2016 Find of the Month Archive

Horses at the Opera House

Periodically, controversies arise as to the proper use of city facilities. One of the more unusual debates arose in 1962, when 30 citizens signed a petition to protest the stabling of horses in the Seattle Center opera house. In addition to the petition, two women sent in a postcard which read in part, "We voted and got a beautiful opera house - not a barn which smells of horses and manure."

Don Johnston reported back from the Seattle Center's Department of Buildings:

When this area, 'the basement of the old Auditorium,' was designed and constructed back in 1928, one of its purposes was to accommodate the stabling of horses for horse shows in the adjacent Arena and the old Civic field. Floor drains, adequate ventilation, and secluded access to the area were all provided to accommodate such usage.  Accordingly, there have been several occasions in the past years when the area has been used very effectively for the stabling of animals. Odors are kept to a minimum by a deodorant that is introduced into the ventilating system for the area. Unless people are informed of animals being stabled in the Display Hall, they are unaware of such activity in the adjacent areas. My recommendation is that the area still be permitted to accommodate the stabling of horses and other animals with the understanding that adequate deodorant and ventilating precautions are to be taken. Such usage does not violate any law, create any hazard to the safety of people or property, nor does it infringe upon the peaceful uses of adjacent areas by other events.

Superintendent of Buildings Fred McCoy forwarded Johnston's report to the Council. He agreed that the basement had originally been designed to hold animals, but didn't necessarily think it was a good idea. "However, the Seattle Center is now leased to the World's Fair and the use of the areas and scheduling of events is completely under their control. Had we had control, we would not have permitted the stabling of animals in the Display Hall simultaneous with events being held in the Opera House."


During the 1930s, the Depression left many people unemployed and homeless. Many found their way to makeshift camps in Interbay, the tide flats, and elsewhere. The tension created by this situation can be seen in two letters to City Council, both written in 1938. In March of that year, a Magnolia resident wrote the following plea:

In all fairness to people like ourselves – who invested in good homes in the Magnolia District – we feel that what is known as “Jungle City” should be removed. It has decreased the value of all property in this district.

Will you kindly give this your early consideration – and see that action is taken to remove these unsightly shacks.

Thanking you in advance,
Yours very truly,
Mrs. Delia L. Paulus

Meanwhile, Hooverville residents sent their own letter to City Council:

A critical situation has arisen in Hooverville wherein unemployed and aged people with no source of income are being evicted. They have no place to go, and the authorities, having jurisdiction over relief, do not intend to make any provisions for them at all, therefore these people have elected a committee among themselves and our members to appear before you and present this matter for immediate attention.

This will greatly effect [sic] the health and welfare of all the people of this city, and for immediate help we are asking that the Mayor and the City Council use the police powers to stop homeless people from being evicted in the face of a housing shortage and in face of the coming winter.

Please notify this committee whose official address is 94 W. Main St. as to the necessary steps we must take to be granted a hearing.

Respectfully yours,
Committee of 25 Hooverville Residents and Secretary Workers Alliance Local No. 1

Not much changed until 1941, when a systematic shack elimination program went into effect.

Loyalty oaths

During the 1950s Red Scare, Seattle city employees were required to sign oaths attesting that they were not "a subversive person," (i.e., a communist). A 1951 memo found in the Civil Service Commission Subject Files addressed the particulars of six employees who had not strictly followed instructions on the loyalty oath.

Corporation Counsel A.C. Van Soelen and his assistant J. Ambler Newton described the six cases as follows:

  1. Emert Levi Frazier - Laborer - Park [sic] Department. Mr. Frazier has signed but has stricken out the paragraph preceding his signature which is to the effect that the statement is made under oath subject to the penalties of perjury... Mr. Frazier has typewritten on the back of the statement that he cannot subscribe to such an "oath" because of his religious belief.
  2. Jean E. Huot - Junior Cataloger in the Public Library. The statement is signed, but there follows a typewritten statement to the effect that she has signed because of "economic necessity" as she prefers not to lose her position. She also states that she reserves the right to her own understanding of the meaning of the law at the time of signing and to "defend it thereafter if necessary."
  3. August Miklave - Department of Lighting - Hydro-electric Operator. Mr. Miklave has inserted in writing just before his signature the following: "Cognizance is further taken of duress clearly expressed, giving apprehensions for security of fundamental American civil liberties."
  4. James R. Smith - Sr. Custodial Engineer - Building Department. Mr. Smith follows his statement with the following: "Signed under duress."
  5. F. Grimes Schneider - Steno-Clerk - Fire Department. After his signature appear the words "Not willingly signed."
  6. E.A. Wishon - Sub-Station Operator - Seattle City Light. Mr. Wishon has written in pencil..."Is this coercion? (EW)"

In the last case, the conclusion was that the question "does not in and of itself qualify his execution of the statement" and that he was thus "in substantial compliance" with the Subversive Activities Act. However, the other five employees were deemed not to have complied with the act's requirements. In Frazier's case, it was noted that "the statute contains no provision excusing one on religious or any other grounds" from signing the oath. The statements about signing under duress were similarly dismissed as not in compliance with the law.

The memo concludes, "We suggest that the employes [sic] who have qualified their execution of the statements as above be given an opportunity to sign unqualifiedly, in view of the serious consequences likely to ensue."

memo page 1 memo page 2
Law Department memo, 1951
Box 1, Folder 6, Civil Service Commission Subject Files (Record Series 6010-11)

See a video version of this story.

School cesspool

In 1896, the city's health officer expressed concerns to City Council about conditions at the Mercer School in lower Queen Anne:


I desire to call your attention to the importance of having a sewer built immediately in order to enable the Mercer School to be connected to [the] public sewer.

The Mercer School building is situated in what is naturally a swamp. Stagnant water surrounds the premises. The wastewater from the sinks and roof runs into an open drain on the SW corner of the lot and there lies stagnant and a menace to the health of the children who approach the school from that direction. Part of the basement of the school house is always damp and the closets and cesspool are unsanitary.

The health of a large number of children is constantly threatened by the unsanitary condition of these premises and I wish therefore to urge the early passage of an ordinance compelling the property owners to build at least the three blocks of sewer necessary in order to permit the premises occupied by the Mercer School to be properly drained.

F.S. Palmer, M.D.
Health Officer

The council's Sanitation Committee investigated, and "found the cess-pool with swampy surroundings in a very unfit condition and dangerous to the health of the 550 children that daily attend school." The committee also noted that a petition was circulated wherein "nearly a majority" of the property owners asked for a sewer. Thus, they recommended that the Board of Public Works immediately investigate the practicality of such a project.

The lack of proper drainage in a school was apparently not an isolated circumstance in early Seattle. The following month, Palmer wrote another letter to City Council asking that the Cascade School also be connected to the city's sewer system.

Ballard-University Highway

An east-west highway between Ballard and the University District was studied as early as the 1920s, but in the mid-1940s discussion was heating up again and the City was preparing to proceed with construction. Neighbors along the route sent petitions of protest against the project. One asserted that the highway “is not whatever needed, since we have our streets and avenues all in sufficient for anybody who wants to travel through that District. If any improvement should respectably seem necessary, such could be established at a trifle of the cost in comparison with this proposed plan with all its burdensome expenses and destruction.”

Another petition claimed that the initial plans for the highway decades earlier “was opposed by the people of the District. The Merchants Improvement Club then was brought to shame for such an unreasonable plan, and promised never to bother us again.” The petition went on to list existing streets that provided a good route up the hill from Ballard to Phinney Avenue, insisting that this project “is really not needed.”

City Engineer C.L. Wartelle responded to the protests with the following:

The protestants appear to be mainly owners of properties which will be affected by the new route and their immediate neighbors. The protest is based upon the assertion that the connection is not needed, existing streets being sufficient, and that hundreds of families will be required to find new homes.

We believe the necessity of this route is obvious to all those who have studied the problem. Some twenty years ago the matter was before the City Council, and the only reason it did not proceed at that time was because no way could be found to finance it. The petitioners state the hundreds of families will lose their homes. There are 36 houses and 3 garages that will have to be taken. Most of the houses can be moved to new sites. It is regrettable that these 36 home owners will be inconvenienced, but there does not seem to be any other recourse.

We would therefore recommend that the condemnation proceed, and the petitioners be so informed.

Construction went forward in 1949 despite the neighbors’ complaints, although current residents might argue with not-so-speedy Market Street being designated a “highway.”

Moon Day


Some Seattleites, along with others throughout the US, enjoyed an extra holiday in July 1969 thanks to the space program. President Nixon, while not having legal authority to declare a national holiday, did issue a proclamation declaring a "National Day of Participation" in honor of the moon landing. The proclamation read, in part:

Apollo 11 is on its way to the moon. It carries three brave astronauts; it also carries the hopes and prayers of hundreds of millions of people here on earth, for whom the first footfall on the moon will be a moment of transcendent drama... That moment when man first sets foot on a body other than earth will stand through the centuries as one supreme in human experience and profound in its meaning for generations to come...

As the astronauts go where man has never gone, as they attempt what man has never tried, we on earth will want, as one people, to be with them in spirit to share the glory and the wonder and to support them with prayers that all will go well. In order that as many as possible can have the opportunity to share as fully as possible in this surpassing occasion, I, Richard Nixon, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Monday, July 21, 1969, to be a National Day of Participation...

Federal offices were closed, and the President urged state and local officials to observe the day in their own jurisdictions. Washington Governor Dan Evans, King County Executive John Spellman, and Seattle Mayor Floyd Miller all declared the holiday for their own jurisdictions. Government offices and schools were closed, although most businesses remained open.

The Seattle Times noted that "one group of city employees who will not have Monday off are Meter Maids. A spokesman said that parking meters will be checked as usual Monday." Others who did not get the day off included workers at the M. Maggio Company, whose president was quoted by the New York Times as saying, "Moon or no moon, we have to go on making cheese. After all, we can't turn the cows off."

German sanitarium

The following letter was received by the City Council on March 2, 1942:

To the City Council
Seattle, Washington

Dear Sirs:

Am writing to call your attention to the fine old residence on the corner of University Street and Boren Avenue, built for the home of the late Manson F. Backus, Esq.

For several years it has been occupied by a Mrs. Carlston, who has conducted a well-run boarding house. Through Broderick & Company the property has recently been sold by the owner, Mr. William E. Boeing, to a physician, Dr. Leedy, for $13,500.00, to be used as a sanitarium for aged Germans. This, you can readily understand, does not please the neighborhood, which consists of old-time property holders, as they not only object to the nationality but the idea of seeing cripples and invalids in wheeled chairs and pajamas in the yard.

The Sunset Club, The Marlborough House,
Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Green, Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Struve,
Mr. and Mrs. George T. Myers, and Mr. A.G. Dunn
are viewing this with resentment.

Mrs. Carlston has put a large sum of money into the place, and would very much like to purchase it herself, with a small sum down and the remainder on the rental plan. Will you kindly help us out on this unpleasant prospect.

Yours hopefully,
C.E. Perkins
(Mrs. William D. Perkins)

The Clerk of the Public Safety Committee wrote back to Mrs. Perkins to tell her that the committee recommended her letter be placed on file.

Earwig Menace

The Earwig Menace was on the minds of many in the city in early 1922. The Commissioner of Health, the Superintendent of Streets and Sewers, the district horticulture inspector, and the director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture all wrote to the City Council emphasizing the severity of the problem and asking for help in eradicating it.

However, the letter most descriptive of the menace may have been the one from Queen Anne resident George Cowell, who wrote to share his own observations of the pest. He noted that until three years ago, he had never even seen an earwig, but that he then began finding them in his flower garden, and their numbers grew exponentially.

"Last year, in spite of my constant warfare on them of the year before, my property was simply over-run with them... I found them by hundreds in the edge of the sod... I opened the ashes clean-out in the base of my fire-place chimney out-doors; and there were thousands in there! I closed the iron door quickly, and filled a nasal atomizer with gasoline out of the tank of my auto, and sprayed them in their hiding-places with that...

"One of the worst infested places I found was the Queen Anne Play-field! There were thousands and thousands of them there! I sprayed gasoline with my atomizer into the cracks of telephone-poles around the Play-field; and into crevices around the tennis-court back-stops; and I killed hat-fulls of earwigs... I found the saw-dust in the crib, filled with it for the children to play in, full of - simply alive with - earwigs, old and young! They evidently breed in the saw-dust.

"Now I submit that the City cannot begin too soon to fight this pest to a finish. It is the biggest nuisance of any I ever came into contact with; and it will over-run the entire region, if not curbed, and curbed quick.

"I even found where it had been eating cherries on the trees!

"One night I went out with an electric torch, and saw hundreds of earwigs on the sides of my house. I took an old case-knife, turned its edge at an angle, and smashed them, one at a time. I killed, on that first foray, more than six-hundred of them, by actual count! The next night I killed, by actual count, over the very same ground, more than five-hundred!"

Mr. Cowell stressed, however, that even extraordinary efforts like his would not eliminate the problem if others were not also doing their part. He called for an immediate city-wide response to the infestation. "If you yourself have not had experience with them, thank your lucky stars, and hope that organized warfare on them will wipe them out before they invade your district as they did mine."

City Council did indeed appropriate money for the eradication of the pest.

Rail rapid transit

In 1967, Mayor J.D. Braman gave a presentation about plans for rail rapid transit in Seattle. He showed slides from a recent study trip to look at rail transit in Toronto and Montreal, and was full of praise for how those systems functioned. He stressed that people of all classes used the trains in the two cities and that it was "a socially acceptable way to travel," even for people coming home from the opera. (He contrasted this with New York where subway riders tended to be lower-income, "except in downtown Manhattan where all the big bankers [ride] the subway because they can't get through in their limousines.")

Braman praised the design of the Canadian stations and said that the designers had taken their cue from the airline industry to make travel "exciting, glamorous and beautiful." Showing slides of existing subway stations that included underground shops and passageways to aboveground offices and businesses, he discussed the possibility of doing the same thing with Seattle's system, where "perhaps on Pike or Pine Streets in the downtown retail core there would be this kind of concourse leading into and serving all of the major retail establishments so that...the ladies can stay out of the weather."

He then talked in more detail about Seattle's proposed system. A subway would run under Third Avenue and branch out from there, and would be integrated with other modes of transportation. Braman stressed that although most of the current discussion was about rail, the plan would include improved arterials and express bus service. He did not believe that building more freeways was the answer; he had been supportive of building I-5 when it was controversial and believed it was "a very fine freeway," but that there was not room to build a second such freeway - "they do take a lot of area" - to get people into downtown Seattle. And while he didn't oppose the third Lake Washington bridge that was currently under discussion, he said he "hate[d] to think of having a 4th or 5th bridge" across the lake. Thus, rail and bus transit must be included in future plans for the growth of the city and the health of the downtown area.

In response to an audience question about financing, the mayor said it would be funded through a mix of federal and local money over the 15-year construction period ("although with the drain of the Viet Nam war, we're not going to have money in any substantial amounts from the Federal government during the early years"). Braman believed that the "terrific investment" in transportation could be used to "shape the whole physical and social environment of our community." The plan was put up for a vote in February 1968 and received the support of a slim majority of voters, but not the 60% supermajority it needed to actually be enacted. Thus the $900 million in federal funding that had been designated for the project was instead given to Atlanta to build their own rapid transit system.

Opening day of baseball season

The opening of the 1928 baseball season gave the City Council an idea for a publicity stunt, as laid out in Resolution 9477:

Whereas, the Seattle Baseball team opens its season April 17th, next, in Seattle; and

Whereas, the news of the opening day of every city's baseball schedule is broadcast far and wide; and

Whereas, it may be possible to break a world's record for attendance at a minor league opening day, which, if accomplished, would be the best possible publicity for Seattle throughout the United States; and

Whereas, this can only be accomplished by holding the game in a place of sufficient size to accommodate the crowd that it is hoped will want to attend the opening game; and

Whereas, the University of Washington Stadium is the only place in the city that would meet the requirements of such an opening day;

Now Therefore,


That the Governing Board of the Associated Students of the University of Washington and the President of the University be requested to grant the Seattle Baseball Club the privilege of using the Stadium of the University for their opening game.

A reply was quickly received from UW President M. Lyle Spencer:

I write to thank you for the copy of the resolution passed at the meeting of the City Council, February 14.

Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to grant the wishes of the Seattle Baseball Club, not because of the worth of this particular request, but because of the precedent. It has not been the thought of the Board of Control to discriminate against the Seattle Baseball Club in any way. The action taken was caused by the necessity for maintaining a fixed policy which would not involve us in any of the misunderstandings that so often accompany professional athletics. It was for this reason that the Stadium was refused some years ago to professional football, and for the same reason that we have not allowed various boxing bouts in the past, no matter how highly sponsored.

I really regret the necessity for supporting the Board of Control in this particular case, because I feel very kindly toward the Seattle Baseball Club, and I am a great personal believer in the worth of the team to our city.

The team made the best of their usual venue, Dugdale Park, setting up "temporary circus seats" in the outfield and arranging for the governor to throw out the first pitch and for Mayor Bertha Knight Landes to serve as honorary umpire. Before the game, "a hundred automobile loads of baseball boosters honked and tooted through the downtown streets" in a parade to the stadium. Only about half of the expected 20,000 fans were in attendance; the Seattle Times speculated that expected bad weather kept many fans away. However, the fans who did attend were noisy and enthusiastic, and were rewarded with a 10-1 win over the Hollywood Sheiks.

Chinese New Year

newspaper article

The February 14, 1964, edition of the Seattle Times described a school field trip under the headline "Chinese New Year: Noodle Plant Intrigues 3rd Graders." The story ran as follows:

Today marked the second day of the Chinese Community's celebration of the Chinese New Year. According to the Chinese, it is the year 4662 - the Year of the Dragon.

To mark the occasion a teacher and three mothers today were "draggin'" 23 third-graders from Green Lake School through Chinatown.

"Shepherding" perhaps would be a more exact word, but, of course, this is not the Year of the Shepherd.

The shepherds were Mrs. Irma Adcock, third-grade teacher, and Mrs. C.L. Watson, Mrs. Noel Peart and Mrs. C.L. Queen, mothers of pupils in the class.

The youngsters are studying China, so a field trip to Chinatown was deemed appropriate.

The children first went to the Tse Chong noodle plant, 801 S. King St. They were shown how Chinese noodles and Chinese fortune cookies are made.

Tak Woon Lee, who operates a shredding machine there, showed how the flat pieces of dough are shredded into noodles, then hung on racks.

Right in the front row watching the procedure was a class member, Linda Chu, 8, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sheng Chu.

It was all new to her.

Before they left the plant they were given a box of noodles and a huge bag of fortune cookies.

The children then visited Chinatown's Kokusai Theater and had lunch at the Hong Kong Restaurant.

Taking fortune cookies to a Chinese restaurant is like carrying coals to Newcastle. But they did it.

The Chinese New Year's celebration continues through Sunday.

Sol G. Levy, businessman, was named the Chinese Community's Man of the Year last night. He long has been active in Chinatown civic affairs, is a former president of the China Club and visited the Orient last year.

Mayoral dunking

Two years after the WTO demonstrations in Seattle made the news, a group called Citizens for a Better Community and the Occasional Mayoral Dunking filed paperwork with the City Clerk for a proposed Initiative 55:


  1. FREEDOM TO PEACEABLY ASSEMBLE DAY! November 30 is hereby declared "Freedom to Peaceably Assemble Day" in the City of Seattle.
  2. CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES, COME ON! On Freedom to Peaceably Assemble Day, the City shall block off Pine Street between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue for the purpose of a celebration. This shall be done not later than 9 a.m. and shall remain at least through the remainder of the day. Vehicles may not park on Pine Street between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue, nor may they park on Westlake Park.
  3. COMMIES, PREACHERS AND VEGANS, OH MY! At the Freedom to Peaceably Assemble Day event, activist, religious, nonprofit, and other groups may set up tables to spread their message. Other allowable acts include, but are not limited to:
    1. Political breakdancing;
    2. Organizing laid-off Kozmo.com workers;
    3. Bok choy theater;
    4. Presidential pardon fundraising;
    5. Pin the light rail on the valley;
    6. Taking the communists seriously;
    7. Wedgewood pride;
    8. Telling smart-alecky college kids just how bad things used to be.
  4. DUNK THE MAYOR! At the Freedom to Peaceably Assemble Day event, the City shall set up a dunk tank in which the Mayor shall sit for no less than thirty (30) combined minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Other City officials may, at their choosing, sit in the dunk tank as well.
  5. WHAT ABOUT STAN? If Stan Lippmann is not a City official by Freedom to Peaceably Assemble Day, the City should consider allowing him to sit in the dunk tank as well.
  6. DUNK TANKS ARE CASH COWS! The City may ask for, but not require, a donation for the pleasure of dunking City officials. The City may also sell "I dunked the Mayor" merchandise. The proceeds from this may be used to pay the costs incurred by the City for the Freedom to Peaceably Assemble Day event. Any money collected beyond those costs shall be donated to Northwest Harvest or a similar 501(c)(3) group.
  7. WE AIN'T DUMB! If any provision of this ordinance or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.

Signatures were not filed for this initiative and it was not placed on the ballot.

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.