Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The arrival of the Great White Fleet in Seattle and a big party at the New Washington Hotel

Museum of History and Industry
The Washington Hotel began rising from its top of the hill location in 1890 and was originally known as the Denny Hotel, after one of the Seattle founders, Arthur Denny.  Squabbling among the partners kept the hotel closed for its first three years and the Panic of 1893 did the rest, closing it for another decade.  Finally, it was sold to James A.  Moore whose Moore Theater stands next to it and still packs them in today.  Moore’s first guest, Teddy Roosevelt, gave the hotel all the cache it needed to be successful and it was a success for the three summers of life ahead of it, before the hoses leveling what we call Belltown today washed its footings away.  

Moore sold the land at the corner of Second and Stewart to two powerhouse developers who were just finishing the Alaska Building, the first true Seattle skyscraper.  J. E. Chilberg and J. Crawford Marmaduke paid $200,000 for the land and had in mind a turnkey hotel project, something that could be built but not fully furnished and sold to a competent hotelier who'd finish the job.

As they closed in on the groundbreaking date, the architects, the esteemed Eames and Young from Chicago, said that another $200,000 had been added to the original $600,000 cost of the structure “because the great growth and the magnificent prospects of the city merit it,” said Mr. Eames.  There were to be 350 rooms in the hotel and, the Seattle Daily Times noted, “every room will have a private bath.”  The doors to the closets were to be constructed so that “when opened, the closet will be flooded with electricity.” 

The Alaska Building underway
August 22, 1904
UW Collections
The construction of these new, taller buildings should be understood in the context of the San Francisco Earthquake that occurred in April, 1906.  Clearly, the great city was damaged goods and the events in the Bay Area gave Seattle a strategic advantage that would ensure something more than backwater status.  Also, Chilberg and Marmaduke had just finished the Alaska Building and wanted it to be seen as safe.  Its all steel construction helped that point along as did the choice of Eames and Young from Chicago.  Also helping was the fact that people then knew absolutely nothing about how earthquake prone their region was.

The hotel was on a schedule that would have it comfortably ready for the great world’s fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that Seattle planned first for 1908 and then delayed for a year to June of 1909.  St.  Louis and Portland had just completed expos celebrating the start and the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Now it was Seattle’s time with a fresh topic, the gold rush plus the emergence of an American Century in the Pacific.   However, soon, the inevitable delays came Materials didn't arrive on time and, also, the realization that the basic business scheme devised by Chilberg and Marmaduke needed to be revisited.  The destruction of San Francisco sent a strong economic shock, that reverberated across the entire western economy.  Then, manipulators tried to corner the copper market which led to a collapse of copper stocks and a slowing of mining that hit the national economy in 1907. The slowing economy made the idea of finding a turnkey buyer unlikely, so Chilberg and Marmaduke turned to a public stock offering to raise the $250,000 necessary to furnish the project and install the interior spaces that would complete the hotel.  The coverage at the time seemed sober and straight forward, a small wrinkle in the plan, but clearly the back story demonstrated a significant fear that Seattle could be left with another empty hotel, just like the one Arthur Denny tried to build. 

Events also crowded in.  A great fleet was moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and would visit Seattle in the Spring of 1908.  The purpose was to demonstrate President Roosevelt’s famous saying, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."  The Great White Fleet was the big stick part and sent a clear signal to Japan that the Pacific was an American lake as well.  When it became clear that sometime in May, 1908 the big ships would visit, there was a possibility that the city’s new showcase hotel might not be ready. It had the potential for a world class embarrassment to a city with world class presumptions. 

Chilberg and company were cutting it very close. They announced on April 19 that the New Washington would be the site of the great reception for the offices of the fleet when they arrived on May 23.  The Seattle Daily Times felt it necessary to underscore the community's expectations by saying that "the reception will take place in the big hostelry which will be finished by that date."

One step ahead of the sheriff, with workers racing to complete so many details, the officers’ reception began with the admirals being led to the ornate mezzanine so they could take in the lovely lobby. They then left the mezzanine and proceeded down stairs to the dining room/ballroom where the officers formed a reception line. They would greet 3,000 people inside the hotel while an estimated 30,000 milled around outside, where music was available and the police department scanned the crowd for pickpockets. 
They got some, like E. Larson, known as the “Frisco Kid” who had $125 on his person.  Ike Borenstein had filched $193 and, over at the post office, Joe Medford, who tried to outrun the cops, knocking over a group of ladies and a stroller.  He had $130 on him. Big money in those days.

New Washington and Moore Theater across from
grandstand on Second Avenue.
Note people standing on utility poles.
UW Collections
Then, three days later, the greatest parade ever in Seattle marched down First and up Second Avenue. The Seattle Daily Times, using a tortured analysis, had the attendees at half a million.  Let’s not argue with Alden Blethen, it would be a hopeless endeavor, let’s just say there were a lot of people.  They went South down First Avenue to Jackson Street, then back up the gentle slope on Second Avenue where they went by the official bandstand located across the street from the New Washington and the Moore Theater. 

Organizers had roped off the sidewalks from the parade route, using 33,000 feet of half inch rope. 

Original Poster
The military part of the parade was all starched uniforms and crisp, shouted orders, but the civilian part was down home.  The City of Aberdeen brought 16 black bear cubs who were to be escorted along the route by the 16 fattest men in Aberdeen.  A view of the parade route by the bear escorts led to a change in plans due to the rigor of the march and the long climb north on Second Avenue.  Younger, thinner men escorted the Teddy Bears along the streets.  After the parade, each of the 16 battleships received a bear cub as a mascot.

The hotel that Chilberg and Marmaduke made spanned the two World’s Fairs in Seattle, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition – the youthful Chilberg was its president -- opened June 1, 1909 and Century 21, April 21, 1962.  Performers in both events stayed at the Washington.  Most notable, of course, was Elvis Presley, here to film “Take Me To The Fair,” later released as “It Happened at the World’s Fair.”

The Depression of 1893

The Great White Fleet and its Purposes

Very intelligent discussion of the 2001 earthquake in Seattle

The Elvis History Blog -- in Seattle

Seafair's older uncle, Potlatch

When I lived in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle, a hillside overlooking the middle part of Lake Washington, I would watch the boat traffic streaming away from the southern part of the lake following the Seafair hydroplane races, the crowning event of Seattle’s 72 year old summer festival.  Though I knew there would be lots more good weather in front of us, actually the very best Northwest weather, the end of Seafair was a punctuation mark on the summer that somehow made me sad.  I’d walk out of the garden and up the stairs to the kitchen where I’d get another beer, or more likely a glass of whiskey.
While I don’t live in that house above the lake anymore, I have that same feeling of sadness at the end of Seafair and, for some reason, decided my familiarity with the history of Seafair needed some work and I took my whiskey over to my laptop when the blues came.  It didn't take long to blow past Seafair to its very interesting predecessor, Potlatch, sometimes called Golden Potlatch, a stop and start special event that began with great promise and some tragedy in the summer of 1911, seemed to gain a foothold in 1912, played host to a full bore riot in 1913 and was replaced with a choral music festival in 1915 after the Seattle Chamber of Commerce decided a better use of its money would be chasing conventions.  Potlatch revived for a few years in the mid-thirties but was abandoned as World War II broke out. 
When it ended in 1915, a former booster of the event, The Seattle Daily Times, said there was nothing to get upset about. 

“Seattle has discovered and promoted with a commendable degree of success a happy substitute for the erstwhile, noisy and meaningless Potlatch.”
Festivals have always been markers – of time, accomplishment, our spiritual life. They were, in the fundamental meaning of the concept, a special event.Today, special events are more mundane -- business tactics, things we do to communicate ideas, to carry out commerce, to advocate, to create a purposeful unity. 

Potlatch comes from Chinook Jargon, the trading language of tribes in the Northwest.  It derives from a Nootka (Vancouver Island) word and described a celebration in which many people gathered together, feasted, gambled and made gifts, often lavish, to one another. 

UW Libraries
The first Seattle Potlatch grew out of the civic energy generated by the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that celebrated the Alaska Gold Rush and Seattle’s gateway role in the riches of the far north.  Seattle’s connections to the tribes still had power back in the early part of the last century, perhaps because we had so overwhelmed them, as we had the forest, and they existed only in a pleasant myth.  My old neighborhood, Leschi, was named after a chief, likely innocent, authorities had hung just sixty years before.
Planning for the event began in April with a meeting of worthies intent on raising enough money to make a good first impression.  Mayor George Cotterill led off with his favorite topic, growing the city.  “This year’s summer visitor is the advance agent of next year’s permanent resident.”  Frank McDermott, leader of the Bon Marche, the most successful department store on the west coast, chimed in with “Cities are only learning what merchants learned long ago - that it pays to advertise.”  “It helps put Seattle on the map,” said Joshua Green of the Inland Navigation Company.  Blunt old Henry Broderick, the downtown real estate man, added:   “The Potlatch will pay if you do.  Mail your check now!”

Seattle Golf Club
UW Libraries

A prelude to opening day of the first Potlatch on July 17 was the Potlatch Golf Tournament, played at the new Seattle Golf Club, open at its present location since 1908.  One of the more popular young businessmen in Seattle, George R. Andrews, Seattle manager of the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, was set to play in the tournament on July 13th.  He was good – just a couple of weeks earlier he won the Chapin Cup and the club championship in successive days. 

He would have been known as a “good club man,” a popular joiner in the Seattle upper crust social scene.  He and a number of friends had a small party at the golf club the night of the 12th which concluded about 10:00 PM.  They left at about the same time with George insisting he was in a hurry to get back to his apartments in the New Washington Hotel downtown so he could be rested and ready to tee off early on the 13th

They drove out onto Golf Club Road, George the second to last car out of the parking lot.  One of the cars ahead had a mechanical problem and stopped at the city limits, then on 85th Street and perhaps four miles toward the city from the course.  When the last car came along, ahead of George, his friends sensed something wrong and back-tracked for the club, finding some skid marks about a half mile from the club at a place called “The Dip,” an elevation change along the narrow, two lane road perched above a small but steep embankment.

They couldn’t see anything there until they picked up, in their headlights, the glint of broken glass. They slid down the ravine’s edge until they saw the car at the bottom and George at the foot of a stump, his neck broken.  The skid marks and other clues suggested that Andrews was driving 60 miles an hour or so or before he flew off the road.  One of his friends broke an axle while searching and another car was damaged while backing up, nearly rolling into the same ravine. There were many indicators that alcohol was involved, but the Seattle Daily Times, never a friend of governmental performance, blamed the road builder, King County, even bringing the Executive Director of the Good Roads Association to the site to evaluate the quality of the road.   Seattle Daily Times Publisher Alden Blethen was a member of the club and his sons were pretty good at the game.  He likely wished he would have exposed any problems of “The Dip” that he had driven over so many times before the accident.   
Despite George's tragedy, they finished the tournament, out of deference to the many golfing visitors in town, but Potlatch never felt the same to Blethen or the Seattle Daily Times after the George Andrews tragedy and subsequent events.

Still, the first Potlatch was a hell of a party.  It had many of entertainments we enjoy in today’s Seafair.  A big parade, water sports, even something called a hydroplane, though it was really a float plane with wheels in its pontoons that could scoot the craft noisily along the ground. 
There were nightly dances on the streets, a Chinese monster dragon dance and, in an unfortunate sentence “a Japanese feast of lanterns.”  Those Japanese and their hot food!

Pergola at First and Yesler
Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle’s Potlatch goals were fairly minimal – more growth, awareness of the city’s accomplishments.  The city was working hard at gaining attention in 1911.  In 1890, Tacoma and Seattle had about the same population, around 40,000 and the same basic interests – access to major transportation linkages via the railroads and ports.  But Seattle exploded in the next two decades as it went on an annexation binge and had considerable organic growth as well.  Suddenly, it seemed, Seattle was a big city with 250,000 people.  It had pulled off a spectacularly successful world’s fair, but it still yearned for more attention.   The first Potlatch did just that and the one the next year seemed even better. 

UW Libraries
Every summer festival has its auxiliary group, fundraisers and boosters who support the event and march, in their white suits and shoes, in the big parade.  Seafair has its “Commodores” formed five years after the first Seafair in 1950.  The Potlatch had an auxiliary as well, Tilikums, another Chinook word meaning people who signify a nation.  The Tilikums marched in something even more uncomfortable than a poorly fitted white suit.  They wore great masks, really more like totem poles, over their white robes.  The masks covered much of their body and must have been clumsy at the volunteer reception after the parade or, more likely, required a really big check room at the host hotel. 
It looked like this event was on the rise in 1913, especially when Frank Baker, head of the National City Bank, committed to be the chairman at a luncheon held at the Moose Room of The Rathskeller restaurant.  Baker would become the father of another Seattle banker, Miner Baker, who for many years provided the regional economic forecast at Seattle First National Bank and later served as a Seattle Port Commissioner. 

There were no invitations sent out for the dinner, people just knew to come and, at a dollar plate, it was a big success.  When Baker spoke, he promised an event that would be the best yet. 
It was, in fact, a nightmare. 

Alden J.  Blethen, Publisher
Seattle Daily Times
UW Libraries
There are many complicated antecedents to what caused the 1913 Potlatch Riots.  First, there was Colonel Blethen, who wore his heart on his masthead, where he sometimes described his publication as “An American Newspaper for Americans.”  One of his goals, also on the masthead, was the defeat of Bolshevism, along with a 3,000,000 ton/year coking plant located in town.
The Industrial Workers of the World had Blethen’s version of America always in their sights and periodically would hold parades in front of the Daily Times offices, their Red Flag of the revolution on equal level with the Stars and Stripes.  Of course, this infuriated Blethen.  He believed that their continued organizing and speech making was dangerous, bad for business and un-American and he constantly pressured the mayor to run them out of town as other towns had done.

George Cotterill, Mayor
Seattle Municipal Archives
But the mayor and Colonel Blethen didn’t get along.  Before becoming mayor, George Cotterill was the assistant to R. H. Thomson, the great city engineer whom Blethen thought was out of control, by and large true, and Blethen had him as a socialist as well because Thomson thought highly of public ownership.  

After the Great Seattle Fire, Thomson blamed the poor performance of the private water companies for the inability of the firefighters to put down the blaze.  So, he created his own publicly-owned water department, building the city’s water system on the Cedar River, 30 miles from the town, hooking it up with wooden pipes.  The dam he built to hold the municipal water supply led him to attach a power plant and run the stored water through its generators.  The resulting city-owned electric company delivered significant value to the citizens of his town, the rate/kilowatt hour dropping from 20 cents to 10 cents in a handful of years.  Not only was Cotterill connected to Thomson, but he had defeated Blethen’s pick, Hiram Gill, for mayor the year before.
So, when Blethen and the management of Potlatch wanted the IWW silenced and off the streets of Seattle, Cotterill refused.

There are several versions of how the riots began.  One of them had a young female IWW supporter speaking to a largely IWW crowd on Washington Street in Pioneer Square.  A few soldiers and sailors here for Potlatch and having a good time in the square's many bars came upon the scene and began heckling the speaker.  She heckled back.  At some point the soldiers took over the platform and shouted their points of view to the crowd, who shouted back. 
The woman sought to get her platform back and they refused.  She told them the platform was rented and she would be charged a premium if she did not return it on time, a point the military men who now had the box did not buy.  There was a struggle, a fist was raised near the woman and one of the crowd stepped forward and decked a sailor.  

IWW Hall
UW Collections
That night, after reading inflammatory accounts in the Daily Times about the incident, a mob consisting of soldiers, sailors and their friends busted up the IWW headquarters building as fights broke out everywhere. Other offices were ransacked, newsstands with Socialist and IWW materials were destroyed. Cotterill declared a civil emergency, cut off liquor sales and told Colonel Blethen that the only way he would publish another account of the troubles then ongoing was to have it reviewed prior to publication by the mayor.

Seattle Police then refused to let a Daily Times extra edition be circulated to newsboys gathered at the Times Building.  The Times lawyers finally got an temporary injunction against Cotterill and his gag order.

By then troops had been federalized and the city was under martial law.  Soldiers and sailors were sent to their ships and barracks.  While additional violence was expected, it didn’t materialize, although it was clearly a precursor of truly bloody events in the remaining years of the decade -- the Everett and Centralia Massacres, the General Strike and hundreds of smaller incidents in the coal mine and lumbering towns across the state.  

Absent from much of the coverage of the 1913 event was the accomplishment of a young woman, Alyn McKay, who set the altitude record for women in her small plane, rising above the mayhem below in lazy circles until she reached 2,900 feet which, at the time, seemed amazing. 

Potlatch would have one more year, 1914, and disappear from the civic agenda.  Blethen would exit the following year, dying July 13, 1915.