Seattle Now & Then: Paul Dorpat, historian without portfolio

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN1: A family photo of rootin’-tootin’ 4-year old Paul in his parents’ backyard in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Snapped by his dad in 1942, this portrait is what Paul calls in retrospect, “Saving the World for Democracy.”
THEN2: Promoting and producing the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair near Sultan in 1968, the world’s first multi-day, outdoor rock festivals held on a farm, Paul (right) pauses in his duties for a photo with long-time pal novelist Tom Robbins.
THEN3: Around the time Paul’s “Now & Then” column began in The Seattle Times in 1982, Paul pays a visit to his friend and mentor Murray Morgan, writer of “Skid Road,” at Morgan’s cabin on Harstine Island in the South Sound. (Courtesy, Genevieve McCoy)
NOW: Pre-pandemic on the waterfront, Paul Dorpat lobs French fries over his shoulder to an admiring trio of seagulls, while also, perhaps, blessing his beloved city. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Aug. 13, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Aug. 16, 2020)

A colossal contribution, and a blast from Paul Dorpat’s present
By Jean Sherrard

This week we drop in on our “Now & Then” column founder, Paul Dorpat.

For 37 years, his witty wisdom (and wise wit), drawn from deep wells of history – and a vast collection of old photos – provided a weekly fount of delight for thousands of fans. Clay Eals and I take ongoing inspiration from Paul’s legacy, but Dorpat ain’t done yet.

Having recently moved from Wallingford into senior housing near the Pike Place Market, he has overseen the contribution of his extensive archive of historical books and manuscripts, as well as more than 300,000 images, to Seattle Public Library.

“I hope my donation will inspire others to do the same,” Paul says. “When we protect and share our history, we can give our community a depth that’s truly resounding.”

Andrew Harbison, the library’s assistant director of Collections and Access Services, concurs: “We’re thrilled to receive this incredible gift and look forward to making the collection available for the public to see and enjoy.”

But that’s not all.

Along with the rest of us, chafing at the isolation imposed by COVID-19, Dorpat continues to collate his many thousands of hours of documentary film and video, dedicated to making this treasure trove available for future generations of historians and documentarians.

“For me, revisiting the past,” Paul says, “has always been a blast.”


A few more bonbons for friends and fans alike.

Here’s one of my favorites. When Paul and I took a 2005 trip to London and Paris together, we met up with our dear friend and colleague Berangere Lomont (a professional photographer who has through the years served this column as our Paris correspondent). While strolling in the 5th Arr., we did a double take. Paul’s doppelgänger was sitting at a street-side cafe table! The photo op was too good to be missed. Paul sauntered over to the adjoining table and sat down, pretending to examine a menu.

Paul sitting next to his twin in Paris, 2005 (Berangere Lomont)

Berangere took the still and, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh, I pointed the video camera.

More recently, Clay Eals managed to capture a video of Paul feeding gulls on the waterfront (the perfect accompaniment to my still photo used in the column).

Click on photo to see Clay’s video on YouTube.

And in no particular order, a clutch of Paul pix throughout the years.

Paul, baby of the family, accompanied by brothers Dave, Norm and Ted (clockwise from Paul).
Paul with his dad, Rev. Theodore Dorpat, and mom Cherry Dorpat (inset)
Paul in London, 2005
Paul with former roommate Bill Burden and Berangere, Paris 2005.
Paul and Berangere on the Champs Elysees, 2005
Paul with long-time friends Mike and Donna James, 2007. Paul, a registered potentate of the Universal Life church, officiated at Mike and Donna’s wedding.
Paul at Bumbershoot with One Reel’s Norm Langill (plus mime)
Paul and Jean in the Good Shepherd Center’s grotto, posing for ‘Rogue’s Christmas’ PR
Paul with pal Marc Cutler in Bellingham, 2005
Paul signs our book ‘Washington Then and Now’ at Costco, 2007
Paul with historian Alan Stein at the Lakeview Cemetery
Paul at his 70th birthday poses with the late Jef Jaisun, who took photos of Paul at his 40th birthday, on which occasion Dorpat’s beard was removed.
Paul at his 70th stands between Jean’s mom and dad. Howard Lev looms over Paul’s right shoulder
Paul at his 70th, with Ann Folke and Sally Anderson. Eric Lacitis towers upper right.
Paul in Pioneer Square with UW archivist and historian Rich Berner in 2011
Paul at his 75th birthday with this column’s Clay Eals
Paul with Ivar’s President Bob Donegan
Paul performs a pre-prandial prayer at the Lake Union Ivar’s

Stay tuned. More to come…







6 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Paul Dorpat, historian without portfolio”

  1. Paul…so great to see these little flashes of your life. I’ve enjoyed being your friend all these years since the Chicken Graphics Days. I never knew about Grand Forks till now though. I used to work up there too building a square mile sewer settling facility put toward the Air Force base north of town. Great stories.Thanks.

  2. So great! Have enjoyed your articles and pictures for many years. I hope your retirement (a dirty word . . . I will turn 70 at the end of the month and “retired” about a year ago) is happy and am so glad you donated your photos to the library. All best!


  3. Paul Dorpat, you are such a big big gift to the world. I love seeing you in these photos, and look forward to many more. Thank you so much for the library donation.

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