Category Archives: Seattle Now and Then

Seattle Now & Then: Fremont postcard, 1908

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THEN: This 1908 postcard, a gift to the Fremont Historical Society from Susan Connole of Friends of the Ballard Locks, shows logs of the Bryant Lumber and Shingle Mill beneath the card’s printed inscription. The all-volunteer Fremont organization recently launched its improved website, fremonthistory.org, in part to better display its photo collection. (Judie Clarridge)
NOW: Through the security cords of the Aurora Bridge, glimpses of the 1908 landscape can be found, along with high-rises of the downtown skyline. This vantage is at least three blocks south of – and higher than – M.L. Oakes’ photographic position. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in Seattle Times online on Sept. 12, 2019,
and in print on Sept. 15, 2019)

Postcard news: landing in a ‘great city’ poised for change
By Clay Eals

In leading local history tours, I often say that all of us, akin to the Alki settlers in 1851, have a “landing story” to tell. More than a century ago, in the days of penny postage, clues to such stories often emerged in handwritten news on the backs of postcards.

A gent with the initials F.T.S. mailed such a story to Chas. R. Fitch of San Francisco. On the back of a round-cornered card postmarked Aug. 20, 1908, the buoyant F.T.S. voiced a voyage of destiny:

“Dear Cousin: This is a great city, my home from now on. Best opportunity for young man. Am assured of position and will go to work Monday. Very warm here. Rough and foggy coming up, was not in the least seasick, and never missed a meal at mess.”

F.T.S. also noted how to reach him: “Address me #700 Oriental Block, Seattle, Wash.” This was the 1903 Corona building, still standing today in Pioneer Square.

But the impressive M.L. Oakes postcard view that F.T.S. shared with his relative was far from downtown. Its label proclaimed “Seattle and Mt. Rainier from Fremont Hill.” While the cityscape was photographic, the faint but enormous image of the peak amounted to overblown fantasy, a skillful cut-and-paste trick common long before Photoshop.

Below the mythic mountain lies a tidy mix of touchstones from three Seattle neighborhoods. We look southeast from Fremont, across the Lake Washington Canal (not yet built through to Puget Sound) to northeast Queen Anne, Lake Union and, in the distance, a swath of Capitol Hill. So many landmarks of later years are missing as to boggle the mind.

To orient ourselves, we can survey the upper left, below faux Rainier, to find massive Seattle High School, built in 1902 and in short order renamed Broadway High, as rapid growth soon prompted construction of two new high schools, Franklin and Lincoln. Today, most of Broadway High is gone, replaced by the slick brick of Seattle Central College, but its auditorium remains at the corner of Broadway and Pine.

To the far right, we can peek at months-old St. James Cathedral, with one spire barely visible along the edge. In the middle ground are Seattle Electric Railway streetcar tracks along what today is Westlake Avenue North.

In the foreground, with no hint of the Aurora Bridge (1932), and with a low trestle precursor to the Fremont Bridge (1917) out of frame at right, we can locate, at lower left, part of the 1901 wooden version of what became the brick Fremont Baptist Church (1924).

To F.T.S., Seattle already may have seemed a “great city” in 1908, but assuming he remained a few decades, just imagine the changes he witnessed. Shades of today.

WEB EXTRAS

Big thanks to Judie Clarridge of the Fremont Historical Society, Rob Ketcherside of the Capitol Hill Historical Society and Michael Herschensohn of the Queen Anne Historical Society, and their colleagues, for their help with this column!

To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the NOW prospect and compare it with the THEN photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are (1) the back of the “Then” postcard, (2) an alternate “Now” view, (3) in chronological order, nine clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column, and (4) eight links to previous columns related to the Fremont neighborhood. Enjoy!

The back of the 1908 postcard shows the handwritten message of F.T.S. (Judie Clarridge)
Finding a location today to accurately repeat our “Then” photo is a challenge, owing to the natural growth of trees and rampant construction. This “Now” image, atop the Data1 Building in downtown Fremont, is at least three blocks south of the original vantage and dominated by the 1932 Aurora Bridge. (Jean Sherrard)
Sept. 7, 1903, Seattle Times, page 7
Dec. 23, 1903, Seattle Times, page 12
March 31, 1907, Seattle Times, p42
Sept. 1, 1907, Seattle Times, page 11
May 11, 1908, Seattle Times, page 7
April 6, 1909, Seattle Times, page 3
April 9, 1909, Seattle Times, page 1
Dec. 2, 1924, Seattle Times, page 13
Dec. 6, 1924, Seattle Times, page 8

RELATED COLUMNS

Here are links to “Now & Then” columns focusing on Fremont (dates are publication dates in the Seattle Times):

May 13, 2017, North end of Fremont Bridge

July 23, 2016: Digging the Fremont canal

Aug. 2, 2014: The Fremont trolley barn

June 7, 2013: A Fremont trolley derailed

May 10, 2009: The musical Baptists of Fremont

July 22, 2007: Making tracks to town

Feb. 13, 2000: Fremont, spring 1940

Aug. 11, 1985: Fremont: It’s always been a community at the center of things

 

 

Seattle Now & Then: Welcome to West Seattle sign, 1986

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THEN: Flanking the then-new wooden West Seattle Chamber of Commerce welcome sign in September 1986 are officers (from left) Don Olson, Aurlo Bonney (executive vice president), Earl Cruzen, Carl Hossman Jr., King County Council member R.R. “Bob” Greive, Victor Lebel and Dr. Stuart Stevenson. The sign was designed by Elizabeth Kincaid. (Brad Garrison, West Seattle Herald, courtesy Robinson Newspapers)
NOW: Enjoying the unveiling of the new steel sign on May 8 is Adah Cruzen, whose major gifts to several nonprofits on behalf of her late husband, Earl Cruzen, earned her the 2019 Orville Rummel Community Service Award. Behind her are chamber officers (from left) Lauren Burgon, Hamilton Gardiner, Pete Spalding, Lynn Dennis (orange jacket, former CEO), Julia Jordan (CEO), Paul Prentice (sign designer) and Gary Potter. (Clay Eals)

(Published in Seattle Times online on Aug. 29, 2019,
and in print on Sept. 1, 2019)

A West Seattle sign that won’t wear out its welcome
By Clay Eals

Long ago I learned a simple yet profound way to help newcomers grasp the mystique of West Seattle, where I live. You can practice it as you read this text.

Raise your right hand, palm out, as if waving to a friend. The bulk of your hand is the rest of Seattle. Your partly extended thumb is the West Seattle peninsula. (Some call this the “reverse Michigan.”) Arguably, the story of West Seattle is about getting from the thumb to the hand, and vice versa.

This maxim ran deep in the hearts of local business leaders who in 1986 celebrated, in our “then” photo, the installation of a wooden welcome sign to be seen by westbound traffic on the Fauntleroy Expressway where it curves toward the peninsula’s business hub, the Junction.

The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce worked with the city for three years on the sign project before its fruition, and the context was potent. The high-level West Seattle Bridge had just opened — eastbound in November 1983 and westbound in July 1984 — and even appeared on the sign.

For decades, motorists had suffered delays caused by frequent openings of two low bridges (similar to the Ballard, Fremont, University and Montlake spans) built in 1924 and 1930 over the busy industrial Duwamish Waterway. Relief followed the fabled 1978 ramming of the northern span by the freighter Chavez, which rendered the span inoperable, triggered a flow of federal funds to build an elevated bridge and snuffed a bridge-related secession campaign. During construction, drivers braved four years of dizzying detours. All of this reinforced a citywide sense that West Seattle was a hassle to visit.

Of course, the new high bridge made it easier to get to West Seattle, but the reverse also was true. The bridge aided locals’ trips to suburban malls.

For the Junction core, 1986 generated other rumblings:

  • The pullout of JCPenney after 60 years as an anchor.
  • Declining public-school enrollment, due in part to desegregation busing, which led to the razing of a nearby elementary school to make way for a competing retail center.
  • An impending tax on merchants to support a Business Improvement Area.
  • A prolonged zoning debate over maximum building height (85 feet bested 65 feet, in a 5-4 city council vote).

In this milieu, the welcome sign was more than … welcome.

It stood sentinel for nearly 33 years, but the elements took their toll. In 2018, Adah Cruzen, widow of local business pioneer Earl Cruzen, contributed to the chamber some of the “extra zeroes” he’d bequeathed her for a steel replacement, installed last spring.

To some, West Seattle still may seem remote, but the new sign’s greeting promises to endure.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are a video of the May 8, 2019, unveiling of the new sign, an extra image from 1948, plus, in chronological order, two clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and one from the West Seattle Herald that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Link to video of May 8, 2019, unveiling of new “Welcome to West Seattle” sign (Clay Eals)
An intriguing “Welcome to West Seattle” sign from 1948, depicting where the sign stood on the peninsula! (West Side Story)
July 8, 1984, Seattle Times, page B1
July 22, 1984, Seattle Times, page D1
Sept. 10, 1986, West Seattle Herald front page, announcing installation of the sign

 

Seattle Now & Then: The Union 76 Skyride, 1962

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THEN: The spiny, orange, gazebo-like terminus of the Union 76 Sky Ride now can be found at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, where it was moved in 1980. Today’s Sky Ride trip runs $5, 10 times the 1962 fare. By comparison, a ride to the top of the Space Needle, $1 in 1962, today starts at $32.50. The Monorail offers the best deal of all, a mere $2.50 per ride, only five times the 1962 rate.
NOW: A scene from the crowded 2019 Northwest Folklife Festival features the graduated colors of the Rep’s mainstage 842-seat Bagley Wright Theatre (peeping through trees, right-center) and its 282-seat Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre (the “Leo K”, left-center, added in 1996). The unusual green and maroon facade is said to refer to Granny Smith apples and the bark of our indigenous madrona trees.

(Published in Seattle Times online on Aug. 22, 2019,
and in print on Aug. 25,, 2019)

A willing suspension – from sky-high to high drama
By Jean Sherrard

Since 1972, Seattle summers have opened and closed with multiday festivals: Northwest Folklife on Memorial Day weekend, and Bumbershoot on Labor Day weekend. Hosted at Seattle Center, both events signal a change of seasons. They also inherit the legacies of the Century 21 Exposition (aka the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair), whose revitalizing alterations “Now & Then” has oft explored.

Our “Then” photo, looking northwest during the fair, features one station of the Union 76 Skyride, located at the former corner of Second Avenue and Republican Street. Traversing 1,400 feet and reaching the height of a six-floor building, its bucket-shaped orange and blue cars provided a bird’s-eye view as their overhead wheels rolled above the grounds. When I experienced the still-operating ride two years later, the three-passenger limit meant my father stayed behind while my mom, little brother and I floated and gloated.

Built by Von Roll Iron Works of Switzerland, then the world’s largest producer of aerial tramways, the Skyride became one of the fair’s most popular and — for only 50 cents — affordable excursions. (Union 76 gas stations offered buy-two/get-one-free tickets with every fill-up, recalls historian Alan Stein.) The Skyride’s southern station also stood only steps from the Monorail.

THEN: A Kodachrome slide of the Skyride’s southern station, just steps from the Monorail. (Courtesy Tony Case)

Visible from the Skyride, the Seattle Playhouse — built for the fair in only 34 days — beckoned from Mercer Street. The venue showcased national and international acts, from the Julliard String Quartet and Japan’s Bunraku Theatre to the Pacific Ballet and Hal Holbrook’s one-man show “Mark Twain Tonight!” Reportedly, Holbrook suggested it as the perfect location for a repertory theater.

The newly formed Seattle Repertory Theatre took up Holbrook’s challenge in November 1963, fronting inaugural productions of “King Lear” and Max Frisch’s “The Firebugs.” Original troupe members included Marjorie Nelson and a young John Gilbert, later stalwarts of the local acting community. (Nelson married prominent architect and preservationist Victor Steinbrueck, neatly squaring the circle.)

In the early 1980s, the Skyride’s northern station bowed to what we might call a theatrical suspension of disbelief, when the Rep departed the aging Playhouse to create state-of-the-art digs on a nearby corner lot. As an aspiring actor, I witnessed this vision beginning to assume reality when I was fortunate to be cast in two plays in the inaugural season.

The result has, like the World’s Fair, become a gift to Seattle. Through the decades, by showcasing a steady diet of star-studded, groundbreaking and world-class theater, the Rep has, like the Skyride, become a high-wire act.

(To learn about Bumbershoot’s early years, check out our 2001 video history BumberChronicles. Also, my 1980s radio adaptation of Don Quixote for NPR features actors Nelson and Gilbert)

WEB EXTRAS

Check out further details in our Seattle Now & Then 360 video.

To hear a snippet of our Globe Radio Repertory adaptation of “Don Quixote”, featuring Marjorie Nelson and John Gilbert, click here. Marjorie delivers a lovely performance as Quixote’s concerned housekeeper Maria and John portrays Father Pero Perez, a long-time friend, with all the mastery you might expect. In this introductory scene, Maria approaches Father Perez to inform him that her master has returned from another delusional adventure and plead for his help. Both actors knock it out of the park.

The back story here might also be of some interest. In 1984, after being injured (a torn hamstring) at the Rep while playing Charles the Wrestler in “As You Like It”, I decided to move into radio production.

With partner John Siscoe (owner/operator of the Globe Bookstore in Pioneer Square), I wrote an adaptation of “Don Quixote” and together we pitched it to NPR Playhouse. Our subsequent productions appeared through the early 1990s, and were largely funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. We were fortunate to work with some of the finest actors in the country, most of whom were based in Seattle.

Seattle Now & Then: Dow and the Stones, 1981

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THEN: The Kingdome crown tops a crowd of 71,000, including Dow Constantine (near left, in close-cropped hair, mustache, striped shirt, looking to his left) during the Oct. 14, 1981, Rolling Stones show at the Kingdome. (Mike Siegel, The Seattle Times)
NOW: Dow Constantine stands in roughly the same position among 50,000 people at the Stones show Aug. 14, 2019, at CenturyLink Field. Partly obscured at his left is his wife, Shirley Carlson, whom he first met when she was music director at KCMU. Constantine had no qualms asking a nearby fan to snap the photo. The photo credit he supplied reflects his drollery. (“Some guy”)

(Published in Seattle Times online on Aug. 16, 2019,
and in print on Sept. 8, 2019)

Stones roll from the covered Kingdome to the open air
By Clay Eals

So much was it a city symbol and massive gathering place for sports and spectacle that it is difficult to believe we are going on 20 years since the Kingdome departed — in a planned implosion, no less. Even harder to fathom may be that relative newcomers are unaware of the shortcomings (and, yes, charms) of what resembled, from afar, a giant, concrete hamburger.

Long before retractable roofs came into fashion, the Kingdome satisfied our drenched desire for a commoners’ cathedral we could swarm to and revel in, comforted that our “Seattle sunshine” could not cancel or interfere with our fun. In other words, there were no rainouts.

Dow Constantine remembers it well. Our King County executive was a 19-year-old University of Washington sophomore when he saw the Rolling Stones’ sixth show in Seattle, on Oct. 14, 1981, the first night of back-to-back concerts. Among 71,000 packing the Kingdome, he was down front in what was crudely called “the pit.” The Greg Kihn Band opened, followed by the J. Geils Band. The Stones took the stage at 10:55 p.m. and finished about 1 a.m.

This milieu radiates from our atmospheric “Then” image, captured by Mike Siegel, in one of his first photos for The Seattle Times. Constantine stands near left, eying the wilder youths to his side. His subdued expression speaks volumes.

“Near the stage, the crowd was pretty aggressive,” he recalls. “You had to stand your ground against the force of thousands pushing to get closer.” He adds, with no little irony, “We thought it was the last time we would get a chance to see the Stones because they were so old.”

The Oct. 14 and 15, 1981, shows also hosted scores of overdose cases, along with a deeper tragedy. A 16-year-old girl died when she lost her balance and fell backward 50 feet from the outside 200-level ramp onto a landing. Most fans, and probably the Stones, didn’t learn of the death until after the Oct. 15 show. It was the first fatality in the Kingdome’s then-five-year history.

While no one inside felt moisture from the sky, as always there was — beyond the haze and the substitution of rumbling echo for sound — the disquieting feeling, in spite of the stadium’s enormity, of being trapped by the absence of sky.

That was no deterrent for Constantine, a lifelong music fanatic who graduated from grade-school trombonist to arts and music champion as an adult. He nurtured his obsession by volunteering in 1981 at the campus radio station, KCMU (now KEXP), eventually snagging plum DJ shifts.

Fast-forward nearly 38 years, and we find Constantine once more in the front row at a Stones show, their 12th in Seattle, this time on the Kingdome’s footprint at open-air CenturyLink Field. “No pushing and shoving,” he says. “Very much an all-ages, good-vibe, bring-the-grandkids crowd.”

The Kingdome may have lasted only 24 years, but the Stones — and Constantine —roll on.

WEB EXTRAS

Here is a bonus, extended interview with Dow Constantine, conducted Aug. 15, 2019, one day after the Stones’ Aug. 14, 2019, show he attended at CenturyLink Field.

=====

You seemed to be in the front row last night. Were you on the left (west) side of the center runway or the right (east) side?

If I’m going to take the time to go to a show, I’m going to do my best to be in the front. Yesterday I was down front, on the left (so, stage right). In 1981, I was down front, on the right (so, stage left.)

What were the similarities and differences between the 1981 show and last night’s show?

The 1981 tour was in support of the album “Tattoo You,” and the singles “Start Me Up,” “Waiting on a Friend” and, I think, “Hang Fire” were receiving heavy airplay on MTV. They ran through those and a lot of the all-time hits, but also a bunch of less familiar songs from that new album.

The crowd near the stage was tightly packed and pretty aggressive, and you had to set your feet and stand your ground against the force of thousands on the floor pushing to get closer to the band. And we thought it was the last time we would get a chance to see them, because they were so old.

Last night, there was no new album to promote. They just played the hits, plus a couple of deeper cuts from the early 1970s albums, and the crowd loved it. And no pushing and shoving. Very much an all-ages, good vibe, bring-the-grandkids crowd.

How many times have you seen the Stones in Seattle, and which shows?

Not many. I really respect the remarkable accomplishments of the Stones, including their longevity, influence and astonishing number of hit songs they’ve recorded. But my first love among the behemoths of old-time arena rock is The Who.

In music, all of us have our church. And often it just comes down to which band you fell for first. Compared to all those hardcore fans I heard talking about traveling the world with the Stones, seeing them in the 1960s and 1970s, seeing them dozens or hundreds of times, I’m just a tourist, a guest in their sanctuary.

In your King County Council days, you displayed a guitar in your office. Do you still? Was it yours? If not, whose was it?

That was an autographed Cat Power guitar! And I never played it, at least not well enough for public consumption. It came from a Vera Project auction, and after many years I donated it to charity.

Do you play guitar? If so, how long have you done so? Do you play any Rolling Stones songs?

Nope. Hacked my way through the chords (and vocals) of a few songs (Kinks, Clash, Neil Young, etc.) over the years, but there is no earthly way I could be called a guitarist. I’m a fan.

What Rolling Stones song or songs are your favorite, and why?

I love the melancholy charts like “Angie,” “Wild Horses” or “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” But it is hard to argue with “soundtrack of a generation” rockers like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Satisfaction.” If you wrote any one of those, you’d do best to set down your pen for good and declare victory.

=====

Below is an alternate “Now” image, plus a fanciful one from the summer of 2018, plus links to a one-hour Dow podcast and a Dow summer playlist, plus, in chronological order, five clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Showered by reddish light from the stage, a more dour Dow Constantine stands among 50,000 people at the Stones show Aug. 15, 2019, at CenturyLink Field. This the alternate photo to our official “Now” image, taken at Constantine’s request by the same anonymous fan. (“Some guy”)
In a reflection of his music mania, on Aug. 11, 2018 (almost exactly one year before the Aug. 15, 2019 Stones show), Dow Constantine kiddingly prepares to thrash a custom SupPop guitar in the grass of Alki Playfield during the one-day, free SPF30 festival celebrating the 30th anniversary of the record company. The guitar was auctioned by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society for a winning bid of $2,225. (Clay Eals)
Click the above image to hear a one-hour “My Ten Songs” podcast, hosted by Megan Hanna, in which Dow Constantine provides the backstory for his top-10 favorite songs.
Click on the above image to see and hear Dow Constantine’s 2019 summer playlist.
Oct. 15, 1981, Seattle Times, full-page coverage of the Oct. 14, 1981, Stones show, including a cropped version of our “Then” image.
Oct. 16, 1981, Seattle Times editorial
Oct. 16, 1981, Seattle Times, page one
Oct. 16, 1981, Seattle Times, page C5
Oct. 16, 1981, Seattle Times, page C1

Seattle Now & Then: Town Hall Seattle, pre-1968

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THEN: This undated view of Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, looks southwest from the corner of Eighth and Seneca, sometime prior to the 1968 demolition and reconstruction of neighboring First Presbyterian Church, whose own dome peeks out at left. (Paul Dorpat collection)
Walking toward the “now” camera at Eighth and Seneca, poised for a green “go” light for Town Hall’s post-renovation festival in September are (from left) Candace Wilkinson-Davis, event manager; Anthony Canape, development coordinator; Dana Feder, production director; Jini Palmer, digital media producer; Grant Barber, individual giving manager; Jonathan Shipley, associate director of communications; Kate Weiland, AIA, project architect, BuildingWork; Matt Aalfs, AIA, design principal, BuildingWork; Wier Harman, executive director; Zac Eckstein, digital marketing manager; Megan Castillo, community engagement manager; Shane Unger, event manager; Shirley Bossier, rental and booking director; Missy Miller, communications and marketing director; Alexander Eby, staff writer; Renate Child, bookkeeper; Mary Cutler, general manager; Kate Nagle-Caraluzzo, development director; and Haley Fenton, donor relations and membership manager. (Not pictured: Amanda Winterhalter, institutional giving manager; Ashley Toia, director of programming; Bruno L’Ecuyer, technical lead; Edward Wolcher, curator of lectures; Laurel Taylor, senior database administrator; plus event staff and sound engineers.) Visible at top are stalwarts of our skyline: the Seattle Municipal Tower (1990, left), the Columbia Center (1985, center), Safeco Plaza, “the box the Space Needle came in” (1969, right) and, yes, a construction crane. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in Seattle Times online on Aug. 15, 2019,
and in print on Aug. 18, 2019)

Encircling the quest to share ‘music and the music of ideas’
By Clay Eals

It bears a square shape, but to me Town Hall Seattle has always felt round. This derives from its dome, but also from the sensation of sitting in its Great Hall. Scores of pews angled in a giant half-circle envelop the stage, bringing performer and audience together as one.

Coming to mind are people I’ve enjoyed there, both nationally known (folk legend U. Utah Phillips and a non-singing Linda Ronstadt) and home-grown (speakers at a memorial for newspaperman Emmett Watson, as well as this column’s own Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard in their annual “A Rogue’s Christmas” show).

A focus on people bolstered the vision of Town Hall’s founder, David Brewster, when it opened in 1999. In cultivating investors, the civic and journalistic entrepreneur conceptualized it as a gathering place for citizens to share “music and the music of ideas.”

To house his idea, Brewster chose the three-floor Roman Revival edifice at Eighth and Seneca, the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist. Built in two stages, in 1916 and 1922, more than 40 years before Interstate 5 sliced the site away from downtown proper, it offered an auditorium with room for 1,000, befitting a faith that once drew crowds to its message that prayer can triumph over sickness. It also was among several local Christian Science churches yielding to new owners and uses as congregations declined.

Initially, Brewster wanted to rename the building Landmark Hall, but it was not yet an official city landmark (that happened in 2012). Having grown up near New York City and familiar with its Town Hall, he decided to adapt the more down-to-earth moniker for Seattle.

His vision took flight. In the ensuing two decades, Town Hall lured more than 1.5 million attendees to nearly 7,000 events featuring artists and scholars, musicians and presidential candidates — as the saying goes, “thinkers and doers.”

To remain viable and withstand earthquakes for decades to come, Town Hall just finished a two-year, $35.5 million interior renovation, improving its underpinnings in ways that are largely and intentionally invisible while also enhancing sound and upgrading ancillary rooms. Matt Aalfs, principal architect, sums up: “We wanted to keep the building’s soul.”

That soul returns to full bloom this September during a 40-event Homecoming Festival. Wier Harmon, executive director since 2005, says it exemplifies an ongoing mission to provide low- or no-cost tickets to a kaleidoscope of events dreamed up by hundreds of local producers and organizations. It’s a quest that touches him personally.

“Town Hall truly speaks to the highest aspirations of this community because it inspires creativity, activism and civic engagement,” he says. “The chance to help a place that’s founded on preserving and celebrating those values has been irresistible.”

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the NOW prospect and compare it with the THEN photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below, in chronological order, are 11 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.

July 4, 1909, Seattle Times, page 19
July 22, 1914, Seattle Times, page 10
June 21, 1916, Seattle Times, page 5
July 8, 1916, Seattle Times, page 5
Aug. 12, 1916, Seattle Times, page 5
Sept. 11, 1916, Seattle Times, page 17
March 3, 1917, Seattle Times, page 7
June 18, 1922, Seattle Times, page 12
Dec. 25, 1967, Seattle Times, page 69
Dec. 17, 1968, Seattle Times, page 3
May 24, 1969, Seattle Times, page 15

Seattle Now & Then: Women’s Suffragists, 1916

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THEN: We invite readers to search for the legendary suffragists among the delegates depicted on May 2, 1916. These include Lucy Burns, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Florence Bayard Hilles and Elizabeth Selden Rogers. The keen-eyed might discover University of Washington president Henry Suzzallo in the crowd. We will post photos of these notables below in our Web Extras.
NOW: The sidewalk directly across Stewart Street from our “Then” photo (a spot with better visibility today) teems with celebrants of suffrage. Along with a sizable contingent representing the League of Women Voters, we were joined by luminaries including U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal; Seattle may- or Jenny Durkan; Seattle City Council members Sally Bagshaw, M. Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant; former Gov. Christine Gregoire; Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire; King County sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht; Seattle Central College president Sheila Edwards Lange; Northwest African American Museum executive director LaNesha DeBardelaben; Marie McCaffrey, founder/director of HistoryLink; and activist and civic volunteer Constance Rice. For a more complete list of participants, see below.
Suffragists provide ‘proof of life’ for the good fight
By Jean Sherrard

In real life and in the movies, “proof of life” is an oft-used trope in which kidnappers pose a hostage grimly holding up a newspaper’s front page. This week’s astonishing panorama of suffragists, unearthed by researcher Ron Edge, uses a publication to provide proof of a different sort: the life of a movement.

Nearly 70 women and a handful of men lined up a century ago, with mostly stern faces that might reflect not merely the conventions of unsmiling portraiture, but also their years of struggle to secure a fundamental right of democracy. In a note on the back of the photo, they are identified only as “Women suffragists circa 1915.” Two clues, however, provide more precision.

At far right, a partially obscured sign for Wilson’s Modern Business College places us at Second Avenue and Stewart Street (the terra-cotta-clad two-story building from 1914 is being replaced this year by a high-rise). The other pointer is that women are holding up four copies of the March 18, 1916, edition of “The Suffragist,” the weekly newspaper of the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage, founded in 1913 by activist Alice Paul and published in Washington, D.C.

The paper’s cover depicts the suffrage opera “Melinda and her Sisters,” staged as a benefit for Paul’s Union at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. None other than Broadway headliner and movie actress Marie Dressler — who, 17 years later, played the title role in “Tugboat Annie,” a film made in Seattle and loosely based on the life of Thea Foss, founder of Foss Maritime — played the operatic lead.

The long campaign for women’s suffrage, however, had not been merely an Eastern affair. By 1896, four Western states — Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho — had voted to authorize the franchise. Efforts in Washington languished until Nov. 8, 1910, when the state’s male voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to our state constitution, giving women the right to vote here, and reinvigorating the national debate.

California followed suit in 1911, with Arizona, Kansas, the Alaskan Territory, Nevada and Montana soon to follow. But hidebound Eastern and Southern states proved resistant, so Paul rallied her members to travel the pro-suffrage West for six weeks and whip up enthusiasm.

Luminaries of the tour included Harriot Stanton Blatch (daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton), Florence Bayard Hilles and Elizabeth Selden Rogers, “speakers known throughout the country for their personality and power.”

In Seattle, the “Suffrage Special” tour took flight. “Visiting Suffragist Joyrides in Aeroplane … Scatters Tracts,” bubbled a front-page Seattle Times headline. The story explained: “The doctrine of ‘Votes for Women’ reached its apex 1,400 feet above Seattle when Miss Lucy Burns … flew over [the city] in [Terah] Maroney’s beautiful flying yacht … and scattered handbills.”

(A prescient side note: One year earlier, Mahoney had taken William Boeing on his first flight, after which Boeing told his partner George Westervelt: “There isn’t much to that machine of Maroney’s. I think we could build a better one.”)

The women’s Seattle tour stop did not disappoint. A crowd of 1,500 packed the Moore Theatre on May 1 for rousing female oratory. Proclaimed Selden Rogers, “The force of women is needed in the land for peace, strength and righteousness.”

The next morning, the envoys gathered for a boisterous pep rally at the University of Washington, where they were welcomed to Meany Hall by Henry Suzzallo, UW president. (Today, the microform collection of the UW library named for him houses the entire seven-year run of “The Suffragist.”)

In the afternoon, a downtown luncheon took place at the New Washington Hotel, now the Josephinum Apartments. Our “Now” group photo was staged just around the corner.

By 1920, requisite states had ratified the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote (though many women of color remained disenfranchised even after the passage, legally or because of discriminatory practices). In 1923, Alice Paul became the first drafter of the Equal Rights Amendment. The fate of the latter might well lie in the wisdom and spirit embodied in our “Now” photo.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “now” prospect and compare it with the “then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Jean, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Thanks to Clay Eals for painstaking identification of the participants in our “now” photo (from left). We have only included the names we know. Please help us fill in the gaps!

Allison Feher; Alyssa Weed; Leah Litwak; Assunta Ng, founder, Northwest Asian Weekly; Michelle Merriweather, president and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle; Sheila Edwards Lange, president, Seattle Central College; Sadiqa Sakin; Marie McCaffrey, co-founder and executive director, HistoryLink; Jessica Forsythe; Lily Wilson-Codega, director, Seattle Office of Intergovernmental Relations; Lisa Herbold, Seattle City Council member; Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Council member; Lorena González, Seattle City Council member; Courtney Gregoire, Port of Seattle commissioner; Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Council member; Debora Juarez, Seattle City Council member; Jenny Durkan, Seattle mayor; Pramila Jayapal, U.S. representative, Seventh District; Debra Smith, CEO, Seattle City Light; Christine Gregoire, former Washington governor; Michelle Gregoire; Mitzi Johanknecht, King County sheriff; Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council member; Claudia Balducci, King County Council member; Constance Rice, former vice chancellor and senior chancellor, the Seattle Colleges; Emily Pinckney; Karishama Vahora; Maqsud Nur; McKenna Lux; Nura Abdi; Jessica Finn-Coven, director, Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment; Pat Griffith; Kathryn Tyson; LaNesha DeBardelaben, executive director, Northwest African American Museum; Mariko Lockhart, director, Seattle Office for Civil Rights; Ann Murphy; Linnea Hirst; Kiku Hayashi; Julie Sarkissian; Dianne Ramsey; Amy Peloff; Connie Hellyer; Dave Griffith; Joanna Cullen.

We continue this week’s Extras with a slight mea culpa. Two photos were taken on July 2nd – the first just prior to some delayed arrivals. We reassembled for a second portrait, but lost a few participants in the process. Here’s a version of that earlier photo:

A big thanks to all who joined us for the repeat!

 

Seattle Now & Then: puppeteer Aurora Valentinetti – late 1940s/early 1950s

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Much as Aurora Valentinetti asked children to do in her puppet shows, transport yourself to a different realm – in this case the drama department in the basement of Denny Hall at the University of Washington where, in this view from the late 1940s/early 1950s, the new professor coaxes the personality of her handmade Pip marionette for a production of “The Shoemaker and the Elves.” (James O. Sneddon, Aurora Valentinetti collection)
NOW: In a vestibule of Meany Hall, Valentinetti poses with the same seat prop and Pip marionette prior to her June 13, 2019, receipt of the University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award. To see more of her and her students’ original creations and puppets of all kinds, from tiny to life-size, visit the Valentinetti Puppet Museum in downtown Bremerton. (Clay Eals)

(Published in Seattle Times online on Aug. 1, 2019,
and in print on Aug. 4, 2019)

A distinguished lifetime of bringing puppets to moppets
By Clay Eals

It all might seem rather simple, maybe childlike. But concocting, constructing and bringing to life an inanimate object to stir emotions and imagination is complex, profound business.

Just ask Aurora Valentinetti, winner of the University of Washington’s 2019 Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award, who as this column appears has reached her 98th birthday.

Propelling a walker as she strode across the Meany Hall stage June 13 to receive the award medal, the pint-sized honoree drew a roaring ovation while mirroring the fortitude that she carried from her West Seattle upbringing to the UW in the fall of 1939 and that helped her forge a lifetime persona – that of puppeteer.

From the early 1940s to her retirement in 1992 and beyond, this puppetry professor and promoter took her hand, rod and string creations seemingly everywhere – from the Showboat Theatre to the Metropolitan Theatre (both long gone), from St. Mark’s Cathedral to First African Episcopal Church, from Bainbridge to Bumbershoot, from Fremont to Federal Way, from statewide tours to national festivals, from the beloved Christmas windows of the old Frederick & Nelson department store downtown to her own “Puppet Playhouse” show on KCTS-TV, Channel 9.

Though her productions sometimes targeted adults by exploring themes from operatic to existentialist, Valentinetti’s deepest impact – and love – lay in her shows for children, tapping into worldwide cultures and using puppets that each took 200 hours to build.

She wasn’t a recognizable kids’ TV icon like Wunda Wunda or Brakeman Bill because her work, by definition, was behind the scenes. “You have to become the soul of that figure, and you don’t count,” she says.

Nonetheless, she mesmerized moppets, no doubt because most of the time, their eyes wide open, mouths agape and minds “still in touch with fantasy and magic,” they were reacting to the escapades of her puppets in person and in real time.

Such engagement, she says, validates a universal, desperate need for artistic endeavor.

“Without the arts, we are going to be robots or back to the level of animals,” she says. “Real learning happens through all of the arts, particularly for young children. That’s where they grow and expand. That also is where children can be individuals.”

Since college days, she lived in Wallingford to be close to her classes. She never married or drove a car, instead bidding rides from students. “They knew that if they drove me home, I’d feed them.”

To live closer to a niece, Joanne Bratton, she moved in 2016 to Wenatchee. There, she keeps several of her puppets close by. “They have a power all their own,” she says. “I just treat them like human beings.”

Perhaps she’s imparting a deeper lesson to us all.

WEB EXTRAS

This week, instead of a 360-degree video, we are providing links to several video interviews of Aurora Valentinetti from which quotes were drawn for this column.

Aurora Valentinetti, one month shy of 98, receives the University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award June 13, 2019, at Meany Hall. This award presentation is at the end of this video, preceded by a “now” photo shoot for the Seattle Times “Now & Then” column and an interview of Aurora by Clay Eals.
Aurora Valentinetti,, 97, the legendary puppetry professor at the University of Washington for 50 years, received the Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award from the University of Washington Alumni Association on April 12, 2019, in a ceremony at her home in Wenatchee, Washington. This video depicts the ceremony only. It was emceed by Grant Kollett, UW assistant vice president for alumni and stakeholder engagement. Speakers were nieces Katy Larson and Joanne Bratton.
This is the same video as above but includes an interview at the end, starting at 37:10. Aurora Valentinetti,, 97, the legendary puppetry professor at the University of Washington for 50 years, received the Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award from the University of Washington Alumni Association on April 12, 2019, in a ceremony at her home in Wenatchee, Washington. This video depicts the ceremony, as well as displays and greetings beforehand from well-wishers and Aurora describing some of her favorite puppets afterward. The ceremony was emceed by Grant Kollett, UW assistant vice president for alumni and stakeholder engagement. Speakers were nieces Katy Larson and Joanne Bratton.
In this 1992 interview, “Upon Reflection” host Marcia Alvar speaks with Aurora “The Puppet Lady” Valentinetti, puppeteer and professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Drama. Valentinetti examines the history of puppetry around the world. While Americans have regarded puppets as little more than a childish amusement, she highlights the importance of puppets in other cultures and recognizes the efforts of Jim Henson in gaining a wider acceptance for puppets as a viable form of theater.

Also, below are two additional photos, plus, in chronological order, several clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and one from the Mercer Island Reporter that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

In the early 1950s, Aurora Valentinetti displays seven of her marionettes at the University of Washington. (Aurora Valentinetti collection)
Aurora Valentinetti displays her University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award medal minutes after she received it on June 13, 2019. (Clay Eals)
Oct. 19, 1947, Seattle Times, page 63
July 20, 1948, Seattle Times, page 9
Dec. 18, 1950, Seattle Times, page 21
Dec. 31, 1950, Seattle Times, page 54
Dec. 13, 1951, Seattle Times, page 62
Dec. 17, 1951, Seattle Times, page 27
June 20, 1952, Seattle Times, page 20
Jan. 25, 1959, Seattle Times, page 69
March 29, 1959, Seattle Times, page 109
April 14, 1959, Seattle Times, page 39
Feb. 4, 1962, Seattle Times, page 144
June 24, 1962, Seattle Times, page 62
Jan. 24, 1963, Mercer Island Reporter
April 3, 1963, Seattle Times, page 21
April 7, 1963, Seattle Times, page 16
Nov. 10, 1963, Seattle Times, page 16
March 16, 1964, Seattle Times, page 141
March 29, 1964, Seattle Times, page 130
July 5, 1964, Seattle Times, page 41
Aug. 18, 1965, Seattle Times, page 21
Oct. 27, 1968, Seattle Times, page 206
Oct. 27, 1968, Seattle Times, page 211
Dec. 8, 1968, Seattle Times, page 53

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle Now & Then: East Seattle School, 1925

(click once or twice to enlarge photos)

THEN1: In 1925, more than 60 students at then-11-year-old East Seattle School, some in dresses, ties or knickerbockers, take their exercise outside the school’s east-facing backside. (See THEN2 below to see the building outside its west-facing entry.) For a complete history of the school and its environs, see the 2013 book “Mercer Island: From Haunted Wilderness to Coveted Community” by Jane Meyer Brahm. (Webster & Stevens, Museum of History and Industry, 1983.10.3016)
NOW1: Organized by East Seattle School graduate Kit Malmfeldt (lower left), 80 grads and supporters emulate their predecessors on June 8, 2019. Margaret Vik, who attended East Seattle from 1933 to 1941, poses in a wheelchair, front center. See NOW2 below to see the group posing (Jean Sherrard)
Days may be numbered for piece of ‘heaven’ in East Seattle
By Clay Eals

Quick quiz: Where is East Seattle? If you’re thinking Madison Park, Leschi or other places east of Broadway where the street names begin with “East,” you may be forgiven.

The correct answer is that, unlike the directional designations of North, South and West Seattle, East Seattle isn’t in Seattle at all. You have to head one mile east on Interstate 90 and across Lake Washington to find it at the northwestern edge of Mercer Island.

Nestled just south of where I-90 begins tunneling beneath the Mercer Island lid, the neighborhood of East Seattle is the island’s oldest, serving as the then-unincorporated community’s business and residential hub for decades before the floating bridge opened in 1940. It boasted a hotel, store, church, post office and the only civic vestige still standing from that era – 105-year-old East Seattle School.

The school may not stand much longer.

Built in 1914, operating as a public school (and sporting views of the lake and the majestic Olympics) until 1982 and as a Boys & Girls Club until 2008, the two-floor, Mission-style concrete structure has sat vacant in recent years and looks rather bedraggled. Its owner, auto magnate Michael O’Brien, who lives nearby, is seeking city permits to demolish it and fill its 2.9-acre trapezoidal parcel with 14 single-family homes.

This fate troubles some longtime islanders and graduates of the school. For Margaret Vik, 92, who attended East Seattle in the 1930s when Seattleites reached the island by boat, the school summons memories of simpler times – from echoing ferry foghorns to a steady corps of teachers, led by longtime principal Ethel Johnson, “who just required you to do your best,” she says. “I learned how to accept things the way they were. We were real country kids and lived country-style. Everybody knew everybody. Now you don’t. To me, it was heaven.”

The school’s demise, however, would be no surprise to those who have witnessed the island’s boom-bust school-age population cycles and relentless development pressure. No viable proposal to retain East Seattle School is surfacing, and, depending on how island city officials rule this fall, all that may survive its razing is an entrance archway or an interpretive plaque. But hope remains.

“There needs to be a creative reuse of this building,” says Jane Meyer Brahm, co-president of the local historical society and former city council member and newspaper editor, speaking in a video for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, which listed East Seattle School on its Most Endangered Places list.

“This is the oldest public building on the island. For a community like Mercer Island with such a short history, we need to do a better job of preserving those historic buildings we do have.”

THEN2: This undated photo, likely from the early or mid-20th century, certainly prior to 1965, shows East Seattle School’s original, west-facing entry. (Mercer Island Historical Society)
NOW2: Organized by East Seattle School graduate Kit Malmfeldt (front row, sixth from left), 80 grads and supporters gather in front of East Seattle School’s west face on June 8, 2019. Margaret Vik, who attended East Seattle from 1933 to 1941, poses in a wheelchair (front row, seventh from right).

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the NOW1 prospect and compare it with the THEN1 photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Here is a video on East Seattle School produced in 2018 by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation:

This 2018 video produced by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation explains why the organization placed East Seattle School on its Most Endangered Places list.

Below are three photos from Grant Spearman, East Seattle School graduate, along with, in chronological order, 16 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and the Mercer Island Reporter (available at Mercer Island Library) that, among many others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Grant Spearman, a graduate of East Seattle School, displays a vintage crossing-guard sign during a tour of the school in 2014. (Grant Spearman)
This stairway leads to what was the principal’s office at East Seattle School. The photo was taken during a 2014 tour of the school (Grant Spearman)
The late Phil Flash (left), who headed the Mercer Island Historical Society, poses with Grant Spearman, East Seattle School graduate, in 2014. (Grant Spearman)
April 18, 1914, Seattle Times, page 8
May 30, 1914, Seattle Times, page 3
June 9, 1915, Seattle Times, page 11
April 2, 1921, Seattle Times, page 4
May 29, 1939, Seattle Times, page 8
May 2, 1940, Seattle Times, page 40
Sept. 6, 1946, Seattle Times, page 17
Sept. 23, 1954, Seattle Times, page 25
Feb. 21, 1960, Seattle Times, page 1
April 27, 1960, Seattle Times, page 29
February 11, 1965, Mercer Island Reporter, part one
Feb. 11, 1965, Mercer Island Reporter, part two
Feb. 21, 1965, Seattle Times, page 84
Sept. 7, 1965, Seattle Times, page 35
Nov. 21, 1968, Mercer Island Reporter
Jan. 28, 1981, Seattle Times, page 77

 

Seattle Now & Then: ‘Pacific Coast, Seattle’s Own Railroad’

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A Seattle-bound train boards passengers at the Black Diamond depot in 1910. While these rails were mainly dedicated to transporting coal, in its heyday, three passenger trains a day made the trip to the big city. (Courtesy, Black Diamond Historical Society)
NOW: Kurt E. Armbruster, at center with his new book, “Pacific Coast: Seattle’s Own Railroad,” poses with rail fans following his lecture at the remarkable Black Diamond Museum, opened in 1982 after years of loving restoration. Many in the audience were the descendants of coal miners.
By Jean Sherrard

My great-grandfather, Arthur Manvel Dailey, arriving in Seattle in 1888, soon found work in the coal mines northeast of Renton. His sweetie (my future great-grandmother Agnes Johnson) was a schoolteacher in distant Ballard. Family lore tells of the arduous round trip from Newcastle to Ballard each Sunday, but for an ardent young suitor a few hours of travel were fair exchange for the weekly allotment of kisses.

And yet, were it not for a 40-mile stretch of “small, grimy, seemingly insignificant” pioneer railway, asserts historian Kurt E. Armbruster in his colorful latest book, “Pacific Coast: Seattle’s Own Railroad”, my ancestors’ romance – not to mention a growing young city’s fortunes – may have been much dampened.

Kurt E. Armbruster on the platform of the former Black Diamond depot, with a copy of his latest book.

From their arrival in 1851, early settlers knew that hopes for a profitable future rode an iron horse. Arthur Denny said he located on Puget Sound believing “that a railroad would be built across the continent to some point on the northern coast within … 15 or 20 years.”

Over the next two decades, however, those expectations were dashed by a number of obstacles, including conflict with native peoples, slumps of the economy, and the U.S. Civil War. In 1873 came more bad news. To Seattle’s dismay, the Northern Pacific Railroad sited the terminus of its cross-country line in Tacoma, leaving the Queen City isolated on her Elliott Bay throne.

But as railroads languished in King County, another economic engine built up steam. Immense seams of coal, pushed up by the Seattle Fault, had been discovered by the mid-1850s, and the foothills east of Lake Washington soon became teeming hives of activity. “In the nineteenth century,” says Armbruster, “coal was king … and Seattle had coal” – indeed, one of the largest coalfields on the west coast.

Coal miners proudly mark Labor Day, 1907, with a group portrait spread across Railroad Avenue. The old depot stands on the right. (courtesy, Black Diamond Historical Society)

Vast shipments of “black gold” were readily snapped up by energy-hungry San Francisco to support its industry and transportation. But the convoluted, Herculean transport from coalface to waiting sailing ships in Elliott Bay took long days and cut deeply into profits.

Seattle’s citizens, stung by the rebuff of big rail, conjured an ingenious solution: build a railway that incidentally provided King Coal with a profitable route to market. And on May 1, 1874, thousands of eager Seattleites assembled to do just that. On that single day, a mile-long stretch of rail bed was cleared along the base of Beacon Hill for the somewhat presumptuously named Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad, eventually renamed the Pacific Coast Railroad.

In the end? Rails that, although never extending much further east than Black Diamond, shortened the mine-to-dock transport from days to mere hours. As a result, Seattle – and Grandpa Dailey – realized benefits that endured for decades to come.

WEB EXTRAS

Click through for a narrated 360-degree video of our Black Diamond ‘then’ photo, shot from the ‘now’ location.

Also, check out a video of Kurt E. Armbruster’s lecture at the Black Diamond Museum.

Anything to add, rail fans?

Seattle Now & Then: Neil Armstrong Dial, 1969

(click once or twice to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Held by his mom, Patricia, and eyed by his masked dad, Dallas, the hours-old Neil Armstrong Dial poses July 20, 1969, in a Northwest Hospital room. Décor included a model lunar module made from an inverted Styrofoam cup, with Q-tips for legs. (Bruce McKim, Seattle Times)
THEN2: Nearly 18, Neil Dial visits the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, 1988. (Courtesy Neil Dial)
THEN3: Dial (left) meets his namesake at the Washington Athletic Club, 2007. (Courtesy Neil Dahl)
NOW1: Neil Dial stands beside the Apollo 11 command module Columbia at the “Destination Moon” exhibit on display through Sept. 2, 2019, at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. (Jean Sherrard)
NOW2: Neal Dial stands in front of a “Destination Moon” display at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. (Jean Sherrard)
NOW3: Neil Dial stands at the entrance of Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, now operated by University of Washington Medicine. (Jean Sherrard)
‘Living with honor’ in the shadow of his hero
By Clay Eals

Where were you and what were you doing when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon?

For many, the moment is etched deeply in memory.

My own recollection of July 20, 1969, is indelible. On the eve of my 18th birthday, my girlfriend took us to see “Oliver!” at the Magnolia Theater (now razed), but the auditorium was empty. Instead, we all crowded together in the lobby, craning our necks to peer at Armstrong’s “giant leap,” broadcast on a tiny black-and-white TV set perched on a chair next to the popcorn counter.

An Auburn attorney also knows where he was that day but has no memory of it. The very minute the lunar module Eagle touched the moon, he emerged on Earth, feet first, from his mother’s womb.

His birth, at Northwest Hospital near Northgate, became a media sensation because of his given name. Among many options, his parents considered Buzz, for Armstrong’s fellow astronaut Aldrin, and Apollo, for the space program. What stuck was the ultimate personal salute: Neil Armstrong Dial.

Turning 50 this month, Dial enjoys pondering how a quirk of timing gave him a guiding shadow he has always embraced.

While growing up in Richmond Beach, in seventh grade he gravitated to wrestling, which, he reflects, “taught me a lot about discipline and hard work.” Inspired by his namesake, he became an Eagle Scout and toyed with entering flight school to become an astronaut. Instead, he was drawn to the law. A husband and father of three, he works in the Tacoma firm founded by Ed Eisenhower, older brother of former president Dwight.

Wrestling remains a touchstone. He is head coach for about 20 wrestlers at Thomas Jefferson High School in Federal Way, where he advises against “showboating or doing things in a way that would make you more important than the team. That’s kind of how I am. Doing things right and living with honor have been important to me.”

A dozen years ago, Dial encountered those qualities first-hand when Armstrong, passing through Seattle, met with him for 15 minutes at the Washington Athletic Club. Dial found him humble, unassuming. “He really didn’t want to talk about himself. He wanted to know about me.”

Five years later, Armstrong died. Today, Dial, with gentle lawyerly humor, perceives in his hero some universality amid the uniqueness:

“He had an opportunity that came to him. It could have been many people in the program, and it fell that way for him. In some respects, that’s how it’s worked out for me. Anybody could have been born at that moment. It’s nothing I did. I don’t even remember the event, so everything I could tell you is hearsay.”

WEB EXTRAS

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!

Below is a 14-minute interview of Neal Armstrong Dial from July 9, 2019, in which he reflects on how he was given his name, meeting his famous namesake and how the Neil Armstrong legacy has affected his life. To see the video, click the photo or here.

Video, July 9, 2019, Neil Armstrong Dial interview

Below are two photos and, in chronological order, four clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that among many others were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer front page, July 21, 1969
Seattle Times front page, July 21, 1969
This is the July 20, 1969, Seattle Times article that documented the birth of Neil Armstrong Dial.
Magnolia Theatre ad, July 20, 1969, Seattle Times
Nov. 7, 1974, Seattle Times
July 17, 1977, Seattle Times