2011 Find of the Month Archive

Alaskan Way Viaduct

Ivar letter

Seattle's citizenry was generally enthusiastic about building the new Alaskan Way Viaduct. However, its construction disrupted normal life in the work zone. In 1950, Ivar Haglund wrote to the city's traffic engineer complaining that construction-related lane closures on Alaskan Way were limiting access to businesses on the water side of the street, leaving them no alleys for delivery and no parking areas. He asked that at least one additional lane be opened, as it would "be considerable help to the great volume of fish handling and shipping."

Haglund wrote, "I feel that we should have some immediate and friendly consideration, and you will find us cooperative and also very seriously concerned." In response to this letter, along with a similar one from the Washington Fish and Oyster Co., the city engineer wrote a dispatch to the Public Safety Committee in which he outlined traffic changes that he hoped would alleviate the construction difficulties.

Even in the midst of the inconvenience to his business, however, Haglund was quick to note that "we are all definitely pleased to see the Viaduct come and are interested in anything that will further its speedy completion." This civic pride extended through the construction period and culminated in Resolution 16304, passed by City Council on April 6, 1953, to mark the occasion of the viaduct's debut. The document expressed appreciation to the mayor and two city engineers who guided the project from conception through construction, and stated that "this magnificent thoroughfare stands out as one of the greatest structural achievements in the history of Seattle."

Spanish-American War veterans

Spanish-American War Veterans

One of Seattle's earliest celebrations of its veterans came in 1899 upon the return of the First Washington Volunteer Regiment from the Spanish-American War. The 1200 volunteers fought around Manila for six months, with 129 killed and wounded. According to a City Council resolution, the soldiers "won a world wide reputation for bravery on the field of battle and have brought renown to the State of Washington."

The resolution proposed that "some especial recognition should be given" to the soldiers as they were mustered out of service, calling for a committee to be formed to raise funds for a "suitable celebration" that included fireworks. Council designated the mayor, representatives from the three daily newspapers, the Board of Education, public school teachers, and the Chamber of Commerce to plan and fund this event. Ordinances were passed to pay for decorating and illuminating the streets for the celebration, as well as to ban streetcars from the area during the multi-day event.

The regiment arrived in San Francisco in November 1899 and from there made their way back to Washington. Dozens of boats greeted the Seattle contingent's ship as it arrived in Elliott Bay, and tens of thousands of people cheered them in the streets. Celebrations continued for three days.

Seattle continued to look for ways to memorialize the veterans, and eventually decided to name a public space in honor of those who had died in the war. Of the two places eventually proposed - the "City Park" and a triangle at Yesler and Second Avenue South - a committee of veterans chose the former, which became Volunteer Park.

Chinese Exclusion Act

Chinese Exclusion

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended most immigration from China for ten years and blocked Chinese residents from becoming citizens. During the difficult economic period of the mid-1880s, Chinese workers were seen as taking the jobs of white residents. Resentment spilled over into riots, as mobs first in Tacoma and then in Seattle forced their Chinese residents to leave the city.

The Exclusion Act was renewed in 1892 for another ten years. As its 1902 expiration date began to loom, local governments on the west coast wanted to make sure the rules stayed in effect. Clerk File 12298 contains a missive from the mayor of San Francisco urging Seattle to join in lobbying Congress to extend the law, "as the Pacific States are exposed to Chinese immigration... If Chinese coolies can freely come, it means the displacement of our white population."

Enclosed with the mayor's letter was an announcement of a California state convention to discuss ways to ensure the Act was extended, along with a "Call to Action" addressed to the citizens of California. This document warned that "should the bars be let down an enormous immigration of Chinese coolies would inundate this country and overwhelm its free working population. The standard of American civilization, our schools, churches, employment and family life, our greatness in peace and power in war are at issue."

Seattle mayor Thomas Humes forwarded the San Francisco materials to City Council. In the transmittal letter, Humes wrote, "It is my opinion that the re-enactment of this law would prove of great benefit to the people of this city and state, and that the same is desired by the people generally. Any action that you may take, therefore, apprising Congress of the will and desire of the people of this State in reference thereto will meet my most hearty approval."

The law was indeed renewed in 1902, and remained in effect until finally repealed in 1943.

Air parks

AIr parks

In the 1940s, there was discussion of building one or more "air parks" in Seattle. Commercial traffic had Sea-Tac Airport, which opened in 1944 and had a civilian terminal by 1949. Meanwhile, private pilots and "air visitors" were looking for a place to land within the city limits.

Interestingly, women seemed to have been the most vocal in lobbying the City Council to build an air park in Seattle. A Mrs. Robert Wittig wrote to the council in 1946 expressing great disappointment in the lack of any plan for air parks. A Seattle native who had moved east of the mountains, she and her husband made frequent trips to the city for business and pleasure, and had bought a light plane for that purpose. She wrote, "As part of a vast number of people far from shopping and business sections, we are increasingly conscious of the value and inevitable progress of aviation, of which the average urban housewife (and a few city 'fathers') are grossly ignorant and totally unaware." She argued that air parks were inevitable, and by delaying their construction the city would be spending more money in the long run. She also implored, "Please don't let the unfortunate 'buzzing' of a few 'screwballs'…sour you on anything as big as Aviation."

The following year, Lorinda Miskell wrote to City Council on behalf of the Seattle chapter of the International Organization of Women Pilots, also known as the 99'ers. The group was concerned that Seattle was falling behind other cities "in opening its doors to private flying and progress. Many would be 'air visitors' now avoid our city because of the expense and inconvenience in transportation from one of the outlying private fields." The letter closes by arguing, "Just as a few years ago, good highways brought growth to a city, now in this day and age, accessible Air Parks will bring Commerce."

Urban livestock

Urban Livestock

Livestock of various types was a common sight in early Seattle. In 1894, a Mr. Wolfe wrote to the City Council requesting that he be refunded the two dollar impound fee he had paid to reclaim his lost cow. He explained that dogs had driven the cow out of his pasture at 22nd and Lane "through no fault of his own," at which point the cow "was seized upon by the poundmaster." The file shows that the police chief investigated the matter and agreed that the petitioner's facts were correct, and therefore recommended that the refund be given.

The same police chief had previously written to the Council requesting reimbursement for money spent recovering a stolen police horse. The horse went missing from a pasture in south King County, and Chief Rogers "sent two men up White River on horseback to look him up." After the search went as far as Tacoma, Rogers presumed the horse was not lost but stolen. He printed up flyers offering a $25 reward for its recovery, which resulted in the horse being located in North Bend and returned. Concerned about being reimbursed - he apparently did not get prior authorization to offer the reward - Rogers explained, "I took upon myself to offer the Reward as time is a very important factor in a matter of that kind," and further noted that $45 was a good investment to gain the return of a $150 horse.

Ten years later, animals were starting to be pushed out of the city limits. Mrs. George Sgorzelski wrote to Council in 1903 asking that something be done about cows running loose. She complained that several neighbors "have bells on their cows and they are running at large both night and day and are a nuisance to us." Her husband, who worked nights, was unable to sleep during the day because of the noise, which "we would like…to be stopped at once." She also requested that the boundary of the cow-free zone be moved north to 52nd Street; not coincidentally, she lived on 51st.

Swimming pool technology

Correspondence from the Parks Department illustrates how far swimming pool technology has come in recent decades. In 1920, Seattle's Parks Superintendent, J.W. Thompson, wrote to his counterpart in Spokane about that city's plans for a new heated pool. Thompson showed his skepticism, writing, "One of our Park Commissioners…has been very anxious to put in a heated tank at Alki. I have not been in favor of this tank. We have a magnificent one here in the city, called the Crystal Pool, and there has been a great deal of trouble on account of the disinfectant used causing sore ears and eyes." In another letter, Thompson described a pool in Yakima that used "an artesian well of sulphur," calling it "the best arrangement I have ever seen."

Apart from issues surrounding the heating of swimming pools, there was also the problem of keeping them clean - especially when the pool had dirt walls. The manager of the Alki pool, H.G. Viney, wrote a report in 1928 detailing the difficulty he was having clearing the pool of "seaweed, boards, and glass." Only three walls of the pool were cemented, while the fourth wall and the floor were dirt, causing the water to become "exceedingly muddy."

Viney wrote, "The seaweed in particular was very hard to clean out owing to the fact that the pool is the same depth at each end and we cannot entirely drain all the water out. This makes raking almost impossible." The Fire Department assisted by attempting to hose out the seaweed, but "did not meet with any great success."

Changing the water was no easy task either. "The tank must be filled at extreme high tide and emptied at low tide. Sometimes high tide being at 2 A.M. which means that someone must be on hand to close the gate at that time." He explained that a thirteen-foot tide was needed to fill the pool completely; lower tides resulted in only five or six feet of water.

Viney ended his report with a plea to cement the pool, predicting the improved facility would be "a great success," while leaving it as is "would raise much unfavorable comment."

Ball bouncing ban

Clerk File 263824 tells the tale of Mr. Horst Petzold, a West Seattleite who was tormented by the sound of bouncing balls. Petzold met with Councilmember Phyllis Lamphere on May 16, 1969, to discuss whether the city's noise ordinance could be amended to include a prohibition on bouncing balls where they would annoy others.

After this meeting, Petzold hired a lawyer to prepare a proposed ordinance to transmit to City Council. The ordinance declared unlawful "the steady and repeated bouncing of a ball on a pavement or other hard surface in a public place or any other place so as to annoy or disturb the quiet, comfort or repose of persons in any dwelling or residence in the vicinity."

The Public Safety Committee sent this language to the police chief for his review. Chief Ramon responded with skepticism, saying that the amendment "would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to enforce… Applied literally, this ordinance could prohibit the playing of basketball any place in the City of Seattle." He noted that Mr. Petzold lived several blocks from a school or playfield, so assumed that "some people in his area have put up basketball hoops and the children use them." He recommended the petition be filed without action.

While the committee did invite Petzold to a meeting where his petition would be discussed, they took Chief Ramon's advice and did not go on to ban the bouncing of balls within city limits.

Elk gone rogue


Part of the Board of Park Commissioners' meeting on January 9, 1914, was taken up discussing the issue of city-owned elk gone rogue. The group was read a letter received from a Mrs. Agnes Olds, who was requesting compensation from the board. Mrs. Olds was the owner of a small ranch on Mercer Island which was an unwilling host to the aforementioned elk.

This herd usually resided in Seward Park, but escaped in September 1913, swimming across Lake Washington and taking up residence on Mrs. Olds' ranch. In the several days they spent on her property, they did an estimated $125 in damage to her orchard and garden.

The board decided to hand the matter over to Assistant Superintendent Fuller, who had removed the elk from the ranch. (Unfortunately the minutes do not specify how the removal was accomplished.)

At the next board meeting, it was reported that Fuller had visited the Mercer Island property and determined the claim of $125 to be "a reasonable one." The board approved the payment to compensate Mrs. Olds for her unwanted visitors.

World War II dam protection

In May 1943, the British Royal Air Force blew up two dams in Germany. This led to an exchange of letters between the superintendents of the lighting departments in Seattle and Tacoma.

Tacoma's Verne Kent wrote to Eugene Hoffman of Seattle City Light, saying, "The recent torpedoing of two dams in Germany (I hope they wreck them all) brings to mind the enclosed letter we received March 12, 1942." He attached a communication from F.D. Camerer, who had spent several years working as a rigger and hoisting engineer on several dams. Camerer claimed to have had a conversation with a Japanese Navy commander who said, "We'll torpedo your dams from planes."

Camerer believed that the Japanese "can and will send a couple of planes" to torpedo dams in Washington State, followed by "military movements to and fro and maybe some alibi-ing by politicos." To prevent catastrophic damage, he suggested hanging wire nets upstream to block torpedoes. He claimed that "what this country needs is more American initiative and less party hack Bureaucracy."

Kent wanted to know what Superintendent Hoffman thought of Camerer's idea. Hoffman said he had "no information as to what type of net is needed to stop a torpedo." He felt that the most effective dam protection would consist of "ample smoke screen facilities and personnel…[and] adequate anti-aircraft protection."

Hoffman wrote that he had repeatedly discussed the issue with military officers and Federal Power Commission officials. In what reads as perhaps a sarcastic tone, he told Kent, "I had just about come to the conclusion that the Army was satisfied that we were in no danger here, since they have done nothing to protect the power plants along the Pacific Coast, and they certainly are the heart of our industry, for without electrical energy nothing can be done to manufacture products for our war effort." He felt there was renewed interest in the subject since the British attacks, and that he expected to take an Army officer up to the Skagit dams in the following week.

Chinese New Year fireworks

In January 1884, a petition was submitted to the mayor and city council by nine Chinese-American residents, asking that the ban on exploding fireworks within the city limits be suspended during that year's Chinese New Year celebrations.

The petitioners explain that it is "the great national holiday of the Chinese empire and a holiday universally observed throughout all parts of the world" and that "the firing of fire crackers and the exploding of Chinese bombs constitutes one of the main features of the celebration…and is an important and essential part thereof."

Knowing that one of the reasons for the ban was the possibility of fires, the petition argues that "at this time of year there is no danger whatever of fire from the firing of the said fire crackers, bombs and explosives." The petitioners promised that "the greatest care will be maintained" to prevent fires, and also offered to pay for police or watchmen to guard against any conflagrations.

The petition notes that "in all other cities of the Pacific Coast where Chinese residents constitute any considerable portion of the population of the city and where similar city ordinances prohibiting the firing of fire crackers are in force it is usual and customary without exception to grant, under restrictions, and with such provisos as the common council of the said cities see fit to impose, the privileges prayed for during the continuance of the said holiday."

There is no council document attached to the petition, so we do not know whether the prohibition was suspended for the holiday, thus fulfilling the petitioners' request to be allowed to explode firecrackers without being held "liable in any way to prosecution therefor."

Seattle Supersonics


Clerk File 257656 contains the following resolution adopted by the Washington State House of Representatives on March 4, 1967:

WHEREAS, Basketball is a great sport for the youth of our United States; and

WHEREAS, The State of Washington is a great basketball state; and

WHEREAS, The National Basketball Association has seen fit to establish a team in the City of Seattle; and

WHEREAS, The City of Seattle has wisely awarded a franchise to the National Basketball Association for a basketball team to be known as the "Seattle Supersonics"; and

WHEREAS, The Seattle Supersonics is the first major league team to represent the Pacific Northwest;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, By the House of Representatives, that the City of Seattle, Mayor Braman, members of the City Council, and the officials of the Seattle Center are congratulated on their foresight and efforts to bring a major league team to the City of Seattle;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives wishes the greatest success to the men responsible for bringing the major leagues to our state, namely Seattle Supersonics owners, Eugene V. Klein and Samuel Schulman; Seattle Supersonics general manager, Don Richman; and Seattle Supersonics business manager, Richard Vertlieb;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the City of Seattle and to the Seattle Supersonics.

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.