Monday, August 25, 2014

From horses to cars in Seattle


The restoration of an older brick building on Western Avenue has me thinking about the transition from horse transportation to automobile transportation in Seattle.  The building, five stories high, originally opened in 1910 as a stable for horses, three hundred of them, in fact, the biggest, most modern stable in town.  Better than anything else West of the Mississippi, the owners, V. D.  Maddocks and Scott Benjamin liked to say.   

There were many stables on Western Avenue then, two of them just a block to the South and the big Bon Marche Stable a block to the North, home for the store’s delivery horses and wagons.  In fact, Seattle had 38 public stables in 1910, the zenith for that Seattle business category.

I wondered about the wisdom of building a fancy horse stable in 1910. Wasn’t the transition from horse to horseless well underway by then?  I somehow had the transition happening more quickly than it did.  And I wondered about the quality of the transition.  Did people see it a good thing?  Or, were they exchanging a slower, less polluted time for a noisier, dirtier, more dangerous time?

The answers are pretty simple.  Among the leading problems of the good old days was the horse.  The horse had been the center of transportation and other work for centuries, but by the beginning of the last century, there were too many of them serving people who increasingly lived in crowded cities.  For example, in the 30 years between 1880 and 1910, Manhattan's density doubled from 20,000 people/square mile to 40,000. The bulky horse was asked to work squeezed into crowded, noisy streets where they were dangerously prone to panic in all the noise and clatter.  Over 200 New Yorkers lost their lives to horse accidents in 1890.  It went both ways.  Horses worked until they fell, frequently left dead on the streets.  The great city disposed of 15,000 dead horses in 1890, about 10% or the city’s equine population.


The old Seattle garbage man Josie Razore once told me that the principal reason he got an early solid waste disposal contract in Bellingham back in 1929 was that he committed to the city that fewer dead horses would wash up on the Bellingham shore. Garbage, manure and other unpleasant things, like dead horses, were then loaded on barges and taken out into Bellingham Bay on a retreating and dumped.  It was discomfiting to a generation that was discovering how wonderful recreation was to come across a big horse on the beach ripped apart by sharks and pecked apart by gulls and vultures. 

Razore knew about horses at the end of their lives.  The garbage wagon was usually the last stop for older horses who broke into the transportation game in Bellingham as muscular fire horses pulling bright and expensive equipment.  Later, when Mr.  Razore had them, they plodded slowly along to the end of their days.  Sometimes, however, when the firebell rang, their training and adrenaline kicked in in and off they’d run to the firehouse, ruining Razore’s carefully planned pick up routes.

The more complicated and dense environment was tough on the urban horse.  Pulling a rail carriage each day took the work of 11 horses and there were 297 horse cars in 1890 New York.  Each horse needed 1.4 tons of oats a year and 2.4 tons of hay, the products of five acres of nearby farmland.  The average life of a horse pulling a trolley car down the middle of a New York street was just over two years. 

UW Collections
Today's site of the Virginia Inn
Each horse left behind 25-35 pounds of manure each day and two quarts of piss – 2,250 tons of material each day in Seattle that mixed into the streetscape and formed a gelatinous goo in the winter and a fine windblown grit in the summer, ground down by the iron tires of the wagons as they gritted, banged and rolled over cobblestones, gravel, dirt and fresh manure.

The picture at right shows a 1904 protest put together at Seattle's First and Virginia Streets calling attention to the state of Seattle's muddy roads -- thick enough to pull a shoe off a foot, but thin enough, the protesters said, to harbor a salmon.  

Sometimes the manure had value to scavengers, but sometimes the manure markets collapsed and the manure just piled up.  It was sometimes deposited in vacant lots or pushed into the river or bay and sometimes not.  It was further distributed about the city by the big horseflies.  Public health officials in New York thought at the turn of the century felt that 20,000 residents a year became seriously sick because of the stuff.  When the horses got sick, as they did in a horse epidemic in the late 1870s, the economy shuddered as well.

The first international convention of city planners came to New York in 1898 and they were quick to place the urban horse on top of their agenda.  They concluded that the horse in the urban environment had become unsustainable.  

But the horse was hard to replace, largely because the new auto industry early on concentrated on custom built automobiles.  Two years after the planner’s convention, a grand total of just 4,192 automobiles had been sold in the United States.

On a Friday, just before Christmas weekend in 1904, a handful of city workers completed a traffic count at the corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street that showed the horse was still king in Seattle:


Type of Conveyance  Number      Horses
Express wagons pulled by one horse 1,375 1,375
Express wagons pulled by two horses 1,682 3,364
Lumber wagons pulled by two horses 571 1,142
Lumber wagons pulled by three horses 32 96
Lumber wagons pulled by four horses 72 288
Horse trucks pulled by two horses 32 64
Horse trucks pulled by four horses 3 12
Buggies pulled by one horse 178 178
Automobiles 14
3,959 6,519

                                                                                               
Though I’ve never seen a horse census for Seattle, applying the same ratio of horses to population  that existed in several cities during the first decade of the 20th Century, the number of horses in Seattle at the turn of the century would have been 12-15,000 horses. 

French street scene.  Note the lack of lanes.
As horses, street cars and automobiles crowded the streets of the turn of the century city, the lack of order and the chaos quickly became apparent to a little boy of nine years whose family Barouche was stuck in a New York traffic jam in the 1880s.  He became fascinated by traffic then and it stayed with him.  His fascination turned to sophistication as he grew up. His wealthy circumstances took his curiosity global.  When ten or so, his dry goods and New York real estate magnate father took him to Europe where he spent many days in Paris enthralled by the sight of the city’s magnificent streets as the people on them fell into a hell of shouting, swearing and fist fights brought about by the lack of rules.  In London, he was impressed by how thoughtful they were and how rules of the road propelled their complicated commerce more efficiently.

William Phelps Eno developed traffic rules globally and his snippy letters and relentless personality helped implement them around the world, starting at New York in 1903.  He described one way streets, stop signs and a host of other strategies that make up today's traffic safety regime.  He thought cars were a fad but what he did to create order among horses and the wagons they pulled allowed the car to ultimately thrive in the crowded city.

The old stables rehabilitation I am watching is the Union Stables Building, completed in January of 1910.  The owners had previously owned Pony Stables on Third Avenue between Pike and Pine and made a great deal of money buying the Pony Stables property and selling it shortly after the new commercial core of Seattle was emerging.
 
UW Collections
Their lucky streak continued in June of 1910.  A spark from a passing Great Northern train ignited the warehouse and stable that was the Galbraith and Bacon Building four blocks away.  The fire was second only to the Great Seattle Fire that leveled the downtown twenty years before.  Nine square blocks were completely destroyed and 40 mile an hour winds made it happen in a hurry.  Then a biblical Seattle downpour arrived and shut down the fire a block from Union Stables.  Thirty-six horses stabled in the area died but a heroic evacuation of a hospital nearby resulted in no human casualties.  

In 1912, traffic counts in London, Paris and New York all showed that the car had overtaken the horse.  A Seattle traffic count in 1915 quantified traffic going to West Seattle and showed that horses still held market share in delivery functions but were losing out to street cars and motor vehicles for hauling people.  From 5 AM to midnight on that November day, 291 street cars carried 11,699 people, 692 automobiles carried 1,501 people and 203 motorized taxis carried 744 people.  Just 155 horse-drawn vehicles carried 187 people.

Later, in 1917, one in eight vehicles passing by the intersection of 4th and Jackson Street was powered by a horse.  Just three years later, it was one in a hundred.  The year 1915 was the high water mark for the number of horses in America, nearly 27,000,000 animals, but they weren’t working as hard as they had in the past.  Today, there are ten million horses living in America.  

Even as the automobile thrived, The Union Stables were very busy in the horse business and it still carried its traditional dangers.  One of the owners of Union Stables, Vernon Maddocks, was driving a team of horses in 1915 that were helping him haul feed and other goods back to the stable.  He decided to head down the short but steep Cedar Street hill and take a left at the bottom, on Western, to go the final five blocks South to the stables.   Something happened, perhaps an automobile backfired, but Maddox only remembered the growing alarm he felt as the horses broke down the hill and blasted across Western over an embankment of wet blackberry bushes and emerged next to the railroad tracks as a pile of twisted horse bodies, bales of hay, bags of oats and the completely unconscious body of Mr. Maddocks.  He spent Thanksgiving in the hospital, though he recovered and would live in his fine Capital Hill home for many more years.

Mr.  Maddocks' lucky survival came as the Ford Motor Company was in the middle of one of the most amazing business accomplishments in the country’s history.  In 1908, a basic Ford Motor car cost $850 dollars.  In 1924, an automobile from Ford cost just $240.  While there were many automakers, they tended to make larger, more expensive cars, custom-built jobs, leaving Ford mostly alone in the affordable car arena.  Ford's 1921 market share was 60%.  Fifteen million Ford Model Ts were built between 1908 and 1927.

The Ford automobile was pretty much the final decider for the urban horse.  However, horses remained a big part of farming in American life until the end of World War II.  It was 1944 before there were more tractors deployed on the farm than draft animals like mules and horses. 

A lovely memoir about growing up in a First Hill mansion written by Edward Dunn, "1121 Union," tells us that some of his wealthy neighbors took their time turning in their horses and kept them well into the 1930s. 

”A regular Sunday occurrence was the arrival of Mrs.  A. H. Anderson in her shiny black coach pulled by two beautiful chestnut horses with a plump coachman on the box and a skinny footman attired in full black uniforms and silk toppers.  Mrs. Anderson was one of the wealthiest women in the state as the widow of a prominent lumberman.  She arrived every Sunday to take our neighbor, Lillian Riley, to the Christian Science Church.”

“I don’t remember when the horses were retired, but it must have been in the late 1930s.  I do remember how the horses became plump with age as did the coachman.  The footman became skinnier.”

Seattle Police Chief William Severyns was just shutting off the light at 10:30 PM, December 19, 1923.  He was trying to get the city’s Civil Service Commission out of his mind.  The commission kept getting in the way of cleaning up a police force constantly tested by the loose money blowing around during prohibition.  In fact, the biggest bootlegger in Seattle was a charming police captain and most people knew it.  But, when Severyns would fire a crooked officer, the commission traditionally reinstated him.  Then the phone by his bed rang.

A voice he couldn’t identify told him in a matter-of-fact tone that the Union Stables was home that night to nearly 250 cases of illegal liquor and wine, assuming the chief was interested. 

Soon, investigators from the night shift of the department were chatting with the night watchman, a Mr. A. N. Blood, who was, of course, completely unaware of any alcohol on the premises and could produce no keys, when confronted, to the multiple padlocks on a storage room door at the back of the building.  Soon, the lads were tallying up 230 cases of liquor and fine wines, valued between $100 and $170 each “at bootleggers’ prices.”  The chief said that the cases had little blue tags on them containing the names of ‘several prominent citizens.’

The chief later wondered out loud to the Seattle Times if he should give the names on the tags to the grand jury then impaneled and looking at violations of the state and local laws implementing the Volstead Act.  The little blue tags never came up again, though Severyns’ problems with the Civil Service Commission continued, earning him the wrath of Seattle’s first woman mayor, Bertha Landes.  The next year, 1924, he speculated at a big meeting downtown that if he had his way as many as a hundred officers would not be working in the department. 

This intrigued Council President Landes, then serving as temporary Mayor while Mayor Edwin Brown, a dentist, was at the Democratic National Convention in June of 1924.  She sent a letter telling Severyns to identify and fire the 100 officers or she would fire him.  He didn’t.  She did.  In her dismissal letter she told him to turn the department over to Assistant Chief J. T. Mason, whom she notified while he was at a golf course, but thought better of it over the weekend and appointed herself as chief on Monday.  I can’t help but wonder whether Assistant Chief Mason finished the round before assuming his new duties, which might have cost him the job.  Mayor Brown re-instated Severyns when he returned and the Seattle Daily Times threw up its hands on the editorial page:

“Of one thing there need be no doubt, Seattle is sick and tired of government by hysteria and police activity with brass bands!”

It was hard to be Chief of Police during Prohibition.

The year Mrs.  Landes was actually elected Mayor, 1926, there were only three stables remaining in Seattle and the car now ruled.  Union Stables grew into the automobile and supported several business models supporting the car -- parking, storage, repair and towing before turning into a Volkswagen dealership where I once looked at a car. Later, it became a Continental Furniture, a bargain furniture outlet and has been mostly empty during the recession.

Every energy source leaves some kind of legacy, even the horse.  Modern sewer systems were designed during the horse transportation era and combining sewage removal with stormwater runoff helped removed horse manure from the streets and treated it -- most of the time.  When there were big storms, however, the volume overwhelmed the treatment facilities and untreated manure from the streets along with human feces spilled into the water.  

King County has been dealing with Combined Sewer Overflows since the 1960s and has reduced the amount of untreated sewage and modern day chemicals flushed into Elliott Bay by nearly a third, about a billion gallons a year. When the job is finished, well into the future, it will have cost $600 million dollars. 

The building will become the business offices of Lease Crutcher Lewis, a construction firm that is doing the remodeling.  There will be a penthouse on top that will have amazing views of Puget Sound and Seattle's new waterfront, as it develops.  The renovation will leave the building looking much as it did when it was brand new with its lovely terra cotta representation of a horses head, buffed and shiny, fetchingly looking over its shoulder at all that has happened along its home above Western Avenue.












Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The arrival of the Great White Fleet in Seattle and a big party at the New Washington Hotel

Museum of History and Industry
The Washington Hotel began rising from its top of the hill location in 1890 and was originally known as the Denny Hotel, after one of the Seattle founders, Arthur Denny.  Squabbling among the partners kept the hotel closed for its first three years and the Panic of 1893 did the rest, closing it for another decade.  Finally, it was sold to James A.  Moore whose Moore Theater stands next to it and still packs them in today.  Moore’s first guest, Teddy Roosevelt, gave the hotel all the cache it needed to be successful and it was a success for the three summers of life ahead of it, before the hoses leveling what we call Belltown today washed its footings away.  



Moore sold the land at the corner of Second and Stewart to two powerhouse developers who were just finishing the Alaska Building, the first true Seattle skyscraper.  J. E. Chilberg and J. Crawford Marmaduke paid $200,000 for the land and had in mind a turnkey hotel project, something that could be built but not fully furnished and sold to a competent hotelier who'd finish the job.

As they closed in on the groundbreaking date, the architects, the esteemed Eames and Young from Chicago, said that another $200,000 had been added to the original $600,000 cost of the structure “because the great growth and the magnificent prospects of the city merit it,” said Mr. Eames.  There were to be 350 rooms in the hotel and, the Seattle Daily Times noted, “every room will have a private bath.”  The doors to the closets were to be constructed so that “when opened, the closet will be flooded with electricity.” 

The Alaska Building underway
August 22, 1904
UW Collections
The construction of these new, taller buildings should be understood in the context of the San Francisco Earthquake that occurred in April, 1906.  Clearly, the great city was damaged goods and the events in the Bay Area gave Seattle a strategic advantage that would ensure something more than backwater status.  Also, Chilberg and Marmaduke had just finished the Alaska Building and wanted it to be seen as safe.  Its all steel construction helped that point along as did the choice of Eames and Young from Chicago.  Also helping was the fact that people then knew absolutely nothing about how earthquake prone their region was.

The hotel was on a schedule that would have it comfortably ready for the great world’s fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that Seattle planned first for 1908 and then delayed for a year to June of 1909.  St.  Louis and Portland had just completed expos celebrating the start and the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Now it was Seattle’s time with a fresh topic, the gold rush plus the emergence of an American Century in the Pacific.   However, soon, the inevitable delays came Materials didn't arrive on time and, also, the realization that the basic business scheme devised by Chilberg and Marmaduke needed to be revisited.  The destruction of San Francisco sent a strong economic shock, that reverberated across the entire western economy.  Then, manipulators tried to corner the copper market which led to a collapse of copper stocks and a slowing of mining that hit the national economy in 1907. The slowing economy made the idea of finding a turnkey buyer unlikely, so Chilberg and Marmaduke turned to a public stock offering to raise the $250,000 necessary to furnish the project and install the interior spaces that would complete the hotel.  The coverage at the time seemed sober and straight forward, a small wrinkle in the plan, but clearly the back story demonstrated a significant fear that Seattle could be left with another empty hotel, just like the one Arthur Denny tried to build. 

Events also crowded in.  A great fleet was moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and would visit Seattle in the Spring of 1908.  The purpose was to demonstrate President Roosevelt’s famous saying, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."  The Great White Fleet was the big stick part and sent a clear signal to Japan that the Pacific was an American lake as well.  When it became clear that sometime in May, 1908 the big ships would visit, there was a possibility that the city’s new showcase hotel might not be ready. It had the potential for a world class embarrassment to a city with world class presumptions. 

Chilberg and company were cutting it very close. They announced on April 19 that the New Washington would be the site of the great reception for the offices of the fleet when they arrived on May 23.  The Seattle Daily Times felt it necessary to underscore the community's expectations by saying that "the reception will take place in the big hostelry which will be finished by that date."

One step ahead of the sheriff, with workers racing to complete so many details, the officers’ reception began with the admirals being led to the ornate mezzanine so they could take in the lovely lobby. They then left the mezzanine and proceeded down stairs to the dining room/ballroom where the officers formed a reception line. They would greet 3,000 people inside the hotel while an estimated 30,000 milled around outside, where music was available and the police department scanned the crowd for pickpockets. 
They got some, like E. Larson, known as the “Frisco Kid” who had $125 on his person.  Ike Borenstein had filched $193 and, over at the post office, Joe Medford, who tried to outrun the cops, knocking over a group of ladies and a stroller.  He had $130 on him. Big money in those days.

New Washington and Moore Theater across from
grandstand on Second Avenue.
Note people standing on utility poles.
UW Collections
Then, three days later, the greatest parade ever in Seattle marched down First and up Second Avenue. The Seattle Daily Times, using a tortured analysis, had the attendees at half a million.  Let’s not argue with Alden Blethen, it would be a hopeless endeavor, let’s just say there were a lot of people.  They went South down First Avenue to Jackson Street, then back up the gentle slope on Second Avenue where they went by the official bandstand located across the street from the New Washington and the Moore Theater. 

Organizers had roped off the sidewalks from the parade route, using 33,000 feet of half inch rope. 

Original Poster
The military part of the parade was all starched uniforms and crisp, shouted orders, but the civilian part was down home.  The City of Aberdeen brought 16 black bear cubs who were to be escorted along the route by the 16 fattest men in Aberdeen.  A view of the parade route by the bear escorts led to a change in plans due to the rigor of the march and the long climb north on Second Avenue.  Younger, thinner men escorted the Teddy Bears along the streets.  After the parade, each of the 16 battleships received a bear cub as a mascot.

The hotel that Chilberg and Marmaduke made spanned the two World’s Fairs in Seattle, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition – the youthful Chilberg was its president -- opened June 1, 1909 and Century 21, April 21, 1962.  Performers in both events stayed at the Washington.  Most notable, of course, was Elvis Presley, here to film “Take Me To The Fair,” later released as “It Happened at the World’s Fair.”




The Depression of 1893

The Great White Fleet and its Purposes

Very intelligent discussion of the 2001 earthquake in Seattle

The Elvis History Blog -- in Seattle



Seafair's older uncle, Potlatch

When I lived in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle, a hillside overlooking the middle part of Lake Washington, I would watch the boat traffic streaming away from the southern part of the lake following the Seafair hydroplane races, the crowning event of Seattle’s 72 year old summer festival.  Though I knew there would be lots more good weather in front of us, actually the very best Northwest weather, the end of Seafair was a punctuation mark on the summer that somehow made me sad.  I’d walk out of the garden and up the stairs to the kitchen where I’d get another beer, or more likely a glass of whiskey.
While I don’t live in that house above the lake anymore, I have that same feeling of sadness at the end of Seafair and, for some reason, decided my familiarity with the history of Seafair needed some work and I took my whiskey over to my laptop when the blues came.  It didn't take long to blow past Seafair to its very interesting predecessor, Potlatch, sometimes called Golden Potlatch, a stop and start special event that began with great promise and some tragedy in the summer of 1911, seemed to gain a foothold in 1912, played host to a full bore riot in 1913 and was replaced with a choral music festival in 1915 after the Seattle Chamber of Commerce decided a better use of its money would be chasing conventions.  Potlatch revived for a few years in the mid-thirties but was abandoned as World War II broke out. 
When it ended in 1915, a former booster of the event, The Seattle Daily Times, said there was nothing to get upset about. 

“Seattle has discovered and promoted with a commendable degree of success a happy substitute for the erstwhile, noisy and meaningless Potlatch.”
Festivals have always been markers – of time, accomplishment, our spiritual life. They were, in the fundamental meaning of the concept, a special event.Today, special events are more mundane -- business tactics, things we do to communicate ideas, to carry out commerce, to advocate, to create a purposeful unity. 

Potlatch comes from Chinook Jargon, the trading language of tribes in the Northwest.  It derives from a Nootka (Vancouver Island) word and described a celebration in which many people gathered together, feasted, gambled and made gifts, often lavish, to one another. 

UW Libraries
The first Seattle Potlatch grew out of the civic energy generated by the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that celebrated the Alaska Gold Rush and Seattle’s gateway role in the riches of the far north.  Seattle’s connections to the tribes still had power back in the early part of the last century, perhaps because we had so overwhelmed them, as we had the forest, and they existed only in a pleasant myth.  My old neighborhood, Leschi, was named after a chief, likely innocent, authorities had hung just sixty years before.
Planning for the event began in April with a meeting of worthies intent on raising enough money to make a good first impression.  Mayor George Cotterill led off with his favorite topic, growing the city.  “This year’s summer visitor is the advance agent of next year’s permanent resident.”  Frank McDermott, leader of the Bon Marche, the most successful department store on the west coast, chimed in with “Cities are only learning what merchants learned long ago - that it pays to advertise.”  “It helps put Seattle on the map,” said Joshua Green of the Inland Navigation Company.  Blunt old Henry Broderick, the downtown real estate man, added:   “The Potlatch will pay if you do.  Mail your check now!”

Seattle Golf Club
UW Libraries

A prelude to opening day of the first Potlatch on July 17 was the Potlatch Golf Tournament, played at the new Seattle Golf Club, open at its present location since 1908.  One of the more popular young businessmen in Seattle, George R. Andrews, Seattle manager of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, was set to play in the tournament on July 13th.  He was good – just a couple of weeks earlier he won the Chapin Cup and the club championship in successive days. 

He would have been known as a “good club man,” a popular joiner in the Seattle upper crust social scene.  He and a number of friends had a small party at the golf club the night of the 12th which concluded about 10:00 PM.  They left at about the same time with George insisting he was in a hurry to get back to his apartments in the New Washington Hotel downtown so he could be rested and ready to tee off early on the 13th

They drove out onto Golf Club Road, George the second to last car out of the parking lot.  One of the cars ahead had a mechanical problem and stopped at the city limits, then on 85th Street and perhaps four miles toward the city from the course.  When the last car came along, ahead of George, his friends sensed something wrong and back-tracked for the club, finding some skid marks about a half mile from the club at a place called “The Dip,” an elevation change along the narrow, two lane road perched above a small but steep embankment.

They couldn’t see anything there until they picked up, in their headlights, the glint of broken glass. They slid down the ravine’s edge until they saw the car at the bottom and George at the foot of a stump, his neck broken.  The skid marks and other clues suggested that Andrews was driving 60 miles an hour or so or before he flew off the road.  One of his friends broke an axle while searching and another car was damaged while backing up, nearly rolling into the same ravine. There were many indicators that alcohol was involved, but the Seattle Daily Times, never a friend of governmental performance, blamed the road builder, King County, even bringing the Executive Director of the Good Roads Association to the site to evaluate the quality of the road.   Seattle Daily Times Publisher Alden Blethen was a member of the club and his sons were pretty good at the game.  He likely wished he would have exposed any problems of “The Dip” that he had driven over so many times before the accident.   
Despite George's tragedy, they finished the tournament, out of deference to the many golfing visitors in town, but Potlatch never felt the same to Blethen or the Seattle Daily Times after the George Andrews tragedy and subsequent events.

Still, the first Potlatch was a hell of a party.  It had many of entertainments we enjoy in today’s Seafair.  A big parade, water sports, even something called a hydroplane, though it was really a float plane with wheels in its pontoons that could scoot the craft noisily along the ground. 
There were nightly dances on the streets, a Chinese monster dragon dance and, in an unfortunate sentence “a Japanese feast of lanterns.”  Those Japanese and their hot food!

Pergola at First and Yesler
Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle’s Potlatch goals were fairly minimal – more growth, awareness of the city’s accomplishments.  The city was working hard at gaining attention in 1911.  In 1890, Tacoma and Seattle had about the same population, around 40,000 and the same basic interests – access to major transportation linkages via the railroads and ports.  But Seattle exploded in the next two decades as it went on an annexation binge and had considerable organic growth as well.  Suddenly, it seemed, Seattle was a big city with 250,000 people.  It had pulled off a spectacularly successful world’s fair, but it still yearned for more attention.   The first Potlatch did just that and the one the next year seemed even better. 

UW Libraries
Every summer festival has its auxiliary group, fundraisers and boosters who support the event and march, in their white suits and shoes, in the big parade.  Seafair has its “Commodores” formed five years after the first Seafair in 1950.  The Potlatch had an auxiliary as well, Tilikums, another Chinook word meaning people who signify a nation.  The Tilikums marched in something even more uncomfortable than a poorly fitted white suit.  They wore great masks, really more like totem poles, over their white robes.  The masks covered much of their body and must have been clumsy at the volunteer reception after the parade or, more likely, required a really big check room at the host hotel. 
It looked like this event was on the rise in 1913, especially when Frank Baker, head of the National City Bank, committed to be the chairman at a luncheon held at the Moose Room of The Rathskeller restaurant.  Baker would become the father of another Seattle banker, Miner Baker, who for many years provided the regional economic forecast at Seattle First National Bank and later served as a Seattle Port Commissioner. 

There were no invitations sent out for the dinner, people just knew to come and, at a dollar plate, it was a big success.  When Baker spoke, he promised an event that would be the best yet. 
It was, in fact, a nightmare. 


Alden J.  Blethen, Publisher
Seattle Daily Times
UW Libraries
There are many complicated antecedents to what caused the 1913 Potlatch Riots.  First, there was Colonel Blethen, who wore his heart on his masthead, where he sometimes described his publication as “An American Newspaper for Americans.”  One of his goals, also on the masthead, was the defeat of Bolshevism, along with a 3,000,000 ton/year coking plant located in town.
The Industrial Workers of the World had Blethen’s version of America always in their sights and periodically would hold parades in front of the Daily Times offices, their Red Flag of the revolution on equal level with the Stars and Stripes.  Of course, this infuriated Blethen.  He believed that their continued organizing and speech making was dangerous, bad for business and un-American and he constantly pressured the mayor to run them out of town as other towns had done.

George Cotterill, Mayor
Seattle Municipal Archives
But the mayor and Colonel Blethen didn’t get along.  Before becoming mayor, George Cotterill was the assistant to R. H. Thomson, the great city engineer whom Blethen thought was out of control, by and large true, and Blethen had him as a socialist as well because Thomson thought highly of public ownership.  

After the Great Seattle Fire, Thomson blamed the poor performance of the private water companies for the inability of the firefighters to put down the blaze.  So, he created his own publicly-owned water department, building the city’s water system on the Cedar River, 30 miles from the town, hooking it up with wooden pipes.  The dam he built to hold the municipal water supply led him to attach a power plant and run the stored water through its generators.  The resulting city-owned electric company delivered significant value to the citizens of his town, the rate/kilowatt hour dropping from 20 cents to 10 cents in a handful of years.  Not only was Cotterill connected to Thomson, but he had defeated Blethen’s pick, Hiram Gill, for mayor the year before.
So, when Blethen and the management of Potlatch wanted the IWW silenced and off the streets of Seattle, Cotterill refused.

There are several versions of how the riots began.  One of them had a young female IWW supporter speaking to a largely IWW crowd on Washington Street in Pioneer Square.  A few soldiers and sailors here for Potlatch and having a good time in the square's many bars came upon the scene and began heckling the speaker.  She heckled back.  At some point the soldiers took over the platform and shouted their points of view to the crowd, who shouted back. 
The woman sought to get her platform back and they refused.  She told them the platform was rented and she would be charged a premium if she did not return it on time, a point the military men who now had the box did not buy.  There was a struggle, a fist was raised near the woman and one of the crowd stepped forward and decked a sailor.  


IWW Hall
UW Collections
That night, after reading inflammatory accounts in the Daily Times about the incident, a mob consisting of soldiers, sailors and their friends busted up the IWW headquarters building as fights broke out everywhere. Other offices were ransacked, newsstands with Socialist and IWW materials were destroyed. Cotterill declared a civil emergency, cut off liquor sales and told Colonel Blethen that the only way he would publish another account of the troubles then ongoing was to have it reviewed prior to publication by the mayor.

Seattle Police then refused to let a Daily Times extra edition be circulated to newsboys gathered at the Times Building.  The Times lawyers finally got an temporary injunction against Cotterill and his gag order.

By then troops had been federalized and the city was under martial law.  Soldiers and sailors were sent to their ships and barracks.  While additional violence was expected, it didn’t materialize, although it was clearly a precursor of truly bloody events in the remaining years of the decade -- the Everett and Centralia Massacres, the General Strike and hundreds of smaller incidents in the coal mine and lumbering towns across the state.  

Absent from much of the coverage of the 1913 event was the accomplishment of a young woman, Alyn McKay, who set the altitude record for women in her small plane, rising above the mayhem below in lazy circles until she reached 2,900 feet which, at the time, seemed amazing. 

Potlatch would have one more year, 1914, and disappear from the civic agenda.  Blethen would exit the following year, dying July 13, 1915.