY WILL REBEL!! Smile, then everyone will "HAVE A HAPPY DAY."

Smoking bans

Lyons Cafe

Early arguments about smoking appear to have at times turned into a battle of the sexes. In protest of a proposed 1911 ordinance that would prohibit smoking on streetcars, a Dr. Greenstreet complained that "[b]ecause a few idle women who have little else to do, and are selfish enough to deprive thousands of hard-working men of a few moments of innocent pleasure are aggitating [sic] this matter, is no good reason why it should become a law." He sympathized with "the poor devils who have time to smoke only while going to and from their daily toil. They have not the time to petition you and protest against this outrage about to be perpetrated by a few gadding women who should be at home long before the hour when they increase the number of straphangers."

Apparently Greenstreet's letter was published, as it drew a response from a lawyer named John Mills Day. Day pointed out that the letter

&...in addition to legitimate argument, contains language which is the essence of insult to the women and many of the better men of the City. For instance, there is an insinuation that any woman who goes upon the car when it is crowded, is "gadding" and neglecting her family. There is also an insinuation that if women went upon the street cars at any other time than during the evening rush, they would be free from the nuisance complained of. The truth of the matter is that most women who go upon the cars when they are crowded, go from necessity rather than choice, and the obnoxious use of tobacco is met with at all times of the day and night, wherever and whenever the cars run.

The streetcar ban was vetoed by Mayor Dilling over concerns about enforcement and disproportionate penalties. The following year, Charlotte Jones petitioned for a smoking ban in restaurants, "for the reason that there is no restaurant or cafeteria convenient to my place of business where it is possible for me to eat a meal without having to breathe tobacco smoke at the same time, which nauseates me and injures my health." She added her own gendered take, writing, "I trust that your body, although wholly composed of men at present, will take this step of protecting the helpless and defenceless women on this city who desire to eat in respectable restaurants, from coming into contact with the class of men who make themselves obnoxious by polluting the air in public places."


pedestrians and traffic downtown

A prohibition on crossing the street except at intersections in the downtown area was proposed to be added to traffic regulations in 1914. Mayor Gill vetoed the bill, not because he was opposed to the regulations, but because he thought they should be applied citywide and not just between Pine and Yesler. He believed a circumstance "where one might safely cross the streets in ninety nine per cent of its area and violate a law in one per cent" would be confusing and difficult to enforce.

Gill’s veto succeeded in killing the bill at this time, but a similar measure passed in 1917, also pertaining just to the downtown area. The day before the new law was to start being enforced, the Seattle Times warned its readers:

Watch your step! Beginning tomorrow, when Seattle’s new traffic code goes into effect, an erroneous move either in the wrong direction or at the wrong time may bring Mr. or Mrs. Seattleite before one of the city’s sedate and learned judges... For Seattle’s new traffic code is something unprecedented and unknown to Seattle walkers. In brief it places the responsibility for the safety of a pedestrian largely upon himself. It relieves automobile and vehicle drivers to a large extent from complete responsibility for all accidents and gives the pedestrian his share of the blame if he should be struck through carelessness.

It is a serious thing. Just suppose a man were hit by an automobile in the downtown business district while crossing the street diagonally – which method of crossing is prohibited in the new code. While he is lying in the hospital watching the various portions of his anatomy reunite some judge may decide that he was to blame for the accident. Then, along with the hospital, nurse, medicine and doctor bills he would have to contribute a small sum – even up to $100 – for the privilege of being hurt.

An editorial in the same edition of the newspaper defended car owners from those "who think the man who owns an automobile is a 'highway baron' who lays claim to ownership of all the roads and whose special delight in life is tooting his horn to make the crawling pedestrian jump." As for the new regulations, the writer argued, "There is no reason why the pedestrian should be granted rights that do not extend to the autoist. Hereafter he will be busy watching his own step and will not have so much time to stand in the middle of the street and grin at the auto owner who is being reprimanded for attempting to run by a signal."

Municipal lodging house

excerpt from demographic info

In 1911, City Council considered establishing a municipal lodging house for the temporary housing of homeless men. A report to council from the Charity Organization Society outlined how such a facility could be set up and run. They recommended an experienced superintendent be put in charge who would do more than provide a place to sleep. The report stressed that “the operation of a lodging house should be a part of a social program for the upbuilding of character and a reclamation of such individuals as may temporarily need assistance… Without these features a municipal lodging house serves only the comparatively unimportant part of housing men without lodgings.”

The Society envisioned that the lodging house superintendent would work closely with the City Employment Bureau with the goal of finding jobs for the men. It was suggested that the bureau coordinate with other cities “so that an over supply of labor in Seattle might be drawn to North Yakima or Spokane for instance if conditions warranted.”

In addition to the lodging house, the report recommended the establishment of a “farm colony” to which residents of the lodging house would be sent after three days or so if they were not able to find a job. Residents of the farm would be expected to provide manual labor while living there, and would be required to stay until they found a self-supporting job. The farm colony was seen as an “almost essential corollary” to the lodging house, as it was thought that it would serve as a deterrent to anyone thinking of coming to Seattle to take advantage of free housing. The report also recommended enforcement of vagrancy laws, as well as the return of non-residents to their families in other cities.

The lodging house idea got as far as a draft ordinance but no further. Attached to the bill are two pages of statistics showing the demographics of homeless men helped by the Society over the course of a month and a half. These details give a rare view of Seattle’s homeless population in this era, with information including age, time in town, and nationality. “Cause of application” is also noted for some, with the reasons given including unemployment, sickness, and old age. A penciled note mentions that the Life Boat Mission “furnished over 3000 free meals during past 20 days” and had an average of 180 homeless men sleeping on their floor each night.

Noise at the Silk Hat

In 1933, neighbors of Capitol Hill's Silk Hat restaurant had had enough of the noise associated with the establishment. Clerk File 140919 contains multiple missives (some notarized) complaining about automobile horns, loud talking, and intoxicated patrons. One complaint declared the "hallooing, singing, and swearing by both men and women or dancing on Olive Way" to be "more than I am able to stand."

A tenant of the nearby Harvard Crest Apartments summed up the problem while giving 30 days notice to the building manager:

My dear Sir:

With considerable regret I am asking that you consider this a thirty day notice of removal. In addition to the extra cost I am put to, the unnecessary noise emanating from the Silk Hat Hamburger across the street has almost unbalanced our mentality.

You assured me that the top floor would be quiet and should you hope to keep anyone in my apartment, you should rent it hereafter with a thorough understanding that the occupant could endure the din from without. I would suggest your finding a deaf person.

For your information, the hilarity in the most part begins after automobile parties have dined at the Silk Hat. Sirens and automobile horns seem to be their playthings and others enjoy cat-calling each other or singing Sweet Adeline. An occasional fight may add zest to some who enjoy this thing but my wife and I cannot stand it any longer.

May I suggest that you hang out the sign Apartments for the Deaf? Trusting this is timely notice, I am

Yours truly,
Orrin F. Drew

P.S. I have smelled so many hamburgers (terrible when the wind is right) that I cannot imagine caring for one during the rest of my days.

The complaints were placed on file and there is no sign City Council took action against the restaurant.

The Stoned Age

The Stoned Age pamphlet

In response to a report on teenage drug use, the Seattle-King County Youth Commission embarked on a project to develop an educational pamphlet to be distributed in schools. Titled "The Stoned Age," it was meant to speak to youth on their own terms about drugs and their dangers. In September 1967, the commission reviewed an early draft of the pamphlet and found it "believable, non-moralistic, and hopefully convincing to the potential user."

Rev. Thomas Miller of the Calvary Bible Presbyterian Church also reviewed the draft and disagreed strenuously with its approach. He wrote to local elected officials to protest that the pamphlet "presents the use of drugs...in an attractive manner." Other citizens followed Miller's lead and wrote in to ask that the pamphlet be killed or significantly revised, although it seemed that many had not actually read it. A particularly colorful letter to Mayor Braman asked him to "convey to these bean-brained nitwits who are authoring this bulletin that the last thing in this world our youngsters need is the favorable viewpoint on drugs of a bunch of fuzzy-minded morally bankrupt degenerates."

Much of the criticism centered on a section called "Up, Up, and Away" which highlighted reasons people use drugs. Early readers felt the section was too positive about drug-related effects and experiences. Mayor Braman agreed that the section needed stronger rebuttal.

In a response, the Youth Commission's director emphasized that this was an early draft, but noted that "any publication dealing with the subject of youth and drugs must be scrupulously honest. Young people of today are very knowledgeable on this subject, and are able to quickly differentiate fact from myth. There is consensus that a highly moralistic, unrealistic approach will be rejected out-of-hand by our prospective readers." As for the Up, Up, and Away section, he pointed out that these "pro" arguments must be addressed, as "denial of their existence is to avoid looking at this subject in an honest, forthright manner." His letter included a list of the local health, education, and law enforcement experts who were on the project's editorial board.

The pamphlet went through further drafts that met with Mayor Braman's approval, if not that of Rev. Miller and other critics. In response to one protest letter, Braman wrote, "[F]rankly I find it difficult to see why concerned people such as yourself believe that this is an effort to promote the use of drugs. I think the one thing that we adults must accept is that young people today talk an entirely different language than we do, and merely delivering them the old style hell-and-damnation lecture rolls off their backs like water off a duck, and doesn't affect them in the slightest."

The pamphlets were finally printed in mid-1968 and were distributed along with a drug education syllabus funded by the Seattle Foundation and the Elks Club.

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.