2010 Find of the Month Archive

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve

The issue of New Year's Eve celebrations pops up periodically in city records. An early mention shows up in Resolution 3067 from 1910, which was concerned with enforcement of liquor laws. Council President William H. Murphy made edits before signing the document, so that the final version directed the police chief "to see that the laws of the State of Washington and the ordinances of the City of Seattle as to the sale and use of intoxicating liquors and the closing of drinking places are strictly enforced on New Year's eve the same as such laws and ordinances are enforced on other nights in the City of Seattle." One might infer from Murphy's edits that he believed these ordinances were not enforced strongly enough on any day of the year.

A 1952 Comptroller File contains a plea from the Associated Tavern Owners of Washington, asking that taverns and cocktail bars be allowed to stay open an extra hour on New Year's Eve. The police chief recommended to the Council that this request be granted, and drinking establishments were thus permitted to stay open until 2 am on that night.

1970 saw another appeal for extended hours on December 31, this one from the Rainier-Beacon Junior Chamber of Commerce. While the Teen Dance Ordinance in force at that time required dances to end at 11:45 pm, the group asked that an extension to 12:30 am be granted on this and all succeeding New Year's Eves. The director of Seattle Center urged the Council to grant their request, mainly so as "not to release a large number of teen-agers to the streets at five minutes to Midnight on New Year's Eve."

"Pioneer ghost town"

Pioneer Ghost Town

A front page story in the November 14, 1960, Seattle Times alerted readers to the existence of a "pioneer ghost town" underneath Pioneer Square. According to the article, most "old-timers" had no idea the underground city existed. Fire Chief William Fitzgerald led the reporter on a tour below the streets, recalling his parents' stories of hangings that had taken place in that area before the city was rebuilt on higher ground after the fire of 1889.

The article prompted at least two citizens to write to the City Council asking whether the city could preserve the remains of the underground as a tourist attraction. One writer said, "I know I'd like to see it and I'm sure others would also." Another compared it to underground passages she had visited in Paris, and asked, "What could our City Council do about this golden nugget beneath our own Skid Road?"

The Council did not feel there was a role for the city in the preservation of the "ghost town," but forwarded the letter to the Central Association of Seattle, a downtown development organization, for the group's consideration. Just a few years later, the very same Central Association was behind the proposal to raze much of Pioneer Square for the construction of a new arterial road.

Bill Speidel began independently offering tours of the underground in 1965, paying rent to building owners in exchange for access to their lower levels. Meanwhile preservationists, alarmed at the urban renewal plans, led a movement to preserve Pioneer Square, studying its architecture and renovating some properties. Their efforts led to the creation of the Pioneer Square Preservation District in 1970, the city's first historic district.

Hallowe'en depredations


Reports from the Police Department's Junior Safety Division in the late 1930s show that the authorities were closely tracking Halloween pranks and the damage they caused to both city infrastructure and private property.

Each year they would create a report titled "Hallowe'en Depredations" that documented problems that had been reported on that year's holiday. The top section of the reports compared numbers of false fire alarms, broken streetlights, stolen street signs, and the like with the previous year's totals. The following section contained a list of each incident reported to the police in the current year, including times and locations.

Activities on this list included things like boys throwing tomatoes, honking car horns, tearing up shrubbery, letting air out of tires, and turning on fire hydrants. The 1936 document reports that at 10:59 pm, a roaming police officer found three manhole covers that had been removed. Eleven minutes later, horses and mules were discovered to have been turned loose. At 12:45 am, a large boiler was found in the middle of the street.

In an effort to prevent this annual holiday mischief, the police worked together with the Parks Department and the schools to promote "Safe and Sane Halloween." Student groups held all-city meetings before the holiday in which they shared ideas for thwarting vandalism. Their plans included organized talks within their schools, dances and other events planned as alternate Halloween activities, and volunteer patrols. On Halloween night, City-organized events at playfields and community centers drew hundreds of kids, which "held mischief-making to a minimum," according to the newspaper.

Kent State shootings

Two days after the shootings at Kent State in 1970 - 40 years ago in May - City Council President Charles Carroll gave the following statement:

Each and every person mourns the tragic and senseless deaths of the four students killed at Kent State University on Monday. Moreover, each one of us mourns the terrible loss of lives in the Viet Nam war. Each of us fears the possible consequences of the president's decision to move troops into Cambodia.

Our paramount concern lies with violence and fear in our own country - and in our own city. I appeal to all Seattle citizens, and to the American public, to see clearly the tension and possible repression which exist in our society. We cannot permit our sorrow, or our anger, to breed more violence - whether for the sake of destroying what some may call evil institutions or repressing revolutionary students.

The events in Asia, and at Kent State University, and elsewhere in America should cause each of us - student, public servant, housewife, businessman, working man - to pause and reflect. We must realize that our own hasty actions may bring about the undoing of our society, something that no other power could bring about in our history.

I ask that Friday, May 8, be a Day of Reflection in the City of Seattle. To this end, I have asked [UW] President Odegaard to authorize the use on Friday of the University of Washington Husky Stadium for a community forum for free and open discussion by all who wish to participate. We invite the student leadership from the local colleges and universities to suggest to us a plan for the management of a community forum, dedicated to reflect on the tragic events of recent days and to discuss ways we together can build a better society and a better city.

I urge all Seattle citizens to observe this Day of Reflection by participating in the community forum or in their own way.

As the acting Mayor, I intend also to urge all city officials to join your discussions at the stadium on Friday. Perhaps together, we can begin here in Seattle to resolve the escalating American crisis.

Seafair royalty

In the early days of Seafair, the selection of the festival's royalty was big news in Seattle. Shortly before the start of the first Seafair in 1950, the P-I announced that Victor E. Rabel had been tapped to serve as King Neptune I. The article described how Rabel had been "sitting in his office…studying the barometer and thinking of the golf prospects for the week-end, when the news came that he has been elevated to purple." He was told of his new status by two Seafair sponsors who arrived in a Cadillac and "apprised the new monarch that fate had beckoned him; that the responsibilities of royalty now devolve upon him, and that his time isn't his own anymore."

The selection of Seafair Queens also merited thorough news coverage in the 1950s. When Iris Adams was chosen for the crown in 1952, a photo of her brushing her hair accompanied an article describing her background. Born and raised in England, she had immigrated to America with her parents three years earlier at the age of 21. She was quoted as saying that some relatives had told her America was wonderful. "Now I know it is…We didn't have contests like this back home."

As the end of her reign neared in 1953, the P-I published Adams' advice to her successor. She forewarned hopefuls that the Seafair Queen had to appear at events at any time of day or night and didn't have much of a private life, adding that an understanding boyfriend and a lenient boss were a must. She also advised that one must be prepared for public speaking on little or no notice, and said, "I have found the shortest speech is the best speech, especially if you're scared."

A postscript to Adams' story came in a 1954 item in the Seattle Times announcing her engagement to a Navy lieutenant she had met during her reign as Seafair Queen.

Disco Week

The following document was found in Mayor Uhlman's proclamations:

WHEREAS, the City of Seattle is vitally concerned about developing and maintaining a high quality of life for all its citizens, including social and recreational activities promoted in the private sector; and

WHEREAS, thousands of people in our area enjoy the color and excitement offered each week in Seattle's 25 discotheques; and

WHEREAS, on Saturday, December 12, 1977, Seattle's Disco King and Queen will be named at a party to be held in one of our finest local discos and will win an expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles as the guests of Paramount Pictures to represent all Seattle disco goers;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, WES UHLMAN, Mayor of the City of Seattle, do hereby proclaim December 12-18, 1977, as "DISCO WEEK" in Seattle, in recognition of our local disco businesses and their contributions to Seattle's evening entertainment.

Mayor Edwards recalled from office


Frank Edwards bears the distinction of being one of only two Seattle mayors to be recalled by voters. First elected in 1928, he won a second two-year term in 1930, but would be removed from office before completing his tenure.

In this era, there was a major debate in Seattle about whether electric utilities should be publicly or privately owned. City Light Superintendent J.D. Ross was a popular and highly visible proponent of municipal ownership, and he often got into power struggles with the Mayor and City Council over the cost and scope of City Light projects.

The public power issue heated up in January 1931 with the proposal of a charter amendment that would give City Light control of its construction projects. The debate provoked by the amendment spilled over into the City Council races that were to be voted on at the same time.

One day before the March election, Mayor Edwards fired Ross, claiming he was "inefficient and disloyal…extravagant and wasteful," and citing him for "willful [sic] neglect of duty." The negative reaction from citizens was immediate, resulting in the passage of the charter amendment and the election of pro-City Light candidates to City Council.

Petitions for Edwards' recall quickly began circulating, and more than eight times the necessary signatures were gathered. A special election was held on July 13, 1931, and voters chose to oust Edwards by a wide margin.

Robert Harlin was appointed by City Council to serve out the remainder of Edwards' mayoral term. One of Harlin's first official acts was to reappoint J.D. Ross as the head of City Light, where he served until his death in 1939. Edwards ran for mayor again in 1932 but did not advance past the primary.

"The Right to Health"

In 1978, Mayor Charles Royer gave a speech to the King County Medical Society titled "The Right to Health," in which he previewed many of the arguments and concerns that were aired during our recent debate over the new federal health care legislation.

Royer stated, "Politicians have been involved in the health care of Americans since 1798, when the Public Health Service had its origins, and probably earlier. Today, the federal government is the source of payment for 40% of the hospital bills in this country." He went on to discuss examples of how government at all levels participates in the medical care of citizens, continuing by saying, "Clearly, there is no question about government's involvement in health care. We are involved - and invested - up to our necks. The real issue is the effectiveness and sensitivity of that involvement."

Again anticipating more recent discussions, the mayor said that everyone had examples of how the health system had failed people, and gave a few examples of his own. He said he believed that "local government must be the patient's advocate in breaking this red tape."

The mayor outlined several ways in which the city was working to improve local health care services, particularly for low-income citizens. He highlighted improvements in jail health services, the use of firefighters to monitor blood pressure for neighborhood residents, and the establishment of community clinics in underserved neighborhoods, and discussed how new services were attempting to meet the needs of diverse populations.

However, his main concern was with access to care for those without adequate resources, pointing out that "with medical costs rising at a far faster rate than wages, more of our working people are becoming medically indigent." He concluded his speech by emphasizing that "economic barriers are the single largest impediment to health care in Seattle, in King County and in the rest of our country… All the other issues - geographic access, coordination and citizen participation - are but side issues in comparison to the need for economic justice in our health care delivery system."

Fire Department horse

Fire Department Horse

In 1913, Elizabeth J. Virtue of the King County Humane Society wrote to the mayor with a complaint about a member of the Fire Department. The letter stated, "This man drives a good looking heavy horse up and down Queen Ann [sic] hill daily. While he seems to be in no hurry on level ground, he always seems to be going to a fire when going down hill." She condemned this "unnecessary racing of so large a horse down hill" and claimed that "a more unwarranted method of ruining a horse could hardly be found."

The mayor referred the complaint to the Fire Chief, who replied:

"The member referred to is a Batallion [sic] Chief who is required to respond to alarms with a horse and buggy owing to the lack of automobiles in the Department. This same conveyance he uses in going to and from meals. A very natural desire to expedite matters as much as possible in order that he might be on duty again at the station may be accepted as an apology for any annoyance inadvertently caused to the residents of that section."

Miss Virtue thanked the chief for his prompt reply, but added that he seemed to have missed a crucial point in the original letter:

"May we, however, refer you to the fact that the complaint stated that the annoyance was caused by the fact that 'there seemed to be no haste after level ground was reached.' We do not wish to be over critical or cause any unnecessary annoyance to anyone and would have paid little attention to the complaints if they had not been as above. They were made by prominent citizens whose motives cannot be doubted."

Civilian War Commission

War Commission

During World War II, the Civilian War Commission coordinated Seattle's civil defense activities. Established by ordinance in October 1941 - before Pearl Harbor - it was originally called the Municipal Defense Commission, but changed its name in May 1942 to reflect the country's state of war. Members included the mayor, city council members, retired military personnel, local business and labor leaders, and representatives of groups like the Red Cross and the PTA.

The Commission submitted a final report in 1946, summarizing in detail its activities during the war until it was disbanded in December 1945. In the report, Mayor Devin summed up the achievements of Seattle's citizens and the Commission that coordinated their efforts:

  • 60,000 civilians volunteered a total of over 30 million hours in roles such as air raid wardens, auxiliary police, and recruiters for defense industry and farm workers. Over 12,000 young women served as "junior hostesses" for servicemen passing through the city.
  • Salvage efforts netted over four million pounds each of tin cans and waste fats, 90 million pounds of scrap metal, and 100 million pounds of waste paper.
  • Thousands of volunteers participated in concerts and other performances to entertain troops. Citizens donated 300,000 books and 700,000 magazines for the use of servicemen, and the War Athletic Council sponsored sporting events for their entertainment.
  • Over 100,000 victory gardens were planted in the city.

Mayor Devin wrote, "Each resident who donated an hour, a book or a tin can toward the war effort helped make possible this peace we are now enjoying. The War Commission, an over-all volunteer organization headed by civic-minded volunteers who gave unstintingly of their time, has done a tremendous job in coordinating the volunteer effort of the community and in directing that effort toward the most essential war jobs."

Parking meters come to Seattle

Parking Meters

SMA's holdings include a set of issues of Seattle Municipal News, the newsletter of the Municipal League. The September 27, 1941, edition has a front-page story entitled, "Let's Have Meters!" At the time, Seattle was in the midst of legislative and legal turmoil over installing parking meters on downtown streets. The article claimed that from the time the issue was first broached, "the subject has been bandied about like a gas-filled balloon, never coming down to earth."

The City Council had passed an ordinance in March of that year authorizing the purchase and installation of meters. The Board of Public Works studied the issue, put the project out to bid, and awarded a contract. However, the language of the contract differed from the Board's specifications, which provided an opportunity for a lawsuit by those against the implementation of parking meters. Indeed, future governor Albert Rosellini wrote to the Council claiming that all of the bids were invalid, and added a reminder that the State Supreme Court had ruled meters were "proper for regulatory purposes only and definitely improper from a revenue standpoint."

The Municipal News article claimed the contract was perfectly acceptable, and deplored how councilmembers who supported the meter plan "have been subjected to almost-libelous attacks by forces opposing parking meters. These attacks have not been backed by any presentation of evidence, and on the basis of the available facts are clearly unjustified and unfair."

The article refrained from commenting on the merits of the lawsuit, but did express hope that the city would prevail, ending the "petty bickering" and allowing the city "at long last, [to] have its meters." This wish came true by the following year.

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.