Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Saving Seward Park for the Olmsteds and for Us

There are many side effects caring for a new puppy such as sleep deprivation, that intimacy with poop and pee you'd thought you'd given up years ago and the small cuts on the hands and forearms from trying to get the dog to drop the ball it loves to chase.
But there are also beneficial side effects.  For me, they are the rediscovery of the Seattle Park system where we take the dog for his pleasure and ours. 
East Union and 34th
Google Earth
On this Saturday, we decide to head out for Seward Park where I’ve not been for many years.  First, however, we thought to grab some breakfast at 34th and East Union, just a block away from the first real house I ever lived in, a classic Madrona two story on 35th.  One day, in 1968, as we registered to vote at the tiny firehouse, just down the street from our new rental, an alarm came in and the firefighters burst through the tiny lobby and sped off in the lone pumper assigned to the building.  All alone in the little firehouse, we completed our voter forms, left them on a chair and walked home.  We thought the whole thing was pretty cool.  Today, the firehouse is a library.
When I lived there, the neighborhood was nothing like it is today.  It was racially polarized and many of the houses were in disrepair.  In the house we rented, someone had kicked a hole in the living room wall.  Since we didn’t even know what drywall was, we covered the hole with a book case, sort of oddly placed, but it did the trick.  One Sunday afternoon, my wife was leaving the grocery store and a kid poked a gun in her face and took her purse.  Two state legislators living in Madrona had their houses firebombed.  We heard the fire trucks one night and they stopped just a few houses away.  A house on Pine Street, a half a block away from ours, was on fire.  It had been vacant just like the one we were renting a few weeks before.  We thought it was intentional and it probably was.  We walked home shaken, angry and scared. 
There was a laundromat and a small store, Joe’s Market, run by a tough little Chinese guy who had an uncanny ability to spot a bag of skittles sliding into a school bag.  An IGA market, once thriving, was badly slipping and soon became a clinic.  I don’t remember much else on the street, except the going downward theme.  The year 1968 was a tough year for Seattle’s Central District.

The first thing you notice today as you cross the intersection of 34th and East Union is that there is no place to park.  The Hi Spot, our breakfast destination, is jammed.  There were several other restaurants on the street – Bistro Turkuaz, not open til dinner, Naam Thai on the corner, Pritty Boys Family Pizzeria with a big crowd of tiny soccer players, Soleil -- Ethiopian/Eritrean -- Madrona Eatery and Alehouse and several others.
The parking place we find is next to Al Larkins Park, what happened to the land that remained after the 1968 fire when we lived there.  The Seattle Parks Department finally bought the property and made it into a small park, lovely and simple, and named for a Madrona resident, Alvin Larkins.
Larkins was one of the many black people who came to Seattle to work at World War II.  His contribution to the military was as a musician.  A Navy band, The Jive Bombers, were stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station and they played everywhere.  After the war, Larkins decided to stay here rather than return to Baltimore.
He was a guy who was picked up by visiting bands to Seattle and played for Sarah Vaughn, Maurice Chevalier and Duke Ellington.  The park was named for him at his death in 1979, thirty years after one of Seattle’s great musical events at the Trianon Ballroom when Ray Charles brought the house down, one of the first he brought down. 
The Jive Bombers
Alvin Larkins is holding the shorter of the two tubas
Sand Point Naval Air Station
Like so many people who came to Seattle at that time, he became as Seattle as Seattle could be.  He was an original in the Rainy City Jazz Band, a well-known post war Jazz group in Seattle and also played his jazzy tuba for the World’s Fair Marching Band.  When the Christmas ships stood off Madrona Beach and the kids on them sang their Christmas carols, he joined with his tuba and his friends to answer them while a huge bonfire roared.  He and his brother, Ellis, accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald and a fixture in the New York City jazz scene, played in the first Bumbershoot, in 1972.  A University of Washington graduate, he taught in Seattle schools and lived on 37th street, three blocks away from what is now his park.

Larkins is in the movie "It Happened at the World's Fair" starring Elvis Presley and made in 1962.  The movie ends in a big production scene with the Seattle World's Fair Band following Elvis and the girl he has just won parading through the grounds singing "Happy Endings," a highly forgettable part of the Elvis songbook.  Larkins is in the back in the tuba section that swings by the camera as "Happy Endings" hits the crescendo.  You can also find the great Seattle jazz pianist, Overton Berry, in that scene.  Berry told me once that Larkins was concerned that there weren't enough blacks in the band so he put a tuba around Berry's shoulders. 

"Don't even try to play anything, just keep in step," Larkins told Berry.

After breakfast, we walked the dog around the neighborhood and came upon the Glassybaby ‘hot store,’ just off the intersection of 34th and East Union, the place they manufacture the hand blown glass votive candleholders that have become such a business and cultural phenomenon here.  I know about them because my daughter and wife talked about nothing else during a dinner a few years ago and because they started showing up in my house soon after in groups of two and three. 

A Seattle housewife with three children, Lee Rhodes, got a bad break when she had a rare lung cancer and spent seven years in a brutal treatment regime.  Her husband once brought home a small votive candleholder he had made in a glassblowing class and Rhodes put a candle in it and thought that if one was really cool that many others emitting the healing light she experienced would be even better.  She designed and had several votive candleholders made and began giving them away to friends.  She slipped into a commercial operation and began hiring people who worked in Seattle’s large glassblowing scene.  The business model she created emphasized hand made products, unusual colors and distribution of ten percent of profits to certain charities and now here they are in my old Madrona neighborhood making Glassybabys for the world.  
Once Rhodes established the operation, someone gave a Glassybaby to Martha Stewart when Stewart needed healing post-prison.  Rhodes appeared on Stewart’s show, the first one after Stewart got out.  Then, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos showed up and loved the product and its branding and bought 20% of the company.  In 2011, Glassybaby sales were at nearly ten million annually and proceeds to the various charities is nearly a million dollars.  They make use of 70 glassblowers in my old neighborhood and are thinking of setting up a hot shop in San Francisco.
Glassybaby’s healing magic was certainly working the day we were there. After visiting, taking pictures and showing off the dog, we walked to the car, took the dog up into Al Larkins Park and put away the feelings from that terrible night in 1968.
On the way out to Seward Park, I stopped at Leschi Park to photograph a small memorial there to Jacob Umlauff, long the head gardener for the Parks Department and frequently its de facto Superintendent.  It sits below a stately Giant Redwood (Sequoia Gigantia) and reads:
“This tree has been dedicated in fitting tribute to JACOB UMLAUFF, head gardener, Seattle Park Department 1914-1941 who planted it with the skilled and loving hands that gave rare beauty to all Seattle Parks”
Leschi was Seattle’s second park, following Denny Park in South Lake Union.  It was created in the year before statehood, 1888.  Privately-owned, it was connected by a trolley car that followed Yesler Way, the skid road that brought lumber to the sawmill at the foot of Yesler in the pioneer days.  The loggers who fanned out along the skid road had by now logged off a great swath of the city, nearly all of it, and their successors were trying their skills at a gentler trade, real estate development.  The park and its connecting trolley were put in place to bring people to a beautiful place so they would buy lots and build houses on them, further expanding the new town.  The park contained gardens, a casino, a small zoo, a diving board.  Soon it became a ferry boat terminus as well. 
Seattle Municipal Archives
Umlauff’s monument is at Leschi probably because it was his first Seattle job in the parks business.  In fact, he no doubt planted the redwood before getting hired by they city of Seattle.  But I have another thesis.  The Leschi of old was his kind of park, one that was ordered, sentimental and thoroughly controlled by the people who used it.  And he worked hard making other parks his kind of park, particularly Seward Park.  His efforts helped undo what the great Olmsted brothers had in mind for Seward Park in their 1903 parks plan.  Umlauff was frequently successful and still drives today’s parks planners crazy. 
Before the Olmsted brothers came to Seattle and created a master plan for the parks in 1903, there was Edward Otto Schwagerl, the parks superintendent who had been hired away from Tacoma in 1892 and had worked on Wright Park and the great Point Defiance Park.  Schwagerl created a comprehensive plan for Seattle’s parks at a time when the city had but one park, Denny, now in South Lake Union, the site of an old cemetery whose fence was falling down. 
Schwagerl’s idea was to have great parks at the four corners of Seattle – at Alki Point in West Seattle, at West Point on the northwest corner of Elliott Bay, at Sandpoint on the northeast and Bailey Point (Seward) on the southeast.  These great parks would be connected by a series of parkways that would wind through the city, punctuated by many smaller parks in between and along the way.  Even though many people loved Schwagerl’s plan, it was so big no one quite knew where to start. 
A bad economy in the form of the Panic of 1893 took care of worrying about how to start Schwagerl’s ambitious plan and Schwagerl left the park system and Seattle in 1895.
Olmsted Parks Foundation
The Olmsted Brothers pulled together many of Schwagerl’s ideas when they came up with their park plan in 1903.  They also incorporated the work of George Cotterill, the assistant to the great city engineer R.H.  Thomson.  Cotterill, who later served as mayor, had developed a proposal for a series of bike pathways through the city that were used by the Olmsteds as the means of connecting the parks they proposed.  The new plan was adopted in 1903.
There was consensus about what to do with the Bailey Peninsula.  Buy it before the loggers got it and keep it that way for the generations who would like to see the mix of old trees that once covered the entire basin and now were gone.  All gone.

Google Maps
The Bailey Peninsula is a drumlin, the name used for land that is created by the movement of a retreating glacial mass.  The Vashon Glacier period covered Seattle with 4,000 feet of ice 15,000 years ago. When the ice retreated, around 13,000 years ago, it formed humpbacked collections of gravel and other rocky debris that point in the direction of the retreating glacier, which is why so many shoreline formations in Seattle point due north.  Over a thousand years, a thin layer of soil had formed and shards of the post glacial forest cover began to take root.

For some reason the odd-shaped piece of land attracted a lot of interest.  Some speculators wanted to build a toll bridge to Mercer Island and another proposal was to cut a channel at its west end so boats plying Lake Washington would save a few minutes of their busy day.  Its fate, however, was to be one of the anchors of the Seattle park system.  But the Bailey family’s perception of its value was considerably higher than the city’s.  They were asking $2,000 an acre and so it took until 1911 for the city to finally condemn the property and bought it for $322,000, or $1,500/acre.  The purchase came soon after the Alaska-Yukon Exposition in Seattle and of course the first name on the list of names was William Henry Seward, the guy who bought Alaska and, because he did, started modern Seattle.
Seattle Municipal Archives
Even at that time, events conspired to erode the Olmsted dream of Seward Park as a timeless image of the pre-European forest cover.  The city filled in the marshy area in front of the peninsula and the construction of the Hiram Chittenden Locks in 1916 lowered the level of Lake Washington by nine feet which created more land that made access by cars easier.  New shoreline plants appeared and some of the timber died to water stress.  Soon there was a large section of lawn fronting the peninsula. This planting and others that followed nearly wiped out the peninsula’s native grasses.
The Olmsteds did not hold a back-to-nature philosophy.  Their ideas for Seattle parks were based on a full mix of different park themes. They thought that some parks were meant to be highly managed and manicured – Volunteer Park, for example -- but they also thought other parks should be designed based upon what they presented initially.  Their firm, Olmsted Brothers, was involved in the development of more than 30 Seattle parks, the most complete Olmsted Park system in the world.  Only one park, one that would stretch along the top of the hill in Madrona, the top of the hill we had just left at 34th and Union, was not finished.  That was left for Al Larkins and Glassybaby.
Jacob Umlauff’s tenure within the Seattle Parks almost matched the 38 years from 1903 to 1941 the Olmsteds worked on the system.  Umlauff came from Austria where his uncle was a circus impresario but he resisted the call of the circus and moved to Chicago.  Longing for a less noisy and confusing place, he is said to have asked the ticket agent for a destination as far from Chicago as possible.  His ticket read Bellingham, Washington.  But soon he was in Seattle managing the private park system at Leschi, Madison Park and Madrona operated by the Seattle Electric Company.  That's when he likely planted that redwood his plaque is in front of.  In 1914, he hired on with the city park system and served until his retirement in 1941.
Lincoln Park
Seattle Parks
Umlauff was a gardener in the true sense.  Every landscape had to be a garden.  All of the parks where he had a true influence look that way.  Many different trees, many non-natives, all with lush mulch and mowed grass underneath, as if the ground were a vase and the trees a bouquet of mixed flowers.  He nurtured Denny Park that way.  One of the truly big parks he is responsible for is Lincoln Park in West Seattle.  Its big fir trees, once a great forest on the west slope of the city, are lovely for sure, but reduced at the same time by the perfect floor of concrete walks and mowed grass underneath.  Trees are a bit like wild animals.  It’s hard to see them in cages.
In an unusual interview in the March 9, 1930 Seattle Times, Umlauff mused on the nature of plants and his responsibility for their vulnerable position in the scheme of things.
“I wish more folks understood,“ he told a reporter.  “There are humane societies for dogs and kittens.  They can cry when they are hurt.  These flowers too are living things and have no way to protest or escape.  Helpless, they are also voiceless.”
With this Disney version view of his photosynthetic charges, it was difficult for Umlauff to adhere to the Olmsted’s vision of a natural forest at Seward Park.  Soon, there was a new parks plan in the mid-1920s that added more grass, tennis courts, a trout hatchery and rearing ponds.  Plantings around the ponds introduced English Ivy to the park.
Umlauff thought the understory in Seward Park inhibited people from enjoying the trees so he grubbed it out, taking with it a rich habitat for animals of all kinds. 
Umlauff also had a program that he hoped would involve young citizens in horticulture.  Kids would gather hollyberries from Christmas decorations and bring them out to Seward Park where they would plant them under his direction.  Umlauff called it a hollyberry kindergarten.  Today’s parks managers hate holly because it is one of the most aggressive invasive species.
A ten year parks plan in 1931 argued that dead timber and brush should be removed because it constituted a fire hazard.  He did not, nor did much of his generation appreciate the positive aspects of fires in managing forests.  All he knew for sure that that fire would hurt his voiceless friends.
Seward Park, 1936
University of Washington Collections
During the depression, the parks department hosted many hundreds of relief workers.  In March of 1936 there were 400 Works Progress Administration relief workers employed at Seward Park and another 600 in the Washington Park Arboretum.  The supposed purpose at Seward Park was to create room in the forest to relocate the trout ponds further up the hill. Residents and defenders of a more natural looking park were appalled when they saw stacks of firewood piling up along the park’s edges.  It appears from reading the clips that this army of workers had gotten out of control and were cutting all kinds of healthy trees.
Amazing Portrait of FDR
on a trimmed Seward Park tree
University of Washington Collections
Word got back to Mayor John Dore that 800-1,000 cords of wood had been assembled at Seward Park and he ordered that the tree-cutting stop unless it had his own personal approval.
“This system of cutting down trees to make artificial parks is all right for Boston or New York where they have no natural beauty,” the Mayor said.  “But out here, it’s just like getting false teeth when you have good ones.”
While Umlauff retired in 1941, the parks department vision of Seward Park remained far different from the Olmsted idea.  A 4,000 seat amphitheater was proposed and built at a grassy swale of blowdowns and cleared underbrush, but other facilities – parking for 2,500 cars, two and a half miles of new roads and 25 acres of new picnic areas came right out of the native forest.
Beginning in the 1970s, the idea of a natural forest regained it primacy. Ultimately, the amphitheater was closed, the perimeter road closed to automobile traffic and the trout rearing ponds abandoned.  What remains of the natural forest exists on the northern two thirds of the peninsula and it is still the largest pre-settlement forest remaining in Seattle.
After we finished our walk, we discovered that we hadn’t the slightest idea where we had parked the car.  After several false starts in all directions, the puppy weighed in.  He dropped to his stomach and refused to move, understanding, perhaps for the first time, that our relationship with him worked both ways.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Babies and Buildings: The Trends Creating Demand for a New Public School in Downtown Seattle

A new study shows that a combination of a surprisingly high birth rate among young couples living downtown and the continued housing boom there are producing significant demand for a downtown elementary school that could provide a solution for some of the district's overcrowding problems.  However, the planning for the district's next round of capital investment is out of step with actual events and could turn some good news into a frustrating near miss. 
The Seattle School District, the City of Seattle and the Downtown Seattle Association recently conducted research on downtown demographic trends and resident attitudes about a public school in downtown.  The numbers tell a compelling story, but it comes at a time when the district's six year planning process for capital investment is nearing its conclusion and with no representation from the downtown. 

Let’s start a discussion of the results with some major factors at work in the downtown’s demographics, residential construction activity, employment trends and the school district's struggles with an unanticipated surge in new enrollment.

In the last twenty years, population in the downtown more than doubled and it is now the city's most populous neighborhood -- 40,000 people living west of Interstate 5 along a strip from South Lake Union to Pioneer Square and the International District.  This does not count close-in First Hill and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, which the Downtown Seattle Association also considers a part of the downtown, totaling another 20,000 people.  However, for purposes of this study, the DSA focused on two elementary school attendance zones west of I-5 in the downtown corridor, the John Hay attendance area and the Bailey Gatzert area. 

Live births in the John Hay Attendance Area
Downtown births in Green
The demographic portrait that emerges from these two school attendance zones is that residents are disproportionately young – a full third of them 25-34 years of age, three times more than 1990 census data and well above the city-wide percentage of 25-34 year olds. A higher concentration of young adults is a predictor of higher birth rates and clearly these young people have become adept at making babies and are delivering them at a surprising pace. Last year they were responsible for the births of 220 kids, twice the number of births ten years ago.  The city-wide birth rate over that same period is well under the downtown's.  In the John Hay attendance zone, two thirds of live births come from downtown.  These kids will start attending school in five years.   The study also shows there are more than twice the number of kids under five living downtown compared to 20 years ago and this is also true for the under 14 population. 

Not only does the downtown have considerably more children, it is finding even more places to put them.  Nearly a billion dollars in new residential housing has just been completed, or is permitted and under construction.  These buildings represent about 3,800 units of housing and about 20% of them will be child friendly with two bedrooms and above.  Another major development looms, though is not yet approved.  Yesler Terrace, Seattle’s first low income housing project just at the edge of downtown, will be rebuilt and re-imagined, and it will bring an additional 5,000 units of housing, about 2,000 subsidized and another 3,000 market rate. 

A supporting and continuing factor in the downtown is the health of downtown employment.  Downtown employment is strong and particularly strong in its northern end, South Lake Union.  Since 2004, nearly 13,000 jobs have been created with another 10,000 projected as the area builds out by 2020.  Overall there are 200,000 jobs in the downtown -- slightly behind Boston and San Francisco, on par with Philadelphia and more than double the jobs in the Portland, San Diego and Charlotte downtowns.  The employment base in the downtown provides jobs to about 60,000 Seattle residents many of whom commute from North Seattle, Central Seattle and West Seattle.  This could be another source of educational demand downtown, relieving pressure on other neighborhood schools. 

The explosion of downtown population growth adds to the problem the school district is currently coping with – 1,500 new kids each year knocking on the school door, students the district didn’t anticipate.  This makes it harder to deliver the district’s policy of guaranteeing placement in a school if the student lives in its attendance area.  Instead of shrinking, as the district believed a few years ago, the school district is beginning to look today like the 1950s, kids spilling out into the hallways or lunchrooms for classes, portables moving into the playground, parents scowling at the waiting list notice.  And more children, particularly from the downtown, are on the way.

In the past, residents of downtown with small children moved somewhere else as the child's school age approached but, while still a factor, fewer people are following that path.  Focus group research shows that parents like the convenience of being downtown – no mind-numbing commute, lots of other parents and kids nearby, the short distance from work/home/daycare.  And, they can see what's happening around them, hear what their friends say, listen in at conversations at work.  These people are not thinking about cul-de-sacs!  Spend a Saturday morning in South Lake Union and you will see what's happening as well. Strollers competing for space on the sidewalk, several park options available just blocks away, kid-friendly and kid-crowded restaurants.  So, while the options are imperfect, more downtown parents are staying and sending their children to Seattle public schools, either to the schools indicated by their attendance area or at one of the district’s option schools where a particular emphasis exists in math, science or the arts.

Elementary school students living west of I-5 totaled 272 students in 2011 and they have two basic public school choices.  Those in Pioneer Square and the International District go to Bailey Gatzert on the south side of First Hill and those north of Yesler Way are routed to John Hay, on Queen Anne.  There are also 107 middle school students and 179 high school students living downtown. 

Downtown children make up about 10% of students at Bailey Gatzert.  Attendance there has been relatively steady, though Bailey Gatzert is over its capacity.  However, new development in Pioneer Square and the Yesler Terrace Project will cause headcounts to rise dramatically at Bailey Gatzert with the district potentially unable to keep its current attendance area promise.  John Hay Elementary is already feeling the effects of growth in the northern part of downtown.  In 2007, just 36 downtown residents were John Hay students.  Today, 102 downtown residents attend John Hay, pushing its headcount to 540, well-above its capacity without portables.  This will only grow as the bow wave of births in the downtown continues and as new residents fill up the 3,800 new units on the way in South Lake Union and the 5,000 or so at Yesler Terrace.

Research shows that downtown parents want an elementary school and the numbers clearly show that a downtown elementary school would take pressure off John Hay and Bailey Gatzert.  The dilemma facing downtown parents is that the discussion about new capital investment going on today does not include them, because the public involvement process is focused on existing schools and lacks input from downtown residents because they don’t yet have a school.

Major capital funding for the school district is decided through a process called the Building Excellence Program, or BEX.  This process is interactive between the school board and members of an advisory committee made up of parents from throughout the district.  The board filters various capital requests from principals, parents and activists and creates a special levy that the district then puts in front of voters every six years. 

This program creates the schedule for any downtown school proposal and sets in motion all the political forces throughout the district.  The school district has already held one round of community meetings in March and has assembled a rough draft of its special levy and hopes to begin refining it during the summer so that it can roll out a fairly specific draft plan for public comment toward the end of September.  It then goes on the ballot in February of 2013. 

While the downtown school idea is a bit tardy to the BEX process, it doesn’t necessarily mean that including it is impossible.  But there are many questions that need to be asked and answered about a new school downtown.  What kind of a school should it be?  Should it be an option school, perhaps with an emphasis on math and science?  Such a school could be attractive to some of the tech savvy parents in South Lake Union and also be attractive to some of those 60,000 Seattle citizens commuting from other parts of the city into the downtown.  What regulatory problems must be overcome?  Schools for young students have various design standards that need to fit with what might be a non-traditional school building.  And, there’s the question of where it should go. Is there an existing building and perhaps a favorable lease from a downtown advocate? Is it possible to shoehorn some kind of a modest beginning of the downtown elementary school into the BEX process now or does the district really want to wait six years for the next planning process to run its course before it addresses a school age population that may have doubled again.

There are many interests that would be attracted to some kind of participation in a downtown school.  The biotech and other tech businesses populating both ends of the downtown could see nearby education opportunities for the children of young, downtown workers as an important recruiting and retention tool.  In the research, today's employees placed a high value on a downtown school and many are ready to move if nothing happens.   There are also some private educational interests who see the value of an creating an educational foothold with the school district in a community of young achievers.  The city’s goals of attracting well-paying technology businesses are paying off in South Lake Union and in the gaming community in Pioneer Square and help enable some terrific investments – a major transportation amenity with the trolley, the South Lake Union Park that will, in time, become a very good one, a great central waterfront connecting to the downtown through the Seattle Center and the Sculpture Park. 

And the school district’s interest is, of course, substantial.  It is coping today with a surge in enrollment, but for those of us who have watched the district crash from nearly 100,000 students to just 40,000, today's problem of more students sounds like good news.  And in the downtown, there are opportunities for the district to play to a new and growing community and help manage the problems of growing enrollments.  What’s wrong with the district identifying itself as another symbol of the downtown’s resurgence, one that helps capture a well-educated workforce by offering a nearby education for their children, one that is close enough to allow parents to be very active?  What's wrong with creating a school environment where the car takes second place, where every meeting isn't a twenty mile trip?  In the first major special levy since the financial crisis began, what’s wrong with lighting a little fire under the city's most populous neighborhood?

The Downtown Seattle Association Development Guide

Downtown Seattle Research Library

Monday, June 11, 2012

Joey Velez, Prize Fighter and Artist

Every boxer needs a compelling back story that demonstrates toughness, perseverance overcoming bad luck and something that shows the soft side of a tough guy’s personality, best if accompanied by tears.  It is helpful if the stories are true. 

Joey Velez
Box Rec Encyclopedia
Joey Velez, a Seattle boxer in the late 40s and 50s and a fixture in the Pacific Northwest boxing culture for long after that, had all the stories and then some and they were all true.  A lightweight, he boxed at a time when every city had a clutch of tough guys and it was a big deal for a kid from Portland to come up to Seattle and fight one of our tough guys.  And, if the fight was a good one, they’d reprise it in two or three weeks in Portland. Mostly, Velez fought at around 135 pounds.

I’m thinking of Velez because boxing seems to be coming back as a regional sport, in part because the Native American casinos are programming boxing into their entertainment calendars.  And I’m not talking about mixed marshal arts played out in cages, but real boxing with gloves, satin pants and tassels on high top shoes.  But it turns out I'm wrong about that.  Boxing in Washington state has a few peaks over the past ten years, but mostly valleys.  In 2000, according to the Department of Licensing, there were 33 licensed matches in the state, declining to half that until a peak in 2005 with 28.  Last year, there were just seven boxing events in the state.
Despite a persistent decline, the Golden Gloves remains a strong brand and the Olympics, especially now that women will fight in London, are also raising boxing’s profile.  Tacoma, in particular, remains a center of regional boxing excellence, the Tacoma Boxing Club having produced Sugar Ray Seales who took the Golden Gloves and Olympic Gold in 1972 and performed well year after year.  There are still plenty of boxing clubs in the state, partly because boxing has always had a perceived restorative aspect to it.  There are some Christian clubs and a couple of boxing clubs focused on drug or alcohol rehab. 

The Velez story is tough to beat.  His Dad was Puerto Rican and his Mom an Alaska Native and there was a big family.  He contracted poliomyelitis at seventeen months and didn’t walk until he was five, and then with crutches.  At ten he barely survived pneumonia and a few months later, came down with tuberculosis, spending 18 months in bed at Firlands Sanitarium.  People liked to say that Joey Velez had the biggest fight of his career long before he ever put on a glove.

He went to Broadway High School, now the site of Seattle Community College, and was not allowed to play sports though he was a terrific athlete.  He won the school championship in table tennis and was a top jitterbug dancer.  Those years on the crutches gave him powerful shoulders, biceps and forearms.  My Dad was that way.  He spent many years on crutches as a young man as well, and though a normal sized guy otherwise, he had Popeye arms and great upper body strength. 

When the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, Velez was just 16 but wanted to join.  It would have been tough given his age, but everyone told him not to bother trying with that leg. 
Joey was a natural gym rat and started hanging out where young boxers were at the YMCA and began working the bags and the jump rope.  He convinced his colleagues that he wasn’t going to get hurt if he mixed it up in the ring and his first match was with the previous years’ Northwest Golden Gloves Champion.  Velez dropped him in the first round.

The coach at the Y was suitably impressed and Velez began fighting at the many matches organized around the military bases at Bremerton, Fort Lawton and Fort Lewis.  Fighting almost every week, Velez pounded his way through a lot of America’s best youth, picking up war bonds in a victory, a bit of professionalism largely overlooked among amateurs here.  ‘Don’t you know there’s a war on?’  He had 106 bouts as an amateur and lost only three, all to lefthanders, whom he couldn’t handle because of the bad leg.

Velez vs Mexican Joe Ortega
Cyber Boxing Zone
By now he has a name, ‘Lil’ Joe’ though several other handles found their way into his corner – ‘Seattle Scrapper,’ and ‘The Gamester with the Gimpy Leg’ – but it was ‘Lil’ Joe’ that was sewn on the back of his robe.  In 1947 he won the Washington State Amateur Athletic Union Lightweight championship and the Golden Gloves and made his way to the finals in Boston, where he lost a decision.

The boxer in him successfully fought the artist in him.  He had a fine hand, a knack for portraiture and a three year scholarship offer to the Los Angeles School of Art.  But he became a professional boxer just after the war.  He also longed to make some money and thought his best payday would be in Los Angeles and he took the train there and started hanging out at the famous Main Street Gym, just like he had at the YMCA in Seattle.

His first professional fight was June 5, 1947 in the town of South Gate, about 11 miles south and east of LA.  His opponent was 133 pound Chamaco Garcia whom Velez handled easily, winning a four rounder on points.  Something significant may have happened to Garcia that night.  Velez was his first and last professional opponent.  Lil’ Joey picked up $35.

Never one to lounge around, Joey had a fight four days later, against Featherweight Ozzie Biggie in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Arena.  This one was called a draw. 

Southern California and Joey Velez did not mix well or perhaps it was something in his private life, but Velez went back home and didn’t fight for nearly four months.   One of those private things may have been the doctor in King County who supervised the fight game in the county.  Some say he wouldn't certify him to fight as a professional there, so his first seven fights were elsewhere. 

Irish Joe Dolan
Box Rec
There was no official lightweight champion in the Pacific Northwest, unless the promoters called it that, but everyone knew who the champion was, “Irish” Joey Dolan of Spokane was the guy.  An amateur in Spokane, he had turned pro and went to work as a welder in the booming Portland shipyards before moving back to Spokane.  Drafted in 1945, he fought out of Fort Lewis for a while but the Army took him to New York where he had a successful run, even fought at Madison Square Garden once.  While successful in New York, he couldn’t break out of the undercards and decided to come home and became Spokane’s most popular fighter.

On March 2, 1948, Joey Velez -- 6-0-1 -- came to Spokane to fight Dolan at the Spokane Armory.  It was considered the best fight in a generation, with Dolan knocked down seven times, but still coming back to Velez.  The decision went to Velez and there was no question that there would be a rematch.  Fights broke out among the fans of each fighter as security tried to empty the hall.

The Spokane Chronicle description of the fight is a real timepiece. 

“A 22-year-old scrapper with a bum leg and a time bomb in each fist, took his place in the sun today as the Northwest’s newest fistic sensation.”

“He’s Joey Velez of Seattle who battered Spokane’s Joe Dolan for 10 savage rounds at the armory last night in one of the greatest back-alley brawls the local beak-busting fraternity has witnessed in a long, long time.”

Three weeks later Velez won again, but this time in Seattle.  Perhaps what the doctor had heard about Velez-Dolan in Spokane convinced him that there would be no blood on his hands if he allowed Joey to fight in his home town.  Then Velez returned to Spokane to top the April 2, 1948 card at Ferris Field against a real good fighter named Buddy Washington, ‘The Pocatello, Idaho puncher' was Idaho’s best lightweight.  Velez knocked out Washington in three rounds and people couldn’t wait for the Dolan rematch they knew was on the way.

Velez was also talking about moving to Spokane.  His defeat of Dolan made him a big name and he was drawing well there.  Joey thought there might be more money in Spokane. 

But on the way, he ran into Charley Johnson, a spindly lightweight whose reach was nine inches longer than Velez.  Johnson was no great shakes then and would finish a career with more losses than wins, but he solidly beat the hell out of the undefeated Joey Velez on June 2, 1948, with Velez fading badly at the end.

Dolan left and Velez
Courtesy Jodi Velez-Newell
Even with the loss, all things were leading to Spokane and Dolan.  Velez played a big role in his own management and promotion and he knew what he wanted.  First, at Ferris Field in Spokane, Velez beat a good young Oregonian, Joey Ortega.  Then Buddy Washington again, this time in Spokane, though this knockout would be in the first round.  Velez then cleaned up the Charley Johnson defeat with a unanimous decision in Spokane, where they announced after the fight that Velez and Dolan would have their rematch at the Spokane Armory come the end of October. 

"Put the curley head on the floor
for a ten count."  Dolan knocked
out for the first time
Jodi Velez-Newell
In the second fight, Dolan was more cautious and avoided the brawling he was not up to seven months before, but to everyone’s surprise, Velez was out-boxing the more experienced Dolan.  In the seventh, just seconds before the end of the round, Dolan missed with a left hook and Velez countered with a huge bodyshot to the heart that dropped Dolan, who remained unconscious for three minutes.  The Spokane Chronicle said that Velez had done what many great fighters of the time had not been able to do, “put the curley head on the floor for a ten count.”  It was the biggest crowd ever to watch an indoor fight in Spokane and it was also Dolan’s last. 

Velez fought twice more in 1948 and was 10-1, losing only to Charley Johnson, the loss he later avenged.  He established himself as the premier small man in the Northwest and paid taxes on $28,000, a very big number in 1948.  He bought his Mom a house in Renton.  He was nationally ranked, loved in both Spokane and Seattle and going strong.

John L.  Davis
The Chocolate Ice Cube
Box Rec
He started 1949 just as well only with stronger opponents and bigger purses.  His only loss was to Harold Dade, the Seattle-based bantomweight champion.  Velez also had a bout in Philadelphia, a potential turning point in his career.  He won, but somehow didn’t want to stay where national boxing careers are made and came home.  It was all good, but then he booked a fight with John L.  Davis, The Chocolate Ice Cube from Richmond, California.

Davis administered a terrible beating to Velez.  Coming back to his corner after another dreadful round, he leaned over the ropes and said to his younger brother, Bob, who had three professional bouts himself and was working in his corner:

“This is a horrible way to make a living.”

Though he stayed conscious for ten rounds, even rallying to win the last three rounds, it was all Ice Cube and Joey first told his friends and then others that he was done with fighting and ready to be an artist. 
One day, in early 1950 while chatting with Ike Williams, the lightweight champion who was going to fight Davis for the title at the Seattle Arena, Velez tells Williams:
"This guy is tough.  He was my last fight."
Williams won a ten round decision.
The Velez retirement didn’t last long.  Three months after his chat with Williams, he was in the ring with undefeated Eddie Chavez in San Francisco and beaten soundly.  
Carlos Chavez
Box Rec
He said he was through then too, but five months later he was boxing again, putting together a series of wins, including a successful rematch with Davis and defeating Carlos Chavez, number four ranked Lightweight then.   

This was what he wanted -- out on a high note.  Back to his art and a plastic surgeon.  “The job I am working on right now would get me a plastic job – nose and ears – when I quit boxing,” he said.
Carlos Chavez, incidentally, was a pretty tough guy who fought 106 bouts and was shot to death in an Oakland street fight when he was 68 years old. 

After that last retirement, Velez would fight 19 more times, losing ten and winning nine.  The economics of boxing were too good for a guy with a story like his and such quick hands.  His professional career lasted just over five years and when he retired for real, in June of 1953, he had made $250,000, worth more than $2,000,000 today. 

KJR Announcer by Joey Velez
Jodi Velez
Though he always came back to his drawing – he worked at Frederick and Nelson and ran the commercial art program at the Seattle Sears store -- it always came in second to boxing and finished poorly as well to his desire to be with people, to teach boxing, to talk about it, to be public about his life, to exercise his real gift -- a terrific personality.  Art was really just one of his tools, like a jab, and hardly the whole package.

The Washington Athletic club hired him to teach boxing, which he did for three years.  Stimson Bullitt, who ran King Broadcasting for a time, managed and developed real estate and who had a Teddy Roosevelt streak in him a mile long, was one of his students. 

He started his own boxing school, the Joey Velez School of Boxing and also had bouts there.  He helped fighters prepare for fights and managed fighters.  He would spar and consult, though word got around that a client of his had taken a body shot during a sparring exercise that broke two of his ribs just before a bout.  Future clients emphasized the consultation part of Joey’s skills at the expense of the sparring.

He held a series of boxing clinics for young people across the city, setting up for several days at a time in neighborhood after neighborhood.  He created a television show, Madison Square Kindergarten, that ran for three years.  Bouts went three rounds, one minute each, with outsized gloves fit for different weight classes, flea, gnat and paper. 

He opened a restaurant and bar on Denny Way, Joey Velez’ Portrait Room, with the walls covered by his drawings of local celebrities, bar regulars and local and national fighters.  Then he opened a place over near the Fremont Bridge, a highly popular tavern where he cashed too many checks and offered too much free product.  He declared bankruptcy.

“I should never be behind a bar,” he said.

When that had all gone down was when I met Joey at my brother’s campaign headquarters in Pioneer Square, Seattle.   It was 1977, my brother was running for Mayor of Seattle and I was his campaign manager.

Joey clearly was trying to get something going and he took a roll of paper from a paper tube he was carrying and showed me a lovely charcoal drawing of my brother.  He said he’d like to present it to him and was asking me to set it up.

I’m as big a sucker for fighters as Velez was for bad checks.  A campaign headquarters always has a lot of food laying around, so we picked up whatever appeared recent and talked about his career, his background, his prospects.  He was interested in reviving his neighborhood boxing program and was hoping, if my brother won, that he’d have a supporter in the Mayor’s Office.  He was still small and likely no more than five or six pounds above his fighting weight.  He had a slight lisp and it was clear that he hadn’t followed up on that plastic surgery.  But he was a wonderfully sweet guy and, when the candidate came in, we continued talking – about Friday Night Fights in our house, Dad going out to the kitchen, where, so we wouldn't know what was going on, he had a pint of bourbon stored in the cupboard and he would loudly unscrew the cap of Old Mr.  Boston’s Spot Bottle and take a swig.  This happened between rounds, mostly. 
We talked about Archie Moore and Yvon Durelle and what an amazing fight that was and the little guys who were so good -- Carl “Bobo” Olsen, Carmen Basilio, Sugar Ray Robinson whom I saw coming out of a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game and didn't have the guts to say something, Sandy Saddler, whom Velez knew well. 

There wasn’t much business to the conversation, which I’m sure was a disappointment to Joey, but there was certainly a lot of boxing, which was probably enough.

Velez attended a couple of campaign events during that year but I have no recollection seeing him after that.  It’s hard to put together a picture of how he spent the remaining 24 years of his life.  Though I do know that the the first Dolan – Velez fight has amazing staying power in Spokane.  Dolan and Velez re-enacted parts of the fight in a 1983 retirement ceremony at Spokane Community College for the referee who officiated that famous night. The fight was also in the second paragraph of Dolan’s obituary in the Spokane Chronicle of 1992.

I saw Joey's obit in the Seattle Times in 2002.  Trying to jog my memory, I spent some time on the Internet chasing Velez and found the beautiful tribute site I’ve attached, put together by his daughter, Jodi, who is an artist, just like her Dad. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Remaking Yesler Terrace on Seattle's First Hill

Tom Tierney
Seattle Housing Authority
The Seattle Housing Authority’s leader, Tom Tierney, is retiring this summer.  Tierney is one of many superb public servants who rose to leadership during the past 30 years, nourished by a string of Seattle mayors who offered a great deal of responsibility to smart, young people like him. 

Tierney came to the housing authority as Executive Director in March of 2004 and continued the agency’s ambitious program of rehabilitating and reprogramming many housing authority properties, recreating them as mixed income communities with both subsidized renters and home owners.

New Holly
Seattle Housing Authority
Seattle had particular success implementing this federal partnership, called HOPE VI, with its first project, NewHolly, a complete change out of the 1940s era Holly Park.  Federal officials liked what they saw and how it worked, and soon SHA was working on another HOPE VI project, then another.  Together they totaled over $1.3 billion in new construction, good news for those working in or affected by the home building industry during the recession.  Now, another HOPE VI project is before the city council, this one at Yesler Terrace, the re-make of the very first project of the Seattle Housing Authority. 

The authority was formed in 1939 to build housing for low income people but, as thousands of defense workers poured into the city, the authority mission changed to also build housing for those workers and their families.  In turn, the new citizens of Seattle build astounding numbers of ships and aircraft and change the face of our town. 
Old Yesler on the Left, New on the Right
The implementation of today’s Yesler Terrace plan, now pinballing through the permitting and public involvement processes, would be a terrific accomplishment for Tierney and his team.  However, driven by the value of the land for commercial and residential development, the uncertain future role of the federal government in housing, the way low income developers in town interact with the housing authority and the continued shock to civic confidence of the Great Recession, the project carries the risk of one of those long and potentially pointless Seattle conversations.

Houses on First Hill removed for Yesler Terrace
A survey in 1938 show that less than 60% had
flush toilets and 50% were heated by burning wood or coal.
University of Washington Libraries
Public housing in Seattle starts with the Roosevelt Administration’s efforts to stimulate the housing industry, increase housing quality and start money flowing – mortgage insurance – (FHA) and an agency to purchase home loans, Federal National Mortgage Association, (Fanny Mae).  But the big kick from Washington was the Housing Act of 1937, at the moment of Roosevelt’s greatest legislative strength, that truly started the modern era of public housing. The 1937 Housing Act would stimulate states to form housing authorities and would start a flow of federal dollars and federal requirements that are still functioning today.

But as the housing program was starting, America’s neutrality in the growing world conflict was harder to maintain.  We were already selling arms to our future allies and were preparing ourselves for the inevitable.  There was an urgent need to transport workers to places in the country that had the infrastructure to build the tools of war.    

B-17 Plant, 1943
University of Washington Libraries
It is still remarkable today to consider the volume of wartime activity in Washington state. According to historian Quintard Taylor, when the housing act passed, Boeing had 4,000 workers making military planes for the Army Air Corps and the Clipper Airships that flew the Pacific route.  At the same time, the Puget Sound shipyard industry was reviving.  After its total collapse following World War I, shipbuilders were, in 1941, furnishing vessels for the Coast Guard, Navy and Merchant Marine.  In just a few years there were 88 shipyards in Puget Sound and 29 in Seattle alone.  At their peak, 150,000 people were employed in Puget Sound making an assortment of vessels. 

After the war began in Europe, the British purchased Boeing’s B-17 bomber.  In June, 1941, 10,000 people worked at Boeing and 30,000 worked there six months later when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  At its production peak, the company was producing a B-29 every five days and a B-17 every 24 hours.  In 1944, 50,000 people worked at the company and its sales were $600,000,000 annually.  All of Seattle manufacturing sold just $70,000,000 in 1939.

A number of federal agencies were furiously recruiting workers and would be reconstituted in early 1942 as the War Manpower Commission.  The 1940 census counted 1.75 million people in Washington state and just over a million in Oregon.  Ten years later, 650,000 more people lived in Washington and 450,000 more in Oregon.

These waves of people running the war machine needed places to live.  Preparing for war and supporting our allies soon meant that the federal government’s role in federal housing, spelled out in the 1937 Housing Act, had to change.  Congress passed the Lanham Act in October, 1940 that allowed the federal government to fund housing projects for defense industry workers through the newly formed local housing authorities. 

Jesse Epstein in 1980
Seattle Housing Authority
When the Lanham Act passed, Jesse Epstein was at his post as director of the Seattle Housing Authority with $3,000,000 in federal money already in hand. Epstein was a 29 year old lawyer whose parents had brought him from Russia when he was two and he thrived at the University of Washington and its law school.  Then he honed his administrative skills working for the Municipal Research Council, the idea factory for local government in Washington state.  He was already at work on two projects, one at Sand Point where he hoped to start construction in November and the other on Yesler’s Hill, which we now call First Hill, where he was almost ready to release a bid for land clearing that would be the first step in Yesler Terrace construction. 

UW Libraries Collection
What Depression?  That summer and fall of 1940 saw the conclusion of several large projects.  The first floating bridge over Lake Washington was dedicated in July, so was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and so was the new airbase, McChord Field.  Asahel Curtis, the go to photographer for such events, was as busy as he could be. 

The people around Richland, Kennewick and Pasco were not seeing much activity where they were, but would soon enough.  Just 7,000 people lived in what was called Richland Village in 1940.  By 1943, 45,000 workers were trying to make Plutonium there.

While many people of all races were needed, they were not always welcome.  Governor Arthur Langlie, for example, urged the authorities at Hanford “to return most of the construction workmen back to their original centers of activity, particularly the negroes.”

Yesler Terrace, 1942
Seattle Housing Authority
In 1940, there were just 7,500 African Americans in Washington State, but that was changing rapidly and Epstein had to make a difficult call.  Most other authorities around the country had a simple solution, though inelegant – put black people in their projects and white people in theirs.  Quintard Taylor’s 1995 history of how the war changed the black community here describes a staff meeting in which Epstein set out his strategy: 

"We have an opportunity to prove that Negroes and whites can live side by side in harmony…but it's going to require skill and patience to make it work." Housing staffer Ray Adams commented that because of housing discrimination blacks had fewer options and thus would concentrate on public housing. He asked Epstein, "Will you set up a quota to keep Yesler Terrace from becoming a ghetto?" "Let's avoid the ugly word 'quota,' Ray," Epstein replied, "but we must limit the number of Negroes if we are to achieve integration. Keep in mind that we are determined on that. Coloreds and whites will live side by side; this in itself is revolutionary." Epstein's approach to the problem of interracial adjustment included limiting black occupancy to 20 percent and quickly moving neighboring black and white tenants who clashed to other housing units in the project.”

Seattle Housing Authority
Epstein’s strategy made him subject to criticism from both the ‘too many’ side and the ‘too few.’ But it worked. Yesler Terrace was the first integrated public housing project in the country.

Another area where Epstein went against the grain was in the design of Yesler Terrace. He hired several different architectural firms under the lead of engineer and architect J. Lister Holmes. Handling the landscape design was a very well-known landscape architect, Butler Sturtevant. They had just finished collaborating on a house in the wealthy Highlands section of town that featured an effective connection of the landscape to the house. Their work at Yesler Terrace was influenced by that collaboration.  They had a lot of land available to them and were not forced to pack the houses tightly together. Finally, both men had grown up with the Garden City movement that has, as part of its ethos, a generous use of open space. Modern looking, graceful and with lots of space between the buildings, it raised eyebrows among the bean counters who saw the project as perhaps looking too good. 

Yesler Terrace in 1942
University of Washington Libraries

The nearly 900 unit project would be dedicated on June of 1942, though residents had been moving into finished units for several months while construction continued around them.

Projects across the city were underway and all would be finished by the Fall – 500 units at Rainier Vista in the city’s largely Italian south end, nearly 800 units in West Seattle at High Point, another 800 units in a project unnamed in June, 1942, but which would become Holly Park. At Sandpoint, then a naval air station, Epstein would finish 150 units. All would be done by the Fall of 1942.

As the war ended, Epstein moved into another job working directly for the federal government first overseeing public housing in the northwest, then moving to San Francisco as the federal overseer of projects across the west.

The Yesler Project then would look quite different to us today. It spilled down the hill to the edge of today's downtown before more than 250 units were demolished for the construction of Interstate 5.

The new project put together by Tierney and his team will also look very different after its renovation and become a much more significant part of the city’s look and feel. Current plans call for 5,000 units of housing, about 1800 subsidized and the rest market rate. The subsidized housing would contain several tiers of low income – some earning less than 30% of median income, others below 60% of median and still others at 80% of median. There would be 900,000 square feet of office buildings, 65,000 square feet of services, 88,000 square feet of retail, 16 acres of parks and 5,100 parking spaces. There may be as many of 11 buildings with a mixture of structures --seven stories, seventeen stories and twenty-six stories.


The concept for the redevelopment rises out of many sources. First, Yesler Terrace land has become very valuable with its views and its proximity to downtown and with plenty of nearby jobs. The authority wants to use the value of the land to offset future cuts in federal funding it sees coming. The authority sees current subsidies slowly going away and believes that new revenue streams are a way to offset a continued federal retreat. The authority has shown it can make the mixed income idea work. The income streams derived from market rate housing developed over the last few years on other HOPE VI projects has provided an effective internal subsidy for maintenance and other future obligations of the authority.

Secondly, the site itself is urban, very different from the neighborhood character of SHA projects around the city. This calls for the creation of a new, urban neighborhood to match the world that has grown up adjacent to Yesler Terrace since its dedication seventy years ago this month.

The vision of Yesler Terrace articulated by the authority board ignites a number of political bonfires that must be tended. Seattle is blessed with a vigorous, private-non-profit housing development community and they have created thousands of affordable housing units. However, they have a complicated relationship with the Seattle Housing Authority – sometimes partners, sometimes competitors.

The low income housing market has many segments, but the basic segmentation starts with the very, very poor – 0% to 30% of median income. Another segment is made up of poor families as well, but families that have the capability of finding some housing, though likely sub-standard or otherwise inadequate. There is another group of those who earn close to median income but cannot find affordable housing close to the city center where they work. There are, as well, seniors and disabled. In the past, SHA would put its resources into just the lower part of the market segment and leave the other parts of the market to the non-profits or, frequently, partner with them. Today, with mixed income housing a major goal, the non-profits see SHA encroaching on their market segments. Plus, SHA is so big that when it has a big project like Yesler Terrace it soaks up much of the available money and tax credits. In addition, the Yesler project it is asking for $30,000,000 in City of Seattle housing bond funds to incorporate into the redevelopment. Those bonds are a traditional source of funding for private non-profit developers.

The City of Seattle has hired a downtown real estate expert to sort out the issues for the city council and Matthew Gardner has already said that he does not think the project can sell as much market rate housing and office space as it anticipates over the 20 years of development it foresees.

In addition, the council will also grapple with the idea of displacement of current residents by the new project. Where will they be housed in the meantime? How many will come back? These are difficult and meaningful issues but the authority has well-practiced experience given their experience with other HOPE VI projects.

When Jesse Epstein was building the original Yesler Terrace, he went right to the council and exercised his considerable personal skills face-to-face. Today, the council puts on its quasi-judicial robes in dealing with major institutional projects and can’t have the kind of conversations Jesse had in his day. Sometimes, in big projects, the council's quasi-judicial role can lead to misunderstandings.

Council member Nick Licata has a cautious message from the council: “I am in the category of ‘great vision,’let’s see how it works.” The council review will take place over many months.

There is a small group of people who will never accept anything different than fixing up the existing buildings without disturbing the people inside. They make noise, go to court and try to scare the tenants. They hearken back to the days when office buildings were displacing housing in the downtown and they had some success organizing as well as legislatively. The authority has shown it can deal with them and that most tenants who come back are extremely happy with the way HOPE VI works out. But not all will come back. Some will die, some will move to another city, some will like their temporary housing more than what is finished at Yesler.  Some call that displacement.  Its real name is life.

Jessie Epstein was at the housing authority for just five years, but kept a hand in Seattle affairs as regional administrator of the federal housing program and then as west coast administrator. In 1948, while working in San Francisco, he was accused of being a communist by Sarah Eldredge, a former communist and former Vice-Chair of the King County Democratic Party organization. A review by the federal loyalty board found, after its investigation, that there “is no doubt as to his loyalty.” Whatever the endorsement, he decided that his time in government service was over. He went to Harvard where he earned a masters degree in Public Administration and came back to Seattle to establish a law practice.

He put his considerable public energies elsewhere as President of The Mountaineers, the Seattle hiking and climbing club and he served on several boards, including the American Friends Service Committee. He also exercised an interest in Native American history and spoke about native issues throughout Puget Sound and volunteered at the Seattle Indian Center. He suffered a degenerative muscle disease and spent his last years in a wheelchair. He died in 1989.

Tom Tierney’s eight years at the housing authority were pretty special, just as his predecessor Harry Thomas. Two hundred acres of development concluded and a plan before the city council to remake Yesler Terrace. The Seattle Housing Authority now shelters 30,000 people in 31 low income projects across the city, 23 senior housing communities, the three mixed income communities, 20 specialized properties and 300 scattered site units in single and multi-family buildings.

Just about everybody in America lives in subsidized housing via tax deductions, investment tax credits, interest rates, direct subsidies to people who need them or through the energies of private non-profits. Ironically, the only people who don't have subsidies are those that don't have housing or live in places dangerous to them and their children and somehow forgotten by the system. So, this month, think of those events seventy years ago when busy and dedicated people opened a place on First Hill in Seattle that provided a home to people who didn't have one and for people who worked on the tools that ultimately kept us safe, all paid for by Americans who already had a home. Consider them, and pray for the rest.