First Hill Tennis & Cracked Crab

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[As ever, CLICK to ENLARGE – and then click again.]

Every summer the Olympic Tennis Club on First Hill would stage a grand tennis tournament between its men members. But on the contest’s opening day in July 1895, the net crowd was able for the first time to watch women in a skilled volley.

An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer predicted, “What is likely to prove the most successful, as it certainly is the largest, tennis tournament ever held in the Northwest began yesterday noon on the grounds of the Olympic Tennis Club at the corner of 12th Avenue (now Minor Avenue) and Madison Street . . . The crowd was of the right sort and the number of pretty girls in summer costume did much to stimulate the spirit with which the matches were played.” [Does any reader have any clear understanding of what is meant by this “stimulate the spirit with which the matches were played?”] This was the club’s fifth year of tournament play on its clay courts behind the Martin and Elizabeth Van Buren Stacy Mansion on Madison. But 1895 was the first time “pretty girls” took to the courts themselves in singles and doubles matches.

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The historical photo of a women’s doubles play is one of two 1895 tournament scenes recently uncovered by the local collector Michael Maslan in a First Hill family album.  (Well not so recently.  This was first printed in the Times nearly a quarter-century ago on August 18, 1985.)  We include them both here: the women’s doubles above and the men’s singles below.  (That’s the Carkeek mansion on the left with the tower at the southeast corner of Madison and Boren.)

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If this is the women’s doubles championship match, then the winners, Miss Anderson and Miss Known of Tacoma, will defeat Miss Riley and Miss Gazzam of Seattle and win a pair of silver scissors with a thimble in a case as well as a cut-glass silver-mounted ink stand.  (Are they now more likely to get something crass, like cash?)

The clubs courts were located behind the Stacy mansion and on what has more recently been developed for super-sizing and French frying.  This is the parking lot for First Hill food that is never cracked crab.  I have taken slides of this McDonalds lot three times, I think, but I have failed to mark the date on this one.  I believe that Jean has also visited this place and not to eat, and if I am correct in this he’ll soon date his recording and post it beside this undated shot.  Perhaps some reader with a special sensitivity to motorcar models will by studying the several examples in this lot be able to determine the year. Unfortunately, the photograph is not sharp enough to read the date on a license plate.  [Remember, click to enlarge.]

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The following year, 1896, the Olympic Tennis Cub changed its name to the Seattle Tennis Club. In 1903 the crowded club built additional courts up Madison Street at Summit Avenue, and in 1919 it migrated far up Madison to its new and present home on the shores of Lake Washington.

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The Stacy Mansion – seen here looking kitty-corner across Madison and Boren and to the northeast – is preserved at the northeast corner of Madison and Boren. It is one of the few remaining remnants of the old and often elegant wealth that was once First Hill society. For more than a century it has been the home of the University Club for men. The members all have some association to the University of Washington or its several boards or extra-academic enterprises.  Many years ago I was invited into this sanctum as the evening’s speaker for an annual membership banquet.  Every table was crowded for a crab feast and the members and their wives were all fitted with billowing bibs of such size that a stranger entering that dining room and not knowing what was being served might have wondered for a moment if they had stumbled by mistake into a maternity ward. This was not likely to happen for it would be hard for a stranger to get into that club. At the “speakers table” and directly across from me sat Charles E. Odegaard – someone certainly related to the University.  Odegaard crack crab with the rest of us. After the comforting and filling dinner the lights were lowered, I began my slide-illustrated talk on First Hill history and the former president of the University of Washington promptly went to sleep.  I have had this effect on other occasions; still I take strength in the confidence that most stay awake, and a few even ask questions.   (Of course my “now” view of the University Club was a “while” ago.  It is also unmarked, and for the moment I cannot date it.)

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