Seattle Now & Then: Jefferson School, 1985

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THEN: The pre-demolition photo event on June 1, 1985, at Jefferson Elementary School drew 175 students, three teachers and a secretary. After separate photos were taken for each decade of the school’s 1911-1979 existence, 130 former Jeffersonians – including Lisa McCandless Bernardez, Karen Arthur White and Myra Bowen Skubitz – stayed to assemble for this final image. (Brad Garrison, West Seattle Herald / Courtesy Robinson Newspapers)
NOW: Vehicles and shoppers clog the entry parking lot for Jefferson Square, opened in August 1987 on the former school site. Retail anchors are Safeway (right) and Bartell Drug. From Seattle Public Schools, the complex holds a 99-year lease that began in December 1982. (Clay Eals)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on April 30, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on May 3, 2020)

Jefferson school days echo in the May memories of its students
By Clay Eals

In our coronaviral days of school closures and social distancing and with May Day here, this week’s “Then” image might be poignant. It depicts 130 people posing for a group photo at West Seattle’s Jefferson Elementary School on Saturday, June 1, 1985, just 17 days before it fell victim to the wrecking ball.

As editor of the West Seattle Herald, I organized the gathering to document the passing of a building in which thousands of students spent formative years, from its opening in 1911 until 1979, when plummeting enrollment and soaring renovation costs sealed its fate.

The former Jefferson students and staff who turned out faced 42nd Avenue while our fearless photographer, Brad Garrison, perched atop an 8-foot wooden stepladder to capture the scene. The print’s upper edge is irregular because, for effect, the photo ran large on the front page, extending up into the newspaper’s nameplate.

The school, named for our third president, designed by Edgar Blair and built one block east of West Seattle’s Junction business district, had an enduring effect of its own – on its students.

“We bleed Jefferson,” says Lisa McCandless Bernardez, who attended in the mid-1970s. Every five years since, she has reunited with her best friend, Jefferson classmate Sue Haynie Craig, at the salad bar inside the Safeway anchoring the full-block complex that replaced the school and opened in August 1987.

“It was a great, mysterious, humongous school,” Bernardez says. “When they tore it down, it broke our hearts.”

Some recall the edifice’s crowded baby-boom classrooms (nearly 1,000 students in 1953-1954), wooden desks and worn stairs, along with the “old smell you never forget.” Others cite civil defense (atomic bomb) drills and sneaking into the basement to discover long-abandoned rations and body tags.

Students also exploited the neighborhood’s business milieu to create meandering walking routes. Wayne Hagler, who attended in the late 1960s, says, “We’d go through the showroom of Gene Fiedler Chevrolet, then Lucky’s grocery, then the auto-parts store to get STP stickers, so a 20-minute walk home took 45 minutes.”

Most wish Jefferson could have been preserved and repurposed as were schools in Queen Anne, Wallingford and elsewhere. But the latter-day impact of its 33-year-old substitute, Jefferson Square, is undeniable. The five-level structure serves thousands of customers, workers and residents via retail storefronts (80,000 square feet), offices (67,000 square feet) and residential space (78 apartments).

Nevertheless, lingering today in the memories of Myra Bowen Skubitz, who attended in the mid-1940s, and Karen Arthur White who attended 10 years later, is Jefferson’s annual spring jamboree. It brought every student in the school to its enormous asphalt playground for dancing with streamers around a maypole and other fun. One can still imagine.


Below are two more memories of former Jefferson Elementary School students, 11 Jefferson-related photos and 16 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.

At the bottom is an official three-page history of the school from Seattle Public Schools Archives.

Also, here is where you can find the Facebook page for Jefferson Elementary School alumni.

Robert Terrana. uncle of Lisa McCandless Bernardez who attended in the 1940s during World War II, recalls air-raid drills. ” We had to go down to the basement floor under the first floor. We had to stay there until they rang the bells when it was safe to go upstairs.” He also recalls the “nice, big, wide playground.” He recalls walking to school in the snow. “We had some big snowstorms, more than we have now. Winter used to be winter.” A lifelong West Seattleite, he will be 85 in August. “I used to be in some of the little skits they used to put on for the children in the auditorium. … When they had the March of Dimes campaign in January, they had those tables at California Avenue and Alaska, and I used to volunteer with that, helping with the announcing: ‘Give to March of Dimes. Put your dimes on the table.’ That was probably in sixth grade.”

John Carlson, longtime talk-show host for KVI, attended kindergarten and first grade in the 1960s. “I brought my copy of the album ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to Show and Tell, but (kindergarten teacher) Mrs. Price said it was inappropriate. The following week I brought my collection of troll-sized Beatles dolls, pointing out that they were dolls, not Beatles toys. Mrs. Price was not impressed with my logic and said that if I brought any more Beatles memorabilia to class, it would be confiscated. Loved those days.”

April 24, 1949, Seattle Times, page 94
During the 1951-1952 school year, Jefferson students gather, looking south, with Gene Fiedler Chevrolet in the background. (Courtesy Les Bretthauer)
May 18, 1955, Seattle Times, page 36
An aerial photo from 1957 showing Jefferson Elementary School in the foreground. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Feb. 22, 1961, Seattle Times, page 2, John J. Reddin column
Oct. 23, 1964, Seattle Times, page 14
June 11, 1969, Seattle Times, page 79, ad for Lucky’s across from Jefferson Elementary School
Dec. 31, 1969, Seattle Times, page 28, ad for Gene Fiedler Chevrolet across from Jefferson Elementary School
1971-1972 Jefferson Elementary School yearbook, page 1 (Courtesy Wayne Hagler)
1971-1972 Jefferson Elementary School yearbook, page 2 (Courtesy Wayne Hagler)
1971-1972 Jefferson Elementary School yearbook, page 3 (Courtesy Wayne Hagler)
1971-1972 Jefferson Elementary School yearbook, page 4 (Courtesy Wayne Hagler)
June 6, 1972, Jefferson Elementary School audio-visual certificate for Wayne Hagler (Courtesy Wayne Hagler)
June 12, 1972, Jefferson Elementary School crossing-guard certificate for Wayne Hagler (Courtesy Wayne Hagler)
Aug. 10, 1972, Seattle Times, page 28
Oct. 1, 1972, Seattle Times, page 4
Feb. 15, 1973, Seattle Times, page 59
march 10, 1973, Seattle Times, page 5
March 22, 1973, Seattle Times, page 52
Sept. 6, 1978, Seattle Times, page 3
March 9, 1979, Seattle Times, page 9
March 22, 1979, Seattle Times, page 14
Aug. 14, 1979, Seattle Times, page 13
June 6, 1985, West Seattle Herald, listing of participants in final group photos (Photos by Brad Garrison)
In June 1985, when demolition of Jefferson Elementary School began. (Grace Fredeen)
In 1985, Lisa McCandless (left) and Sue Haynie stand in front of partially demolished Jefferson Elementary School. (Courtesy Lisa McCandless Bernardez)
In 1990, Lisa McCandless (left) and Sue Haynie reunite at Safeway on the site of former Jefferson Elementary School. (Courtesy Lisa McCandless Bernardez)
On May 2, 2020, former Jefferson students Lisa McCandless Bernardez(left) and Sue Haynie Craig display artifacts from Jefferson school while visiting Jefferson Square on May 2, 2020. (Courtesy Lisa McCandless Bernardez)
Jefferson Elementary School chapter of “Building for Learning / Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000, page 1 (Courtesy Seattle Public Schools Archives)
Jefferson Elementary School chapter of “Building for Learning / Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000, page 2 (Courtesy Seattle Public Schools Archives)
Jefferson Elementary School chapter of “Building for Learning / Seattle Public School Histories, 1862-2000, page 3 (Courtesy Seattle Public Schools Archives)


3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Jefferson School, 1985”

  1. The John Carlson story is laugh out loud funny. Sadly, I know exactly the type of Beatles dolls mentioned– we gave one away for free during my grandma’s 1987 moving sale in Tacoma. I’ve kicked myself for it ever since. I think it was Ringo. It was just so ugly that nobody wanted to keep it. Now they go for $100 on EBay.

  2. So many great memories. The school was so huge and mysterious. The teachers so dedicated. We had so much fun on what we called a playground with no grass. Rainy-day recesses were fun, too.

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