Sunday, January 29, 2012

Big Hearts in Tacoma

In 1988, while working with the Washington State Centennial Commission on international participation in the state’s 100thbirthday celebration, I found myself in a van heading out of Tacoma with three Sumo performers and the Vice-President of the Japan Sumo Association.

The non-profit I worked for was trying to lure the Sumo Association to the state for a tournament and we were in Tacoma looking at the Tacoma Dome as a possible venue. After the tour, there was a civic lunch and an exchange of gifts.

During the lunch, I noticed that the performers spent a fair amount of time looking out over the tide flats at the paper mill, the Asarco Smelter and all the other industrial activity that then filled up the space where the Puyallup River met Commencement Bay. I would later learn that to them, it was a familiar sight. Many Sumo performers come from rural communities in the north where logging and paper mills are familiar sights and they often appreciate the industrial grit of a city more than its glitter.

As we merged onto I-5, one of them, who had not spoken a word on the trip, put his enormous fist to his chest and declared:

“Tacoma people. Big heart.”

Actually, he was more right than he knew. The individuals who inhabited that place for thousands of years, the Puyallup people, to whom the tide flats were a front porch, were known among other tribes for their hospitality and generosity. An early history of Tacoma has it that a translation of the name “Puyallup” meant “add more.” The Puyallups were known to share generously the many benefits of living where they were. They had a spring just to the west of today’s Murray Morgan bridge that was known by native travelers throughout Puget Sound. Its Puyallup word translated to “the best tasting water.”

After many centuries, settlers began coming to the south sound first to Nisqually in the 1830s where the Hudson’s Bay Company established a settlement with the hope of keeping the southern boundary of their British interests at the Columbia River. Later Steillicoom was founded by American interests and became the safe place settlers came to when the 1855 conflicts between several tribes and settlers got bloody. It was where Leschi, the great Nisqually chief was tried and hanged. Tacoma pursued its now familiar industrial strategies right at its beginnings – first a sawmill, then coal, timber and then the Northern Pacific’s historic decision to locate the western terminus of the transcontinental railway on the deep waters of Commencement Bay.  

The cultural strains between settler and native were evident right away. Herbert Hunt’s 1916 history, “Tacoma, Its History and Its Builders” describes the Puyallup practice of wrapping their dead in cedar bark that was then tightly tied with cedar rope. This package was then placed in the limbs of trees growing on a spit of land not far from where today’s Interurban Bridge crosses the Puyallup River. They were then left, the Puyallups only caring for the spirit, to coyotes, wolves and birds, who strewed the ground with bones and torn cedar. The Puyallup name for the place was “Sblook” and they called the river there“missing the nose.” Mostly, the spring floods would disperse what had fallen from the trees.

Flats in 1953
Tacoma Library
There is a strange parallel between the early Puyallup tribe's apparent indifference to a lifeless body and the early industrial society’s view in Tacoma that the best thing to do with what is used up is to throw it in the water or let it sink into the ground. The flats had become, at the peak of Tacoma’s industrial enterprise, a smoking, stinking, enveloping thing. Municipal and industrial garbage was burning in several places in the estuary. A coal gasification plant stripped BTUs from coal in a process that produced a gelatinous toxic goo that was then heaped in piles and mixed with ash and other materials for fill.

The Smelter in 1953
Tacoma Library
Around the turn of the century, 22 saw mills were working around Commencement Bay and the waterways were crowded with floating logs. The big Simpson paper plant began operating in the late twenties, its Kraft Process digesters producing the aroma part of the old Tacoma narrative. Grain sheds and sawmills spread along Rustin Way heading west until the Tacoma Smelter came into view, its nearly 600 foot tall stack the dominant feature of the northwest side of the Bay. In operation since the 1890s, it first made lead and then turned more to copper, operating until 1992. It shoved the slag residue from its smelting processes into the bay for nearly a 100 years, creating land forms reused by the Tacoma Yacht Club today for moorage.

Hollywood on the Tideflats
Tacoma Library
The Great Depression saw people began to creep out onto the flats to live. Surrounded by the garbage dump, Carsten’s meatpacking house at 1623 “J” and the gas plant, the shacks, made of reclaimed wood, became home to between 1500 to 3000 people and was as a tough a place to grow up as there could be. The City of Tacoma declared the area a public nuisance, pulled the buildings down and burned them in 1952.

The stretch of waterway from the Puyallup "Sblook" to the amazing Point Defiance Park runs along a shoreline a little more than six miles and is the focus of a multi-generational effort to reclaim it as the centerpiece of this terrific and resilient city.

The ability to even conceive of such a project comes from the ultimate cooperation of the Puyallups and the settlers. In the 1980s, a land settlement with them removed the question of who owns what and opened the doors to ideas and money.

Think of the waterfront as five different pieces, all in different stages of readiness to support activities designed to enrich the lives of people. They share common sets of physical challenges – a railroad runs all along the shoreline, a freeway cuts along the downtown connection to the water for nearly half the distance of the shoreline and always the challenge of making safe some remarkably dirty places.

The first section extends from just above the City Waterway, now named after Thea Foss, the woman who started one of the great maritime companies in the region, a rectangle of water running along Dock Street and passing in front of the Museum of Glass, the lovely tribute to the art of Dale Chihuly and the Northwest glass artists he inspired. This section provides a passage over the freeway and the railroad, the crossing lined with the lovely creatures invented by a Tacoma son, to an esplanade along the waterway where the scheme creates a new node of housing along the water. The cost of clean up here was approximately $100 million.

The second part is the Schuster Parkway section that starts at the west end of downtown and confronts elevated roadways, a grain terminal, two large Marine Administration (more in a later post) ships moored along the way.  While clumsy and difficult, this section has wonderful walking connections through a ravine to the uplands in Tacoma’s lovely North end. It is politically and physically challenging and remains a broken link in the ribbon of park along the water.

The gateway to the third section is the new Chinese Reconciliation Park that opened late last year as a recognition of the cold, calculated expulsion of 600 immigrant Chinese in 1885. This section, running for 1.5 miles, was the first of Tacoma’s industrial districts and was clogged with grain warehouses, sawmills, chemical plants, meatpacking and took up nearly all of the water access.
As those businesses closed, were abandoned and some destroyed by fire, the city gradually bought up the land. By the 1970s, driven by the state’s new shorelines law and armed with its ownership, the city was talking with its citizens about what should happen and how. By 1981 there was a plan and in 1984 a reality that merges a destination restaurant district with the pathways necessary to burn off all the calories you might take on there. The success of this district, known as Old Town, sparked considerable energy from civic minded Tacomans. In 1988, the City Club of Tacoma published a proposal calling for a Dome to Point Defiance linear park that would be competitive with the great waterfronts of the world. They wanted a museum at its heart though they had no idea that four years later the President of the University of Puget Sound and Dale Chihuly started talking about this really cool idea for one.

The fourth part, the land sitting in the curious little municipality of Rustin, was home to the Tacoma Smelter. It began in 1896 and was operated by Asarco between 1905 and 1992.  The clean up there was an even greater challenge, especially for its proposed uses – housing, shopping, theaters, a hotel. 
Developers of such places need to have the ability to see beyond the pollution in front of them to the water and the landforms beyond, the patience to clean it up, a good relationship with their financial people and be a little bit crazy.  Mike Cohen and his son, Loren, have those characteristics and have finished several new houses on the uplands and started the first two buildings down below, one a 44 unit condo and the other a larger rental building. The Puyallup word for the Point Rustin geography is “sheltered place,” where a canoe could get out of the wind and the whitecaps. Their land along the water will form the link to the fifth part of the waterfront, Point Defiance.  

The park is a powerful connection back to the American entrance in the 19th century version of the space race in our time, only this race would tell who who would become the great power in the Pacific.  Captain Charles Wilkes saw this point of land in 1841 as a great military asset, lording over the navigation routes in Puget Sound. He had a much better knack for names than Vancouver did, although Vancouver beat Wilkes to this spot by 50 years. Vancouver was mostly names of people -- Rainier, Puget, Hood -- Wilkes was action or commentary -- Port Defiance, Commencement Bay, Gig Harbor. It became a federal reservation until it was released to Tacoma as a park by President Cleveland in 1888, the year before statehood. It is also a connection to a network of trails and roads reminiscent of Seattle’s Discovery Park but with better water access. Discovery Park's Zoo draws two million people a year.

In addition to the physical issues of development, there are economic issues. At both ends – at the Thea Foss waterway and down to the Cohens' Point Rustin -- the housing market creates a hard slog through a slow absorption rate. The Esplanade Condos had sold just ten of its 162 units by 2009 and its bank foreclosed on the $75 million project. On Saturday, January 28th, 2012, a banner exclaimed that 50% were now sold. Rentals or combinations of rental and condo appear to be doing better, as at Thea’s Landing, though it still is a buyer’s market.

Another economic issue is that much of the clean up and much of the infrastructure has been borne by the public. Few municipalities have shown the guts that Tacoma showed in stepping up to the costs of clean up at Thea Foss Waterway. There is a well-trod route of lawsuits, delays and settlements, but the city’s leadership opted for the a path featuring the longer term and its citizens will ultimately benefit from their belief that clean up is more than about money.  Half the money for clean up at Thea Foss came from an increase in surface water management rates.

The Museum of Glass is largely private funding, perhaps $60 million for the structure, a donation of $9 million in art from Chihuly and $11 million for parking by the city. Other developments along the route are a similar mix of public and private funds.  The ultimate financial total will be impressive, costing more money and taking far more time than the best estimates and carrying enough risk to keep this town's big heart beating very fast for a long time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Society Page. The Amazing Lives of Virginia Boren

Virginia Boren in 1937
I can’t seem to get Seattle in the 1930s out of my head and I’m pretty sure it’s because of one woman -- Marie Gladiss Rowe, Marie Rowe, Mrs.  John H. Dunbar, Marie R.  Dunbar, Mrs. Marie Newberger, Mrs.  Courtenay Terrett, Mrs.  Virginia Rowe Towle.  She is the Society Page editor of the Seattle Times between 1932 and 1942, and her only fake name is Virginia Boren. 

The day she was hired by the paper's publisher was the day she was given the one name in her life that really stuck.
“General Blethen called me into his office one day and asked what name I would like to use.”
“I told him I didn’t know.” 
“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do.  You give me 20 combinations of historically famous Seattle streets, and I’ll take my pick.”
Mrs. Joseph Newberger (I’ll get to that in a minute) loved a puzzle and brought back several combinations, including Cherry James, and Marion Bell, but really, she didn’t have to go far to gather just the right name for her publisher, Clarence Blethen.  The brand new Seattle Times building rested on Fairview Avenue and just a block away was the diagonal intersection of Boren and Virginia. When Virginia Boren was conceived, Mrs.  Newberger was 33.

Joe Newberger is on the left
University of Washington Collections
She had been writing for newspapers in Olympia, Tacoma, Boston and Seattle using Marie Rowe and Marie Dunbar (give me another minute for that one) but when she met “my little banker,” Joseph Newberger, the 5’2” Vice-President of Seattle First National Bank and married him, in 1929, she started on-the-job training as the Society Page Editor by also being herself an imposing presence on the Society pages. 

Joseph Newberger had a front seat in early Seattle.  He watched the Great Seattle Fire as a five year old, scolded by passersby for standing too close.  As a young messenger at the bank where he would work until 1949, he got the word to get a wagon down to the docks and some strong help to take some gold off the "Roanoke" -- the boat carrying the ton of gold that started the Alaskan Gold Rush.  He was told to "load it into the wagon and take it to the Assay Office.  And for God sakes get a receipt."
Newberger, 15 years Marie's senior, was the right find.  Marie Dunbar was a single mom in 1929, facing The Great Depression and caring for her daughter Dorothy, then five, and moving from newspaper to newspaper.  Dorothy was ready for school and Marie's marriage to Newberger assured her that Dorothy would go to Helen Bush, the school for the city’s elite.  Among Dorothy’s teachers would be Virginia Pratt, the sculptor, who ran the school’s Art Department.  In the 1930 census, there are five in the household, including German and Finnish servants.  Marie listed her vocation as 'none.'
In 1931, the Newbergers moved into a neighborhood then called “Upper Denny Blaine” not far from Helen Bush.  Their house was also close to Broadmoor, the private golf club whose course opened in 1927.  Newberger, while a good golfer, was also a Jew and would have to play his golf at Glendale, built by Jews on land south of the city and which opened a year later, designed by the same designer used at Broadmoor.   Later, the club would be sold and a new site purchased in Bellevue.
'None' was hardly a permanent condition for Marie and she joined the Times after freelancing and other work for publications in Seattle. The Society Page had to have been a lot of work.  The August 19, 1934 Sunday paper carried seven pages out of 79 total of what we would call society news – clubs, features focused on women, a children's page, marriages, engagements.  All of it surrounded with robust advertising aimed at women.  Reading the pages from the time, it is remarkable how much detail was required to report a major social event.  As the editor, Marie had a staff of six.
Boren’s reporting of a tea given at the home of Dr. and Mrs. E.F. Ristine after a golf tournament is an example.  Under her usual column headline: “With …. Virginia Boren,” the event unfolded:
“The garden party with the gracious and hospitable Dr.and Mrs. E. F.  Ristine as hosts was one of the highlights of the thirteenth annual tournament of the Washington State Woman’s Golf Association being played this week at Broadmoor.  Mrs.  Ristine is the very popular president of the WSWGA and to see her blithely flitting around in her lovely gardens yesterday, talking in the gayest and most nonchalant manner to all her guests, one would not think that the worries of this tournament and all its vagaries rested on her feminine shoulders.”
After the homage to the host, the social reporting formula required several detailed descriptions of what the ladies are wearing, starting with the ‘A’ List.
“Mrs.  Wanamaker wore a black lace gown with a large black hat and pinned on her shoulder was a lovely salmon-colored flower.  We thought it was a choice variety of water lily, but were informed that it was a rare species of begonia from Mrs. Wanamaker’s garden.”

"Mrs. J. L.  Winn in a striking dark-colored printed chiffon, receiving many congratulations on the stellar playing of her daughter, Miss Barbara, who is a handsome, brilliant girl and was looking very smart yesterday in a brown linen outfit."
The B list outfits follow -- ten or so of them, less detailed, but still, lingering descriptions:
“Mrs. Willard K. Richards, tall and handsome, wearing blue cotton lace with a large white hat.”

Next, under ‘we also noted’ comes a list of men, “Mr.  Harry H. Lewis and his good looking wife…” followed by 38 specific names of guests, all with a shard of detail:  “Mr. and Mrs. Charles Mullen, favorite Broadmoorites, planning to attend the dance later.”  Every child noted, by their first name only, “Miss Barbara, looking lovely.”

Finally, over at the clubhouse for the buffet dance, the workers: “Mrs.  L.E. Edmonson was the chairman of the dance committee and her assistants were Mrs. Charles B. Lindeman, Mrs. Howard McKee, Mrs. Harold E.  Gray, Mrs. Nat S. Rogers, Mrs. Otis Haland and Mrs. Don R. Baker.”
There must have been a lot of pressure to be the reporter of this scene.  The event ends late.  The linotype machines, smoking, molten lead word processors, the lead a bright silver and sloshing in in its pot as the operator hits a key and sends the liquid metal into the machine, coughing up a vowel down below -- each name a tiny hand grenade, checked again and again, a potential embarrassment in print. 

For her planning purposes, Marie divided up the society beat by education, culture, art, the party scene and sports.  She thought that those who truly were high society tended to stay home.

While ambitious and tough, Marie had an educated sense of her role in the community and was thoughtful about the everyday lives that came into her presence.  As she told "Seattlife" in its first issue in 1937: 

"I absolutely concentrate on the particular piece of work which is before me.  If a woman brings in her daughter's engagement, I realize it is the most important thing in the world to her.  And, for the time being, it is the most important thing to me." 

She had several ideas about what she didn't like: 

"I dislike open-faced sandwiches, for in the last four years I've stared a million and a half of them in the face.  And I dislike radio programs, small talk in large crowds, black bathrooms and Russian drama." 
We now turn to the minute we need for John H.  Dunbar, Attorney General of the State of Washington from 1923 to 1933 whom Marie Rowe married six years before he was appointed to fill an uncompleted term.  Marie had just left the University of Washington after two years and turned her full attention to newspapering at the Olympia Record and also for the Tacoma Ledger, covering the legislature – of course, the first and only woman to cover it full time.
The new reporter quickly earned her keep.  Asked to fetch some papers from the Capitol Building, she saw something unusual, a thickset man jumping out one of the windows and running off.  She followed, witnessed the arrest -- he had shot an Industrial Insurance Commissioner-- and she begged the police to let her talk with him.  They did!  She chatted with the shooter, logger John Van Dell, disappointed by a less-than-adequate accident settlement, and went back to the paper to file her story.
“Where are those papers?  How long does it take to get that done?” Her editor impatiently shouts.  “Oh, that.” She recounts in a 1966 Seattle Times interview where you can imagine her pursed lips and the cock of her head:  “Actually I was out covering a shooting.”
Marie was an Olympia gal, born there to a logging family who raised race horses.  It was natural for her to fit in as the wife of a statewide elected official whose father, Ralph Oregon Dunbar, would be one of the initial State Supreme Court Justices at statehood, November 11, 1889.
Unfortunately, his son’s timing was as bad as his father’s was good.  John had to serve with Governor Roland Hill Hartley, truly one of the great political gasbags in the state’s history, who fought every ruling the Attorney General offered, made statewide issues out of tiny expenses and sought powers that were unconstitutional but, to Hartley, necessary to stomp out this whole taxation thing.
John Dunbar
State of Washington
It was all getting to John.  Two years after Dorothy was born, in 1924, John took up with Lena, his secretary, and left Marie and Dorothy.  In 1928, just after the primary election in which he had prevailed, he was charged with two DUIs in the space of four days.  Garnering just over 30% of the votes in 1932, he was dead by 1936 from a liver ailment.
Conveniently, Dorothy had just graduated from Helen Bush in 1942 when the little banker and Mrs. Joseph Newberger, nee Marie Rowe Dunbar nee Virginia Boren called it quits.  The day after the divorce notice was published, Virginia Boren produced one more item, less than a column inch, for the society page, in which she economically said all that she needed to say.
"VIRGINIA BOREN TO VISIT EAST -- Marie Rowe Dunbar, the former Mrs. Joseph H.  Newberger, is leaving this afternoon with her daughter, Dorothy, for a two month visit to New York and New England.  She will be at the Barbizon-Plaza while in New York."
Marie’s life is a powerful focus on the next assignment.  And that would be Courtenay Terrett, son of Montana Ranch royalty, the Hollywood screenwriter, the Film Noir screenwriter, the former soldier in the Free French Army, the reporter and author who covered the Spanish Civil War and the Finnish-Russo War.  Hey!  Come on!  This is New York!  In wartime!
World War II Poster
Terry Witkowski
At some point, the Barbizon-Plaza may have become, shall we say, untenable, and Marie needed some work.  A story in the Seattle Times noted in June of 1943 that “the former Seattle newspaper woman told New York reporters that she and Terrett met in the offices of the National Fats Salvage Campaign where both are working.”

While a long way from high tea at Broadmoor, fats salvage was a big part of the war effort.  Recycled fats produced glycerin, an explosive chemical used to make dynamite and other munitions.  During the war, Americans recycled well over a half a billion pounds of fats and turned them into explosives.
Always aware of her Society Page back home, she calls the Seattle Times with another note post-marriage, reporting Marie, Dorothy and “Brick,” as he’s called, are settled into a spot in Greenwich Village and Terrett is about to head off to Europe. Other little notes find their way to the Times.  Daughter Dorothy soon gets married and works in the advertising business while Marie is employed by the New York World Telegram “interviewing celebrities.”
Cinema Turkey
Brick’s a stud, no doubt about it.  Several screenplays, big name actors in them, stories in the Atlantic, a famous New York crime series that became a successful book, “Only Saps Work” and also from a prominent Montana family.

By 1947, they’re in Philadelphia, where Terrett is working for the Philadelphia Bulletin and where Marie is “regaining her health.”
In the spring of 1948, Brick is found dead in an Oakland, California hotel.  The New York Times reports a heart attack.  However, a paper in Lethbridge, Alberta reports days later that an Alameda County coroner's jury had found Terrett had died of an accidental overdose of barbiturates.  He was 46.

Brick and Marie had been researching a book about pioneering women in western Montana.  After his death, she ncontinues working on the book, urged on by her brother Frank A. Rowe, who is in the mining business near Boulder, Montana.  On the side, she starts the news operation at Helena’s KCAP radio and freelances articles through her extensive network.  In 1956, now 60, she marries W. H. Towle who drives her about Montana as she researches the book, now called “Vigilante Woman” a kind of composite portrait of the pioneer women who filed down the rough edges off the Big Sky’s wild west.
At 70, Virginia Rowe Towle returns in 1966 to Seattle, her book in hand.  She gives a delightful interview in early December that is placed top-middle on the page the Seattle Times now calls “Family World.”  She reports on her many by-lines in Juneau, Helena, Reno, Salt Lake City, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.  W.H. Towle has died in September and she now lives in South Bend, Indiana with her daughter who has also published a book, “Blood in the Parlor,” a mystery. She says she is writing another book, though writing now is “slower going.”

By 1966, Virginia is a pioneer woman herself.  She had not kept herself to the Society Page, but covered big stories like the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, and knew what it was like to prowl through the Washington State Capital Building looking for news and respect as a 22 year old woman surrounded by 50 year old men. 
Sometimes, what you don’t find in your research is as significant as what you do.  There are few pictures of her, the only ones I found were a smudged photo from the 1966 visit in the Seattle Times Archive and the one in "Seattlife" that is posted with this story.  She was described as "lovely and resolute" and "the best looking woman in the Seattle newspaper business."  She clearly put the focus on her subjects and moved out of the way when the flashbulbs flashed.  What she lacks in photos, she makes up in names.  Not only do her many names interfere with research, but also her many ages.  Like a shortstop from the Dominican Republic, Virginia’s Internet age varies by as many as eight years.
Just before marrying WH Towle
After W. H. Towle died in September of 1966, Virginia moved in with her daughter and stayed with her, often working together on research, as Dorothy chased television jobs in South Bend and Albuquerque.  Like her father, Dorothy Dunbar died young, of a heart attack in 1970.  Virginia moved from Albuquerque to Salt Lake City where she had once worked.
Her little banker, Joseph Newberger, remarried in 1951 and kept up his golf game and his work at Glendale Country Club, now located across Lake Washington in Bellevue.  However, at 93 and widowed, Newberger’s lawyer and friend became concerned that he was beginning to have competency issues.  The lawyer hired a housekeeper and started supervising Joe's financial affairs more closely, creating a limited guardianship.  After a couple of months Newberger went to Hawaii with the housekeeper, Louella Clark, 52, and married her.  She hired an attorney who was able to get the guardianship thrown out and was with him in 1982 when he died at 98.
Virginia would die a year later in Salt Lake.  A new generation of writers and editors were around and the Seattle Times apparently missed the death and carried no obit, which is what this is.  Virginia Rowe Towle was 87.  No one survives her.

Made on Broadway: Script by Courtney Terrett

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dudley and Virginia

The Art Deco panels have been hanging on either side of the escalator at Macy’s since 2000, when Federated Stores, which had purchased the homegrown Bon Marche in 1989, was rebranding the store to Macy’s, first with a remodel and then with a name change to Bon-Macy’s.  A year later, the Bon Marche name, synonymous with Seattle’s middle class consumer, was gone completely.
It’s hard to understand why I hadn’t stopped to notice these panels, but on a Christmas shopping cruise through the store this past year, I did.  It sent me on another cruise, through the thirties and forties art world in Seattle and to an unexpected family tragedy.

The panels are made of some kind of composite material, died a bronze color, and are named “The Spirit of Northwest Industry” and depict personifications of the region’s economy.  They are copies of the original bronze panels made seventy years previous to decorate a bank door. 

The composite panels have updated the economic news, adding a computer scene to symbolize the growth of the region's economic tech sector as well as a nod to Josephine Nordhoff, a co-founder of the Bon Marche with her husband, Edward.  Their creations would make the Bon the largest department store on the west coast, with annual sales of $8,000,000 a couple of years after Josephine died, in 1920.

The creator of the original eight panels was Dudley Pratt who, working with his wife, Virginia, became a locally famous sculptor.  They also teamed up as a locally famous couple – accomplished, clever, modern.  They were people who not only taught people about art, but about how to live life.  They were the darlings, for a time, of the Seattle Times Society Editor from 1932 to 1942, Virginia Boren. 

The panels were created for the entry way of a new bank, The People’s First Avenue Bank, subsidiary of the People’s Bank and Trust Company, founded by Joshua Green, who was successful first in the marine transportation business – his ferry company dominated Puget Sound and became the Black Ball Line after he sold it -- and in banking.  He did pretty well in the breathing department as well.  He lived 105 years. 
The bank was an anchor tenant of the remodeled Colman Building and was located where the Irish bar Fado is today.  The architect Richard Loveless decided to go all in with an Art Deco look, added the green marble decoration at the front and the ironwork over the sidewalk, all of it capped off by the intricate brass work done by the Pratts throughout the exterior and interior of the building. 

Dudley Pratt was the son of an internationally famous sculptor, Bela Lyon Pratt, whose works are prominent in Boston, where Bela Pratt was the head of the Sculpture Department of the Museum of Fine Arts.  Dudley was born in France where his father and mother, Helen Pray, also a sculptor, were studying for a year.  

University of Washington 
In 1924, the Pratts were students at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, both studying sculpture, just like Dudley’s parents were when they met.  Dudley, like his father, was preparing for a year of study in France and when he received a fellowship, he and Virginia decided both of them could go.  They married in September and went off to their honeymoon in Europe and study in France.
Virginia was also from an accomplished family, the Claflins – one brother a composer and banker and a cousin was Victoria Woodhull, the suffragette.  Another cousin was a mistress to Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The couple moved to Seattle in 1925 where Dudley found a part time teaching position at the University of Washington and where Virginia would shortly become the arts teacher at the brand new Helen Bush School.  She would create the Art Department at the school and would teach the arts to the children of Seattle’s wealthy from 1926 to 1938.  Later, when those children had babies, she would specialize in sculpting images of their kids.

Dudley Pratt was also a mentor to his better students, like sculptor and painter George Tsutakawa and the beautiful Jean Johanson, wife of architect Perry Johanson, the "J" in NBBJ, a useful connect for Pratt.  Sometimes they would go collect soapstone on the Skagit River, a five hour one way trip in the thirties.  Pratt knew where the mines were.

Gargoyle at UW
For Dudley Pratt, coming west was a must if he was to get out of the shadow of his famous father.  In a 1937 portrait of them by Virginia Boren, they had clearly succeeded.  Boren has them together “in their cunning white house” in Wallingford, in the studio they shared, preparing for a showing of both their work at the Seattle Art Museum.

“The Pratts are the most genuine, natural people.  To put it bluntly, they are not the least bit ‘arty,’” Boren wrote.

 “They have four adorable children,” Boren continues, “children with personality and individuality and talent.  The Pratts are very fond of folk dancing and the entire family takes part in the activities of the Folk Dancing Association.  Mr.  Pratt also has a small cruiser and the Pratts spend quite a bit of time dashing around the Lake and Sound.  They also are ardent ‘trailers’ and this summer the six Pratts journeyed clear across the Continent to the Bay of Fundy.”

“But perhaps the thing which Mrs. Pratt calls ‘play’ but which I (using poetic license which I’m not entitled to use) call ‘joy of living’ is the very thing which dominates the Pratt’s life and has brought them recognition far and wide.”

“A look at the works of Dudley and Virginia Pratt is a new refreshing slant on life, a renewal of faith in this thing called living, and certain conviction that the Pratts are going far in the world of sculpture … and living!”

By now, both Pratts were getting solid commissions.  She generating business from the Helen Bush connection -- portraits of Douglas Stimson, Katherine Baillargeon, Rosemary Ostrander and the two sons of Mr. and Mrs.  William Bell Cook – and he tablets at both Harborview and Children’s Hospital – then called Children’s Orthopedic – decorations for the new library in Everett, those doors at the Colman Building, the Hoquiam and Bellingham city halls.

Smith Hall
University of Washington
It was to Dudley Pratt whom the Seattle Realty Board turned to create a suitable bronze plaque to give, in 1939, to Seattle’s First Citizen who, in that year, was Dr.  Richard E.  Fuller, then President of the Seattle Art Museum.  The Realty Board recognition was as good as it got in Seattle during the 40s and 50s.

In 1940 Dudley Pratt was asked to render the gargoyles that would decorate the new Smith Hall and several other buildings.  These are among the most remembered of his works. 

WSU Libraries
After World War Two, Pratt was asked to make a decoration for an otherwise blank wall at Washington State University's Holland Library.  He came up with “The Reader” evoking what he called those tall, rangy farm boys he imagined attending the school.

In 1949, Pratt was asked to add a sculpture to the World War II Memorial on the east side of the new Public Safety Building.  He fashioned a grieving "Gold Star Mother" who hovered above the long list of war dead from Seattle carved in granite below.

University of Washington
Without Virginia Boren to coo over them, she left town in 1942, the Pratts were less frequent guests of the society page of the Seattle Times.  The commissions slowed down and Dudley was just part time at the University. 

Virginia Pratt was no longer working at the Bush School and had taken a job in the University of Washington dental school using her metal working skills to fashion crowns, posts and bridges in the school’s basement.

She was discovered there on Saturday, August 2, 1952 at 6:30 in the evening by a security guard, the Bunsen burner in front of her turned on but not lit.  The Coroner’s Office called the death a suicide, noting the presence of “two notes indicating despondency.”

The Times also reported that friends were trying to get in touch with Dudley Pratt who “was said to be visiting on an Island in Puget Sound.”

Pratt left Seattle very soon, going to Croton Falls, New York, where he lived with one of his married daughters, Janna Goodspeed.  He turns up periodically in the Seattle Times, but mostly with work that he had done before, though a sculpture for blind people at a Capitol Hill branch library caught some attention. 

The following year, 1955, he was in Seattle for the marriage of his youngest child, Rachel, better known as Tuckie.  He would also marry that year, to Colette Finch Halvorson, a widowed artist he met in Croton Falls.  They soon began visiting the little Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende, a spot with a large expatriate artists community located in the center of the country.  By 1965, they were living there full time and it is there Dudley Pratt died in 1975. 

Putting your art on buildings can be risky business.  The wonderful doors on the Colman Building are now gone, two of the panels were stolen in the thirties and the doors then removed.  You can find one panel residing in the Seattle Architecture Foundation gallery at Rainier Square.   The Gold Star Mother sculpture at the World War II Memorial is gone as well, the Public Safety building torn down and a new memorial created at Benaroya Hall without Pratt’s sculpture.  It is now on permanent loan to Evergreen Washelli’s Veteran’s Cemetery.  Further, much of the artwork at the Warren G.  Magnuson Health Sciences Center is obscured by subsequent additions as are the decorations on the Henry Art Gallery.

Pratt’s building decorations at the University of Washington remain on several buildings – Smith and Miller Halls as well as the Gerberding Administration Building, the corners at the Henry Gallery and largely define today's public knowledge of his work.  "The Reader" still looms over undergraduates as they make their way to class in Pullman.

The shock of Virginia Pratt’s suicide precluded much summing up of her career, though a couple of weeks after her death, Kenneth Callahan, the artist and then the Curator of the Seattle Art Museum, wrote:

“She has quietly and without fanfare (in fact, in recent years seldom exhibiting her work) produced sculptures in stone, lead and other materials, not great works of art, perhaps, but good, solid, well conceived portrait sculptures of children.  In these, she customarily achieved a sensitive, sympathetic, child character that was most appealing.  Virginia Pratt's death means a very definite loss to art in this region, for in her specialized field of sculptural child portraiture, she was an artist.”

Amazing Website of Bela Lyon Pratt

HistoryLink's History of the Bon Marche

Everything you'll ever want to know about the Colman Building

George Tsutakawa interview by Martha Kingsbury, expert on art in the Thirties

Sunday, January 8, 2012

San Francisco For The New Year

We went down to San Francisco over the holidays and spent New Year’s Eve – and way too much of New Year’s morning – at the last performance there for a time of Teatro ZinZanni, the mash up of dinner theater, European circus arts, musical comedy and all of it gender optional.  It’s a performance where you never sit in the front row, lest some androgenal performer makes you a part of the show like reaching into your shirt, stroking your nipple and narrating the physiological consequences. 
Norm Langill, founder of One Reel Vaudeville, started ZinZanni in Seattle back in 1998 as a short term, holiday event.  It stayed sold out for more than a year and he opened a San Francisco venue after two years.  The 19th century tent in which the performance occurs is located near what will become the finish line of the America’s Cup sailboat race which San Francisco hosts in 2013, so he has to move the production. 

We also spent some time closely observing the traffic and development on the Embarcadero.  It has some similarities to the Seattle waterfront that will evolve once the tunnel is finished and the big ugly viaduct gets torn down and recycled.  The Embarcadero once was home to an ugly fifties style viaduct of its own that was damaged by the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 and removed.  We also spent quite a bit of time in the San Francisco Ferry Terminal, the new first citizen of the Embarcadero, that is now recast as a kind of Pike Place Market and beautifully done.

Finally, we drove out to Healdsburg in the Sonoma Valley about sixty miles North of San Francisco, a place we’ve been going for thirty years, just to see how the little square was holding up to all the cool foodies and high end hotels and artists.  Okay, maybe the other reason was to drink some wine in the Alexander and Dry Creek wine appellations and drive through the vines along the country lanes that break your heart when you turn around and head for home. 

Norm Langill
Teatro ZinZanni
Langill started One Reel Vaudeville in 1972, performing sketches, music and satire on a stage that folded out of the back of an old truck.  I once hired One Reel for a campaign event and spent the afternoon wondering what it would be like if I hid under the stage and rode off with these clever people.  Of course, I chickened out.

One Reel developed into Seattle’s special events manager and created the events we all grew up with and took our kids to – Bumbershoot, Family Fourth at Lake Union, Summer Nights at the Pier.  Langill has had a much larger effect on our community culture than most people understand.  His events have defined the lives of many thousands of people across several generations.  Last year, Langill left One Reel to focus on ZinZanni and other event ventures across the world.  He has found a new place to put his tent in San Francisco, but developing it will take most of 2012.  They plan on opening sometime in the Fall to be ready for the monster event the America’s Cup will be in San Francisco Bay.

Viaduct in 1960
Port of San Francisco
During the ferry terminal’s centennial year, 1998, the Port of San Francisco put out a request for proposals to redevelop it.  The San Francisco Ferry Terminal sits in the middle of the waterfront and it had deteriorated, along with its other finger pier neighbors, during the viaduct days.  The Embarcadero Freeway was part of a 1951 master freeway plan for San Francisco that envisioned a ring road around the commercial core and elevated connections between the Bay and Golden Gate bridges. 

As the plan took concrete form, however, neighborhoods and preservationists organized, culminating in a full revolt in 1959 that stopped several projects, including the Embarcadero Freeway, where it lurked, mutely, awaiting its date with Loma Prieta. 
By 2003, a public/private partnership had renovated and reopened the ferry terminal, investing $140 million to create a space that looked, the day we visited, very much like our Pike Place Market.  It brings 6,000,000 people a year to visit – 75% of whom live in and around San Francisco.  It is also in the pathway of another 1,000,000 foot ferry passengers who come through. Friends we visited say they buy their dinners many nights on their way home across the bay. It has also become one of San Francisco’s top five tourist destinations. Every other day, the front of the terminal is home to a classic farmer’s market which complements the more permanent markets inside the hall. 

In addition to the market, there are 175,000 square feet of office space in the terminal (think 12% of the Columbia Tower) and the office spaces are equally wonderful.
The accomplishment in San Francisco is even more impressive when you consider how many markets just don’t get off the ground. Other communities in California like Oakland, Napa, Santa Rosa in the Bay Area are all struggling with their efforts to mimic the ferry terminal.  The public market in Los Angeles remains second class at best. 

It’s hard not to wonder, standing in the middle of such a lovely space, how Seattle’s Colman Dock Ferry Terminal will likely evolve on the new waterfront that takes place once our viaduct is finally gone.  One certain lesson from San Francisco is that our waterfront will evolve slowly, likely more slowly than we would prefer.  The Embarcadero Freeway was damaged in 1989, torn down in 1992 and the RFP for ferry terminal development was issued in 1998.  Five years later, it opened – fourteen years total. 

Because of the volumes of money involved and the sensitivity of the areas involved, slow and steady is not a bad rule for our waterfront development.  Twenty years from now Pioneer Square, for example, will house many more people and be a different place with different possibilities for the waterfront's south end.  Similarly, development just south of Colman Dock -- Pier 48, owned by the State Department of Transportation and Pier 46, still owned by the Port of Seattle, will have a lot to do with what happens at the ferry terminal.  The reverse is also true, putting a little urgency into coming up with a big idea for the terminal, even if we can't afford all of it just now.
City of Seattle, Colman Dock in the foreground

There is no proposal yet for Colman Dock in the evolving waterfront plan, just a set of ideas and concepts put together by the design consultant.  One of those concepts has Seattle’s terminal as a platform for a large, outdoor space constructed on the ferry terminal’s roof. 

The Seattle terminal brings some impressive pluses to any development.  It gathers lots of people.  About 200,000 ferry customers walk through the terminal each week, more than 8.5 million people annually.  The ferry system thinks 25% of those are tourists.  

It also has some negative numbers.  There are a lot of cars – nearly 700 cars an hour at peak -- so that whatever happens there has to rise above the cars.  In San Francisco, all the ferries at the terminal are passenger-only.  Colman Dock is not at the center of the waterfront as is the San Francisco terminal, but rather at its southern end.  It could use some permanent people productive activity to its south so that it is not the last stop on the waterfront.   With Seattle already having the Pike Market and with its connection to the waterfront considerably enhanced in the future waterfront design, it is unlikely a market would be a part of a revised use of the terminal.  But you can feel how cool it would be to have something that is equally as dynamic on the south side of the waterfront.  Thinking big is my thought for Colman Dock.

Healdsburg Museum
About the same time the San Francisco Ferry terminal opened, the little square at Healdsburg had a spare kind of look, geometric. But it was a prospering community, soon to lose its naked look to something more lush.  The founder, Harmon Heald, had plated the town right after statehood, in 1850, and had sold his lots at a brisk pace. 

The Russians, back in the early 1800s, planted grapes and made wine and noted that wine grapes were a good fit for the area.  However, when Agostin Haraszthy, the Hungarian immigrant, established the Buena Visita Winery in Sonoma in the 1850s, the idea of growing wine grapes started on its track to became an industry.

By 1920, at the cusp of Prohibition, Sonoma had 256 wineries and was farming 22,000 acres of grapes.  While tough on wineries – when repeal finally came along, just 50 wineries were left in Sonoma – the household individual exemption of 200 gallons a year of home made wine meant that farmers did well and their acreage had increased to 30,000 acres by 1933.

By the sixties, Sonoma wines were taking off, led by the Gallos, Sebastianis, Foppianos, Seghesio and other farming/producing immigrant families in the valley and followed by younger people who craved the food-centered lifestyle.  By the eighties, wine was pushing away dairy and the county’s considerable plum industry – the fruit of which the locals still call prunes – becoming the leading economic activity in the county.

Today, 49,000 acres are dedicated to grapes and 170 wineries are operating.
When I first started going to Healdsburg, in the late seventies, the little square wasn’t as prosperous and was home to a highly popular biker bar where no one really cared what the temperature was when the grapes were picked.  They were a hop crowd.  The tourism and lifestyle parts of the wine boom had not yet caught up to its production or quality.

By the 90s, you could get lovely food on the square and the Wine Country Inn, a Best Western in disguise, had a corkscrew everywhere you turned and rented us the top floor at a rate you'd die for today. This time, after an absence of ten years, the square is dominated by two large hotels, the Hotel Healdsburg, a Four star place sporting a Michelin star at its Dry Creek Kitchen and H2, a Euro-cool outfit next door.  The only bikes on the square today are little white Schwinns with front handlebar baskets at the H2.

There are 13 different wine appellations in Sonoma and we headed first for the Alexander Valley with a plan to cross over to Dry Creek after that.  However, just after we crossed the river, the alarm bells started going off as the Alexander Valley Store and Bar came into view, now disguised as a winery.  This better be good, I thought to myself as we circled the building.  The building is an historic part of the valley culture, plus it has a cool bar out back.  It is one of three historic country stores around Healdsburg and all of them look and feel like they belong right where they are just the way they are.

We walked in to the Medlock Ames tasting room and settled into a conversation with Victoria, a lovely and articulate woman who was a physics major from the University of California.  After trying to balance her paid job and her job of being a mother to four children, she dropped the balancing program and focused on the kids.  She now works a day a week at the tasting room.  Her father was a Bracero, the World War Two and post-war guest worker program the US started in the late thirties with Mexico.  Designed to bring workers from Mexico to places where they were needed in the US, Bracero means “strong arm.” Her Dad proved a strong arm and ultimately became an engineer and gave this country four children who found their way into the sciences and technology and also to the little tasting room near Healdsburg.

Victoria’s pours were sturdy and we were soon warming to the wine, the owners' story, the Bracero narrative and the wonderful job these young men had done with the Alexander Valley Store and Bar and with the organic grapes they grew, crushed and poured into bottles, apparently using little but gravity! The Bar doesn’t open until 5 PM, after the tasting room closes, but Victoria assured us that it was an equally good job and it remained a popular hangout for the locals.

We crossed over to Dry Creek, a tiny valley just a couple of miles wide and 11 miles long and home to Preston Vineyards, a time capsule of a place, pretty much unchanged from the time I first visited, seven years after Tom and Lori Preston first started taking out the prune orchard and putting in their grapes in 1972.  They would say it has changed a lot since they went organic, cut their grape production from 25,000 to 8,000 cases and started farming other products – vegetables, fruit, chickens, pigs, olives.

They are probably right about the changes in their business, but the physical venue is the same.  The old farm house tasting room is down a half mile long road, making a separation from the rest of the world and providing a bumpy journey back in time.  Cats are everywhere and require vigilance at the picnic table.

They still sell the jug wine, three liters for $36 dollars, made from odd lots of grapes tossed into bins during the crush, a bouillabaisse of a wine,
sold only on Sundays. 

Plenty has changed in Healdsburg, but it still keeps its authentic vibe.  The place carries its earnest demeanor even if many of the rooms now start at $400 bucks a night and the menus can come with a double-take.   It is still farm country.  There is still a barbershop and a tavern with a TV on the square.  And when the time comes to pull the rental car onto Highway 101, I'm still reaching for the Kleenex.