Monday, June 23, 2014

Washington Hall and the beginning of Seattle's melting pot

The Squire Park neighborhood has one of those names you’d think was given by a savvy developer hoping to communicate open space and the good life.  In fact, however, it was named after Watson C. Squire, a respected Territorial Governor of Washington and a United States Senator after statehood.  Squire bought the land from the original Carson Boren land claim and filed a plat in 1890, the year after Seattle’s Great fire.  He had married well.  His wife, Ida, was the granddaughter of Eliphalet Remington who founded the gun company.  Watson had worked at the company as a lawyer.

Squire Park assembles along a section of Yesler Way, which a few decades earlier was also the famous Skid Road, where the logs from Seattle’s virginal forest were skidded by mule and horse down to Elliott Bay so they could be sawed up and shipped off to places on the west coast that were, remarkably, growing even faster than Seattle. 

Everyone figured there would be a boom after Seattle’s business district
burned down in 1889 and they were right.  The great clear cut formed by logging the Yesler forest provided an opportunity for developers to build streetcars that led to parks they had built on Lake Washington so they could attract people to their real estate via a good time, picnics, and even a little gambling.  It was all about these new, fun things like leisure time and money trickling down to a growing middle class.  Within twelve months of the completion of the Yesler Streetcar Line, nearly 1600 homes were built within three blocks of the line.  By 1896, another two lines were in place to the north of Yesler, homes popping up and hugging the new transportation links.  In 1900, they were selling lots for about $250-$500, ready to build.
 
Squire Park in 1910 with
Providence Hospital in the background
The real estate pages of the early Seattle Times exhibited the making of magic in Squire Park, the kind of magic that transformed the idea of residence from a place above the shoe and furniture stores in town to a real, single family house, possibly with a boarder, but no less a real house.  At the turn of the century, Squire Park’s homes seemed within reach, a powerful and necessary reality of residential real estate.  It had potential, which was the message from that nice Mr. J.W. Clise, who came to Seattle just after the big fire, saw potential in Squire Park and bought and sold houses and land there alongside Watson Squire and his son Philo.

William Grose, an African American Pioneer, also saw potential in the housing boom.  He had lost his waterfront hotel, restaurant and tavern in the big fire and decided to move
William Grose house, still standing, near
24th and Madison
back to a 12 acre farm he had purchased earlier from old Henry Yesler himself just south of Madison Street and east of 23rd Avenue, a bit North and East of Squire Park.  He led development there and in the 1890s it became known as the “Colored Colony,” home to many middle class blacks.  As Quintard Taylor, the University of Washington historian has written:

By the 1890s, the handful of African-American entrepreneurs were far more integrated into the city’s economy than their counterparts would be a century later.  Black businesses were located throughout the city and served a mostly white clientele.  For one brief moment in the 1890s, Seattle had more black attorneys than ministers.”

On the other side of the neighborhood, the southern end of Squire Park and a bit to the west, a large community of Japanese was also growing in size and economic influence.  It was called Japan Town.  Some 3500 people lived in and around Squire Park.  Masajiro Furuya, the Japanese banker and merchant, who partnered with two other Japanese businessmen to stage the Japanese exhibit at the World’s Fair, lived in what is now the Yesler Terrace Housing Project, just a couple of blocks from Washington Hall. 

Together, they helped contribute to the racial diversity we normally don’t equate with those times in Seattle. To this, add the Scandinavian arrival to Squire Park, and the construction of a building that served as a kind of settlement house for them and for everyone else in the neighborhood.  It serves the same purpose todeay.  

At the western end of Squire Park, a couple of blocks off Yesler on 14th, just down the street from the baseball park, home of the Clamdiggers, Siwashes, Chinooks, Turks and Giants, the Seattle team in the Northwest League, the Danish Brotherhood bought four lots and built a lodge in 1908.  The Danes were part of the great migration from Europe that resulted in more than 60,000,000 Europeans leaving their native countries in the 100 years between 1830 and 1930.  For parts of that 100 year span, the doors in America were wide open. 

More than a 1,000,000 Swedes, 800,000 Norwegians, 300,000 Danes and 230,000 Finns found their way to America seeking opportunity through such remarkable laws as the Homestead Act, a statute that brought the idea of land ownership into the immigrant vocabulary.   The Scandinavians were also running from events at home.  Norwegians sought to escape conscription in the Russian Army.  When Prussia took the province of Schleswig Holstein from Denmark, a third of its 150,000 residents left for America, having no desire to serve in the Prussian Army.

Germania Hall, Second and Senaca
U. W.  Collections
Early Scandinavian immigration was largely to the Midwest but people kept moving west across the northern tier of America.  Along the way, they formed associations to keep their culture and customs and ease the bumps and stumbles that came with their new lives in America.  In Omaha, early immigrants who had fought in the US Civil War and the Danish-Prussian War formed the Danish Brotherhood in 1882, just as Danish immigration was peaking.  Six years later, the Danish community in Seattle opened a chapter and began looking to build a permanent lodge.  By 1902 there were 185 members and they met in various lodges like the Carpenters’ Union Hall or Germania Hall, the great German Lodge located at 2nd and Seneca.

Officers of Danish Brotherhood
UW Collections
In June of 1908 they dedicated their lodge in Squire Park and named it after their new home state.  Besides the meeting and entertainment spaces, they built single rooms where new residents could stay while they looked for more permanent places. There were 450 members of the Brotherhood that year and an equivalent number attached to the Danish Sisterhood.   In recognition of the Seattle chapter’s accomplishments and robust growth, T. P.  Nielson, the lodge’s president, was voted in as national president of the Brotherhood in 1910.

UW Collections
The year 1910 was an extraordinary year in Seattle’s history and in the history of America’s immigration.  The world’s fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exhibition, had closed at the end of 1909.  It left Seattle’s citizens with a feeling that they now lived in a new city, a place of international consequence.  In one sense, it certainly was.  In 1910, one in four of residents had been born in another country.

That year, Squire Park was becoming even more diverse.  Jews were settling into Squire Park, speaking German, Yiddish and Ladino, the Spanish-Judeo language of Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain.  All of these Jewish groups used Washington Hall as a temporary synagogue while they built their permanent synagogues up the street.  Some of these Jewish residents began calling Squire Park another name -- “The Village” -- because it reminded them of the cohesive enclaves they had left behind in Poland, Germany, Rhodes and Turkey. 

Even though Chinese people in Seattle had been pushed out under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and by vigilante action the Exclusion Act inspired, 900 or so remained in Seattle in 1910, most living nearby the Hall.  Ironically, Watson Squire was territorial governor when those terrible events occurred.  In Tacoma, hundreds of Chinese were herded onto a ship and sent to San Francisco.   

Hazel Dixon stands by a Packard in 1914.  Behind her is
her house built by pioneer William Grose, her husband's
African American Heritige Society
Around the time of statehood, African Americans lived in all of Seattle’s 14 wards, but, in 1910, nearly all 3,200 lived in the Central District and Squire Park. 

Yesler Way and the Squire Park Neighborhood looked and sounded a lot like Seattle today, many cultures and languages populating the streets – nearly 12,000 Blacks, Jews, Chinese and Japanese congregating near Washington Hall.  Soon they would be joined by several thousand Filipinos whose country had become a territory of the United States after the Spanish-American War, meaning that citizens of the Philippines would be able to travel more freely to the US because they weren’t considered aliens. Though only 17 Filipinos lived in Seattle in 1910, they were poised to become the newest and largest group of people to move in close by Washington Hall.  Seattle was 97% white in 1910, but in the little melting pot of Squire Park, it was almost okay to look and sound a bit different.    

In the several decades after it was built, Washington Hall became identified as much with the adjacent residents as it was with people hailing from Denmark.  The managers of the hall happily rented it for dances, potlucks, plays in many languages, marriages, concerts.  It was the center of so many communities that one set of faces streaming out into the sunshine with their smiles and laughter would run into another set of faces, somber as they entered, prepared to eulogize a leader or listen to a speaker with an important topic. 

1910 was also important to this community because for the first time, the national government began a major, systematic accounting of the immigration policies of the past.  It came in the form of the Dillingham Commission, a joint committee of Congress that spent four years studying immigration policy and government action between 1820 and 1910.

Vermont Senator William
Dillingham
Appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, the commission would have called itself progressive in its political thinking, but most political thinking in those days had racial and cultural blind spots.  The Progressive liked to think that progress in the country was linked to the perceived strength of the new immigrants, concepts like “good stock” or people who were “socially ready for assimilation.”  In other words, their bias was to northern Europeans over those from southern Europe and to white people over yellow, brown or black, or those from Eastern Europe.  Their goal was assimilation and they believed that only certain people were able to assimilate.  At the same time, the diverse Squire Park residents worked hard to assimilate, but worked as well to keep their cultures, religions and languages intact.

The commission did its work over four years and its volumes of background and recommendations formed the rationale for many future changes in immigration law.   By 1917 and twice in the twenties, big years for immigration reform, literacy tests for all people over 16 were in place. The law defined as undesirable people with certain illnesses or mental defects.  South Asia immigrants were barred from immigrating along with many others from across the Pacific.  While not in statute, a “gentleman’s agreement” between the government of Japan and the United States made it illegal for Japanese to emigrate to the United States.  The quotas then in place favored northern Europeans and reduced significantly southern and eastern Europe immigration. 

The end run around all these restrictions to immigration from the Pacific was the territorial status of the Philippines.  Philippine people had few restrictions to entry.  They were not aliens and needed no passport to come to America.  Also, the signals sent to Filipino men and women were decidedly mixed about opportunities in the United States.  Fighting a bloody revolution by Filipinos who wanted independence immediately, the Governor General of the territory, William Howard Taft, put his own progressive values to work winning the hearts and minds of young Filipino people. 

Seeking a pro-American elite in the country, many young people were invited to a program in the United States that placed young Filipinos in American colleges.  The University of Washington was a popular destination for these children, largely from educated upper classes of Philippine society who had the educational preparation that would help them succeed in US universities.  Taft also championed land reform and educational access to other, less fortunate people in the Philippines.  For example, under Taft’s leadership, the US purchased large plots of land from the Philippine Catholic Church which were redistributed to people in rural areas.

Carlos Bulosan
One person who observed these actions while growing up on a Philippine farm harbored a hopeful view of America.  He was Carlos Bulosan, a 17 year who was plenty smart but also burdened with a bumpkin’s naiveté.  When he arrived in Seattle, in 1930, he had no idea of the Dickensian horrors he would find after he got off the boat.  Two days after arriving, Bulosan told the hotel clerk at the hotel where he was staying that he didn’t think he could pay his tab in full.  The clerk had a way to fix that.  He sold Carlos to two tough nut Filipino labor contractors who, in no time, had Bulosan on a boat to Alaska where he would work in the salmon canneries for next to nothing.

A gifted writer, though he did not yet know it, he worked along the west coast at hard and low paying jobs through The Great Depression, finally getting sick in California where he was hospitalized with tuberculosis.  Then, for a few years, he wrote about his immigrant perceptions of America, marveling at how the country could be so cruel and at the same time so kind, revealing at one time so much opportunity and so little, so much compassion, so much hate. He became a labor organizer, but died at 42. America is in the Heart is a book that needs reading if you are interested in understanding any immigrant experience.

In the thirties, Seattle did not have the racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws that existed in other parts of the country, but there was a Jim Crow culture that effectively determined where different races would work, live, eat and play.  There were two musician unions in town, a white union which played in the theaters and lounges in the downtown where the money was good and a black union that played in the clubs along Jackson Street and the bars in Squire Park and the Central District.  Big touring bands like Duke Ellington played Washington Hall but could really play any hall in town.  But a great regional band like Edythe Turnham's Knights of Syncopation hung out on Jackson Street or played Washington Hall.  It took some time to open the doors of the Trianon or the Ice Arena.

Edythe Turnham and her Knights of Syncopation
University of Washington Collectoins
After, they would look for a place to play for fun and they would head for the cool joints along Jackson and Yesler Streets.  The pianist Overton Berry once had a black night club that became popular with these musicians.  It was exciting, the big names and great players of the American Negro musical world, but Overton’s stage was so small that the musicians had to find a seat in the audience which is where they played, delighting and sometimes surprising the patrons.

The segregated music scene ended in 1958 under pressure from the Century 21 World's Fair leadership, who did not their portrayal of the 21st Century marred by segregation.  In fact, Overton Berry was hired to bring more black musicians to the fair grounds.  In the closing scene of "It Happened at the World's Fair," for example, where the band marches through playing Elvis' highly forgettable "Happy Endings," Berry and others were drafted to carry instruments because the sharp eyes of the fair organizers saw too few African Americans in the band.

Once the Jewish immigrants in Squire Park had built their synagogues and didn’t need Washington Hall as a temporary place of worship, they continued renting it for
UW Collections
touring speakers and singers who served these smaller, special communities around the country with old world, ethnic  music, frequently in Yiddish, German and Ladino. 
Especially well-known among Sephardic residents was the drama produced by Morris Eskenazy and Leon Behar, both known as great wits, playwrights and actors. Productions of Ladino drama continued into the 1950s.  

Young Filipinos Dance at Washington Hall
in the 40s
UW Collections
A feature of immigrant life is loneliness.  Men frequently outnumbered women, especially at the beginning of an immigration wave.  Filipinos used the hall for dances and mixers, recruiting girls from all over the farming and fishing communities across the region.  Japanese would work on their loneliness by spending time at Mr.  Furuya’s farm and country home on Bainbridge Island where workers and students were welcome.  One of Furuya’s two daughters was a highly accomplished violinist and likely would have played at Washington Hall, though I have not yet found a record of it.

After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese residents rented the hall to organize their own civil defense procedures to both show their patriotism and contribute to
the community’s defense.  It didn't work.  On Tuesday, May 5, 1942, Washington Hall became the center of the continued Japanese evacuation of Western Washington.  The announcement was made by the west coast military command that the remaining Japanese in Seattle – the pre-war population was 7,000 in Seattle and 10,000 in Washington state -- would have to register at Washington Hall on Wednesday and Thursday and be transported by bus to Camp Harmony at the Puyallup Fairgrounds.  They arrived on May 11 and would later be sent to Minidoka, Idaho in August.  Other Seattle Japanese would be sent by train to Pinedale, a camp near Sacramento and then on to Manzinar.  Japanese living in Kent were told to register while a decision had not yet been made about when Japanese living in Auburn would be register.  These events would bring the number of Japanese evacuated to 55,000.  When it was finished, 110,000 Japanese living in the west had been interned. 


LA Times
Among the registrants were Japanese farmers in the Kent Valley.  About 150 Japanese-owned farms and dairies operated there.  An official assured residents of the state that because ownership of the farms was being transferred to Filipino and white farmers, no loss of produce was expected. 


There is a constant echo in today’s newspapers emanating from the American tragedy of Japanese internment.  The published obituaries of Japanese people today follow a mostly similar format.  The lead paragraph tells the story of a full life and loving character.  The second paragraph almost always mentions their internment for three years from 1942 to 1945 and where they were imprisoned.  The third paragraph, for the males, usually mentions military service in the European Theater.

World War II, in fact, changed the face of Squire Park for more people than the Japanese.  Few Japanese returned to Squire Park, their numbers in Seattle today are about the same as in 1942.  The great African American diaspora, accelerated by the wartime industries in the Northwest, brought many African American people to Squire Park and the Central District.  In fact, the movement of African Americans was comparable to the Oregon, California and Santa Fe trails in the covered wagon days, about 1.6 million people finding their way across the country.  By 1960, the migration topped 3,000,000 people.
 
Housing covenants conspired to keep black people in Squire Park and the Central District, though federal wartime housing opened new opportunities to the south of Squire Park, in the Rainier Valley.  In 1970, the Central District and Squire Park had become 72% African American, the earlier populations moving on to somewhere else.  Synagogues were repurposed as clinics and arts centers.  Today, however, the white population in the Central District is about 60% and African Americans total about 30%.  The African American population has shifted mainly south and southeast, frequently to the King County suburbs there. 

Jews tended to move out of Squire Park and into Southeast Seattle neighborhoods like Mount Baker, Seward Park and across Lake Washington into neighborhoods like Bellevue and Mercer Island.   

With racial and religious covenants illegal, the choices of later waves of immigrants were not confined to Squire Park and the Central Area.  Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders tended to choose the southern part of of Seattle as well as close in suburban towns like Tukwila, Renton and Kent as their first home, though many chose to go east of Lake Washington to suburbs there.  Today, the suburb of Bellevue, on the east side of Lake Washington, has the highest population of foreign born in Washington state, 30%.

The Danish Brotherhood gave up on Washington Hall during the seventies.  It was expensive to maintain, no longer centrally located to their membership and the neighborhood had changed so much.  They sold it to a Black Masonic organization, The Worshipful Sons of Haiti, in 1973.  It not only provided a home to the black Masons, but also to waves of avant garde performers whose first priority in choosing a performance venue was the cost of the hall. 

As another wave of change washed around the building, King County’s Arts and Cultural Agency, 4Culture and Historic Seattle purchased the building in 2009 and Historic Seattle, which holds the mortgage, is leading an effort to rehabilitate the building and create a place in the community as vital and necessary as when it was first built. 

In addition to acquisition of the property and stabilization of the building's basics, historic Seattle has fixed the building’s roof and is now raising money for a seismic retrofit, American’s With Disability Act compliance and finishes finishing of the interior spaces.  It’s about a $10,000,000 project.

The emergence of Seattle University, which moved back to the neighborhood in the 1930s, along with the appearance of a thriving restaurant culture, have helped make the neighborhood in 2014 as hot as it was in 1900.  The rebuilding of Yesler Terrace into a mixed income home for 5,000 people is a stimulant on the way.  The existing housing is, by Seattle standards, affordable and the commutes to downtown or to the nearby health care complex are minimal.

Carl Sandburg saw, correctly, that the magic of cities is in their constant and restless re-imagining:   

"The city is made, forgotten, and made again,
     trucks hauling it away, haul it back."

Every change, however, brings an abiding need -- a place at the center that somehow figures out how to bring people together.  That's Washington Hall's role and it somehow must figure out how to do it all over again.

Lovely Historylink Piece About Washington Hall
The Baker Building and Massajiro Furuya
History of Sephardic Theater at Washington Hall
Central District History
Harvard University collection on immigration from 1789 to 1930





Sunday, April 27, 2014

My friend and a friend of his named Irma. World War Two Medicine and the Hollywood crowd in Palm Springs.

Pharmacist Mate Patch
It started with a lunch conversation about World War II with an old friend, then got more complicated with a trip down to Palm Springs to duck out of the rain.  While there, a martini and steak at a place from the twenties called Melvyn’s, led to thinking about early golf courses in the desert and that turned into golf at a place that could be a museum.  That's why the forties and fifties are inhabiting my mind this week.

My friend had served in World War II as a young Pharmacist Mate in Beaumont, California, a few miles west of Palm Springs. Built as a hospital to serve George Patton’s Desert Warfare School, it had been turned over to the Navy as a convalescent center, mainly for people who had been seriously injured in combat or had been treated and needed physical and emotional rehabilitation and other services before discharge. There were many men there who had what the military used to call psychoneurosis, shell shock, or, as the military in 1944 preferred to say, “battle fatigue” and what we now tend to call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The military had thought it had learned a great deal from the psychological effects of combat during World War I and had used intense psychological screening to eliminate nearly a million and a half men from service in World War II. But World War II rates of battle fatigue were two to three times higher than in World War I. Nearly one in five soldiers returned to the continental United States because of emotional damage, overwhelming the psychiatric capabilities of US caregivers. World War I was fought in western Europe and the US forces were there for just a year. World War II was fought over four years, all across the world, sometimes with no time to recuperate physically and mentally. And, of course, better war technology made it more normal for people to break down. There were also far more prisoners of war in World War II.

The transfer of Beaumont from the Army to the Navy likely came about because Navy leadership was looking for resting stations to meet a widely

anticipated order that came in 1944 from President Roosevelt. The President had become upset that men were being discharged from the Army without the full array of care he believed was owed them. His order made it clear that
Beaumont Convalescent Center, 1944
every soldier needed to be put back right. No overseas casualty was to be discharged from the service until he had received ‘the maximum benefits of hospitalization and convalescent care including psychological rehabilitation, vocational guidance, pre-vocational training and re-socialization.’ Former Senator Bob Dole is a terrific example of this policy. He was a Second Lieutenant in 1944 and badly wounded in Sicily. He was not discharged from the Army's care until 1948.


The medical system built to support World War II is still astounding today. As described in a recent Rand Corporation history, the 1939 version of the United States Army had 190,000 soldiers supported medically by 1,100 doctors, 64 administrative personnel, almost 700 nurses and 9,400 enlisted men. Two years later, the Army had 1,500,000 people in uniform and there were more than 10,000 doctors and 5,500 nurses. In 1944, there are 8,000,000 army troops, 45,000 doctors, 40,000 nurses and 540,000 enlisted men.  How did they do that?

Over a similar period of time, the Navy troop strength grew from just over 200,000 people to 4,000,000 by VJ Day with a similar rise in medical caregivers.

At the same time, the Army had to address the President’s order and create systems that gave soldiers what their country owed them medically, psychiatricly and educationally. My friend Armand, then a kid of 19, was sent to a barren place called Beaumont, an empty hillside with leaky, spare, temporary buildings. Other facilities that served this function were much better. Some soldiers were sent to the Yosemite Park Lodge, the Hotel Casa Del Ray in Santa Cruz, the Narconian in Corona, California, the Arrowhead Resort in San Bernadino, the Sonoma Mission Inn at Boyes Springs and the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs, once a center for the Hollywood crowd who liked to come to the desert for the weather, among other things.

The wartime role of celebrities was largely morale and fundraising and most worked hard at it. Many stars found their way to combat, but most stuck to entertainment of the men and the sale of war bonds. War bonds were a good priority for the military. In three years between 1942 and 1945, Americans purchased $150 billion in war bonds, a major contribution to the cost of the war and much of it due to the celebrity of the sales people.

My friend was in Beaumont in 1945, the last year of its temporary life. Then, it was home to 250 people in convalescent care. He says that many people died there because of their significant injuries and illnesses. By the end of 1945 it was gone -- scrapped and sold off. A Rand Corporation history of the country’s military medicine was published in 2013 and is attached below. It shows, among many other things, that the dismantling of the war was as breathtaking as the run up to it.


At the time of the Japanese surrender in September of 1945, the Army, including the Army Air Force, stood at just over 8,000,000 men and women on active duty and another 4,000,000 in the Navy. By the end of the year, Army and Navy manpower was half of that. Six months later it stood at under 2,000,000.  By the end of 1947 the US Army strength was at 925,000 men and women and the Navy about 400,000.

At the same time, obligations of the military leadership shifted to the Veteran’s Administration. There were more than 16,000,000 World War II vets and another 2,000,000 veterans from other wars who needed the services that veterans need.

The Rand history says:

“To serve this flood, the VA had 97 hospitals in 45 states and the District of Columbia with a capacity of 81,333 beds, including 10,243 emergency beds…To augment this, work was underway on an additional 27,274 beds at 31 new hospitals with another 29,100 beds in planning. The VA employed approximately 65,000 people.”

Amid this cascade of activity as millions of people were moving about the country

figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives, Pharmacist Mate Armand Guarino, a native of Beverly, Massachusetts, decided to go to Los Angeles and look around, maybe catch a play.  He caught a ride to downtown Beaumont where the highway from Palm Springs to LA shot through the town and stuck his thumb out. Marie Wilson, an actress soon to be a star, pulled her little roadster to the side of the road and said "Hey, sailor!  Going to LA?"  She was 29.  He was 19.


He soon found out which play he was going to --  The review Marie was starring in, "Ken Murray's Blackouts," one of the longest running entertainments in theater history, was racking up nearly 4,000 performances over seven years.

Ken Murray's career had a half life of about one week when he coaxed some investors to bankroll an idea that came from his life in Vaudeville.  The blackout was a term that described the lights going out just as the performer delivered a punch line.  The term got a double meaning from the war, where blackouts had a totally fresh and immediate meaning. The show was naughty, sexy and sexist. And it was a smash hit.

Marie played the dumb blond, an idea she migrated to when she made a shrewd observation that to survive in show business, she had to distinguish herself from the hundreds of other attractive women in Hollywood who also possessed voluptuous bodies like hers.



She had a comedic temperament and played to that strength.  So while the dumb blond was a tough strategic decision to make, it was an easy one to implement. She wanted in the business and the cost of entry at the moment seemed small.  She ultimately found her place, smart as she was, and it both made and possessed her career.


In the show, Murray was the wry, cigar smoking commentator who would leer at Marie and lead the audience to Marie's breasts through the dialogue. Here’s an example of one scene on the show. Murray asks her “what’s new?” She would say that she had been reading a study about the advantages of using mothers’ milk over bottled milk. When prompted to tell what they advantages were, she’d reply:

"Well, it doesn't need refrigerating — the cats can't get at it — and, best of all, it comes in such cute containers."


Blackout!

Armand and Marie became pals. He’d come to LA and the doorman at the El Capitan Theater knew to let him in and he’d watch the show from the wings.



She was married then to her second husband, Allan Nixon, but living apart and seeking a divorce in 1945, something that required residency in Nevada, a complicating factor for a woman performing ten times a week in Los Angeles and trying to advance her career in movies. Nixon was a former Washington Redskins football player and sometime actor who sold gossip to rags like Photoplay and Confidential.  He was also rough with his women and likely was with her.

She had friends in Palm Springs and would dash out to the desert when she could get away from the show. On the way, she’d pick up her little sailor and bring him along for the ride. He remembers particularly Ralph Bellamy at a Palm Springs party, the soon to be black listed writer Dalton Trumbo and his wife on a visit to Los Angeles. Over his year at Beaumont, he met the full Hollywood crowd that Marie Wilson knew. And the crowd loved young men in uniform.

“I don’t recall ever buying a drink while I was in the Navy,” he said. “And damned few meals.”

Once free from the “Blackouts of Hollywood,” Marie went on to real stardom

playing “My Friend Irma” on the radio starting in April of 1947. That role also also had a long run, seven years on radio and finally closing in 1954 as both a radio program and a television series, both strong ratings performers. They were the first films to feature Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, a night club act that needed national exposure and did pretty well with it.

There were two movies. “My Friend Irma” in 1949 and “My Friend Irma Goes West” in 1950. Marie plays Irma Peterson, a Minnesota native. Her roommate, Jane Stacy and Irma are young single women sharing an apartment and many misadventures with men. Jane is the narrator of Irma’s bewildering life as a secretary who can’t be fired because the filing system she has created is intelligible only to her. Natch, she has a deadbeat boyfriend who is trying to get rich quick and not commit to Irma. Jane, on the other hand, is sweet and smart, and on the edge of marrying a wealthy boyfriend.

“Irma, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I became Mrs. Richard Rheinlander the Third?”

“What good would that do if he has two other wives?”

Palm Springs has been synonymous with Hollywood since the earliest days of

the last century. The silent movies used Palm Springs backgrounds extensively for stars like Rudolf Valentino and Theda Bara. Clara Bow was a silent movie regular in Palm Springs.

In the thirties, forties and fifties, Palm Springs exploded in celebrity. Hollywood movie contracts at the time required actors to be available within two hours of notification by their producer that they were needed for some task. At eighty miles, Palm Springs was enough distance from LA's insanity and close enough to honor your contract, especially with the cars getting better and better roads built.

As the colony developed there, particularly around the Movie Colony District
Bob Hope's First Home in Palm Springs
out near the airport, homes were relatively modest. Bob Hope’s first home, built in 1936 and about 2,000 square feet, for example, sold for just under $500,000 in 2012.  


Taking into account that the Hollywood residents were young, talented and relatively well paid young men and women in the entertainment business, the lifestyle was relatively simple as well -- alcohol, sex, golf, tennis, horseback riding.  Sure they had great fun surfing the hotel bars, but they were mostly appreciated by the locals and were rarely hassled. Palm Springs was the kind of little town many of them were originally from, and they found a sense of community there, staging golf and bowling tournaments for their causes, most of them local. They cared for the soldiers and sailors like Armand who were thrown into their midst, some of them bewildered and terrified by combat and some, like Armand, off to Harvard, MIT, Tufts and a career in biochemistry.

While we were there, we spent a couple of nights at the bar of Melvyn’s, a

place with great forties and fifties cred and attached to the Ingleside Hotel, a small, elegant place built as a private estate in the late twenties for Henry Birge, the owner of the Pierce Arrow Company. It was later purchased by an energetic woman named Ruth Hardy and converted to a twenty room hotel. The hotel didn't take reservations unless the guests were invited by Ms. Hardy. It is there that Howard Hughes, registering as his pilot, spent several nights with Ava Gardner, by far my favorite celebrity, who also spent time in Palm Springs with Frank Sinatra, whose home, Twin Palms, she shared for a time.

Sorting out the relationships of the movie colony could be confusing. In Esther Williams’ Memoir, “Million Dollar Mermaid,” she describes a dinner event. Fernando Llamas comes in escorting two of Bandleader Artie Shaw’s ex-wives, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner.



"Ava and Lana were pals," Williams writes, "and Ava this time was in the midst of her stormy marriage to Frank Sinatra.  About six years early, however, Lana had been labeled a "homewrecker over her involvement with Frank, when he was still married to his first wife, Nancy. Both Lana and Ava had been ardently pursued by Howard Hughes, and Lana had had a brief affair with Victor Mature.”

But what happened after that dinner reveals the tortured path of Hollywood Colony marimony.

“Lana and Fernando broke up and she married Lex Barker after he divorced Arlene Dahl. Following his affair with Lana and Arlene’s divorce from Lex, Fernando married Arlene, who became the mother of his son, Lorenzo. Eventually they divorced and Fernando and I were married.”  It's really pretty simple, though it does require concentration.

The state of Washington has numerous connections to Palm Springs, but the one that interests me most is the relationship developed by Monrad C. Wallgren, 
a former Washington state Congressman, Senator and Governor. An Everett optometrist and jeweler, Walgren was the ultimate joiner, very popular and a terrific athlete.  He was a low handicap golfer and a national class billiards player, winning the national amateur championship at the Everett Elks Hall in 1929.


He’s the only politician in the state to serve in the US House of Representatives, the US Senate and as Governor of the state. Despite the
The President and Wallgren at a parade in
Tacoma, 1948. Note Warren Magnuson
just above Truman's hat.
strong Republican tilt to the Second Congressional District, Wallgren was elected in 1932 and served four terms in the House. It was his bill that approved creation of the Olympic National Park in 1938. He was appointed United States Senator in 1940 after Senator Lewis Schwellenbach was picked to be a federal judge.  Wallgren's greatest accomplishment in the Senate was to become close friends with then Senator Harry Truman with whom he served on the committee investigating military contracts during the war.

After service in the Senate, Wallgren ran for governor in 1944 and beat the dour Arthur B. Langlie. Even though his friend Harry Truman’s great upset in 1948 had coattails across the country, Langlie turned the tables and defeated Wallgren that year. 


Immediately after the election, Wallgren was very prominent at the West

Palm Beach vacation White House and apparently with good reason. Truman appointed him Chairman of the National Security Resources Board, a very big
Senator Stuart Symington on Truman's right
and Wallgren to his left.  Palm Beach vacation
White House ten days after the 1948 upset.
A young Clark Clifford, the campaign manager, is
just behind Symington.
job then. Many considered it too big a job for someone whose qualifications were based on his friendship with Harry Truman. Also, it should be said, most southern democrats used the appointment to send a message to the President – moderate your civil rights agenda.

After several months, the appointment seemed hopeless and Wallgren withdrew. Though a safer appointment to the Federal Power Commission followed, his political career was over.

The digging of dirt during the Republican effort to derail his nomination unearthed a charge that ended up with a Drew Pearson commentary, leaked by Washington Senator Harry Cain, a republican, that claimed Wallgren had won $50,000 in a crap game at a Palm Desert Resort named Shadow Mountain.

While he did have a place there, Wallgren claimed the charge was specious.

His wife, Mabel, had sinus issues and the dry weather helped. Wallgren was certainly early.  I found an old newspaper that had a picture of the Wallgren house under construction. It is the only thing other than desert in the frame.

After reading this about Wallgren, I called and got a 2:30 tee time and drove out to his early course, Shadow Mountain, and enjoyed the scale of the forties and fifties development there. It is quite different from desert development now. The golf course layout, designed by professional golfer Gene Sarazen, is short but tricky. The greens are small, most sitting atop a sharply slopped mound, very hard to hold unless you can bounce it along the fairway and trickle the ball on.

The houses located around the course are modest as well. Low slung, 1200
Wallgren's former home in Palm Desert
square feet or less. It was created at a time when the income gap between the middle class and the upper class was relatively smaller. And developers played to the middle class. An Associated Press story in 1949 said the annual golf course membership fee was going to be $100/year and that the bungalows around the course were available at $10/night. The headline of the piece says “Desert Club Offers Loafing For Middle Class – and Millionaires.” Celebrities who invested in and joined there in 1949 included Bette Davis, Robert Montgomery, Edgar Bergen, Dick Powell, Harold Lloyd and Kay Kaiser. Two years ago, the course and neighborhood became the first designated Palm Desert Historical site.

Today’s club has its drawbacks, including its 8 to 5 hours, highly unusual in the golf world. I found Wallgren’s address, two blocks up the street, and walked over to check out the house. It is also modest in scale, even with what appears to be a significant addition.

When we got back from Wallgren’s old house, golf course staff were scurrying to close the gates at five. Walking back to our car near the now empty

clubhouse, I came upon a boulder with a bronze plaque on it near a poorly traveled corner of the building. I could barely make out the words.

In memory of Mon. C. Wallgren
Founder
Shadow Mountain Golf Club
July, 1959

Thinking it over and furiously Googling my I-Phone while having a martini at Melvyn’s, I concluded that the date on the plaque is possibly a mistake.

Walgreen was driving to Olympia in 1961 and had a flat tire at the southern edge of the Nisqually Bridge. A Fort Lewis soldier stopped to help out. The soldier was killed instantly when the drunk driver’s car plowed into them. Wallgren died two months later.

Marie Wilson also had a tragic death, too young, at 56, from cancer, never really breaking free of the caricature that made and stifled her career.

When Beaumont closed, the Navy sent Armand home to Beverly, Massachusetts and paid for his tuition when he got into Harvard University. It cost $400 a year. He retired as Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio and now lives in Port Townsend with his wife, Sally.










Sunday, March 16, 2014

A tough luck building comes back in Pioneer Square



The cool thing about historic preservation is that the act of renovating buildings releases all the stories closed up in them.  As people start tearing away the exterior and interior layers covering all the supposed blemishes, the spirits of the buildings rise from the now uncovered spaces, finding their way to permitting counters, historic preservation bureaucrats, tax lawyers, the real estate sections of daily newspapers, archives holding old photos, now dusted off and posted on the Internet for all to see.  After a time, people can see most of the old stories freshly, as if brand new, a perspective that enriches the old stuff, and even reveals new material that people never knew, or that we somehow forgot. 

The stories also find their way to prospective tenants, like our company, Gallatin Public Affairs, now getting ready to move to Pioneer Square in a few weeks, to a complex of two newly renovated buildings, together called the Pacific Commercial Building, where the stories bounce around the streets as visible and animated as Casper or the Canterbury Ghost.

Located at 240 Second Avenue South, the building we will occupy, the light yellow sandstone fronted Pacific Commercial Building, is a structure with many names and is central to the story of early electricity development and distribution, to the rise of an idea about a Pacific Rim economy in the form of the first Seattle world’s fair, the Alaska Pacific Yukon Exposition in 1909.  It tells us about a time when Seattle truly became a city, tripling its size in a decade.  The narrative tells us about a Japanese businessmen who thrived in the town as did his businesses, accepted as a leader in a city that sometimes was uncomfortable with the idea of different people.  Like all stories playing out over many years, some characters in the narrative do better than others. 

University of Washington Collections
1901
First, it was the Baker Building, originally erected by Charles H.  Baker, president of the Seattle Cataract Company and built for the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company, both of which he owned.  Baker came from a wealthy Chicago family – his dad was head of the Chicago Board of Trade and a key organizer of the Columbian World’s Fair in 1893.  It is hard not to wonder if his fascination with electricity came from his father’s association with the Chicago World’s Fair.  It is an amazing fact that nearly every incandescent light bulb available then in the world was deployed in Chicago for the fair.  As a young man of just 23, he came to Seattle to work for the Seattle, Lakeshore and Eastern Railway, what we now know as the Burke Gilman Trail, after the owners of the railroad. 

Working on an extension of the SL& E that would go close by Snoqualmie Falls, he became obsessed with generating electricity at the falls.  He liked to call the falls the “wasting waterfall,” because he felt it wasn’t properly put to work.  This is an early demonstration of the different perspectives of Native Americans and early businessmen like Baker.  To the natives, the mists that rose from the collision of water and rock at the bottom of the waterfall were the souls of Native American ancestors, rising and floating above their millennial habitat. 

At Snoqualmie Falls, Baker created the first underground generating station in the world.  Keeping, it underground, incidentally, kept the the mists and souls floating about.  He built the two story Baker building in 1900 to act as an electrical substation that would receive the power generated at the falls and distribute it to the growing fleet of street cars in
University of Washington Collections
Seattle and Tacoma and ultimately to businesses and homes.  But there was no tougher game than the early electricity business.  Stone and Webster, the Boston-based electricity cartel, had taken over Seattle and owned the City Council and had helped them write franchise restrictions that effectively froze out Baker. A smear campaign in Tacoma, likely organized by Stone and Webster, kept Baker on the outside looking in there. 

Baker's substation in 1900
University of Washington Collections
His power plant built and his two story substation complete, Baker was still unable to sell much of his electricity.  For the first four months of the year 1900, Baker ran an ad in several newspapers each day for weeks.  It said:

Seattle Light! The only light!
You can’t get it!
Why?
Ask the City Engineer

If you had asked City Engineer Reginald Heber Thomson, he would have offered this answer: 

“Because I am the one who should supply electricity to Seattle.” 

Thomson is to Seattle what Robert Moses was to New York.  Just about everything hearkens back to Thomson, along with what you don’t see.  The zenith of tearing down the hills of Seattle and turning those spaces into flat land was in the Thomson era.  Lake Washington’s shoreline belongs, in large part, to Thomson.  The Magnolia Beach sewage treatment plant location is his.  He established the Port of Seattle.  If you are using it today, Thomson likely had a hand in building it long ago.

RH Thomsen
MOHAI
Thomson didn’t become City Engineer until 1892, but he was the Seattle Surveyor when the Great Fire in 1889 burned 64 acres of Seattle’s commercial center to the ground.  The many small private water companies that supplied water for fire suppression performed pathetically. The city burned while they dribbled. Thomson and the rest of the city’s leadership decided to keep fire safety and drinking water in their own hands and promptly offered up the idea of Seattle owning its own water system, first from Lake Washington and Lake Union and culminating in the development of the Cedar River 38 miles east of Seattle.  The Cedar was approved in 1895 and finished in 1900.  A Seattle–owned dam and powerhouse on the Cedar was approved in 1902 and the new municipal utility started delivering electricity in 1905.

Electricity was really expensive then.  Stone and Webster’s Seattle Electric Company began selling it for 20 cents/kwh for the first two hours of use, then declining to 12.5 cents/kwh as usage continued for the rest of the day.  When Seattle’s municipal utility came on line, it charged 8.5 cents for the first 20 kwh, then 7.5 for the next 20 kwh, then 4.5 cents for the next 20.  Within a year or two, Stone and Webster was charging about the same.  Thirty years later, when President Roosevelt was advocating publicly-owned electricity, he hearkened back to Seattle’s experience, calling publicly-owned power “the yardstick by which prices are set.”  The two companies competed head to head for nearly 50 years, Stone and Webster poles on one side of the street, the municipal utility on the other side.

Charles Baker
Argus
The year 1903 started out optimistically for Baker.  He announced in February that he was adding three floors to the Baker Building.  He had come to believe it was not suitable for a substation, but rather as office space for the booming city.  But then, Baker’s Snoqualmie generating plant caught fire – something Baker attributed to arson --and ruined much of his equipment.  Then his father died.  Baker had built the Snoqualmie Plant with money loaned to him by his father, but there was no paperwork and his father left no will.  Baker was frozen out once again.  Stone and Webster bought the power plant from the estate and George Stetson, a timber baron, bought the Baker Building, now five stories tall, from the lawyers in 1906.  Baker left for Florida, defeated, where he sold real estate.  His wife and three children remained in Seattle.

One of Baker’s tenants was Masajiro Furuya, among the most successful businessmen in the town and deeply respected.  Serious, a devout Methodist, he was a quiet leader in not only the Japanese community, but in the business community generally.

UW Collections
After teaching and service in the Japanese Army, where he was exposed to the sophistication of Tokyo, Furuya contemplated coming to America. A thoughtful guy, he knew that without a skill, he would never be more than a laborer in America, so he apprenticed himself to a tailor in Japan.  Arriving in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1890, he spent a month in Seattle, then three months in Chicago and six months in St.  Louis. Seattle was his choice.  He came back in 1892 and opened a grocery store at Third and Yesler which also housed his tailoring business.

He was one of the first tenants of the Baker Building when it opened in 1900, occupying a storefront that faced out to both
Furuya's Store in 1900
University of Washington Collections
Second Avenue on one side and just to the left of the main entrance on the other.  The local Japanese Association had a large room just above Furuya on the second floor.  In 1900, there would have been nearly 4,000 Japanese living in Seattle. 

In the Baker Building, Furuya’s business was changing and growing.  He imported Japanese art objects, displaying them in the expanding downtown north of Pioneer Square at Second and Columbia.  He begin serving the construction industry in the northwest, bringing in Japanese labor as a labor contractor for the large projects that kept the boom going.  He created a sales force to sell Japanese goods to a
growing Japanese population across the western US on farms and in logging camps.  He provided foodstuffs to the Japanese military as Russia and Japan headed into a conflict in the Pacific that the Japanese would handily win.  His success made him someone a person could go to for a loan and he sometimes provided informal banking services to the Japanese businesses clustered around the Baker Building and on north up Jackson Street. 

The historian Ron Takaki writes that part of this informal banking was holding in his safe the money earned by Japanese prostitutes.  Takaki says there were three “Pink Hotels” in the area, what some called “The Main Street District,” and others called "Japan Town."  The women would bring the money to him for safekeeping but, given their fragile existence, some never returned to claim their earnings.

Furuya’s timing in Seattle could not have been better.  The decade between 1900 and 1910 saw Seattle’s population triple to nearly 240,000 people.  The Japanese population in Seattle doubled, to nearly 9,000.  By 1920, there were 100,000 Japanese in the western US, many of them business owners and farmers who wanted to buy familiar food and who needed financial services that they sometimes could not get from traditional white-owned banks.

Furuya’s growing businesses took more and more of the building.  In 1905, he established the Oriental American Bank, and in 1907 the Japanese Commercial Bank.  The latter bank, funded with $50,000, grew to deposits of $3,000,000 in just over ten years and was extremely profitable. 

Furuya employees at main entrance, perhaps 1913
University of Washington Collections
There were no vacations at Mr. Furuya’s enterprise.  There was one uniform for men – a black suit, called by the employees a Furuya suit, set off by a black tie.  The day started seriously and stayed there.  Some 50 employees would gather around Mr.  Furuya who would give an inspirational talk about Christian values and the ethical and frugal life.  Sometimes the employees would read verses from the bible.  The work day was early to late.  Some of the employees lived with the Furuya family in the ground floor of their spare, rental house on 8th Avenue, a street where the Seattle Housing Authority's Yesler Terrace now stands.  There was a cook and a servant.  They had two girls who went to Seattle public schools, Masa and Kimi.  Both of whom graduated from the University of Washington.

He had two vices.  He was an unapologetic public nose picker, according to Takaki.  He would gather material from his nose while listening to someone speak, roll it into a manageable sphere, and flick it into oblivion using his thumb and forefinger.  His employees, out of earshot and eyeshot, more likely in a different state, laughed and called these “snot shots.”  The second vice was a lovely vacation home and Japanese garden on Bainbridge Island, built in 1905.  Like any Furuya project, it got big in a hurry.

Furuya House on Bainbridge Island, 1915
Likely an employee picnic
On six acres, it had a large greenhouse and several hot houses along 300 feet of waterfront looking across Port Orchard Bay.  He cultivated 5000 pots of lilies, chrysanthemums , cucumbers, tomatoes, had a large pond with a stone bridge passing over the cruising Koi.  All the trees and flowers came from Japan and it became famous in the Japanese Community.  He shared the house with his community and employees. 

Furuya knew that his success in the community depended on his relationships with the white community.  While his banking and grocery operations were focused on Japanese, his Japanese arts shop in the Chapin Building relied mostly on white customers.  While stern, his Christian faith did not close him down to others, but rather opened him up to many people in the community.  He made his Bainbridge Island place available to organizations of Japanese who celebrated which area in Japan they were from as well as to University of Washington students.  He and two other Seattle businessmen, Tetsuo Takahashi and Tatsuya Arai, created a partnership that led to a major exhibit at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Expostion called the ‘streets of Tokio.' Though it was taken up as a civic and cultural responsibility by the three, they made money on the project. 

Streets of Tokio
Frank Newell
UW Collections
The whole idea of the Pacific Rim as a geo-economic zone was growing, especially after the Japanese became a major power and soundly defeated the Russian Navy in the Russo-Japanese War.  Hundreds of Japanese came together in the Japanese Association Hall in 1905 at the Baker Building to celebrate the victory.  A Mr. Hattori, an advisor at Furuya’s company and a Princeton graduate, was a sought after speaker on the topic of the role of Japan and the significance of the Pacific Rim, particularly after it became known that Admiral Togo, the Admiral of the victorious Japanese fleet, was a friend of Hattori and wrote him a letter soon after he had crushed the Russians at Port Arthur.

While on a business trip to Japan in 1908, Furuya heard that the University of Washington baseball team was in the country playing, as the Seattle Daily Times described it, “the best nines of the Flowery Kingdom.”  This was a reciprocal visit after a 1905 tour of the US by Waseda, the top college in Japan, sponsored by Leland Stanford.  The Japanese teams, to the astonishment of a Daily Times reporter, played the game of baseball in complete silence.  Furuya hosted a visit by the UW team to Nikko, the great national park and shrine in Japan that is now a World Heritage Site. 

“You can never know Japan if you do not see Nikko,” he told the team at a banquet he threw for them. 

Furuya purchased the building in 1917 from Stetson.  By now, he was thoroughly establishment in Seattle, a respected member of the Chamber of Commerce and an honorary member of the United States Chamber.  A 1920 port directory described his offices stretching across the Pacific Rim – Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, British Columbia, Tokyo and Kobe. 

While the twenties were strong financial years for Furuya, there was a troubling cast to the decade, demonstrated by the tone of a congressional hearing held in Seattle in the Summer of 1920.

White River Valley Museum
Between 1890 and 1920 nearly 19,000,000 immigrants came to America, most of them at the low end of the class scale.  While Japanese immigrant numbers were nowhere near that volume – in 1920 they represented just over 100,000 on the west coast with 17,500 in Washington state and another 9,000 in Oregon.  However, many of them, like Furuya, were well up the class ladder and they had established several thousand Japanese businesses across the west and Japanese were farming considerable acreages to the detriment, some said, of Americans who were citizens, as well as returning veterans from World War I.

At the hearings, a Furuya manager, who also headed the Japanese Association, laid out the economic reach of the Japanese community – Japanese had ten percent of the dairies producing 18% of King County’s milk.  Japanese were 60% of the Public Market vendors. There were 282 hotels run by Japanese – a third of Seattle’s hotel rooms -- 186 grocery stores out of a thousand, 44 laundries, 73 restaurants and 23 shoe stores.  There were 806 Japanese children in elementary schools and 87 in High School.

The Anti-Japanese League President, businessman and publisher Miller Freeman, argued that the Japanese were depriving white Washingtonians of their rights and future opportunities.  Freeman saw the Japanese in the context not only local economics, but also in the politics of the Pacific Rim:

“To-day, in my opinion, the Japanese of our country look upon the Pacific Coast really as nothing more than a colony of Japan, and the whites as a subject race."

Congressman Isaac Siegal of New York questioned Jimmy Sakamoto, an American born high schooler testifying at the hearing, about his basic loyalties.  Did he not have an obligation to the Emperor to serve in the Japanese military after his 17th year?  No, Sakamoto thought he should join the American military if needed, and if they would have him.

Furuya with his wife, Hatsu and daughter Masa,
about 1907.  Masa became an excellent violinist.
UW Libraries
In June of 1928, Furuya gave one third of the shares he owned in his various companies, worth $300,000, to his 100 employees, something he saw as a capstone to his career and a marker of his Christian values.  Three years later, in 1931, he was broke, the Pacific Commercial Bank swept away by The Great Depression and shuttered, the savings of the Japanese community in Seattle swept away with it.  Indeed, every Japanese bank in the country failed within a few years of 1931.

Furuya tried to start again in Los Angeles, selling books.  His ventures failing, viewed with suspicion by his own community, he moved to Yokohama, his home town, where he lived simply in a small house and died in 1938.  The obituary in the Seattle Times mentioned his two daughters, successful University of Washington graduates who married successful University of Washington men, and were living in the Midwest and East, but did not mention Hatsu, his wife.

During World War II and after, the building was held by the Lutheran Compass Mission until purchased by the Masin Family in 1948.  The Masins were another immigrant family, from Latvia, and the patriarch ran a grocery store a few blocks east of Furuya’s building.  Purchasing a train car load of damaged furniture got him into the furniture business and he purchased the building from the Lutheran Compass Mission to set up a store.  His greatest generation son, Ben, became the leader of the company after returning from the Pacific where he served as a Marine Corpsman, wading ashore at Guadacanal, Guam and Bougainville.

Building in 1956
City of Seattle
Their building was tested right away by the 1949 Earthquake, still the strongest to hit the region since settlement.  It killed eight people and seriously injured many others. It also damaged the top two floors of the building just purchased by the Masins, breaking a gas line and causing a fire.  Pioneer Square now was in a down cycle and the repairs were expensive.  Losing a couple of floors wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to the family enterprise.  They, and some others in the district, removed upper floors. In 50 years, the building had gone from two floors to five floors and now back to three. 


Hotel Seattle
University of Washington Collections
The center of Seattle’s business district had moved North by then and Pioneer Square was targeted for parking.  The Occidental Hotel, later called the Seattle Hotel and owned by the Kubota family, was a flatiron building in front of the Smith Tower. In 1961 it had been abandoned and became the site of the sinking ship parking garage.  The sinking ship became a symbol for the coming demise of Pioneer Square.  Planning for the new multi-purpose Kingdome assumed large volumes of parking spaces would be needed nearby and suburban flight was an additional threat, commuters needing somewhere to put their automobiles during the work day. 

Ben Masin became the business leader of a coalition that teamed with Mayor Wes Uhlman to save Pioneer Square.  They fashioned an historic district and stopped the carnage.  For a time, Pioneer Square was the darling of the banks and projects had not only political but financial support.  The Masins sold the building in 2007 to a young Spokane developer, Rob Brewster and his partner, entrepreneur Michael Goldfarb.  Their plan was to add back the two stories and build out the interiors of the Corgiat and Furuya Buildings as office space.

Their timing could not have been worse.  By 2010, everything stopped when US Bank decided against releasing any more funds to the project.  It was a blow both to the project and a further blow to Pioneer Square.  Then, Mr. Goldfarb died.


At least it was the bottom.  Pioneer Square’s fortunes began to improve.  The housing development of the North Parking Lot in 2013 and 2014 is adding several thousand new residents in more than 700 units.  Adding new residents on Pioneer Square streets is creating demand for restaurants and other retail services. Gamers have flocked to Pioneer Square office space.  One of the largest transit hubs in the country is in Pioneer Square and is a major convenience for commuters.  Well over half the people working downtown use transit.  

The tearing down of the Alaska Way Viaduct means a new waterfront for Seattle and Pioneer Square's will have its own beach and, likely, more housing.  Today, Pioneer Square is white hot. 

Money likes white hot.  A successor company to the real estate trust formed in 1989 after the sale of shipping giant Holland America Line purchased the loan from US Bank in 2013 and provided the funds to Mr. Brewster to finish the project.  In twenty years since his coming to Seattle, it is the first loan the real estate firm HAL has made in Pioneer Square.


So, that’s the place our company is headed, to a fourth floor spot with arched windows overlooking Waterfall Park, a place dedicated to the one-time Irish immigrants who started a little delivery company and called it United Parcel Service.  



It is a building that has many stories, and some of them even have happy endings.