Seattle Now & Then: The Musical Baptists of Fremont

(click to enlarge)

THEN: If I have counted correctly this ca. 1930 Fremont Baptist Orchestra is appointed with three cellos, eleven violins and violas, two saxophones, two clarinets, one coronet, one oboe, one flute and two members who seem to be hiding their instruments. (courtesy Fremont Baptist Church)
THEN: If I have counted correctly this ca. 1930 Fremont Baptist Orchestra is appointed with three cellos, eleven violins and violas, two saxophones, two clarinets, one coronet, one oboe, one flute and two members who seem to be hiding their instruments. (courtesy Fremont Baptist Church)
Members of the congregation mingle with Palm Sunday’s musicians at the front of the church on April 5, last.  Judy Gay, the church’s pastor, stands in her pulpit robe in the front line, left of center.
NOW: Members of the congregation mingle with Palm Sunday’s musicians at the front of the church on April 5, last. Judy Gay, the church’s pastor, stands in her pulpit robe in the front line, left of center.

Many Seattle churches got started in the 1890s in what were then Seattle’s suburbs with help from their “mother churches.”  For Fremont Baptist that was Seattle First Baptist. These Baptists of Fremont also got help from a railroad car.

The Evangel, a Baptist “Chapel Car,” arrived in the late winter of 1892 and was switched onto a spur near the Bryant Lumber Mill, Fremont’s big employer then. With 26 northend Baptists meeting on board, the church was organized on March 20.

The congregation’s first frame sanctuary overlooked Fremont from 36th Street, and its replacement, the brick church did too. It was built in 1924 – in eight months – and was distinguished by two big signs.  First, in large block letters “Fremont Baptist” was painted on its exposed south façade facing Seattle, and in 1950 the roof began to glow with what the church history describes as a “large, dignified neon sign.”

Fremont Baptist was also distinguished by its music.  Still neither the date nor most of the members of the church orchestra shown here are identified.  An exception is the postman-cellist Jesse Willits, posing far right and three seats to his right (your left) his violinist wife Rowena, in white.  In the “now” photo far right, Jesse and Rowena’s granddaughter Mary Allen holds in the place of her forebear’s cello a photo blow-up of the historical scene.

Next Sunday, May 17, from 2 to 5 p.m. Fremont Baptist and the Fremont Historical Society are co-sponsoring an Open House of the church at 717 N. 36th St. Tours and an exhibit of church and neighborhood photographs will be musically accompanied by the church’s Estey pipe organ, which started life as a theater organ in Bremerton.

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Mary Allen, a 3rd generation Fremont Baptist, points out her grandmother Rowena Willits.
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Dedicated on March 24, 1901 the wooden sanctuary was 44x66 feet and built at a cost of $3,200. Especially important for a Baptist congregation it had a baptistery, but Fremont Baptist had no basement. That was added later.
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Between 1919 and 1924 more contiguous lots were bought on the site and on April 7, 1924 ground was broken for the new sanctuary, which was dedicated only a few months later on December 7. This picture is most likely a record of the ground breaking for the congregation’s new home, which was started first beside its old home.

5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Musical Baptists of Fremont”

  1. According to Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society records, and the Estey list compiled by E. A. Boadway for the Boston Organ Club, opus 1531 was installed as the house organ at Bremerton’s Dream Theater in 1917. Fremont Baptist Church purchased the instrument for $2,500.00 in 1924. The move and reinstallation was carried out by Balcom and Provorse (later Balcom and Vaughan) Master Organ Builders, of Seattle.
    The ProQuest online digital version of the 1918 Sanborn Insurance Atlas for Bremerton shows two downtown locations identified as “Moving Pictures”, 230 2nd and 410 Pacific. Both approximate the 30 x 90 foot dimensions of the atypical silent era storefront moviehouse. In Polk’s City of Bremerton and Kitsap County Directory for 1917-18, the 2nd Avenue theater is listed as the Rex (236 2nd), while the theater on Pacific is listed as the Dream (408 Pacific), Eugene Oswald manager. By 1925, Sanborn shows the latter as a restaurant and pool hall, so a safe assumption is the Dream either moved or went out of business when the organ was sold.

    I found no address online for the Dream, and the Rex was a happy bonus to this search. Thanks to Darlene at SPL for the Polk’s listings. Anyone recognize the kindly old bearded gent to the right in Jean’s photo?

    http://www.esteyorgan.com/Opus1531.html

    http://www.pstos.org/instruments/wa/bremerton/dream.htm

    .

  2. Thanks for your scholarly response – well plural, responses. As attentive readers may know this is not the first time David Jeffers has responded to something that appears here. David your close readings and additions are much appreciated by Jean, Berangere and I, and, naturally, we hope you will keep examining and elaborating.
    Paul
    P.S. I think the “bearded gent” on the right of the “now” photo is surely a kindly looking Baptist, but not so old really.

  3. John Leland Bryant Haruo of Fremont Baptist was in Bham recently where he heard Kate Campbell talk about my “prodigy” nephew at the Hymn Society.
    I don’t know how much a prodigy he is but I do know my great Uncle James, a violin player woulda been right at home with yall in the 30′s; maybe my Alabama Momma too, playing her tuba.
    Two thoughts,one if Elder Babb and the Madison Bumblebees get out that way–David Byrne of Talking Heads loves em–or yall go in with the Episcopalians to get em out there, give it a go. They’re from Winnsboro SC and were a big hit at New Orleans Jazz Festival couple years ago.
    And get a bus or whatever to go to next Sacred Harp singing in Oregon and here my NE Alabama acquaintance and soundtrack for Cold Mtn in Person. Haruo heard em last Monday night in Bham.

    Blessings.

    Sfox
    See what Haruo said atbl.com about my nephew

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