Published in the Seattle Times online on Jan. 20, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Jan. 23, 2022
Wallingford’s main-street movie theater is ‘ever in our hearts’
By Clay Eals
Along Wallingford’s main street has stood a theater known since 1957 as the Guild 45th. It’s been shuttered since 2017. Early this month, its sign and prow marquee, deemed a safety hazard after a delivery truck hit them, were torn down.
The marquee recently had injected pandemic-era whimsy and inspiration. Starting Dec. 18, 2020, its east face displayed just one word: “Scarfface.” It switched last July 18 to another movie pun: “Vax to the Future.”
The pointed humor masked a dour trend. Virus-related restrictions have sent revenue plummeting at movie theaters nationwide. Insiders note that some demographic groups (such as older women) have stopped going to movies altogether, which in turn affects the types of films in production.
’Twas not always thus. Before video rentals, DVDs and the internet, not to mention TV, neighborhood movie theaters were ubiquitous magnets. For Wallingford, the love affair started a century ago.
What became the Guild 45th at 2115 N. 45th St. was opened in 1921 by W.C. Code as the Paramount Theatre. The 40-by-90-foot building seated 475 and hosted movies and live productions, with occasional political or business gatherings.
It was rechristened the 45th Street Theatre on Sept. 1, 1933, by its new owner, theater veteran H.W. Bruen. With a neon marquee, the art-deco mini-palace became what The Seattle Times called “symbolic in architecture and design of the Century of Progress.”
Two-plus decades later, in December 1956, the fledgling, non-mainstream Seattle Cinema Guild began bookings of classic U.S. and foreign films at the 45th.
The next year, the remodeled theater acquired its present name and became a so-called art house, screening “the world’s greatest” foreign films, banning anyone under 18 and supplying free coffee and cigarettes between shows. The first offering was a French sexploitation flick, “Companions of the Night.”
The fare had broadened considerably by February 1983 when, four years after joining the Seven Gables chain, the Guild 45th appended an auditorium with 200 steeply raked seats two storefronts to its west. In 1989, it became part of Landmark Theatres.
Citing too many alterations, the city landmarks board voted 6-2 in May 2016 not to protect the Guild 45th, and it closed abruptly 13 months later. Early in 2021, its deteriorating structures, including an ex-restaurant between them, were painted with a colorful mural by Urban ArtWorks to deter random graffiti.
What will become of the Guild 45th site? One clue is that last November, LA-based owner 2929 Entertainment applied for a demolition permit.
The 1933 films on the marquee in our “Then” photo provide us with additional insight: While the theater certainly is “Ever in My Heart,” no one would be surprised if it were to give way to yet another faceless, modern monolith — like the disaster befalling the characters in “Deluge.”
Special thanks to Feliks Banel for his help on this installment.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column as soon as it’s posted mid-day.
Below are two added photos taken Dec. 18, 2020, by Seattle architect and guerrilla artist Todd Lawson of his clever and uncannily realistic marquee posts, 6 additional current photos by Jean Sherrard of the bedraggled Guild 45th (4 from Jan. 5 and 2 from Jan. 20), a late 1937 photo from the Puget Sound Regional Archives, 2 sets of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board minutes, and 22 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.
(Published in The Seattle Times online on Jan. 13, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Jan. 16, 2022)
At 40, ‘Now & Then’ celebrates the dawn of photography
By Jean Sherrard
This Sunday, “Now & Then” blows out 40 candles, celebrating the nation’s (if not the world’s) longest-running column dedicated to repeat photography.
It began on Jan. 17, 1982, when founder Paul Dorpat published his first comparison, an exuberant parade along Fourth Avenue welcoming home World War I artillery soldiers in 1919.
After more than 2,000 columns and four decades, we think it’s apropos to express belated gratitude for a 184-year-old gift.
The story begins in 1838, when artist and inventor Louis Daguerre positioned a boxy device in the window of his Paris studio to capture the dance of light and shadow on the busy street below. For at least four minutes, he exposed the plate and instantly achieved a fistful of firsts:
The first photo of a city.
The first portrayal of human beings in a cityscape.
The first shoeshine caught on camera.
At first glance, the Boulevard du Temple in central Paris seems curiously devoid of people, save for one gent standing relatively still and getting his shoes polished by a bootblack on the sidewalk. The many hundreds of passersby were assuredly moving too quickly to be snared by the long exposure.
The long row of four- and five-story buildings housed many well-attended theatres. Parisians nicknamed it the Boulevard du Crime after the immensely popular vice melodramas they presented.
Paris, however, was on the verge of one of the greatest transformations in its long history. In 1852, a nephew of Napoleon Buonaparte grandly proclaimed himself Emperor Napoleon III and envisioned a capitol suitable for a French empire.
The narrow, medieval streets and alleys, beloved by many Parisians, were to be widened and straightened. Entire neighborhoods would be leveled while parks, grand avenues, plazas and vast public-works projects would be added. Beginning in 1853 and for decades to come, the City of Light became a construction zone.
The Boulevard du Crime, along with most of its theatres, was demolished in 1862, to the dismay of dramatic audiences, replaced by the expanded plaza now known as Place de la Republique.
Today’s square is a popular gathering spot for Parisians young and old. It has hosted events from concerts to mass demonstrations. A bronze statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, stands at its center, surrounded by figures representing Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Rights to Daguerre’s revolutionary invention, the daguerreotype process, were acquired by the French government in 1839 and offered unconditionally as a gift to humanity. Within months, daguerreotype cameras had spread throughout the world, recording images that we treasure — and, yes, repeat.
First, we offer boundless thanks to Berangere Lomont, whose friendship, generosity, and breathtaking photography have always provided inspiration and joy.
We also congratulate Paul Dorpat on the column he created 40 years ago. His remarkable contributions to our region’s history are unparalleled and will stand as monuments to his boundless curiosity, passion and scholarship.
We include a few photos of Paul exploring his beloved Paris in 2005 with photographers Berangere and Jean in tow. Also making an appearance is Paul’s dear pal Bill Burden, who joined us in Paris.
Let’s begin with a hilarious photo and video of Paul, meeting his twin in Paris:
We are delighted that PacificNW magazine of The Seattle Times granted Clay the opportunity to prepare a cover story on Ruth Prins for the print edition of Jan. 9, 2022.
Below are links to:
The cover story
The personal backstory
A wide array of “web extras.”
These items include kinescopes of “Wunda Wunda” shows unseen since they first aired in the 1950s and 1960s, along with photos, children’s drawings, fan letters, news clippings, songs, promotional items and original writings by Ruth Prins — all of which document the saga of the local TV pioneer who many of us as youngsters learned from and knew fondly as Wunda Wunda.
Published in the Seattle Times online on Dec. 30, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Jan. 2, 2022
Daughter’s ‘superpower’ uncovers father’s early Seattle story
By Clay Eals
Helen Sing thinks her father is the story, but I think it’s Helen.
Last May, her brother Allen opened a box in his garage and discovered a photo of 44 Frye meat-packing workers in what today we call Sodo. Therein, Helen’s father, James Sui Sing, stands eighth from the left.
The Frye plant was destroyed by the shocking Feb. 18, 1943, test-flight crash of a top-secret Boeing XB-29 bomber that killed at least 32 people. Helen knew her father was not among the deceased, but his early life remained largely a mystery that she longed to solve.
A DNA test had helped her locate hundreds of cross-country relatives and a flurry of photos and documents. Also, Helen had retained, after her dad’s 1985 death, 50 letters she had rescued from the garbage, written in Chinese from relatives in China.
The pandemic further unleashed the Rainier Beach resident’s inner bloodhound. Dating the Frye photo was key.
She consulted Seattle Public Library, Wing Luke Museum and Frye Art Museum (it holds the surviving art collection of plant owner Charles Frye and wife Emma). She studied everything from U.S. Census records to period fashion and hairstyles.
Her chief corroboration was a wall calendar in the photo itself (on post at far left). A high-res scan revealed its month: November 1931.
Along the way, Helen unearthed myriad other details, such as her dad’s true birthdate, Feb. 29, 1904, his tenure as a Frye printer (1930-1935) and later as a restaurateur, plus the surprise that he served, likely in the late 1940s, as Seattle chair of the Chinese Nationalist Party.
Her resulting dossier is an enduring family portrait and gift that reflects skill and tenacity. “I know a little bit about a lot,” Helen says, “but I like to think that my ‘superpower’ is that I know who to ask and where to search for information.”
She also feels “the guiding hand of my father, gently pushing me toward clues and answers and people to help me.” It’s “the stone that ripples through the water.”
Her lesson nestles snugly in this time of New Year’s resolutions:
“If you can understand the circumstances of your relatives’ lives and the choices required of them, the struggles they endured but kept hidden from their children, then you might arrive at a point of respect and gratitude for the sacrifices they made to raise their families to the best of their abilities.
“I regret not knowing my dad’s history until well after he passed away. I encourage everyone to start collecting memories from their elder relatives and document as much as you can.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Also, we include (1) a video interview of Helen Sing, (2) an illustrated essay by Helen, “The Stone That Ripples Through the Water: A Journey Through Time,” and (3) a portfolio of photos of a current exhibition kindly provided by the Frye Art Museum.
And at the very bottom, courtesy of stalwart archivist Gavin MacDougall, we add a link to Paul Dorpat‘s original 2013 “Now & Then” on the Frye plant, plus a related column from 1996.
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Video of Helen Sing
= = = = =
The Stone That Ripples
Through the Water:
A Journey Through Time
Notes for My Family by Helen C. Sing
(Click and click again to enlarge photos)
Standing at the water’s edge, as you pick up a stone and drop it into the water, ripples extend out in concentric circles. The stone creates waves that grow wider from its point of entry.
This is a story of how with one dropped stone into the water, I found myself unexpectedly unwrapping family mysteries, each revealing more discoveries about my dad, James S. Sing, as he established his life in Seattle after his 1928 arrival.
My four brothers and I knew about our dad’s life after he married our mom in February 1946. From that point, our lives were documented with black-and-white photos of a growing family, typical of many Americans.
We knew very little about our dad’s life, “pre-mom.” As kids growing up in the late 1940s and 1950s, we exhibited an extreme lack of curiosity about our parents’ histories.
After collecting family narratives from our mom’s Canadian Chow branch for a 2006 family reunion in Vancouver, B.C., and updating the 190-plus family narratives in 2020, our paternal Sing side weighed in at a paltry 15 members at the time. In January 2019, we knew only that our dad had an older brother who lived in Portland, Oregon, by the name of Frank, whom we met, perhaps once or twice.
Dad James passed away in January 1985, and mom Nellie in March 2016. In our combined family trees, the Chow branches facing the West grew in leaps and bounds compared to the Sing branch, sadly lopsided. We knew next to nothing about our dad.
In November 2018, I bought a “23andMe” DNA test kit at a Black Friday sale because it was half-price. Why not?
By January 2019, the initial results had started populating my emails. By the beginning of 2020, I received three “2nd cousin” hits from New York and one from Boston. A 2nd cousin match has a greater-than-99% likelihood of being detected.
On February 15, 2020, just as the coronavirus became big local news, with Seattle as the initial ground zero, I started communicating with these cousins. None of the them knew each other. I asked the three New York cousins if they would be willing to move from “23andMe” messaging to a group email to share information and photos.
On February 25, 2020, we started sharing information, trying to figure out if they were related on my maternal or paternal side. On March 4, I visited mom Nellie’s grave on the fourth anniversary of her passing, took a photo of my parents’ headstone and sent it to our group chat.
By March 5, a translation of dad’s headstone showed that James was from the same village and had the same family name as the great-grandfather of Bet and Jeff. Nearly five hours later that day, cousin Kat emailed a 1979 photo to me showing her grandparents, father and uncle immigrating to the United States, stopping in Seattle on their way to New York City.
In the middle of the photo, taken at Sea-Tac Airport, was my dad, James, sitting in a wheelchair! It was eventually confirmed that James was Kat’s great-grandmother’s big brother. I had an Aunt Chun! I was able to send a photo of my grandmother “DONG Shee” to these cousins. She would be these younger cousins’ great-great grandmother.
From February 25 to March 5, in a matter of 10 days after sharing photos and information by group email, we determined that Bet and Jeff’s great grandfather Frank was James’ older brother and that Kat’s great grandmother Chun was James’ younger sister.
I knew that a young James had traveled to the United States in 1917 with his father CHOO Chung Hock and his uncle. At some point, James’s father told him to return to China, as his mother was ill. Older brother Frank (b. 1896) was married with two daughters and had remained behind in Guangdong Toishan, China.
James married wife #1, who later miscarried twins. When James and Frank left for America, Frank left behind his wife and two daughters, ages 4 and 2. Based on these ages, we determined that they left China in 1925.
In May 2021, Kat and I determined that the 2nd cousin from Boston (Henry) was descended from their great-grandmother Chun’s branch. Kat’s grandfather and Henry’s grandmother were siblings. We believe that between all branches, including those of James, Frank, Chun and their uncle, whose family also settled in the northeastern United States, along with the family of their younger brother, Siu Wai, there are likely more than 100 living relatives!
The East side of my family tree started sprouting sturdy branches. What are the odds that five cousins, strangers to each other, living in different parts of the country (Seattle, New York city, Brooklyn, Rochester and Boston) would take the same consumer DNA test around the same time? These younger cousins are my first cousins, twice removed, due to our age and generational differences.
In spring 1985, in one of my visits to mom Nellie after Dad James passed away in 1985, I saw that Mom had thrown away a stack of blue aerogram letters addressed to Dad. Mom explained that they were of no value to us because we could not read Chinese and we didn’t know the people in the letters.
Instinctively, I grabbed the whole stack of correspondence from the recycle bin, stuffed the pile into a garbage bag and placed it in the back of my closet.
Fast forward to June 2020: After Frank left for America with James in 1925, his wife adopted a son. KS was born in 1929. Frank’s two daughters eventually married Americans and immigrated to New York. KS remained behind in Hong Kong, married and had two sons, all eventually immigrating to the U.S.
After locating the two sons (my nephews CT and TM), I pulled out that garbage bag full of letters left untouched for 35 years in my closet. Of the 50 letters, 15 were from KS to his Uncle James in Seattle. After scanning the letters, TM provided general translations for the letters from James’s mother, younger brother, wife #1, daughter-in-law and granddaughter as well as correspondence from his father to his Uncle James.
After I had James’ headstone translated, I noticed that his 1904 birth year did not match “1903,” his listed year of birth on his legal documents. James wrote his headstone inscription and provided it to the monument company before his passing.
Translated, it says that he was “born in the 29th year of Guangxu.” Emperor Guangxu lived from 1871 to 1908. I found an article online on how to read a Chinese tombstone. It stated that you add the number of years to the start of the emperor’s reign.
In Guangxu’s case, he was a 4-year-old child emperor beginning in 1875. So, 29 + 1875 = 1904.
Eventually searching through the lunar calendars for 1903 and 1904, along with a clue from one of the 1970 letters from wife #1, in which she stated that she celebrated his (Western) birthday in April that year, I determined that dad’s lunar birthday of Jan. 14 (1st lunar month, 14th day) converted to a Gregorian/Western birthday of Feb. 29, 1904, a leap year.
Because 1970 was not a leap year, wife #1 mistakenly took his Gregorian birthday (Feb. 29) as his lunar birthday (second lunar month, 29th day) and converted it to a Gregorian date of April 5, 1970.
I don’t know why he recorded 1903 as his birth year unless he needed to be older, or perhaps because 1903 was a leap year in the lunar calendar, or he was confused with the Gregorian calendar.
In May 2021, brother Allen scanned and sent a photo he found in a box in his garage of Dad James standing among 44 employees while working as a printer at Frye & Co., a meat-packing plant in Sodo on Airport Way S. I wanted to date the photo to determine when dad worked at the plant.
Nieces Vanessa and Nicole scanned the photo at high resolution and noticed a wall calendar that seemed to indicate 30 days in a month starting on a Sunday, with the name of the month appearing to indicate a longer month such as September or November.
After finding articles about the Feb. 18, 1943, crash of the Boeing XB-29 bomber from nearby Boeing Field into the Frye plant, I wondered if James was still working at the plant in 1943.
In my research, I read that plant owner Charles Frye and wife Emma had an extensive collection of paintings, many of which were hung at the plant when they ran out of space at their First Hill mansion. Noticing that many large paintings could be seen on the plant wall in the Frye photo, I contacted Cory Gooch, chief registrar at the Frye Museum.
One of the men in the photo looked like the owner, Charles Frye. She confirmed that it was he. Charles Frye passed away on May 1, 1940. This left the calendar options of November 1931, September 1935 or November 1936.
Another man in the photo, wearing a heavy overcoat over his suit, seemed to indicate November rather than a balmier Seattle September. A search of women’s fashion and hairstyles suggested an early 1930’s date. An ad showing women’s fashion had a dress and hairstyle very similar to the one worn by the young woman standing in front of the counter (center) in the Frye photo. The ad line says, in part, “Only 1932 conditions make these low prices possible.”
Cory and Kayla Trail, collections & exhibitions assistant at the Frye, found a 1931 plant survey that seemed to indicate that due to the location of the Frye office, the fire would have been survivable. Frye property records from the Puget Sound Regional Branch of Washington State Archives sent from a friend showed that the office building constructed in 1927 contained a full basement.
Both my brother Phil and I remember seeing a second photo of James and another Chinese employee standing at their print-shop workstation seemingly in a basement along with other employees at their workstations. The photographer may have stood on a stairway or floor above the workstations. In the first Frye photo, another Chinese man stands 12th from the left.]
In June 2021, while searching the Seattle Public Library website, I found the 1940 U.S. Census and located “James S. Sing.” James’s entry stated he was living at 719 ½ King St., Seattle. James filed his “paper son” documents (see footnote below) on Jan. 19, 1928 in San Francisco. By December 1928, James was already in Seattle.
In July 2021, I went to Chinatown to try to locate where dad lived in 1940 and at least from 1935 on, based on the census. I found that the current location of the Wing Luke Museum is at 719 King St. and that the Freeman Hotel was located in the upper two floors of the museum.
In August 2021, I emailed Special Collections at Seattle Public Library trying to determine when James worked at the Frye plant and when he worked as a printer at the print shop in Chinatown. Our family knew he had also been a printer in a Chinatown print shop.
A wonderful librarian replied that James Sing worked at Frye & Co as a printer from 1930 to 1935, based on the R.L. Polk city directories.
From 1937 to 1946, he worked as a printer/manager at the Chinese Star Printing Co., at 711 King St. We had not known the name of the print shop in Chinatown.
The mention of “star” jogged a memory, and I looked in Dad’s stack of correspondence and found a receipt/invoice pad with the name “Chinese Star Printing Co.” with a photo of a military man on the cover. Further research revealed that the star emblem was the official symbol on the flag of the Republic of China (1928-1949; Taiwan). The military man was a young Chiang Kai-shek, the military leader of the Republic of China.
The information on dad working at Frye & Co. (1930-1935) along with the fashion ad, would confirm that the Frye employee photo was taken in November 1931.
In September 2021, brother Allen found two more photos of Dad James in group photos of the Kuomintang (KMT), a political party of the Chinese Nationalist Party (anti-Communist).
One photo was definitely dated “December 9, 1928” and was the first meeting (grand meeting) of the NW branch of the KMT with nearly 70 people in the photo, taken in South Canton Alley, Seattle Chinatown.
On the back of the 1928 photo was a note “13 Goon Dip” and “9 James Sing” identifying the photo location of Dad James and businessman Goon Dip, who owned the Milwaukee Hotel. Revered by the community, Goon Dip was appointed honorary consul of China during the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and, later, permanent consul until his death in 1933.
I contacted the Wing collections manager, and after showing him the second photo, taken on Oct. 24, 1948 (likely for the 20th anniversary of the original 1928 grand meeting), the manager indicated that it was taken downstairs on King Street in front of the KMT office, which also housed the Chinese Star Printing Co. I now knew where Dad James worked on his second job in Seattle.
With the knowledge that the print shop and the KMT office shared the same address, our family realized that our dad was more involved with the KMT than we had known. As a child, I remember Mom mentioning the “Kuomintang,” but I did not know what it was. According to the Seattle Public Library librarian, the Chinese Star Printing Co. was no longer listed as a business in the Seattle Street Address directory in 1947.
In February 1946, James married Nellie, and by October 1946, twin sons were born, with another son born in August 1947. It would seem that James, with a growing family, needed to earn more income.
By 1948, “Jim Sing” was listed in the Polk directory as working at Louie’s Chinese Garden. No Polk directory was produced in 1947, so James could have been working at Chinese Garden in 1947.
The Wing sent a copy of an April 10, 1951, Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, “Chinatown Detests Communism Evil,” with a photo of James Sing in front of the “Kuo Min Tang” office at 711 King St. It quotes James and identifies him as “past Chairman of the Seattle branch.”
James was probably the chairman of the KMT in the late 1940s when that 1948 photo was taken. He is standing in the back of the photo, against the KMT building, under the “K” on the window.
One of the translated aerograms (year unknown), which was a letter from a “nephew” from Taiwan, was addressed to James c/o Chinese Garden. James worked at Chinese Garden from 1948 to 1958.
The letter mentions that this “nephew” could make his way to the United States to carry on or share James’ duties so he could take a break due to his old age. He would need a job when he arrived.
In 1949, James moved his now family of six to a home on Beacon Hill. By 1951, James was the past chairman of the local KMT branch.
We knew that dad served as an informal banker, since Chinese families found it difficult to obtain loans from the local Seattle banks. Families paid a monthly fee, which James collected and recorded. When a loan was needed, he provided the funds and the recipient would repay the loan with interest.
While James worked at the Chinese Garden and Gim Ling restaurants, there was a safe that securely held the deposits. Several years ago, the father of one of my close friends recounted this arrangement. Shirley remembers sitting in her father’s car when he would stop by our house to drop off the money from his family. Dad was respected and trusted in the community.
From 1962 to 1972, Dad and a cousin co-owned the Sea Dragon Restaurant in Puyallup after finding Chinatown Seattle overcrowded with Chinese restaurants and hoping to take advantage of the untapped Chinese food scene about 30 miles south of Seattle.
Unfortunately, Dad retired, and the Sea Dragon was sold at the time of President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in February 1972, enhancing the popularity of Chinese cuisine in America. Charlie’s Restaurant & Lounge took over the space in 1972 and still stands today.
Dad constantly practiced his calligraphy even during his rest breaks at the restaurant and after he retired in 1972. Businessmen would have him draw Chinese characters for their business signs atop their stores or restaurants.
He once showed me a calligraphy project in which he compiled and demonstrated 10 styles of calligraphy. Dad even convinced a visiting Chinese master erhu musician to come to our house to show him how to play the erhu after he retired. I came home one day to find a University of Washington Chinese art professor showing him water color techniques!
Among one of the retrieved letters, I found one from January 1973 written by a San Francisco friend of Dad. Loosely translated, it said:
“Christmas greetings! I learned that you have retired and closed the restaurant. Good for you to enjoy your old age and have a good family. Your achievements were due to your talents and your abilities to adapt. If other people were in the same boat as yours, they might not have the same achievements.”
In today’s vernacular, Dad was able to “pivot” from immigrant to political party member to chairman, from printer to restaurant manager, owner and community banker. Add calligrapher, amateur painter and musician in retirement. Most important, he was Dad in our family of seven. Here is an overall timeline:
1917 arrived in the United States with his father and uncle.
1925 arrived in the United States for the second time with older brother.
1928 Jan. 19 filed his paper son documents in San Francisco.
1928 Dec. 9 in Seattle as part of the first meeting of the Northwest KMT branch.
1930-1935, printer at Frye & Co., meat-packing plant, 2305 Airport Way S.
1937-1946, printer and manager at Chinese Star Printing Co., 711 King St.
1948 Oct. 24, 20th Anniversary of the Northwest Kuomintang branch.
Late 1940s-1950, chairman of the Seattle Kuomintang branch.
1947-1959, manager, Louie’s Chinese Garden, 516 7th Ave S.
1959-1962, manager & co-owner of the Gim Ling Restaurant, 516 7th Ave S.
1962-1972, manager and co-owner of the Sea Dragon Restaurant, 113 E. Main St., Puyallup.
1972-1985, retired at his Beacon Hill home.
In the last three years, with one stone after another, and with the help of family members and the discovery of many more, this journey has filled in so many gaps in my dad’s early life in Seattle. It also has given his children a fuller picture of his struggles and sacrifices to make a life for his family.
I have so much respect and gratitude for both my parents in their respective journeys from China to the United States, twice for my dad, and from Canada to China to Canada and finally, to the United States for my mom.
We will never know their full stories, wasting too many years, left only with faint memories of a childhood full of mysterious clues, waiting to be pieced together to reveal the truth — their truth.
I would encourage you to speak with your parents and grandparents while they are alive, to follow and preserve their “footprints in the sand” before the incoming tide of time washes away their memory, leaving us with regret for time lost.
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Helen’s footnote regarding the term “paper son”
A “paper son” is explained here. As an early teenager, my dad illegally immigrated to the United States in 1917 and again in 1925 through Mexicali on the southern California border. He jumped ship at some point before docking in southern California and traveled up through California.
By his second entry in 1925, the Immigration Act of 1924, according to Wikipedia, “introduced quotas for immigration based on national origin, creating a quota of zero for Asian countries, as well as forming the United States Border Patrol.” This required that Dad had to provide documentation. There have been many documentaries done on this “paper son” phenomenon.
In part, due to my dad’s immigration status, my parents were always careful not to tell us everything, although I knew that he came through Mexicali. That is why the translation on his headstone was important in telling the truth of when and where he was born. He literally took the truth to his grave.
That is why I believe he was actually born in 1904, based on his traditional Chinese listing of his date of birth. He would have had no reason to lie in Chinese on his headstone, written in a way that immigration officials would not understand. How many kids grew up knowing the name of prominent Seattle immigration attorney Dan Danilov? He was always concerned with the earlier version of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Chinese were allowed to remain in the United States if they could document that they were sons or daughters (mostly sons) of legal citizens (Chinese parents). They had to file affidavits declaring that they were the son or daughter of an American citizen (Chinese).
I have my dad’s “paper son” documents. This was common in the early 1900s, and many Bay Area Chinese would testify that their “government” documents were destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The affidavit was signed by a known citizen who would testify that he “knew” this affiant was born in “such and such” city to “such and such” American parents.
When I started researching my dad’s early history, I knew that the typical Ancestry.com documents would not be helpful, because it was never going to be a matter of finding a straight-line progression of his footprints through government documents. Only when Dad filed his 1940 US Census, married my mom in 1946, applied for Social Security (enacted in 1935) and paid taxes would his U.S. government documents start to appear.
This is why I have such respect and gratitude for my dad in what he was able to achieve in his lifetime. He spent two years of high school (1940 Census), which was two years of night school at the old Broadway High School, learning English after he arrived in Seattle in 1928. Many immigrants did the same. Then in 1930, according to the Polk Directory, he was working at the Frye plant as a clerk and printer — hired by an American company!
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‘Human Nature, Animal Culture:
Selections from the
Frye Art Museum Collection’
The exhibit opened June 12, 2021, and runs through Aug. 21, 2022. It looks at Charles and Emma Frye’s art collection through the lens of their businesses and includes archival materials and photos.
The images below are courtesy of the Frye Art Museum.
To see full descriptions for the entire exhibit, click here.
(Click and click again to enlarge photos)
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Related ‘Now & Then’ columns
To see Paul Dorpat’s Feb. 9 2013, column on the another crash near Airport Way, click here. And to see his column about the fire station that responded to the 1943 bomber crash into the Frye plant, see below.
From his abode at Providence Heritage House at the Market, “Now & Then” column founder Paul Dorpat, decked in his father’s Santa garb, extends us greetings of the season. (Video by Jean Sherrard)
Our collection of cheer continues below. It includes an assortment of Christmas-related images from the collection of Paul and Jean, past and present, as well as a reprise of Clay’s 1985 newspaper profile of a Black Santa. Enjoy!
‘The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’
Our next feature, however, is a delightful video excerpt from Jean Sherrard‘s “Short Stories Live: Rogue’s Christmas,” presented Dec. 12, 2021, at Town Hall. It’s a reading of Charles Dickens’ “The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” by Marianne Owen.
Images of the season, from now and then
(Click to enlarge photos)
Black Santa, 1985
By Clay Eals
PacificNW magazine of The Seattle Times is not running “Now & Then” in the Sunday print edition of Dec. 26, 2021. So I offer this “Black Santa” story that appeared Christmas Day 1985 on the front page of the West Seattle Herald, for which I served as editor. The fine photos were by Herald photographer Brad Garrison. This is posted with the permission of Robinson Newspapers.
In 2020, thinking this story and photos might make the basis for a “Now & Then” column, I tried searching online for Tracy Bennett, the subject of this story, who would be 58 today. Alas, I turned up nothing.
Still, in our COVID era, this 36-year-old story about Tracy and his view on the Santa milieu remains timely and inspiring — at least that’s my hope.
At the time I wrote it, the story resonated personally, From 1985 to 1993, I volunteered more than 100 times to play Santa for children and adults at parties and in schools, community halls and private homes throughout Puget Sound as part of the American Heart Association’s “Santa with a Heart” fundraising program. As any Santa will tell you, it was a uniquely heartwarming and unforgettable experience. (See clippings at bottom.)
Please click any of the images once or twice to enlarge them for easy reading. And if you want to read the transcribed Black Santa text instead of reading directly from the images, scroll down.
Merry merry, and ho, ho, ho!
West Seattle Herald, Dec. 25, 1985
‘Just for you’
Black Santa relishes children’s happiness
Santa Claus, known as Tracy Bennett in the “off”-season, walks into a class of busy fifth- and sixth-graders at Hughes Elementary School in West Seattle.
“Hi, boys and girls,” says Santa.
“Oh, hi Santa Claus!” the students respond, almost in unison.
“That’s good. I thought I’d drop in and visit you for a minute.”
“Yeah,” say a couple of students. “You changed colors.”
“Yeah,” answers Santa, “I sure did, didn’t I?”
By CLAY EALS
When most of those who are opening packages under the Christmas tree this morning think about “the man with all the toys,” their vision probably doesn’t look like Tracy Bennett.
That’s because Bennett is Black, while nearly all of the Santas in the world — at least in the United States — seem to be as white as the North Pole’s year-round snow.
Bennett isn’t bothered, however. He keeps an upbeat, optimistic attitude about the seasonal craft he’s practiced for the past 12 years. He says he’s encountered subtle prejudice from adults and skepticism from kids, but he boasts of being able to win over most of the doubters.
Exposure is what Bennett says he needs most. And so do the other Black Santas in America, he says.
Bennett got some of the exposure he desired last week when he walked the halls of both Hughes and Van Asselt elementary schools, the latter of which is attended by some students who live in southern West Seattle and the city side of White Center.
He roamed the halls at Hughes and, with the assistance of teacher Willa Williams, peeked into classrooms and dropped off sacks of candy canes, occasionally stopping for a few minutes to talk to kids on his lap. Bearing a staccato, smile-inducing “ho, ho, ho,” he almost resembled a politician, repeatedly extending his hand for a shake and greeting children with a steady stream of “Howyadoin’? … Howyadoin’, guy? … Hiya guys. Workin’ hard?”
The racially mixed classes responded in a generally positive way. Although one sixth-grader was heard to say, “I thought Santa Claus was white, because I saw a white Santa Claus at The Bon,” for the most part any negative comments centered on whether he was “real,” not on his skin color.
“He’s nice, but his hair’s made out of cotton. Weird,” said fourth-grader Jessica Canfield. “And he has clothes under his other clothes.”
“He’s fine, and I like him,” said fellow fourth-grader Johnny Cassanova. “He said that he would visit me, and he would try to get everything that I want for Christmas and to get good grades.”
Was he the “real” Santa? “Yeah,” said Johnny, “to me he is.”
“It went real good,” Bennett said afterward. “They were very polite. They weren’t skeptical. Mostly loving, you can tell.”
Bennett, who at 22 is unemployed and intends to go to school so that he can get a job either as a police officer or working with handicapped kids, began his Santa “career” at the young age of 10. “I started as a little dwarf and moved my way up,” the Rainier Valley resident said with a laugh.
Over the years, Bennett said, he’s been Santa at private gatherings and community centers in Seattle’s south end, and he’s pieced together a costume he thinks is unimposing. The key part, he said, is his beard, which is a rather flat affair.
“The big Santa Claus beards and hairs are so flocky, so thick, that it scares some children,” Bennett said. “His color of his suit and his beard is so bright already, along with the brightness of his face.
“A Black Santa Claus with a white beard seems to bring out an older look, and the color of my skin makes it look like a normal Black man wearing a suit.”
Consequently, he said, kids warm up to him rather quickly. “Apparently I work out pretty good,” he said.
Children, both white and minority, raise the racial question fairly often, Bennett said. They usually just say, “Santa Claus is white,” expecting a response, he said.
“But I really don’t say nothing. I just look at ’em and smile, or I say ‘Ho, ho, ho,’ and they usually don’t ask anymore,” he said. “I’m used to it, so it’s no problem.”
Bennett does look forward to a day when more Black Santas are around to break the racial ice at Christmastime.
“I’m not the only one, but I never see ’em in stores,” he said. If just one major downtown store would feature a Black Santa, “that would mean the 12 years that I’ve been working on it has started to come through,” he said. “It would be a breakthrough. I want it to happen.”
He also would like to see children exposed to Santas of a variety of races. “If we bring the children Black Santa Clauses, Korean Santa Clauses, Japanese Santa Clauses, the kids will like it after a while,” he said.
For that to happen, however, some prejudices will have to be broken down gradually. “You can feel it’s there,” he said. “You try to believe it’s not there, but you can see it in people’s eyes.”
Like any Santa Claus, Bennett finds it a “thrill” to portray Saint Nick to children. “When kids are happy, I’m happy. When they’re sad, I feel for ’em. I’d like to give ’em more than I can.”
He insists, however, that it’s important not to insist that he’s the “real” Santa when kids challenge him. He tells children, “You don’t have to believe in me. But I’m doing this just for you.”
“Why ruin a kid’s mind and say, ‘I’m real, believe me’?” he said. “He (Santa) is a beautiful man, OK? No one can take that away from him. But we have to tell what’s real from not. We have to tell our kids we play Santa Claus because we love children.”
Bennett also said it’s important not to push the religious aspects of Christmas as Santa. “When we talk about religion, we have to let kids do what they want, do not force them.”
Williams, the teacher, took the same approach in deciding to invite Bennett, a friend of hers, to visit Hughes. While Christmas “is a fun time and should be a time for joy,” she said she’s well aware of the Seattle School District’s policy that’s intended to separate religion from school activity.
Bringing Santa to the classroom — and a Black Santa at that — was an attempt to get students to “understand each other’s differences,” she said.
“When I told them Santa Claus might visit, one student told me, ‘I don’t believe in Santa Claus.’ Another said, ‘Santa Claus is my mom and dad,’ and another said, ‘Santa Claus is Jesus’,” Williams said. “It was just the idea of general thought and letting them express themselves and learning to accept each and every person and their differences as long as there isn’t any harm.”
For Bennett, the delight of being Santa is that “the guy is just a giving person, you know?
“He gives away things to make people happy. If a child’s sick in bed, he sees Santa Claus, he’s going to try to smile as much as he can because he’s happy. When they say, ‘Santa Claus, you didn’t give me so-and-so,’ I say, ‘Well, maybe next year, OK?’
“I don’t tell them I’m going to get this (particular item) for them and get their hopes up. I tell them that maybe somebody will get it for them very soon.
“One guy said he wanted to go to college, and I said, ‘Maybe next Christmas or a few Christmases from now, you’ll be going to college and be saying you got your wish.’ ”
Bennett clearly is hooked on his annual role: “As long as I live and as long as I stay healthy, I’ll always be Santa Claus.”
P.S. Clay as Santa
As promised above, here are tidbits from my eight-year volunteer Santa Claus “career” for the American Heart Association: two clippings in which I demonstrate for other Santas the best way to don the uniform, plus a sketch I created to provide step-by-step guidance. Click once or twice on the images to enlarge them. —Clay
Just for fun and to keep with the theme, I also dug up and am including a Santa article I wrote that appeared on Christmas Eve 1980 in the Oregonian near the end of my eight-year stint as a reporter and photographer for that newspaper. Again, click once or twice on the image to enlarge it for easy readability. —Clay
Here are two of what The Seattle Times calls “postscripts” — items that follow up stories (including “Now & Then” columns) printed in in its PacificNW magazine.
(Click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Dec. 19, 2021
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Dec. 19, 2021)
The bigger picture: More rare photos of
Jimi Hendrix’s last Seattle concert emerge
By Jean Sherrard
Last summer, I naively thought it would be easy to visually verify Jimi Hendrix’s final appearance in Seattle and in the continental United States.
After all, the date was only a half-century ago, July 26, 1970, just a few weeks before the legendary guitarist died. The venue was the city’s prominent but fading baseball cathedral, Sicks Stadium. And thousands besides my early teenage self were there. Surely many were clicking away.
How wrong I was.
All the usual sources came up goose eggs. To my relief, however, Dave DePartee’s name popped up on a rock ’n’ roll fan site. DePartee, just 16, had used a point-and-shoot camera to snap two color pictures, one of which we showcased in our July 25 “Now & Then.” Grainy and distant, DePartee’s were seemingly the only stills of a major event in music history.
After the column was published, an email from Scott Wyatt landed in my inbox. He had stood next to the stage on that soggy Sunday, wielding his Nikkormat camera. Proof was attached: a stunning, close-in black-and-white of Hendrix.
“I was just getting into photography,” Wyatt says, “but Hendrix’s was the only concert I ever shot. And it was like no other I’d ever attended.”
While studying architecture in New York, Wyatt held a summer job at a Longview sawmill. He and friends often trekked to Seattle for weekend shows. The Sicks gig was “uniquely intimate,” he recalls. “To me, Hendrix was a god, and I was right up front kissing his feet.”
In the early 1970s, Wyatt and his wife joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Iran, where his camera granted him special access in a country on the verge of revolution.
Back stateside, he worked as an architect, rising to become CEO of NBBJ, a Seattle-based global architectural firm. Retired after 30 years, he now attends Gage Academy, engaging a new passion: oil painting.
Here is the original “Now & Then” column on Hendrix at Sicks, published July 25, 2021 — click it to see the column and its own “web extras”:
Here are additional “Then” photos of Hendrix from Scott Wyatt:
For a photo essay by Scott Wyatt about his Peace Corps stint in Iran and Afghanistan, click here.
(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Dec. 19, 2021
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Dec. 19, 2021)
Good and grief, Charlie Brown: The razing of Mercer Island’s
former East Seattle School signifies a mixed preservation year
By Clay Eals
Undergirding this Postscript is one of the more charming homilies in comic-strip history.
“Life is rarely all one way,” says Linus in a Peanuts installment from Sept. 17, 1973. “You win a few, and you lose a few!” Charlie Brown replies, “Really? Gee, that’d be neat!!”
Two “Now & Then”-related preservation wins emerged in 2021:
The La Quinta Apartments on Capitol Hill became a city landmark March 22, and its new owner signed a controls agreement Sept. 27. Tenants and Historic Seattle, whose quest to save the U-shaped structure we explored last Jan. 31, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The stunning, south-facing view of tiny Ursula Judkins Park in Magnolia was protected by a city hearing examiner’s ruling Oct. 19 that blocked proposed mega-mansions on the steep slope nearby. We featured a downtown skyline view from the park on Jan. 5, 2020.
But we were not spared the loss of the former East Seattle School on Mercer Island, near Interstate 90, at the turn of the New Year.
As we noted in “Now & Then” on July 28, 2019, the 1914 building had anchored the island’s first community hub, operating as a public school until 1982 and as a Boys & Girls Club until 2008.
Filling the 2.9-acre parcel will be 14 single-family homes. But the Mercer Island Historical Society is somewhat cheered that the city will require inclusion of a physical reminder of what came before.
“We have identified 200 square feet by the northeast corner of the property,” says Jane Meyer Brahm, co-president of the historical society. “We’ve talked about a paved area with an interpretive sign and hopefully a miniature representation of the archway that faced west, with information not just about the school but the entire East Seattle neighborhood.”
The extrapolated lesson becomes a Charlie Brown corollary: In preservation, often something irreplaceable has to fall for us to make sure that others remain standing.
Here are the original “Now & Then” columns on La Quinta Apartments from Jan. 31, 2021, and the view from Ursula Judkins Park from Jan. 5, 2020, along with the July 28, 2019, column on East Seattle School. Click on each to see each column and its own “web extras”:
Here are an additional photo and a video on East Seattle School:
[This essay is courtesy of Scott Wyatt, whose work is also featured today in a “Now & Then” Postscript that showcases his July 26, 1970, photos of Jimi Hendrix in concert at Sicks Stadium, the rock guitarist’s last Seattle show. Hendrix died less than two months later, on Sept. 18.]
By Scott Wyatt
I got my first 35mm camera in 1967 and fell in love with Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” street photography. I took my Nikkormat with me everywhere, including the Hendrix concert at Sicks Stadium in 1970. Not much later, I was studying Edward Weston’s work and other larger format photographers and ended up buying a Hasselblad (a larger, medium format camera). When Jenny and I joined the Peace Corps in 1973 and went to Iran, I packed the Hasselblad too.
Well, Iran is no Point Lobos, and photographing peppers was missing the incredible opportunity in front of me. Iran is a rugged country with beautiful people and some magnificent architecture. So, back to street photography for me …. with a slow, clumsy Hasselblad!
It turns out, I think, that the medium format was perfect for portraits of Iranians in their surroundings and their architecture.
The sidewalks of Iranian towns and cities (sometimes just a dirt extension of the roadway) were magical. So much life and interaction. The sidewalk community would have made Jane Jacobs smile ear to ear.
A typical street would have bread shops next to the shop making shoes and buckets from old rubber tires, next to a yogurt shop, next to a shop selling live turkeys, and on and on. Sidewalk sitters everywhere. Stop and have tea and chat.
Hot from the oven, best bread I ever tasted. Many of our dinners (countless) were composed of one of these flat breads and a large bowl of yogurt. In the photo was our favorite, Nan-E Barbari.
Here is a different kind of “street” photographer. He would open and close the “lens” with his hands (shutter). The “film” was a positive paper. Developed with chemicals under a blanket while-you-wait. All for 7 cents. Jenny and I still have the photo of us he took.
We took our first New Year’s vacation (Iranian New Year is the first day of spring) and traveled to Afghanistan for three weeks. Farsi is also the language in Afghanistan. We each had a small backpack. My cameras and film pretty much took up the whole pack.
We traveled by train, bus, and hitchhike. Our Iranian friends told us that we should go to Afghanistan to see what Iran was like 40 years ago (now 90 years ago). It was the trip of a lifetime: spectacular sights and amazing people. We almost died from food poisoning and came back with some nasty parasites. Worth it, I think.
I took this photo of money changers in Kandahar, a tough town even in 1973. Happy to get out alive.
The religious architecture in Iran is second to none. You can get religion just by being in one of these great mosques. Isfahan has some of the best, still standing architecture thanks to being less prone to earthquakes.
(Published in The Seattle Times online on Dec. 9, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Dec. 12, 2021)
In 1969 at Westlake, Santa sees when you’re protesting
By Jean Sherrard
On Santa’s watch, when you’re protesting, are you being “good for goodness’ sake”?
At four stories tall, the gargantuan Santa Claus sculpture that perched atop a brick chimney at Westlake Mall was oft proclaimed the largest in the world.
Commissioned in 1968 by John Gilmore of the Central Association of Seattle (now the Downtown Seattle Association), the jolly red giant waved an animated arm, puffed on a giant pipe and conversed with astonished children and their parents through hidden speakers. Young actors from Seattle’s Piccoli Theater, hidden behind one-way mirrors, provided Santa’s voice.
Jean and Wesley Stanley of Stanley Plastics Products Co. of Enumclaw designed and built the 30-foot-tall St. Nick, along with the 12-foot-high chimney. A steel armature covered with wire mesh. Fiberglass ensured structural stability.
Though divided into six pieces for transport, Santa’s journey from Enumclaw required wide-load permits along with a waiting crane to help hoist and assemble the 900-pound figure upon arrival.
But this version of Father Christmas was revised when he reappeared in 1969. A local PTA group lobbied the sponsoring Central Association to remove Santa’s jumbo pipe. Smoking was deemed inappropriate public behavior for the merry old elf, as per the U.S. surgeon general’s stance.
In addition, Earl Kelly, beloved Ballard High School drama teacher and founder of the Piccoli Theater, heard from church groups that actors who voiced Santa were “taking the Christ out of Christmas.” In response, Kelly advised his cast to moderate their expressions of pagan merriment (Ho ho ho?).
Childhood memories of Westlake Santa are a mixed bag. The massive, bearded, slightly bug-eyed face inspired delight and nightmares.
Westlake Mall has long served as Seattle’s unofficial town square, nestled between Pike and Pine Streets along Fourth Avenue. From the early 1960s to today, it has been a hub of protests, political events and community celebrations, often all at the same time.
The year of our “Then” photo, 1969, was marked by civil strife. More than half a million American troops were stationed in Vietnam. Although most Americans still approved of the war, huge demonstrations rocked the nation throughout the fall.
On Dec. 13, as reported in The Seattle Times, student protesters gathered beneath the colossal Kris Kringle to distribute leaflets to weekend Christmas shoppers while singing carols rewritten for the occasion. To the tune of “The First Noel,” anti-war carolers sang:
The Vietnam War
has lasted nine years
killing one million people
and brought many tears
The Westlake Santa was erected each December until 1976, after which he was decommissioned. An online researcher, however, traced the sculpture to North Pole, Alaska, 15 miles southeast of Fairbanks, which we trust is a place of peace.
Also, this coming Sunday at 2 P.M., join Jean for his 14th annual Rogue’s Christmas at Town Hall – with actors Kurt Beattie, Marianne Owen, and musical guests Pineola. Ken Workman, Duwamish elder and Chief Seattle descendant, will offer a Coast Salish welcome.
It’s while making the repeat of the photo of Paul Dorpat’s parents in front of the Eiffel Tower for the Seattle Times Magazine, that I met the team of Rétrotour which organizes tours of Paris in a side-car.
They seemed so happy and photogenic with their vintage motorcycles and their sidecar that I asked them to be my models!
After the publication of the magazine, they proposed me a sidecar tour in Paris. The party !
So it was a dynamic discovery of Paris seen from the very comfortable sidecar with Julien my pilot.
Departure at daybreak from Pont-Neuf to Montmartre
The street is free
C’est en réalisant la reconduction de la photo des parents de Paul Dorpat devant la Tour Eiffel, que j’ai rencontré l’équipe de Rétrotour qui organise des visites de Paris en side -car.
Ils m’ont paru si heureux et photogéniques avec leurs motos anciennes et leur side-car que je leur ai demandé d’être mes modèles !
Après la publication du magazine du Seattle-Times, ils m’ont proposé un tour à Paris en side-car. La fête !
C’était donc une découverte dynamique de Paris vu du side-car très confortable avec Julien mon pilote.
Départ au lever du jour du Pont-Neuf direction Montmartre
La rue est libre…
At the height of a Lamborghini , rue de Rivoli in front of Hôtel Meurice, I discover real street-art…
A hauteur du bolide Lamborghini rue de Rivoli devant l’hôtel Meurice, du vrai Street-art…
Rue de Castiglione, at the height of homeless
Rue de Castiglione , à la hauteur des gens qui dorment dans la rue
Already at the Opéra, there are barriers and big works
Nous sommes déjà à l’Opéra , où il y a des barrières et des travaux
Further on rue Lafitte, in the perspective we can see the
Sacré-Coeur ! ohhh , at the height of bicycles
Un peu plus loin dans la perspective on peut voir le Sacré-Coeur ! ohh à la hauteur des vélos
Boulevard de Clichy with almost no-one !
I enjoy all the signs : pizzas, supermarket, sex, change …