Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Inventions of Spokane and Springfield and Vachel Lindsay's Dilemma

Most of us have a poet or two we start reading aloud after a few drinks with friends on a holiday weekend while the wind is flexing the windows and the rain is pounding.  

On the table in front of us are the paperback anthologies from college like Modern Poets of the Twentieth Century with its round glass bottom imprints on the cover and inside pages, just below the words “carpe diem!!” written long ago during a seizure of understanding.  Also on the table are the collected works of favorites.  Yeats.  Check!  Auden.  Check!  Billy Collins.  Check!  Eliot.  Check!  William Stafford.  Check!  Sandburg.  Check! Lindsay.  Check!  Each book tossed there from the shelves, sloshing the wine out of the glasses onto the table cloth and sometimes the books.  

Recently, out of a pile much like that, on an evening much like that, I pulled out Vachel Lindsay’s Collected Poems, turned to his reminiscence of the 1896 presidential election -- William Jennings Bryan, the democrat, against republican William McKinley -- written 23 years after the election by a poet at the top of his fame, recalling what it was like to be a 15 year old boy in Springfield who was completely taken by William Jennings Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan.

He brought in tides of wonder, of unprecedented splendor,
Wild roses from the plains, that made hearts tender,
All the funny circus silks
Of politics unfurled,
Bartlett pears of romance that were honey at the cores,
And torchlights down the street, to the end of the world.

This poem is Lindsay’s yearning for and love of his invented and idealized western culture. It tells the story of how the west rose up in the form of the populist Nebraska newspaper editor and lit a prairie fire that swept him to the nomination and where his perceived economic radicalism terrified the eastern establishment. As Lindsay tells it:

There were truths eternal in the gab and tittle-tattle.
There were real heads broken in the fustian and the rattle.
There were real lines drawn:
Not the silver and the gold,
But Nebraska's cry went eastward against the dour and old,
The mean and cold.

Today, we mostly see Bryan as the old fool in Inherit the Wind prosecuting young John Scopes on behalf of the state of Tennessee, but in 1896 he was a young phenom taking on the presidential campaign in an entirely new way. Bryan’s campaign in 1896 broke new ground by throwing out the convention of the front porch campaign, the presidential candidate staying home, meeting
with weighty delegations, while surrogates did the dirty jobs of grasping hands, touching money and begging for votes, or buying them. 

Bryan speaking in Salida, CO from the train car, 1902.
Donna Nevens Collection
Bryan was a political innovator.  He was the first to fully employ the new, nationwide railroad system for political purposes, taking his campaign to train stations and court houses all across the country. It was novel seeing a presidential candidate and the crowds, particularly young westerners like Lindsay, followed him with ardent enthusiasm. Just one year older than the constitutional requirement for the Presidency, the young Mr. Bryan seemed to be ahead, but McKinley closed strongly, beating Bryan by 500,000 votes out of 13,500,000 votes cast and 271-167 in the electoral vote.

Electoral College Map, 1896.   Bryan is Blue

As I read, I choke-up in several familiar and emotional places, even though I’ve read this poem most years for at least the last 50.

Like here:

And of prairie schooner children
Born beneath the stars,
Beneath falling snows,
Of the babies born at midnight
In the sod huts of lost hope,
With no physician there,
Except a Kansas prayer,
And the Indian raid a howling through the air.

Or here:

Election night at midnight:
Boy Bryan's defeat.
Defeat of western silver.
Defeat of the wheat.
Victory of letterfiles
And plutocrats in miles
With dollar signs upon their coats,
Diamond watchchains on their vests and spats on their feet.
Victory of custodians, Plymouth Rock,
And all that inbred landlord stock.
Victory of the neat.
Defeat of the aspen groves of Colorado valleys,
The blue bells of the Rockies,
And blue bonnets of old Texas, by the Pittsburg alleys.
Defeat of alfalfa and the Mariposa lily.
Defeat of the Pacific and the long Mississippi.
Defeat of the young by the old and the silly.
Defeat of tornadoes by the poison vats supreme.
Defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my dream.

Read the entire poem here. It's worth it.

Lindsay’s composition of Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan in 1919 came at a point where he was beginning a slow slide that would find him, in 1924, in room 1129 of Spokane’s Davenport Hotel where he hoped to find the time and the energy to stop his creative decline and be the writer he once was.  He was broke and largely alone, save for his correspondence with his literary friends and supporters.

There were several causes of his creative decline, but a big part of it was two poems he had written several years before that had made him as famous as any American poet.

Lindsay was a performance poet and the value of his words to his audiences came from the unique ways he said, chanted and yelled the words.  General William Booth Enters Heaven, about the founder of the Salvation Army, set to the tune of its anthem, Are you born in the blood of the lamb? and The Congo, what he called a study of the negro race, became the essence of his art. He called his performance poems 'the higher vaudeville' but they came with a big cost.

I persuaded the tired businessman to listen at last. But lo, my tiny reputation as a writer seemed wiped out by my new reputation as an entertainer.  That same year he wrote:  I am touring as of old, yelling my damned head off.   

In Spokane, he was in his mid-forties, felt that he was full of ideas and energy, but creatively stuck with the poems, audiences and presentations he fashioned as a much younger man.

Lindsay came from a prosperous doctor’s family in Springfield, Illinois and was part of the triumvirate of Illinois poets who gained great cache in the twenties. They lived on a near straight line about 80 miles long north and west of its start in Springfield, going through the Spoon River country where Edgar Lee Masters, the cranky, owlish, bleakish lawyer wrote and Galesburg, where Sandburg was born a year before Lindsay.

Lindsay was born in a house a block from the Illinois governor’s mansion and four blocks from where Abraham Lincoln lived as a Springfield lawyer. Lincoln's sister-in-law once lived in the house before Doctor Lindsay, Vachel's dad, bought it.  Lincoln visited the place often.  So, when he wrote Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, he really knew what he was talking about.  

His father prospered and pushed his son in a doctorly direction while his mother wanted him to be an artist.  He declined both, though he made a show about becoming both. Ultimately, he decorated a lot of his poetry with his drawings. 

Lindsay would have liked much of today's Internet – at least the "long tail" part, the part that connects obscure interests to many smaller audiences.  He was a self publisher and used his own two feet to deliver his work.  Twice in his life, he took his poems on several month-long walks across the country, producing content before, during and after. Rhymes To Be Traded For Bread was one tramping about book.  Another was A Handy Guide to Beggars, Especially Those of the Poetic Fraternity.  He hoped that his poetry would become a kind of currency that would sustain him on the road in lieu of money.  His poetical Bitcoin worked. He was fed, housed and inspired on the road.

I have recited with a mixture of scolding and solemn exhortation several of my poems which I thought embodied 'The Gospel of Beauty.' I have given this brief entertainment on the steps of hotels after supper; in the harvest field; to an English class in a California college; to a house full of prim invited guests; after dinner on the farmers’ tables; in lonely crossroads groceries to loafers; in the dark to the assembled cowboys on alfalfa and cattle ranches; to country editors in their sanctums.  Some of these people liked the entertainment.  Some did not.
He had an earnest, straightforward air, kind of like those activist fundraisers on the street today at the Pike Market, hands extended and teeth glistening:
“You, Sir, look like you might help me save the whales.”
In New Mexico, at the end of 1912 and on a walk from Springfield to Seattle, Lindsay got word that Poetry Magazine would publish General William Booth Enters Into Heaven in its January, 1913 edition and he knew this was the national vindication of his talent.  And it came just in time.  He was tired of the rigors of walking across America:
I have slept with the ant, the flea and the rest. In Illinois I met Mr. Bite-Bite; in Missouri Mr. Crawl-Crawl and Mr. Jump-Jump; in Kansas and Colorado Mr. Pinch-Pinch, and in New Mexico the whole family.
He jumped on a train and headed to California where he was working on another passion, arguably the first American book of motion picture criticism, The Art of the Moving Picture, which he published in 1915, just after he published The Congo. You'll see the cinematic influence particularly on Bryan Bryan Bryan Bryan. The first audience for The Congo was in Chicago and included William Butler Yeats and Carl Sandburg, Yeats coming up and Lindsay already answering Yeats' question:

What are we going to do to restore the primitive singing of poetry?
Yeats was instrumental in getting Lindsay to be the first American poet to read at Oxford, where he was a smash.  According to Mildred Weston’s wonderful book about Lindsay’s five years in Spokane, “Poet in Exile”, Lindsay came to Spokane for the first time in 1922 to read his poems, but a mix-up cancelled the reading, though he visited a couple of friends and had a lunch where he met a local lawyer, Ben Kizer, whom Lindsay had corresponded with over the years and who was one of the community investors in the now nine year old Davenport Hotel, the jewel of the city’s downtown.  
Kizer liked Lindsay, loved poetry and thought he could make a match with Lindsay and Spokane that would have business value for the town and creative value to the poet.  He wrote with an offer to live at the Davenport where Kizer and Louis Davenport, the hotel’s manager, would provide a subsidy.  Kizer felt it couldn’t hurt if a big name poet was musing about the charms of Spokane in print.  Initially, Davenport thought so too.
Ben Kizer could write a letter.  He once wrote to the poetry editor of the New York Times and proposed marriage, never having met her.  After a bit of follow-up, including a picture of him in a subsequent letter and a visit to New York, they did get married!  Lindsay said yes as well and moved to Spokane in July of 1924. Ben's daughter, Carolyn, became one of the best poets the state lever produced, winning the Pulitzer Price in 1984 and once was married to Stimson Bullitt.  
Soon, Lindsay was describing a kind of dual citizen of two American towns he saw as possessing magic, citizen of Springfield, guest of Spokane. He wrote in a letter to Sara Teasdale, his first love, though unrequited, that he was now in a land of forests, meditation and sanctuary and I have the best promise of isolation and quiet.

Davenport Lobby
Mildred Weston describes Lindsay’s arrival in Spokane in another way, as a collision.  He was frequently on the lips of Spokane’s citizens who heard or read of his fantastical behavior.  He assumed he had the run of the hotel and did, wandering around late at night, stoking the fire and staring into the fireplace.  He staged poetry events, which he called poetry games, with dancers swaying to the rhythms of his poems and the banging of pots with wooden spoons.  He would have loved poetry slams today, though probably would have complained that there was not enough movement to them and a dearth of chanting.

In an oral history, Robert Frost described Lindsay’s different, unusual behaviors, praising at least, their authenticity: 

“You could say there was something a little strange about him, lofty, and he did some crazy things and he knew how to do them without trying.  Some of these poets seem to get in a corner and gnaw their fingernails and try to get a dark corner, you know, and try to go crazy so they will qualify.  There’s none of that in Vachel.  He was just crazy in his own right; he did some of the strangest things.”

Among the behaviors most often talked about in Spokane was his habit of bringing French Boudoir Dolls into the Davenport dining room and having wait staff set them up in high chairs.  Lindsay would chat with them as he dined alone.  Boudoir Dolls were fashionable in the twenties – made of cloth and dressed in style, they had long legs and fancy hair, some came with cigarettes in their fingers or lips.  He got the dolls while trying to buy something else and was shown the dolls by mistake.  He bought two, thinking it was a big joke.  Many guests didn’t get the funny part.

Lindsay was a virgin when he came to Spokane, partly because of his religion and partly because of his father's hectoring him on the danger of venereal
disease. However, he met and married Elizabeth Connor, a Spokane teacher then 23 years old. They soon created another guest for the hotel, a little girl.  But the rooms were too small and they moved briefly to an apartment and then to Browne’s Addition on 2318 West Pacific where the couple had another child, a boy.
While they kept the rooms at the Davenport as a kind of office where he would tend to his official duties of greeting prominent guests, the headquarters of Spokane poetry was now on a quiet street above the Spokane River where poetical movement shook the apartment and adjacent apartments and the pots lost their shapes to the frequent banging on them.
Lindsay was bipolar, epileptic and subject to seizures.  He was also diabetic.  His physical health and new responsibilities were ratcheting up the demons in his fragile mental make-up. Creating more mayhem in his life was the fact that there was never any money and now two children and a wife. 

His money came from the trains and the high school and community auditoriums and theaters and the endless hotels making up the grueling performance circuit.  He made little shrines in the rooms he stayed in, pictures of the family arranged just so on the night stand where he would put down his pen after writing a letter home and turn out the light. 

The next night, it was The Congo and Booth, Booth and The Congo, mixed in with a handful of others.

While on the road he was writing a new book on film to take into consideration the Talkies which he didn't like very much.  It was never published.

In 1929, the Seattle Times reported that an overflow crowd at the University of Washington stormed the stage after his performance when they realized he was not going to read The Congo.  One night in 1930 he was mobbed in Ashville, North Carolina for refusing to read it.

I wrote “The Congo” in 1913 and was through reciting it FOREVER in 1920.  I am the agonized prisoner of my 34th year, no matter that I am 51…I am the prisoner of a stunt with all the creative force thwarted – and to me welcomed only as a stunt, not a message, and to me, The Congo and Booth are as stale as the oldest thing in a dusty cellar or dusty attic.”

Lindsay left Spokane in 1929 after being evicted from The Davenport in 1928.  In a fragment of a letter that he never sent, he said he was approached by a subordinate of one of the people who had invited him. In summary, Lindsay says he was told that his work was too high brow, that he needed, in Lindsay’s words, to be socially a lounge lizard and absolutely at the disposal of people worth a million dollars … I discover the hospitality of this town was bunco from first to last.

Worse than anything, given his financial state, he was presented with a bill for his entire stay. 

Lindsay’s eviction is a curious event that doesn’t jibe with his relationship to Kizer and others in the city’s elite who were among the first 100 investors of the hotel.  They chose Louis Davenport to build and run the hotel after they had pulled together the financing from the community.   

But, looking at the financial history of the hotel, I find that in 1928, Davenport began the process of buying out the original 100 investors.  He sold bonds around the region and had completed the buy-out early in 1929 and funded an expansion in 1929.  So it was Louis Davenport, I think, who was fully in charge of the hotel and felt comfortable sending an underling to confront Lindsay and deliver the message – and the bill.

Lindsay was disdainful of money but conflicted about the fact he needed it.  On his beggarly walks as a young man, his poems and performances served as money he could enjoy, but as a father and husband, his lack of money was a constant humiliation.  If you wanted Lindsay to leave the room, bring up the topic of money.

Lindsay and his family left Spokane for Springfield in the Spring of 1929, his pride and ego making him unable to reveal to some friends that they were actually leaving Spokane.  It was all very clumsy.  Remaining behind him were 39 columns he had written for The Spokane Chronicle and the Spokesman Review, little lectures about his concepts of
beauty and the need of great cities to support their own artists and artisans. They are collected by Shaun O'L.  Higgens in Troubadour in the Wild Flower City.  Lindsay wrote a fair amount of poetry in Spokane but not much of it about Spokane. He wrote as much poetry to the Spokane Librarian, Ora Maxwell, than he did to Spokane.  There is a plaque featuring Lindsay’s residence in the beautifully redone Davenport, now moved to the lobby from Room 1129. 

In the Winter of 1931, Lindsay returned from his last reading tour and was clearly shattered both physically and financially, with $96 in cash in his pocket and debts of $4,000.  After a fitful evening, his wife finally went upstairs to sleep.  Lindsay arranged photographs of his family on a table in the dining room, lit a couple of candles, went to the kitchen where he filled a teacup full of Lysol and drank it down.  The family claimed his death was heart failure for several years before the real cause came out in a biography done by Edgar Lee Masters.  

Lindsay's poetry is vanishing, and some of it deservedly so.  The Congo is a testament to the casual racism that existed when it was written -- existed within the Woodrow Wilson White House -- where he performed it, by the way, as well as in Lindsay himself and nearly all his audiences. It's an artifact and no more a Study of the Negro Race as it is vaudeville black face.  It is merely a performance and it seems pretty crude today.  

I don't read much of Lindsay anymore, mostly going to his books to find a cool quote for a speech, like Booth died blind but still by faith he trod.  I have remained loyal to Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, however, because I like the optimistic voice it has, Lindsay's top-of-the-game voice, along with representations of that day's rough and tumble political partisanship.  And, Lindsay's version of the West comports with mine.  I read it once a year at least and always to an audience -- sometimes to friends, once to a class on politics and sometimes, just to my dog.  

Most of the commentary subsequent to Lindsay's death reflect what Frost thought of him -- crazy, yes, but at least authentically so. The poet and novelist James Dickey, starts gentle but ends a bit harder though with the same idea of respect for its authenticity. In a review of Lindsay's Collected Letters, Dickey has Lindsay's life a raw account of the manner in which a man of compassion and of oddball, shamanistic insight, was fashioned into a freak, or better still, a carnival geek. 

Whatever caused his great decline, few poets have given themselves so completely to their imaginations.  His time in Spokane was a typical invention. When Lindsay was there, Spokane was hardly what its citizens saw, but to him, it was a great walled city, full of the spirit of the arts and Lindsay's ideas of beauty, music and rhythm and any other enthusiasm Lindsay was interpreting at the moment.   Springfield was the same, an invention with some inherent magic emanating from the legend of Lincoln, the freshness of the west and Lindsay's desire to fashion American myths, especially western myths, as great as the Greeks. In these places and the many hamlets he poked his head in around the country, he was truly happy only for moments, and then only recovered it after he moved on and invented the next place before the eyes of its surprised citizens.   

Lindsay Reading The Congo

General William Booth Enters Into Heaven

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

Lindsay and the Librarian

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why We Can Drink California Wine on Sunday and the Northwest Wine Academy

My wife has been taking courses at the South Seattle Community College at the school's wine program, the Northwest Wine Academy.  We both love wine and sometimes have fantasies about becoming part of the wine life.  Naturally, I require a debrief after each class and sometimes I go along with her when she has a class project or volunteers at the school.
That’s where we are now, at the wine program’s brand new winery and classroom building, a simple, lovely design with classrooms, a lab and a tasting room for the student-made wines. There’s also a place where the wines of the school’s alumni are available for sale, many of them very good and hard to find elsewhere because some are yet very small. It is a big improvement over its first building back in 2005 when it started. Among the drawbacks of the old building was that it shared space with the welding program, which gave a metallic nose to most wines tasted there.
Barbara is volunteering for this year’s release of new student wines and the first Fall release in the new building on November 21-23. People are scurrying around the place, tasting wine, giving informal tours to family and friends and admiring the new production gear and the obvious care of the building design. Boxwood, an architectural firm renowned in the winery world, is re-using old materials in different ways. One wall is ground up shipping pallets glued into brick forms designed to insulate the barrel room where the wine ages best at consistent temperatures. The tasting room bar is
a rectangle of galvanized fencing full of eastern Washington rocks with a gray slate tabletop. If you’ve ever been to Carlton Winemakers Studio in the Willamette Valley, you’ll have a feel for the design of this one. Boxwood did both.
South Seattle’s wine program is one of several that are training participants for the growing wine industry in Washington State. Community colleges in Walla Walla, Wenatchee, Yakima, Tri-Cities, and four year institutions Washington State University and Central Washington University are offering a variety of courses covering many aspects of the wine industry. Some feature a greater emphasis on the growing of fruit and the making of the product while others focus on marketing, distribution and the interface between wine and food.
There are 28,000 full time equivalent jobs in the Washington state wine industry, about the same number of employees working at the University of Washington, and there is demand for more people. A quick peak www.winejobs.com tells me that 26 jobs are open in the Northwest this morning and another 279 openings in California.
In addition to the community colleges and four year institutions, there are other groups playing roles in developing talent. The Boeing Employees Beer and Wine Club, organized in 1978, is a powerful education resource which has spun off 20 or so wineries in Washington and many second careers in the wine business. The Washington Athletic Club has a wine club for the past seven years that shows off its extensive Washington state collection and provides wine dinners and wine tours for its members. Nearly all decent wine stores create opportunities for expanding the tastes of their customers and for producers to meet consumers. In Prosser, the Port of Benton County has just opened The Walter Clore Center, a kind of wine museum and gathering place for special events that the wine country businesses thrive on.  In Tri-Cities, WSU has broken ground on the Wine Science Center, offering four year degrees and the link to research that the wine industry, and indeed all agriculture, thrives on.  
Clore was a very particular and detailed researcher from WSU who soon fell in love with the structure of the ground he was walking on – scoured by the many glacial era floods and then dusted by Loess, the wind-blown soils that settled at depths deep enough to feed the vines at a deep down, allowing them to better survive the cold winters. He became aware of the climate pockets that gave further protection to the fruit and documented how the soils changed as they rose above the historic floods.

His experiments moved to other species of grape, European varieties that produced premium wine where conventional wisdom held that Washington’s climate wouldn’t support grapes that then grew in temperate environments like Napa, Sonoma and Santa Barbara. But all these different climates and soils and the Frenchy latitudes running across the state told Clore a different story, that this was wine grape country that the world would come to know soon enough.
California Grower
During Prohibition, grapes of any kind were in considerable demand because home winemakers could produce up to 200 gallons of wine for personal use. In fact, US wine consumption per person doubled between 1915 and 1925, the first ten years of Prohibition in Washington. California wineries shipped not only grapes for these “kitchen wines”, but bricks of grape concentrate – just add water. In the Northwest, the transportation issues made California wine grapes more difficult to get whatever their form, so drinkers made do with what was close by – Concord grapes along with any other fruit that would ferment, particularly apples.

Post Prohibition, tastes for the cheaper, sweet stuff hung on, in part because wineries in California were now consuming all the grapes being grown there. A half gallon of Apple Andy, a very hard cider produced by Pommerelle, provided an effective alternative and sold for $1.32 in 1950.
The National Wine Company, Nawico, had a big shop in the Fremont district of Seattle where they mixed various fortified wines, ports and sherries. Their neon sign was a local landmark. In 1965, the company advertised its version of the perfect accompaniment to that year’s Thanksgiving.

“Heat together in a sizeable kettle one bottle of Nawico Port Wine, one bottle of Nawico Burgundy wine (.84 cents!), one bottle of Brandy and a half pound of seedless raisins. Boil for several minutes, then add a hand full of cloves, a stick of cinnamon and 4-5 twists of lemon peel. Serve in a glass with a handle on it and put an almond in each cup.”

Triple Yum!!!  Not.

There are many avenues from the past that lead to today's Washington wine industry -- geologic, business, academic, cultural and political -- avenues that bring us to this wine tasting room at South Seattle Community College. I’m interested today in the political avenues that lead to the energy in this room. While wine’s antecedents in the Northwest date back to the Hudson’s Bay Company, I’m going to begin with the political narrative that started in 1966.

An unlikely combination of interests in that year made it possible to change the law making purchase of alcohol on Sundays illegal, a big impediment to the food and entertainment industries. Soon after, the Washington State Legislature of 1969 put the laws governing alcohol consumption closer to the evolving attitudes of its citizens. At that same session, legislators settled on a crucial and controversial economic choice for the state’s wine industry. In those three years at the end of the 60’s, the political and economic foundations for today’s industry formed.

After 1909, one could not legally buy alcohol on Sunday in Washington State, nor could citizens enjoy dancing, horse racing, selling cars, boxing, or other “loud, noisy or boisterous sport or amusements.” Promptly at twelve o’clock on a New Year’s evening, the drinks were picked up before the patrons could get through one “should old acquaintance be forgot.” Wine with dinner on a Sunday had to be at a private home and you had to remember to purchase it the day before.

A young man from California, former Seattle sportscaster Rod Belcher, spent 1943 in the Army Air Corps at Paine Field in Everett and once wrote a parody of Rudyard Kipling's "Road to Mandalay" on the difficulty of getting a drink on Sunday in Washington state:

"On the road to Puget Sound, where the fog and rain abound, and to get a drink on Sunday makes a man go underground."

The implementation of state laws at the end of Prohibition, the 1933 Steele Act, created other restrictive statutes that forbade patrons to drink while standing or walking and barred women from sitting at a cocktail bar though for some reason it was okay in a tavern. The interior of taverns had to be visible from the street, the better to see ladies illegally moving their drink to the pool table. What would have happened to grunge if musicians under 21 could not could not play in places where liquor was sold, another restrictive law of the time. And there was that pesky law that forbade alcohol within a mile of the University of Washington campus. Some of these laws were ignored, but sometimes the cops would show up and ruin an evening.
Lem Howell
Two young political activists surveyed this scene and saw opportunity. Lem Howell, an attorney and president of the Washington Young Democrats, was looking for an organizing opportunity that could energize Democrats in the 1966 election and recruit people for the 1968 presidential cycle. He settled on an initiative to open up Sunday alcohol sales. Howell, intimidated by the job of collecting well over 100,000 signatures, looked for help from an activist Republican and found Camden Hall, who headed up the young Republicans at the University of Washington. Unlike today, lots of Republicans roamed the Seattle savannah and there was a sturdy balance between the two parties and a willingness to work together if the opportunity was right.
Camden Hall
Both men were smart and creative and took a bold turn in forming their coalition. They approached the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Washington with the argument that the Washington State blue laws were discriminating against their church, whose services were on Saturday. Turns out that ignoring their Saturday Sabbath also grated on them. So, this coalition of Republicans, Democrats and fundamentalists went to the field, collected nearly 200,000 signatures and won the election handily, losing just seven rural counties. Some counties were close, but King and Pierce had overwhelming margins, close to three to one, and the Liquor Control Board, formed after Prohibition, long a bastion of the Alcohol Problem League, the successor to the Temperance Union, agreed unanimously with the vote on Hall's and Howell's initiative and opened up sales of alcohol on Sunday.

In the 1969 session of the Washington Legislature, the alcohol laws were reorganized and made less intrusive. More important in that session, however, was the legislature’s willingness to take on the entrenched, protected sweet wine industry within the state and open the state to 
California wines even when their industry was far ahead of our own. Alcohol was still dangerous political territory in a state that had adopted Prohibition in 1916 ahead of most states, but after the success of the Sunday sales initiative, the Wine Institute of California decided on a full court press to ease the restrictions on its wine products.
Unfortunately for its supporters, this bill became known as the California Wine Bill which made it even more controversial. California and the Pacific Northwest had an uneasy relationship, particularly in that year. Governor Dan Evans campaigned in 1968 on a pledge that “California will not get one drop of Washington water.” Governor Tom McCall, in Oregon, was telling Californians to “Visit, yes. But for God’s sake don’t stay!” Time Magazine first used the word "californicate" in 1966 and by 1969 northwest states had thousands of bumper stickers urging its citizens not to do that awful thing to themselves. A purchase of 4,000 acres of Concord grapes in Yakima had people thinking that Ernest and Julio Gallo were going to start controlling this state’s industry as they controlled California. Alas, it was only to make Andre Cold Duck, a red, sweet, bubbly wine synonymous with celebratory events for the average Joe.
California's problem was that their wineries could only sell wine to the state Liquor Control Board which applied a tax and marked them up for the trouble of storage, distribution and shelf space in the state’s liquor system. The markup was, on average, about 84%. A two dollar California varietal presented itself to a Washington consumer at about $3.50. Choices of which California brands the Liquor Control Board would buy were also unfair. On the other hand, Washington wines, still mostly sweet and fortified, could be sold directly to wholesalers and grocers after paying a ten cent a gallon tax and were broadly available on most grocery shelves.

By 1969, there were only eight wineries in Washington, mostly big and producing sweet wines, but pathfinders in the new industry of premium wines were beginning to make good wine and believed they could compete. They liked to say that when Washington was done, Californians would be making raisins.  
While overblown, the sentiment had considerable energy behind it.  The Leonetti family in Walla Walla, for years made lovely wine mainly for its own use. Others, like Professor Angelo Pellegrini, by now a famous cook and food writer, would get shipments of grapes from his friend Robert Mondavi and produce his own.  A club of six University of Washington professors and four other friends began making their own fine wines -- Associated Vintners -- with Pellegrini’s help, in 1962. First in the Laurelhurst neighborhood and then in Kirkland, they bought grapes and made good wine. With Doctor Clore’s help, they bought land in the Yakima Valley and planted their own grapes. A production error blew out their first vintage but they offered a Riesling in 1967 that had critical praise.  In 1967. Ste. Michelle Winery, the successor company to Nawico and Pommerelle, offered its first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1967 and planted its first vineyard in 1972.
Most legislative victories start with a great lobbyist. When the California wine industry made its first attempt in 1967 to get rid of the preferential treatment of Washington wines, Ivan Kearns was the lobbyist for the Washington Grape Growers Association and and was famous for his deep friendships in the legislature. In that session, Kearns kept the Californians at bay.
Tom Owens
But Kearns retired at the end of the 1967 session and the California Wine Institute had a great lobbyist of its own ready for the 1969 session, Thomas J. Owens, known as Tommy Raincoat, for his very fine London Fog with what seemed to have a hundred buttons on it. There would be a perfectly put together suit underneath, usually a crimson tie with silver stripes over a perfect white shirt. He liked a vest and looked trim in it.

Tom brought a full bag of skills to the California Wine Bill. He’d worked in the Seattle City Attorney’s office and knew local government. He was a cocky advocate and highly competitive. But he was also a lot of fun. His approach differed from the low key Kearns, but it still developed and maintained relationships. He was also married to wine and the good life. His wife was Angelo Pellegrini’s daughter. In one of his books, Pellegrini referred to Owens as “the scamp.”

The vote passed the House easily and found its way to Senate. It went to The Rules Committee first to see if the committee thought it was worthy of a Senate vote. The Rules Committee at that time acted in secret, alleging that a little secrecy was the way to avoid political pressure. In fact, they were really not avoiding pressure, but keeping control of everything the legislature did.

A few years later, as a young man, I was told by my editor to go into the Rules Committee room before the meeting and refuse to leave.

Puffing up, I said: “I’m not leaving until the meeting is over.”

“Well, the meeting is over,” Chairman of Rules and Lieutenant Governor John Cherberg said, banging down the gavel. The committee convened elsewhere in a few minutes. I realized that they had done this before.

As the regular session of the 1969 Legislature ended on Friday, The Rules Committee listed the bills that would be voted on during the Senate’s last day. The California Wine Bill was not among them. Papers at the time recorded the vote as 9-8 against sending the bill to a vote, though, as per the rules of the day, no names were associated with the votes.

Governor Evans called a special session immediately as several other important bills, abortion rights, for example, had not been acted on. Two weeks later, as the special session wound down, the California Wine Bill was back in Rules and was subject to the same close vote, 9-8. Only this time, the wine bill had the nine. It passed the Senate easily.

Talking with a friend when I was thinking of writing this piece, he said:

“Do you know, that was a $20,000 vote to get out of Rules?”

We will never know whether there was cash moving that day or not, though we should not be surprised. We do know that the bill worked as advertised. The cheap, sweet and heavy alcohol wines lost market share and California wines replaced them on the shelves. But the Washington state premium wine industry exploded, taking back market share over the years from the California colossus and is a $14 billion dollar industry today.
The Wine Academy’s winemaker, Peter Bos, is supervising the crush of the Cabernet grapes that have just come in from Eastern Washington. Bos has worked in the Washington industry since 1977 and, because of his extensive connections with growers, the grapes crushed at the school are all donated. Donated grapes are welcome, but come with issues. Perhaps they are picked a bit late, or sat in the field for a few hours longer. But Bos looks at problems as a set of questions his students can answer.

“Perfect grapes don’t have as many unique problems that need to be solved. Lots of things can go wrong with grapes, but many of those problems can be dealt with. The more problems, the more solutions my students can find and the smarter they’ll be.”

As we walk around the filling tanks, we chat up some of the students, a broad spectrum of professions and ages. One is a pathologist, another a student getting an interesting credit. A third is a winemaker himself. He owns an upscale Pioneer Square deli, Delicatus, and produces his own wines there.

“Why wouldn’t you want to work with a guy who has worked in the Washington wine industry for the last forty years?” he says.

Reggie Daignaeult is the manager of the wine program and brings distribution, wine buying and restaurant expertise to the program. She’s got a great nose, honed while growing up in Philadelphia where her Dad made dinner rolls for local restaurants in her basement. Along with the business side of wine, she teaches sensory evaluation and a course Barbara and I hope to take together next year, Wines of the World.

I like the atmosphere she and others have helped create here. There is absolutely nothing stuffy about the place and the mix of professionals and amateurs among the students creates an additional and very rich level of learning. These are the people you will one day see in the terrific wine industry that has grown up in this state. Some will serve you, others will be that knowledgeable customer next to you.

They are the people who populate that not-so-mythical winery down the road on a perfect day. You sample some wines, learn from the conversation and, upon leaving, exchange a knowing look with your partner, saying:

“You know, I really liked that."

The Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle Community College will release six of its student wines November 21, 22, 23 and also show you around their new home. The wines are:

· 2012 Chardonnay
· 2012 White Merlot
· 2010 Petit Verdot
· 2011 Lemberger
· 2011 Mourvedre
· 2011 La Scuola (an Italian blend of         
Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo)
They will be open between 2 and 7PM.
On Friday, November 22, Wine Academy alumni winemakers will offer their own wines for tasting between 5PM and 7PM.
South Seattle Community College is at 6000 16th Avenue SW.
There is no charge.

Northwest Wine Academy

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vanport City and the flood that washed it away

It seemed like everything was moving in America between 1940 and 1945.  Nearly a third of its 1940 population was headed somewhere else.  The military would recruit, train and position 15 million people, 11.5 million overseas.  Back in the USA, another 15 million civilians made a major move to other counties and states.  In those five years, the populations of California, Oregon and Washington grew by over 3,000,000 people as the country armed itself in the new defense industries built or expanded on the west coast.

People who lived in rural America found themselves crowding into urban America, making the kind of money they could never make at home.  Real income rose 40%.  In 1943 alone, 700,000 African Americans moved from the South and 120,000 of them settled in Los Angeles.  More than 160,000 workers came to Oregon during the war years, most of them landing in the shipyards built and owned by Henry J. Kaiser Corporation.  They were recruited from all over the country, brought by special 17 car trains known as Kaiser Karavans.

Vast sums of money were on the move as well.  In 1940, the federal government was spending nearly $10 billion/year and its defense spending was $1.66 billion.  In 1943, defense spending was $44 billion, nearly 70% of federal spending.  In 1945, 90% of federal revenues were going to defense, a total of $65 billion. 

The income tax was extended to nearly all American wage earners, bringing in $45 billion annually in 1945 compared to $8.5 billion in 1939 and the new payroll deduction brought the money in more quickly.  More than $185 billion dollars were raised in the form of War Bonds, purchased in a frenzy of events between 1940 and 1945.  They would fund more than half the total cost of the war.

Materials that were necessary for the war relentlessly changed hands.  Rubber, paper, aluminum, steel were used, returned, piled up and taken away for processing.  Shopping was often an exchange, people buying some things, handing back others.  At the butcher shop, for example, fats were collected and later processed into glycerin for use as high explosives.  Ten pounds of fat made one pound of glycerin.

The shipyards in Portland, abounding in Kaiser’s manufacturing process innovations, seemed like a motion picture speeded up – a ship coming out in 244 days, then 40, then 10, then four and a half.  Along with shipyards in California, Kaiser produced nearly 1,500 Liberty Ships in three years.

Where to put all these people when they weren’t working was a colossal problem.  Production fell off when a war worker could
not get a good night’s rest, could not find daycare for a child or did not have enough room for the family.  The problem in Portland was particularly acute since the Housing Authority of Portland and the city’s Realty Board were averse to building public housing within the city and the Portland Realty Board had drawn strict, red lines around areas where African Americans could either buy or rent.

Oregon had few African Americans because the constitution of the state originally forbade them to live there.  The constitution prohibited in-migration of African Americans, did not allow them ownership of real estate and denied them the right to sue in court.  While the 14th and 15th Amendments to the national constitution voided the language, it remained in Oregon’s constitution until 1927.

There was a small black community of about 2,000 people located mostly where Memorial Coliseum stands today and attitudes of many Portlanders wanted to keep the footprint of African Americans small.   

A petition from the people living in the north end community of Albina, where a handful of African Americans were moving in pre-war, let the City Council know how they felt:

"If it is necessary to bring in large numbers of Negro workers, locate them on the edge of the city.  If they are allowed to fan out through the city it soon will be necessary to station a policeman on every corner."

Kaiser  is second from left, Oregon Governor Charles
Sprague is with him in backseat on 1943 visit by FDR
Kaiser was a restless person who didn’t wait for others to solve the problems that got in the way of his contracts.  Concerned about lost time on the Hoover Dam project, he created a pre-paid health plan, Kaiser Permanente, that kept more of his workers healthy and on the job.  So, in Portland, his company purchased 650 acres along the Columbia River and began construction of a federally funded public housing project outside the city limits at a place called Vanport City.

Kaiser and his brother, Edgar, did most things on a big scale and always in a hurry.  Vanport would become the largest public housing project in the country, home to 40,000 people.  Built with products that were not essential to the war, it was flimsy.  It had wood foundations and only the sparest amenities.  The windows didn’t open.  There were ice boxes, not refrigerators
and ice was unavailable on site until 1943.  A hot plate provided the cooking and also some of the heating.  There was one clothes washing machine for every 28 units.  Construction of Vanport housing was a three shift, 24 hour job.  

Construction began in August of 1942 and people started moving in by December. The noise and lights of construction made sleep difficult for the first residents. The Oregonian newspaper took to calling it “Zoomtown.”  There were 6,000 kids from 46 states crammed into Zoomtown.  Both parents usually worked and the schools took on additional responsibilities for child care. 

There were many discomforts –the mud, the bugs, the vermin, the plastic hotplate knobs always melting off, the pervasive fear of fire – all led people to want to get out.  In 1944, 100 people a week were leaving as they found better housing, and not all were replaced.  

Manley Maben, the expert on daily life in Vanport, describes an additional sense of unease, life in a bowl, surrounded by dikes 15-25 feet high, blotting out the horizon for nearly everyone. When the war ended, Vanport took on another temporary function. 

“Welfare recipients were concentrated there; income-adjusted rents were adopted; large numbers of veterans moved into the area's only available housing (many as college students) and the proportion of black residents rose markedly. But it was still the same impermanent, concentrated project, only older. Its residents still regarded their stay there as temporary, although not as transitory as its wartime population did. Fewer women worked, and being cooped up in Vanport was particularly trying to them. To the very end, life in Vanport remained a unique, and for many, a distressing experience.”

Post war business in the Pacific Northwest turned its attentions and engineering know-how to the Columbia River, the great 1243 mile long river they shared with Canada.  Today, the Columbia River is the most dammed basin the world, home to over 400 dams.  But, as the war wound down, there were just three dams on the main stem of the Columbia River.  Rock Island Dam, the first, completed in 1933.   Bonneville, the second, in 1938.  Grand Coulee was completed in 1941.  Several others were in the pipeline on the US side, but none in British Columbia. 

The Columbia drains a region the size of France and falls rapidly into the sea, at two feet/mile, giving the river its hydroelectric punch.  Most of the land is on the US side, about 85%.  However, much of the water is stored in the form of snow in the high elevations of British Columbia.  In average water conditions, British Columbia provides 30% of Columbia’s flow.  However, in high water conditions, British Columbia provides nearly half the water in the river.  Water conditions are extremely variable. The natural or “virgin flow” of the Columbia can be as little as 30,000 cubic feet/second, about the average annual flow of the Willamette River, and as much as 1,240,000 cubic feet/second at its highest flow, the one that flooded downtown Portland in 1894.  

Post war, Canada and the US turned their attention to a basic business deal.  Create value upriver by storing and releasing water in Canada to provide flood control and electricity downstream.  The simple idea ran into difficult boundary politics, so a deal had to wait 15 years for attitudes to change enough to allow it.    

In the meantime, the 20,000 or so African Americans who came to Portland during the war soon shrunk to 10,000, about 5,000 now living in Vanport, its population now at 18,000 people.  To accommodate the many veterans living there, Oregon State College created an extension in Vanport that enrolled nearly 2,000 students in its first year, 1946.  Over time, it became today’s Portland State University.  Most of the remaining African American population was now moving into the Albina neighborhood in north Portland.  As they moved in, whites were moving out, including a unique immigrant population of
Trinity Lutheran Church
Volga River Germans who had fled the Russian Steppes in the early 1880s, 1890s and the beginning of the new 20th century. They left their distinctive churches and bungalows.   Still surrounded by the red lines of the Portland Realty Board, 5,000 African Americans were living in Albina at war's end.

There was a heavy snow pack accumulating in 1948 throughout the mountains along the Columbia River and its tributaries.  Once the snow stopped, it remained cool in the watershed, delaying the gradual snow melt managers of the hydroelectric system like to see.   Then a warm spell settled in – 75 degrees on May 15.  The next Thursday it was 78, the following Sunday still 78, then 85 on Monday.  The whole next week was over 70 degrees and Spokane hit 84 in on both Saturday and Sunday.  When it wasn’t hot, there was a warm rain.

The snow pack fell off the mountains as never before.  Over a million cubic feet/second was streaming down the river as the Memorial Day holiday approached.  The engineers employed by the Housing Authority of Portland stepped up their inspections of the dikes surrounding the project, starting round-the-clock patrols on May 25, a day the river rose dramatically.  On the evening of May 29th, the Housing Authority met to discuss options including evacuation.  Early the next morning, about 4 AM on Memorial Day, Housing Authority of Portland workers slipped a note under each door of the remaining residents.  After stating that the engineers had been keeping a constant watch on the dikes, the note concluded:



There were several eyewitnesses to the breaking of the railroad dike, though none had a better view than the five railroad employees who were inspecting the dike when it broke.  That morning, they had noticed parts of the track slumping a bit and ordered trains going over the track to slow down.  A bit later, a housing authority employee noticed very muddy water in the Columbia River Slough on the Vanport side of the dike.

The dike was built over several years beginning in 1918.  It’s purpose was to carry trains, but people thought of it as a flood control structure.  It was owned by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway and looked its role.  It was 75 feet tall and had a much bigger base than other structures protecting Vanport.  Plus, people thought that the years of rail traffic had compacted the fills in the dike.  It had also stood up to major floods in 1921, 1928 and 1933. 

Suddenly, at 4:17 PM, the Columbia River was pouring through the center of the railroad bed, immediately opening a rip in the structure that rapidly grew.  An aircraft piloted by a man named Calvin Hubert saw a 50 foot gash in the structure that was growing by the second.  Felix Baranovich was in Vanport at his record shop and glanced up at the dike in time to see the break and he
began running through the town alerting residents.  He ran past cars careening through the streets crazily to the safety of Denver Avenue, the road atop a dike on the east side of Vanport.  He saw people on top of the railroad dike who didn’t seem particularly concerned, though they soon would be.  Back in the air, Hubert saw the rip in the dike extend to 500 feet in the first minute or so.  The railroad inspectors on the dike were now in the water.

Students and professors from the Vanport Extension were removing their research papers from the school when it happened.  They became the early warning system for residents.

Mostly, people tried to drive out, but the one road out was quickly clogged with others driving to safety.  A monster traffic jam developed when public safety vehicles, good samaritans and gawkers rushed to Denver Avenue just as residents were driving out.  After 15 minutes, the warning sirens began to blow.

It was fortunate that the water rushing through the broken dike encountered the Columbia River Slough on the Vanport side of the dike.  The sloughs and lakes inside the project slowed the water, absorbing its power and slowing its spread. 

The rescue was underway.  As their houses bobbed along in the water, people trapped inside could not find the exits and had to be chopped out by rescuers.  Others clung to roofs, pieces of wood, utility poles, mattresses.  By 9:00 PM, it seemed as if everyone was out and most headed for some kind of temporary shelter.  It seemed preposterous, but no bodies had been found. 

Five players from the Portland Beavers baseball team lived in Vanport.  The hapless Beavers were swept in a double header by Seattle the day of the flood, falling to 19-39 on the season.  Three of them hopped a plane to get home and be with their families, all of whom were safe.  Where they landed is unknown, as Portland’s International Airport was flooded and closed.  The train station was down as well.  One of the old Columbia River sternwheeler tugs was in the middle of the closed Interstate Bridge, pushing against a support beam engineers feared was becoming unstable.

Then the Denver Avenue dike began to give, first a small break, suddenly extending several hundred feet.  A utility worker on the dike was caught in the break and disappeared while seated in his car.  No longer impounded, the
houses began floating away, breaking up as they went, groaning and snapping in the current.  As the debris broke up further, bodies were found in ones, twos and threes.  Lorena Smith was stuck in a pile of debris under water.  Her husband, on top, struggled to get her out and failed.  Sally Butcher, 11 months and her brother, Michael, two years, were found underwater in a crazily tipped house.  Mrs. Florence Beadle, 44, was floating free.  Those were the first deaths reported by the Oregon Journal.  Fifteen dead and seven missing was the final count, though not a lot of people in Vanport that day believed the numbers.  Casualties seemed impossibly low.

In Rachel Dresbeck’s book, Oregon Disasters, she reports many rumors.  A number of people said that they had seen a bus full of kids knocked off the road and sinking in the first minutes of the flood.  Others believed that the kids in the movie theater never got out.  People feared hundreds had been washed out to sea.  Another rumor had it that officials were using the nearby Terminal Ice and Storage as a secret storage place for bodies.  The City Council voted 3-2 to hold the Rose Festival that year, though they had to move it to the eastside of town to avoid the flood damage in the downtown.   

Many people at the time felt that the flood brought out the best in people and was a good moment for the city’s race relations.  Thousands of homeless connected to people who took them in with little regard for their race.  The temporary school shelters set up by the Red Cross were not needed by mid-week.  Some went to tents in the backyards of relatives, others to homes in the wealthy West Hills. An older black woman who had spent the night walking, then sleeping, on the side of Denver Avenue with her three grandchildren went up to a taxi driver and asked for water.  He drove the family to his home, they would stay a month, and returned to Denver Avenue where he offered free rides to people who needed them.  

After the flood, nearly 18,000 people found temporary homes throughout Portland. A second round of temporary homes, this time in the form of small trailers, were controversial, as they were in Katrina, but finally there was something good to wait for -- Portland was building new public housing and putting black people in those houses – and they were in the city limits though the red lines around Albina, largely held firm.

Portland City Club has long been a consistent and honest voice about race in the city.  It has recognized that feeling good about an emergency response wasn't enough.  And, over many years, it pursued race in Portland with a restless energy, not yet getting to what it truly wanted, but always going back to the basic questions. The Club’s first effort was long before the flood, articulating the need to repeal the racist elements of the state constitution in 1926.   In 1945 the Club published its first comprehensive study, The Negro In Portland, outlining the failures of the banking, lending, real estate, education, employment and justice systems that had to be recognized and addressed.  In 1957 it offered a progress report that expressed some optimism but also disappointment at how some areas, particularly housing, were not working for African Americans.  In 1968, Martin Luther King’s assassination led to rioting and the Club studied race and the justice system, in 1980 the schools, in 1991 and 1992 it revisited housing, justice, health and welfare systems.

In its work, City Club has educated generations of young Portland leaders on what it means to think about and try to stir action on the one of the hardest problems facing any community. 

An agreement on joint US and Canadian action on the Columbia River was a direct result of the Vanport flood, though the complexities made for a long wait.  In 1964, Canada and the US signed a final version of the Columbia River Treaty.  The agreement purchased flood control for 60 years by paying for three dams built on the Columbia in British Columbia.  These dams also provided water storage that generated electricity in US dams downstream, the two countries splitting the value.  A group of utilities in the US purchased the Canadian share of electricity for 30 years and with it created the Pacific Northwest - California Electrical Intertie, a piece of infrastructure providing seasonal exchanges between the regions.  We grouse about sometimes, but it has provided tremendous value to the Pacific Northwest.

Flood control, in particular, has been extremely valuable to the region.  Several events approaching the size of the Vanport Flood have been averted because of the three Canadian dams built -- and Canadian citizens lived with.

Where Vanport stood is now a golf course, the Portland International Raceway and various parts of the Columbia River Slough.  Sixty five years after the flood it remains one of the powerful metaphors about race in Portland.  The Portland City Club, about every ten years or so, struggles against one or another of its complexities.

Agencies in Canada and the United States are negotiating today some kind of extension of the existing treaty, most of its provisions expiring in 2024.  The flood control provisions of the treaty will be different.  We don't know yet what the new flood control regime will be.

Portland City Club: The Negro in Portland, 1945

Portland City Club, The Negro in Portland, 1945-1957

American Sociological Review: Elements of Tenant Instability in a War Housing Project

History of Portland's African American Community, 1805-Present

US District Judge James Alger Fee's decision federal responsibility for Vanport damages

Bob Royer remarks on Columbia River Treaty, Northwest & Intermountain Power Producer's Conference

Columbia River Treaty Articles, Historylink.org