Fair and Festival – No. 18: Protesting the Canwell Committee

Above: This Post-Intelligencer press photo, courtesy of MOHAI, is too soft to read all the posters held high in 1948 for this demonstration against the state legislature’s Canwell Committee.  The legible ones, left-to-right, read that “Every Canwell Committee member for [the] Lien Law” – “Atom Bombs and military training will not build houses or lower prices!” – “Canwell . . . want more pension cuts!” . . . “The Canwell Committe is illegal, unconstitutional and UnAmerican!” . . . “Every Canwell Committee member voted for Pension Cuts!”  The business of the Canwell Committee is briefly described in the “now and then” printed at the bottom.  Below:  Late summer Bumbershoots are often visited by “get out the vote” activists. Like the 1948 protestors above, these activists do their work beside the south facade of the Centerhouse, AKA Food Circus: the old Armory.

Above: At the 42nd Street entrance to the U.W. students protest the Canwell hearings of 1948.  Photo courtesy Museum of History and Industry.  Below: The University District’s Methodist Temple is seen in part on the right of both views.  Readers may remember the parking lot across 15th Avenue in the “now” scene.  It was created in the late 1960s from the wreckage of the old white frame Wesley House – seen in the “then” – which was a residence hall for coeds.  The lot was recently developed for housing, with some retail and office space as well.  With this the popular and by now venerated Allegro Coffee House in the alley lost both the morning sunlight and its view of the campus green.  The Allegro, either the oldest espresso house in Seattle or nearly, opened on May 10, 1975.


(First appeared in Pacific April 20, 2008)

When the University of Washington opened its first classes on the new “Interlake Campus” in 1895 none of the students lived on campus and few in Brooklyn, the name then of the university district.  Most came from town by trolley and were let off at “University Station,” 42nd Street and University Way.   To reach campus they walked a mere one block east to the incline pictured here, and for many years this was the most frequented way to enter and leave the campus.  For pedestrians it may still be.

Since the lawn here is exposed for sightseeing into the ‘district and sunbaths in the afternoon it has seen a lot of leisure through the years.  I remember it as “hippie hill” in the late 1960s.  Here, however, we see a protest underway on July 15, 1948.

The students are comfortably listening to speeches broadcast from a flatbed truck that is parked on the 15th Ave.  You can see the banner near the center of the “then,” and it reads, in part, “Register Your Protest, Hear and Now, the Canwell Committee.” Albert F. Canwell was the one-term state legislator from Spokane who proudly campaigned on two planks only: no new taxes and no communists.

The speakers this noon were Lyle Mercer, president of Students for Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party, Ted Astley, a veteran’s counselor at the UW and Al Ottenheimer of the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, which was just off campus.  The Canwell Hearings injured them all.  The University fired Astley.

However, the real targets in this “red scare” theatre were on the UW Faculty.  After Canwell’s “I will not tolerate questions” proceedings were over, three lost their professorships, scapegoats for the school’s board of trustees who were relieved that the number did not approach what another legislator proclaimed to be the total accounting of communists on the faculty.   That was 150: the same as that estimated by The Times for the number of students who attended this barely on-campus protest.


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