Sunday, February 26, 2012

New York: Good Food and an Impromptu Tour of the Apollo Theater

Barbara had seen a restaurant review and we decided to try it out the next time we visited Brooklyn to see the grandchildren.

It’s called The Red Rooster after a famous Harlem speakeasy from the thirties and it is located near Bill Clinton’s New York office.  The great man sometimes comes in to eat the largely southern-themed food he likes, but doesn’t like him. 

Marcus Samuelsson
Harlem Blog
The chef, Marcus Samuelssen, has an interesting narrative.  Born in Ethiopia, orphaned at three, adopted by a Swedish couple, he grew up in Sweden,  came to America and was a hero in New York with Aquivit, still good after many years, then a zero with a couple of others, one of which closed after six months. 

He moved to Harlem six years ago and lives on a street a few blocks above the north end of Central Park.  He discovered his own personality in the diverse food and life in Harlem.  Some of what he saw in Harlem surprised him.  There were more wine shops there than liquor stores.  Harlem’s population was from all over the world and he loved the comfort food from the many cultures he found.  He fell hard for Harlem’s incredible history of rise, catastrophe and rise again and, like good cooks do, he cooked it over and over again and watched others cook the same idea until what is left is no longer just a recipe but an underlying point of view.

We liked Samuelsson’s food – I had blackened catfish with collard greens and black-eyed peas and Barb had a Fried Chicken Salad, the chicken warm with a very crunchy southern crust.  I almost ordered the Swedish Meatballs with lingonberries but knew that would tag me as Ballard through and through and thought better of it.  The cost was about right and our server a sweetheart but we wished we’d have eaten at the bar and possibly met and talked with some of the people who streamed in and waited for their tables, representatives of another Harlem iteration. 

So, we took a walk down Lenox Avenue, headed for the Museum of the City of New York, diverting to walk by the Apollo Theater, the place where every musical performer from Seattle to Liverpool dreams of playing and some actually do.  Poking our heads in, we heard singing from where the stage must be and asked if we could go check it out. 

“No,” we couldn’t, said Security firmly and the last scheduled tour ended hours ago. 

There are now three of us, a little German lady had followed us into the lobby and we clustered around two security people. 

“Let me call Billy”, the gatekeeper says and, into the phone, “would you do three?”  

The Apollo was built as a burlesque theater in 1913.  Black people were not allowed in to see the comedic variety shows that catered to largely immigrant men who worked too hard and needed to experience a laugh now and again and see a quivering bosom at the end of a performance covered by a vaguely diaphanous textile and a kind of nose cone, called a pasty, to save them from seeing the nipple.  What was permissible once the comedians left the stage varied.  In one show, a performer would forgetfully remove the last of her clothing and the final impediments between the audience and her breasts before getting to the wings, forgetting it three times a day.  Others would not have to wear pasties and could bare their breasts as long as they, by that I mean the performer, didn’t move.  Margie Hart, who Danny Kaye – one of the funny guys in these shows, wrote a song about with this line: “farmers would utterly utter when Margie Hart churned her butter.”  She had a boyfriend who was a New York cop.  He would tell her when the police would be planning to observe the performance and she would use this strategic information to retain or remove her G-String.  Unfortunately, it was a brief romance and Margie was soon busted.

Reformers like Mayor Fiorello Laguardia made a lot of noise about the vulgar behavior in these theaters. Once elected, he took office in 1933, he made it impossible to run a Burlesque theater in New York City by the mid-thirties.  By the way, before we leave the burlesque section, let’s check in on Margie Hart, making a fortune in Los Angeles real estate and marrying the then LA City Council President John Ferraro before dying in 2000, maybe 80-90 years old.
By the way, Burlesque is coming back to New York as well as in Seattle.  Classes are popping out, schools operate and dinner theaters produce shows. 

The end of burlesque in Harlem came along at just at the right time.  The Harlem Renaissance was happening and suddenly it had a real home in the middle of America’s greatest black neighborhood.  In 1933, an actor and producer named Ralph Cooper started the Harlem Amateur Hour at another venue in  Harlem but moved it to the Apollo the next year.  It was carried on 21 radio stations around the country and the show made the Apollo Theater a dream location in those markets where people listened on the radio and the exact spot to make those dreams come true on the stage for the few with talent.  Fifteen year-old Ella Fitzgerald was an early winner of Amateur Night.  Another teenager, Eleanora Fagin Gough, was playing the Apollo in the early thirties before changing her name to Billie Holiday and hitting it big with Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman.  Over the years, several other people got their start by winning the amateur contest -- Theolonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan, The Chantrels, the Isley Brothers, Leslie Uggams, Jimi Hendrix, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Patty Labelle.  There is a whole other category of performer for whom the Apollo was an early booking where they could hear hangers on around the stage asking “who’s that kid?”

As Harlem fell into the miasma of drugs and violence, the theater closed in 1970, shortly came alive in 1978 but was just hanging on until Percy Sutton, politician, businessman, media executive, bought the place and started working the political levers he had.  As in Seattle, in New York, when an institution or building is in trouble, among your first strategies is to make it a landmark, which happened in 1983 and in 1991 it was purchased by the State of New York.  Its management became the Apollo Theater Foundation, the non-profit running it today.  It is similar in size to Seattle's Moore Theater, but standing in the Apollo lobby in front of security, the Apollo looks humbler, reflecting its initial burlesque presumptions. 

Now, standing before us is in the lobby is Billy Mitchell, a short, bright man with a mocha colored face and a welcoming grin.  He has been associated with the theater since 1965 when a man inside opened the stage door and asked the kid in front of him if he could run a couple of errands.  As a result of this random act, Mitchell has helped support a family of 14 brothers and sisters, was sent to school by Marvin Gaye and James Brown and recently prayed with Paul McCartney before McCartney’s show two weeks ago.

“You’re going to like this,” he said, holding up a cellphone imagew of him and Mrs.  Obama.  “My last tour group with less than 20 people was Michelle Obama and her kids.”

And we liked it a lot.  A shrine like The Apollo is all about traditions and Mr.  Mitchell showed us a bunch of them. We climbed the narrow back staircase, the one Ray Charles struggled with. We also got to see the rehearsals for that evening’s Amateur Night and the young people, a rainbow mix of White, Hispanic, Asian and Black were exploding with energy as the clock ticked down to curtain time two and a half hours away at 6:30 PM. 

Mitchell introduces you to people in his community as if you have just dropped $50 grand into the maintenance fund.  Backstage, we shook hands with an Amateur Hour performer they call "The Executioner," who tap dances onto the stage with a broom and escorts off performers who have not pleased the raucous audience.  Oops, there’s the music director, another round of introductions.  Now, there’s a clutch of security going through their assignments.  Then the Managing Director, in a rush and in just his second month on the job, but looking a bit pleased, having hosted the President and Sir Paul back to back.

We go upstairs to the dressing rooms, mindfully unchanged since the 30s, 40s, 50s, traditional places where all the stars want to be despite the modern dressing rooms downstairs.  Obama wanted this tiny room, so did Sir Paul and Bruce Springsteen.  They want to sit at the same chair, look into the same mirror as Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan or James Brown. The red drape hanging in front of the window was added this year when McCartney was here.  A gaggle of paparazzi were stationed on the roof across the street with telescopic lenses trying to catch him in an unguarded moment.  Will the drape stay, another tradition?

For the past 15 or so years, they’ve asked every performer to autograph a black painted wall just off the stage.  It’s an impressive and lovely touch in need of new real estate. 

At stage right and illuminated by a single spot, there’s a part of a tree, one which stood in front of a theater a few blocks up the street and under which aspiring dancers, actors and musicians would gossip, complain and, to the tree, share their fears and hopes.  The "Good Luck Tree" fell victim to a street expansion and was sawed into firewood rounds which the Amateur Night Producer Richard Cooper saw on the way to work and had a revelation – put it on the stage so the performers can touch this remnant of human aspiration and perhaps catch their breath before they sing on the stage of the Apollo Theater!  They all touch it.

Race has always had a role at the Apollo.  But as R and B has found itself to the mainstream, the place has become less of a black theater and more a shrine to American music and entertainment.  The Welshman Tom Jones, who grew up, like the Beatles, loving America’s blues and rock, came to the Apollo as soon as he landed in New York -- and not to perform.  Mitchell says Jones’ first gig at The Apollo was as a driver.  Jones sensed, if he had to be a nobody in New York, that this was the place where it was best to be a nobody.

The rainbow colored kids who are getting ready to perform on the Amateur show betray the fact that this Harlem Renaissance underway today is not just about the arts and music, but also about the gentrification of parts of this neighborhood, parents looking for housing and good schools and willing to invest their very lives into a new neighborhood that could be part of another great comeback, erasing  the fear that gripped Harlem in the lost decade of the seventies.
The New York Times reports that 'Greater Harlem,' a wide swath running across Manhattan from river to river, blacks are no longer a majority of the population.  Only four in ten are black.  A smaller geography, 'Central Harlem,' a narrower band leading north from Central Park through the heart of Harlem, counted just 762 whites in 1990, 2200 in 2000 and 16,000 in 2010.  Clearly something is happening here, caused by and mitigated by several factors, but happening nonetheless. 

We left Billy Mitchell in the lobby, extracting an unshakable commitment from him that he would one day visit Seattle – he knows some musicians from Seattle – and we would certainly come back to see the amateur contest the next time in New York and certainly bring the kids, for whom he promised one of those special Michelle Obama tours. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Silver Plated Elopement

Edmond S. Meany, the early University of Washington historian, got it all wrong about Miles Conway Moore, the last of the territorial governors.  In his history, “Governors of the State of Washington,” Meany said that there was sentimental value in Moore’s appointment a few months before statehood because the Territorial Governor who ceded federal authority to the state in 1889 would be well and fondly remembered. 
True, Washington came into the union as scheduled, but what we remember during that year is that fires destroyed three cities of the territory, first Seattle, in June, then Ellensburg, on July 4 and finally, in August, Spokane.  Well and fondly didn’t come up much that year. 
What finally happened after that flammable summer was that the state constitution was approved by residents on October 1 and sent to Washington.  At the same time, the state officers were elected, contingent upon approval by the federal government – not a done deal, by the way.  An earlier constitution was approved and sent off but was rejected in 1878, some in the eastern part of the state say because Walla Walla was angling for a home in Oregon, preferring that state to what people sometimes referred to as “the cesspool of Puget Sound.”

The Telegram.  Does it really say collect?
University of Washington
On November 11, Secretary of State James G.  Blaine sent along a telegram to the governor elect, Elisha Peyre Ferry, with the news that President Harrison had signed the bill opening the door of statehood to the two Dakotas, Montana and Washington.  Ferry took the oath of office in Olympia on November 15. 

He was the son of a Frenchman who left France in 1814 after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte under whom he had served as an infantry Colonel.  Ferry was an extraordinary young man, accepted to the Illinois bar at age twenty.  Practicing law was a natural political path and he soon became the first Mayor of Waukegan, Illinois after it incorporated.  He was an energetic member of the new Republican Party and was a presidential elector in both 1852 and 1856, though James Buchanan carried Illinois over John C.  Fremont and Elisha had to keep his anti-slave vote in his pocket. 
Elisha Ferry
Washington State Legislature
His activism put him in contact with Abraham Lincoln and, as the Civil War began, with a Colonel in the Illinois National Guard, Ulysses S.  Grant.  Ever the logician, he worked directly for the Governor of Illinois and was in charge of outfitting Illinois troops, becoming a Colonel by the end of the war.  He worked closely with Grant and they became friendly.  
So, it followed that Grant appointed Ferry to the position of Surveyor General of the Washington Territory after Grant became president.  It was a good thing, as the Northern Pacific Railroad was coming to the territory, to be the Surveyor General.  It was good for business and good for politics.  It is not known if Ferry was part of the network of public officials corruptly maintained by the Great Northern Railway but, like most Republican officials at the time, Ferry identified with the goals of the railroads and actively supported the company. 
Surveyors will tell you that Mount Rushmore depicts three surveyors and another guy.  Land was an extremely important part of government policy then as well as business.  The person who drew the lines and made the maps was an instrument of both. 
After three years, Grant appointed Ferry Territorial Governor in 1872, replacing Edward Selig Salomon, besmirched by another Grant Administration scandal.  That same year, the federal government gave territorial governors the ability to appoint three dozen or so statewide officials.  Their accountability to the governor gave him substantially more power than his predecessors.  
He’s generally credited with getting the territory’s financial house in order and taking financial pressure off cities and counties by building a penitentiary, allowing the closure of many small, local jails around the territory. The road to statehood is paved with acts like that, alleviating fears at the local level that they will not be paying for a lot of stuff hitherto paid for by the federal government. 
Ferry was competent, energetic, could get things done and never got caught up in the kind scandals that kept breaking over the Grant administration. His term over in 1880, he left Olympia for Seattle to practice real estate law, work at the Puget Sound National Bank and become truly rich.
Municipal Archives
As territorial governor, Ferry kept an active hand in local politics and was friendly with businessman John Leary whose business interests spanned pretty much what was going on in the territory -- coal, lumber, railroads, steamships and water supply.  Leary sat on the Seattle City Council and would be elected mayor, in 1884, as the first and only standard bearer of the Businessmen’s Party.  The rush was on for statehood and it would happen quickly.  In the middle of 1889, the state's second constitutional convention convened for six weeks and submitted a constitution in August.

The Capitol in 1889
Governor Moore set the election date as October first and the party conventions to nominate a Democrat in smoldering Ellensburg and a Republican in restive Walla Walla.   
Ferry’s most noteworthy accomplishment as governor rose out of his nomination.  Abandoned by his own King County party for another candidate, he let on that he could be counted on in Whitman County: 
“I’m positively inclined to have a university in Whitman County,” he said, and in 1890, Washington State Agricultural College and School of Science was founded in Pullman and, in 1892, 50 students enrolled in September.
Jonathan Baldwin Turner
University of Illinois
These Land Grant Colleges came primarily from the energy of two men, Jonathan Baldwin Turner, a Yale graduate and professor at Illinois College and Justin Smith Morrill, a legislator from Vermont who served in Congress over 44 years.  Both wanted to see greater access to higher education for the “industrial classes,” more experimentation in agriculture and a spreading of scientific learning across the country.
Illinois College is in Jacksonville, Illinois.  Indirectly, Turner taught Abraham Lincoln the basics of writing the English language.  William Green and his brother went to school at Illinois College and took classes from and admired their professor.  The term over, they returned home to help with the harvest and found a tall, rustic young man whose country speech betrayed his origins.  Their mother had hired him to help out.  The young man asked about the school and wanted to see the books the brothers used.  He asked to study one used by Turner in his class on writing.  When he had questions about the book, the Green boys would channel Turner. 

Justin Smith Morrill
Library of Congress
Morrill was a blacksmith’s son who had to leave school early to become a clerk in a general store.  He was so successful at making money that he retired at 38 and went to Congress.  He was the legislative arm of the Land Grant idea. 

Morrill has a bit of the Thomas Jefferson in him.  A highly competent amateur architect, he served as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Buildings while in the Senate.  He passed legislation -- and judgment -- on the designs of much of the US Capitol complex, including the finishing of the Washington Monument, the Executive Office Building next to the White House and the West Front Terrace of the Capitol where Ronald Reagan moved the inaugural ceremony from the parking lot on the east side to one of the most inspirational places in America.  It was also Morrill's idea to convert the old House chamber into a national statuary hall.  His last project was the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, America's cathedral of learning. 
President Jackson
James J.  Watkins
Senator Magnuson had a little office on the West Front of the Capitol and I once had a meeting in it.  The view down the Mall kept me tearing up the whole time I was meeting with this Corps of Engineer General who was laying out the Corps’ concern about how construction of the West Seattle Bridge could hurt migrating fish.  We sat on a couch above which was the magnificent picture of the almost dead Andrew Jackson, his face sad and almost falling off him.  It was all I could do to not excuse myself, call my Mom and tell her where I was. 

There was likely a lot of emotion when President Lincoln signed the Land Grant College Act of 1862 in the presence of Morrill and Turner -- one a grade school drop out with a Jeffersonian mind, another a Yale patrician who fought nearly his entire professional life for young people of no means to have access to excellent public education, and the third, a bumpkin who had somehow become the president at the start of the nation’s greatest catastrophe and whose words would articulate the catastrophe as no one else could.  Lincoln said to Turner: 
“My only instruction in the English language is from you.”
Ferry’s immediate challenges were the burned cities in his state, the muscling for land and dominance by the railroads, leadership at Washington State College – two presidents in less than two years -- and how to allocate the tide lands of Puget Sound and Grays Harbor, a grant from the federal government, among all the competing interests.  His health was bad.  For several weeks he gave up his office to his Lieutenant Governor while he recuperated in California.  When his term was up he returned to Seattle and died in 1895 on the deck of a steamship in Puget Sound.
Seattle Municipal Archives
Pierre Ferry Home
Of the five Ferry children, two became prominent.  In 1892, his daughter Eliza Peyre Ferry, married John Leary and created the town’s most prominent power couple.  They lived at the center of life in the city at 208 Madison, near today’s plaza of the Wells Fargo Center.  While they lived there, it was a place of great gaiety and entertainment, but as the bigger buildings began to crowd in, John and Eliza started building a house on 10th Avenue East, overlooking Lake Union.  John died just about the time his wife’s businessman brother, Pierre, was finishing his own lovely mansion nearby in 1905.  It was designed by John Graham, then a newcomer to town and an architect on the rise.  Pierre was running the family business now, the Ferry-Leary Land Company, while Eliza threw herself into community work, serving on the first board at the new Children’s Orthopedic Hospital.

In 1913, Pierre and his wife, Lorena, adopted a three year old girl from the Children’s Home of Washington, then well established as the place where young children could be protected when things fell apart around them.
The big house on Tenth Avenue East was a long way from Mud Creek Canyon in Entiat, Washington, where her Mom, Emma Goldie Bisping, operated a boarding house after her husband, Julius Bisping, ran off.  It came to a head when an Italian worker for the railroad and now Emma’s lover, got into a shoving match that resulted in her filing an assault charge against him.
The details of the Mud Creek boarding house life led the judge to place the two older sisters into the care of Julius Bisping’s brother and the youngest daughter, Gertrude Bisping, then two, into the Childrens’ Home. 
After the adoption, the Ferrys renamed her Barbara Peyre Ferry and she was a big deal in the family.  Of Elisha’s five children, Barbara was the only grandchild.  She was frequently on the society pages of the Seattle Times, throwing a fancy dress party, skating on a birthday. 
So, it was a very big society page event – in fact it was a front page of the Seattle Times event – when she eloped with David Keith Eskridge, whom she had met when invited to join other friends on David’s family’s 62’ yacht the previous summer for a cruise along the Alaska coast.  At some point, there was the romantic spark that led, in secrecy, to a Wednesday morning in March, 1927 at a Chehalis Episcopal Church. 
You need to know that David’s middle name, ‘Keith’ refers to David Keith, a founder of the Silver Creek Mine at Park City, Utah and David’s grandfather.
The other is ‘Eskridge.’  David’s father is Richard Stevens Eskridge, grandson of the first territorial governor of Washington State, Isaac Stevens, who negotiated the treaties with the tribes in the territory and took the job that Abraham Lincoln turned down.  I’m not sure if Chehalis ever had a bigger wedding. 
The newspapers scoped out a bunch of details that kept the story going for several days.  Barbara was supposed to be staying with her grandmother while her Mother was at an all girl getaway, described a bit more tightly by the Tacoma Times as “Entertaining at the Tacoma Country Club cottage of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Leary and some friends from Seattle.”   However, David’s mother, Etta Keith Eskridge Gjossen, was listed as a witness at the wedding as was her new husband, Ted Gjossen. 
This last tidbit – one family knew and the other didn’t! – was a juicy mystery that took three editions of the Seattle Times to sort out.  The final edition had it that the Gjossens were there because they had “stumbled on the truth and were won over to the enterprise.”  Barbara was 16, David 22.
Pierre and Lulu, Lorena Ferry’s nickname, finally got into the action over the weekend when they hurried to organize a reception held at the Tacoma Country Club cottage along American Lake.  There, they got another surprise when the newlyweds announced that they planned on living south of Tacoma and were going to start a chicken farm.
The allure of poultry farming along Puget Sound and buckets of money could not hold the new union together, though their love lasted ten years and produced a son, David Keith Eskridge Jr., who went on to a career in music as a conductor and composer. 
It was not easy for Barbara to be happy in a relationship.  Every ten years, she divorced and remarried.  But her first one, to young Eskridge was, to me, very special.  It is a physical unification--Governor Ferry’s granddaughter, via Mud Creek Canyon, to Territorial Governor Isaac Ingalls Stevens’ great grandson, via Park City silver. 
After three other marriages, Barbara Peyre Ferry died in 1969 and is buried next to her adopted parents as Barbara P. Moe in the Ferry plot at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Busy Corner

There is a very special place to me in Seattle’s downtown, a place where, even in a rush, I’ll slow down, look around and let the history wash over me. 
Google Maps
lt is where First Avenue and Marion Streets come together and all historical hell is breaking loose there.  It is where Denny, Bell and Boren docked their boat in 1851 after reconsidering a permanent settlement at Alki Point in West Seattle.  It is where the Great Seattle Fire started, wiping out the entire downtown.  It is where John Muir, the great environmentalist and Gifford Pinchot, the nation’s first forester, blew up their friendship in a knock down drag out over lands policy in the lobby of the Grand Rainier Hotel though there’s a debate about whether it actually happened there.  Certainly their friendship blew up and it might as well of happened at the Grand Rainier. 

The Grand Rainier was torn down in 1930 and the old Federal Building stands in its place today, its terra cotta representations of Mount Rainier glaciers streaming down its brick slopes.  It is where Congressman Warren Magnuson, full of his youth, position and good looks, went to work when home from Washington, DC.  To the South is the Colman Building, covering the lot next door to the original Henry Yesler's Mill, the termination of Skid Road.

James Colman managed Yesler’s Mill and soon began acquiring property for his own enterprises and began building a dock next to Yesler’s.  Colman had designs made for an elaborate building to put to the east of the dock, on what they then called Water Street, now First Avenue.  His dock burned in the Great Fire and what was left and with other materials, including a ship Colman was hoping to salvage, became the stuff that filled in the tideflats for the building that would follow.  Soon a new dock was in place, a domed waiting room punctuated by a clock tower at its west end. This was the home to much of the city’s famous mosquito fleet.  Colemn added more floors to his original Water Street Building in 1905 and a remodel 20 years later gave it metal and glass awning along the themes of the Pergola up the street and some lovely brass and marble work.

Museum of History and Industry
Across the street is John Graham’s Exchange Building.  Graham’s buildings cover so much Seattle dirt and almost all have the plain spoken exteriors of this one.  But these simple lines conceal as lush an Art Deco experience as exists in the Northwest, matched only by the Seattle Tower, across the street from Benaroya Hall.  An immigrant from Liverpool, Graham became an architect the old way, as an apprentice to an architect. The Exchange Building was going to be at the very center of commerce in Seattle with a stock and commodity trading room located at on its second floor surrounded by a gallery for onlookers who would watch value grow as if it were a sport.

Original Coleman Dock
Museum of History and Industry

You should know that this intersection is thick with bad luck.  Colman dock suffered many fires, several collisions with boats, many lives lost and the clock tower, surrounded by flames and smoke, falling into Puget Sound.  Graham’s Exchange Building came on the market in 1930 and the Pit of the trading floor never heard a cheer. 

His son, John Junior, has the building just across Marion, the Henry M.  Jackson Federal Building, which the younger Graham designed with Fred Bassetti.  Bassetti never saw a brick he didn’t like and wanted the whole structure encased in brick, setting off a struggle, mediated by Senator Magnuson, between the bricklayers and the cement masons.  There is compromise written all over this block.  The lovely plaza, all brick, done by Bassetti and Rich Haag, the landscape architect responsible for Gasworks Park, gets the shorter end of the stick.  The entire office structure is encased in precast concrete.

The last breaths of the Burke Building, torn down for this new building, its arch and the decorations from its top, are incorporated into Haag’s design of the Plaza.

The charm of the two federal buildings exists mainly on the outside, although the old building has a pair of elevator doors and some lighting fixtures that are fantastic.  Rules against photography inside federal buildings prevent showing them here.  Also, if you want to time travel, the Post Office to the right of the main entrance remains in 1933, which shows through eighty years of wear.

The aluminum plates that decorate the building are a major statement for the time.  It is conventional wisdom that the aluminum came from smelters on the Columbia, but the smelting industry did not start on the Columbia until well after the plates were made and installed. 

Aluminum is the capstone of the Washington Monument and the Old Federal Building was one of the first in the western US to incorporate the expensive new metal.  For many years I had an office across the street on Western Avenue and looked out onto those plates in the back of the building.  In addition to the cast plates between windows, other plates depict the logos of the federal agencies who moved into the building. 

The two fantastic urns decorating the First Avenue side front are transplants from the site of the 1909 Alaska Yukon Exposition held at the University of Washington campus, Seattle’s first world’s fair. 

Over at the Colman Building the brass design elements at the front are done by Dudley and Virginia Pratt.  Originally installed for Joshua Green’s People’s National Bank, the treatment also included a pair of lovely brass doors showing scenes from the economic life of the region.  The doors were removed after two of the scenes were stolen.  The Pratts were a prominent couple, he teaching sculpture at the University of Washington and she running the art department at Lakeside School.  While they had separate careers, she often helped with the decorative designs and her hands would have been on this artwork.  (See "Dudley and Virginia" in "Our Great City")

The Colman Building is the only commercial structure in Seattle that has two Irish bars.  “Fado” is where the People’s Bank was and out back, off the alley, is the “Owl and Thistle.”  If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, Saturday, March 17, 2012 is the next St. Patrick’s Day.

Let’s go over to the lobby of the Exchange Building.  The best entrance is off Second Avenue, underneath a pair of stained glass windows to a gleaming marble and brass entryway flanked by an enormous wooden panel.  It is here you will find the last of the original elevator doors, perhaps the most lovely freight elevator in the universe.  

This is a cared for building.  Over the years, the false ceilings that covered up nearly all of this beauty have been removed and the decorations lovingly restored by the handful of plaster artisans who can still do this work.

For a period of time, Graham was the supervising architect of the Ford Motor Company, designing many buildings across the country which would accommodate the company’s manufacturing strategy of assembling cars for regional markets.  Two are in Seattle.  One is at the red storage building in South Lake Union and the other, now known as Federal Center South, currently used by the Corps of Engineers. 

John Graham’s resume includes the Frederick and Nelson Building, now Nordstrom, the Joshua Green Building at 4th and Pike and he had a hand in the Marine Hospital, the art deco building on top of Beacon Hill used by Amazon.

But his real project was his son, John Junior.  He brought him along in the firm and, in 1946, gave him the company. John Junior promptly went to work on a project for Allied Stores, for whom he had worked briefly in retail, and his little project became America’s first shopping Mall, Northgate Center, in 1950.  He soon was replicating the ideas from Northgate across the country and the world. 

At one of his projects, the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu, he put a restaurant that rotated on top of an office tower.  The concept became the center of the second Seattle World’s Fair where Graham, Victor Steinbrueck and others created the Space Needle. 

While working on the Ala Moana project, Graham submitted a patent for the revolving restaurant idea and he was awarded the patent in 1964.  Since then, at least 237 rotating restaurants have been built around the world.  It’s noteworthy that nearly half of the 51 built in the United States no longer rotate today.

Graham was best known as a prodigious money-maker, not a designer.  He created over 70 malls across the world and, for that, earned a place with James Rouse and Eddie DeBartolo in the Mall Hall of Fame.  Yes, there is one. 

Graham’s string ran out with the Stimson Center Project, an office tower with extensive street level and underground shopping, that his development company proposed for Sixth and Pike in 1982.  The project was poorly timed and characterized by internal strife among the partners.  Graham was very bitter.  A Seattle ordinance limited the building height and the design community and organizations like Allied Arts and the League of Women Voters loathed its bulk and its high end pretentions and Graham challenged them as "uneducated little girls."

"You can't lose as much money as I have lost and not be emotional," he said at the time.  "It's very earth shaking to have lived an entire life in a town and have your best and finest work torpedoed.

He retired then amid lawsuits and anger, selling the development company and merging John Graham and Company with an Omaha architect and engineering company.  He died in 1992. 

The Grahams were more businessmen than designers.  The first John Graham was a supervising architect who approved the work of others, like Francis W.  Grant, the lead architect on the Exchange Building.  Graham's son was really a developer with an architect's education.  Each was aware that business came first and that designers like Fred Bassetti, Victor Steinbrueck, Ibsen Nelson and Frank Grant could be purchased to give grace to a good business deal.

It is the focus on business that makes their buildings so numerous in our city.  That some of them are fabulous is a gift. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Eight Very Cool Women

It seems hard to believe today that just over 25 years ago, Seattle’s Rotary Club Number 4, the biggest club in the United States and one of Seattle’s most able civic organizations, did not allow women to be among its members.

That fact, among others, prompted a group of eight women, for whom civic life was a clear and unadorned responsibility, to form their own organization. Over several months of breakfasts and lunches, they decided on the character of their organization, infused it with their personalities and experiences, exercised the social networking tools of that day – handwritten address books, food with discussion, the IBM Selectric typewriter -- asked one of their children to create a logo, identified a hundred people and asked each for $100, filled out the papers for incorporation and rented an office space in a downtown tower.

Many things thirty years ago were the same as they are today. They got a good deal on the office because there was a sharp recession going on. There was a detour for people who lived on the West Seattle peninsula. Their old bridge had been hit by a cargo vessel and a new one was being constructed. The detour would last six years. It sometimes took 40 minutes to get from one end of the downtown to the other, the reason then was the downtown bus tunnel, a difficult cut and cover construction project. The Seattle Mariners were headed south to Arizona and expected to lose two thirds of their games during the regular season, which proved largely true.

Sometimes, when people are busy creating something, the details of the doing obscure the historical themes of the creation.  Here’s the wonderful Carl Sandburg poem about that idea:

“I am riding on a Limited Express, one of the crack trains of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: ‘Omaha.’”

I recently interviewed four of the City Club’s founding women at a board retreat of their 30 year old creation.  While the interview was a practicum of what they did and how they did it, the great arc of history forming the role of women in American civic life after the Civil War was very much in the room as these elegant women discussed how they went about producing an organization that would result in the recruitment and training as civic leaders many thousands of young men and women.

They are travelling the same path of women’s self improvement clubs that gave significant numbers of women access to educational opportunities routinely denied them by their public institutions. 

They are inheritors of political movements like suffrage, temperance and settlement.

They are the skin and bones of the City Club Movement, the connection to civic life of the reform ideas of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson that resulted in the first City Club in Cleveland in 1912 and another in Portland in 1916. At the same time, women were pursuing a parallel civic reality in many different organizations like Junior League, started by Mary Harriman, daughter of the railroader, helping settle a flood of immigrants flowing into the country at the turn of the 20th century.  A bit later, the American Women Suffrage Association morphed into the League of Women Voters with the role of educating and activating 20 million newly enfranchised voters.

Rotary started in Chicago, in 1905, created by a young attorney, Paul Harris, who yearned for a professional club that would capture the small town culture he remembered as a young man.  With three other colleagues, a tailor, a mining engineer and a coal broker, they began meeting weekly, rotating the obligation of hosting the meeting to the other offices of its rapidly growing list of members.

Early on, the club adopted the most revered of perceived small town virtues, service. An early Chicago Rotarian, Arthur Frederick Sheldon, coined a phrase that has, in various iterations, labeled the cause marketing theme of Rotary clubs to this day:

"The science of service is the science of business; he profits most who serves best."

First Convention, 1910
Seattle was an early adopter of Rotary, in 1909, becoming the fourth club founded following Chicago, San Francisco and Oakland. In 1910, the first national convention was held in Chicago and representatives of 16 clubs were there. Rotary's rise was viral and it had a particular appeal in the western US. Following San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle, Los Angeles was #5, Tacoma was #8 and Portland #15. In 1911, the convention came to the Rose City.  At the start of the convention, organizers announced that London had formed a club, as had Winnipeg and Dublin. Twenty years after that first meeting in Chicago, Rotary had 2,000 clubs and 108,000 members. Rotary was global, no trick . Today, 32,000 clubs with 1.2 million meet in 200 countries.
Paul Harris, center, at 1911 Portland Conference

Whether to allow women prompted a lively discussion at the Portland conference in 1911 though it was not resolved, the group ignoring the issue. It's interesting that a photograph of the Chicago delegation shows a woman who appears to be wearing the same credentialing as the other members. She was Paul Harris' stenographer.  That same year women-only Rotary clubs formed in Minneapolis and Duluth and met for six years until the Americans entered the World War.  Women-only clubs were difficult in the Rotary model because categories of membership are based on professional occupations, most of which were denied women at the time. A doctor, a lawyer and a chiropractor were the founders of the Duluth women's Rotary.

Faced with a letter seeking official status for women from some part of the globe at each annual meeting, the 1921 Rotary International Conference finally confronted the question, adopting a resolution that would add this sentence to Article 2 Section III of the group's constitution:

"A Rotary Club shall be composed of men."

Efforts were made to soften the snub with the creation of the "Inner Wheel," a kind of auxiliary for women, in 1923. Always problematic for the high civic tone of Rotary, the inclusion of women kept clanging off some of the fundamental pronouncements of the club, like the Four Way Test, published in 1932 and adopted in 1943:

"Of the things we think, say or do
1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?"

In 1950, a club in India proposed dropping the word "male" and later, in 1964, what is now Sri Lanka proposed the same resolution. Both were defeated. In 1977, a club in Duarte, California, located just north of Pasadena, admitted three women as members. In 1978, Duarte was booted out and proclaimed itself, to great new membership success, as the Not Rotary Club of Duarte, California.

A California Superior Court agreed with Rotary but a state court of appeals reversed. The US Supreme Court took the case and in May of 1986, sometime after the International District Rotary in Seattle voted to admit women members, the Supreme Court ruled for Duarte, which promptly began calling itself "the mouse that roared."

Within a year, 20,000 women became members of Rotary and today 200,000 women, one in six members, call themselves Rotarians.

All of this was noteworthy to the women who had started City Club five years earlier, but old news.  They had early on abandoned the idea of making their club a preserve for women and immediately recruited men to be a part of their leadership and, five years out, their club, figuratively, was cooking. 

Once too old for Junior League and too woman for Rotary, these eight women found their own way to do their duty in the public square and to bring tens of thousands of others to join them there.  They were really quiet revolutionary on their own terms, echoing the words of the Portland Club:  "No Mossbacks.  No Drones."

Anne Farrell, Colleen Willoughby, Kate Webster, Sue Lile Hunter, Jean Rolfe, Marilyn Ward, Barbara Hodgson and Nancy Nordhoff variously continue their service.  Colleen Willoughby came up with the idea of pooling resources of professional women so that their collective philanthropy can have a more significant impact.  The Washington Woman’s Foundation has 500 members today who have collectively raised and given $11 million to the Seattle community and many others.  Some of those who worked with Colleen on the founding of City Club currently participate in the Foundation.  Others have gone on to serve at the University of Washington Medical School, Children’s Hospital, YWCA, the Seattle Foundation, the University of Washington, Washington State University, St.  Mark’s Cathedral, Planned Parenthood, the Washington Women’s Bank and nearly every significant organization in the community that takes its public responsibilities seriously. 

Very nicely done, ladies.  And thank you.

A footnote.  Anne Farrell, one of the eight women who founded City Club, joined Rotary after it opened its doors to women and, after a time, became its first woman President.

HistoryLink's File on City Club

Rotary after 100 years

Washington Women's Foundation