University District Museum Without Walls Oral History: Frederick Hart (Co-owner, La Tienda Folk Art Gallery)

  • Posted 3/27/2010
  • Essay 9350

Frederick Hart is co-owner of La Tienda Folk Art Gallery, an import shop that was located for many years in Seattle's University District.  This is a transcript of an oral history that Hart gave in an interview conducted by Dawnee Dodson for the University District Museum Without Walls in March 2009. The Museum Without Walls, a project of the University District Arts & Heritage Committee, draws together the history and life of the University District through a variety of formats, including temporary exhibitions, community events, and oral histories.

Frederick Hart 

My name is Frederick Hart. I'm currently part of the ownership and management of La Tienda, which is currently in Ballard. And it was for over 40 years here in the U District. And I've been associated with the business essentially, to some degree or other, since 1969, and been part of the primary ownership since 1995.

And at that time, the Ave as a whole was one of the two or three top business districts in the whole city, outside of Downtown. For many years, they felt that it was a second downtown. And before the malls got sort of going full-bore and so on like that, why, it was a lively place, with a lot of diversity of businesses, and attracted a very broad spectrum of people who lived in the area, and those who were outside the area. And the specialty shops, particularly, that were there, drew people from miles around, because particularly with the contact with the university, you had students who'd gotten to know this kind of area and liked the ambience of the U District. And they graduate and they get a job, you know, Tacoma or over in Yakima, but still, "Hey, you know, I've got a weekend, let's go back to the Ave and see what's going on." And so that was a very positive part of it.

The other part that, particularly from our point of view, that was -- as an import shop and dealing with a fairly limited and specialized direction -- was the faculty and staff at the university, many of them well-traveled, sophisticated people. And they found us just a delightful thing, because it reminded them of places they had been or wanted to go. And they were often very knowledgeable about the things we were selling, and it was often a nice dialogue of learning and exchanging information and so on. That was a real strong part of the clientele.

Dynamic Scene 

It was interesting. It was a time when there was a lot of dynamics on the street, and a lot of dynamics in the business climate as well. There was a number of small shops, boutiques, whatever, galleries, that had opened up in that area that were all complementary to each other. And it was a lively scene, a very interesting scene, a very creative time for a lot of people. There was a certain amount of activism on the street, part of which I got involved with because in teaching junior high school, I had junior high school students who were out on the Ave participating in the activism -- some of them late at night when they shouldn't have been there. But it was a time that was scary to some extent. We had some bad scenes on the street at times. We also had a time when we started the Street Fair in 1970 to respond to some of this. And that's been a great success and a lot of fun. People realize that the seventies had some negative because there was a lot of bad things happening, but there was a lot of positives too, because people changed their attitudes about a lot of involvement in the, sort of the industrial age we were living in, and there was a counterculture against that. Which was exactly what we were involved in, and had been, as a business, dealing with the handmade object as a piece -- something that was different than manufactured goods that come off, you know, 16,000 to a shelf. And to a certain extent the shop was lucky, being in that position, so when the wave came along we got carried with it and did very well for a number of years now.

The origin of a lot of the protest marches was basically between campus and the Ave itself. And on two or three occasions it spilled over from the Ave on down to the downtown -- when they walked -- the big picture with the freeway closed and so on. But the nighttime protest marches up and down the Ave on three or four occasions were unsettling to a lot of people.

The night of the big riot, so-called, when the various and sundry police departments in the area came out and decided to -- "clean up the Ave" was their term -- I was on the street, watching things happening and walking the alleys a couple of times. And it was a very unsettling experience, because to see out-of-uniform police people, with their billy clubs in hand, coming down and working up part of the street and people who got in their way were pushed around a great deal. Some of them were clubbed a bit -- it was unsettling. And I spoke to one of them that I'd run into in the alley, and he says -- he asked me what I was doing. And I says, "I have a business here." He says, "Why don't you just go home." And I said, "I don't see why I should." (laughs) And that was sort of the attitude. I mean, there had been no declaration of martial law, but the police sort of acted as if they had the free hand to basically push anybody anywhere. And I didn't like that. Any more than a lot of other people would like that. So there were some clashes that night that weren't directly associated with stopping people from doing vandalism or from protesting, but were an offshoot of that. So it was a spooky sort of bad time that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Street Fair

There was also a fairly active movement on the side of -- between the university and some of the business district to try to deal with it in a more comprehensible way and not just antagonistic. And that grew into a number of programs that grew up on the street itself, and it certainly led to the foundation of the Street Fair as being an alternative to having street vendors on the street every day of the week all year long, which the business community didn't want. Basically we said, "Wait a second. We're paying taxes. We're the ones who help maintain the city and the police force, and these people coming out here take business away from us, and they're not paying any taxes, they're not participating on that level." So -- and we'd seen this happening down at the University of California at Berkley, where the street vendors virtually took over the street on Telegraph for a while. And we thought, you know, that's not a good situation. And so we came to an accommodation that worked pretty well, and I don't think there's been any real strong negative fallout about it. And it's still -- it's been a very active program for 40 years now.

One of the things that -- speaking of Patty Whisler -- that you realize there are certain key people in the area that have been great assets to this place. And she certainly has been one, partially because her husband, who passed away just a year or two ago, was working at the university. They lived in the District here, and she at one time had been the Little City Hall representative here for the City of Seattle, before she moved downtown. And then she retired from that and she, as a retired person, came back and just threw herself completely into volunteer work, supporting the Ave, and this business and housing district, and she's been here and there and she's been such an asset because she understood how the system worked, from having worked it on the inside. And so she and I and three or four other people were instrumental in putting together the Ave group about 12 or 15 years ago now, with the idea of trying to get the street itself cleaned up, modernized, and -- which we finally did, with a whole new surface, wider sidewalks, better street lighting -- and just made the place looked like someone cared about it, because the sidewalks were -- if you didn't walk on them, you wouldn't believe how badly broken up some of them were. I mean, they were dangerous. And the city basically ignored it, because the city's attitude a bit was, "Well, that's where all those rabble-rousers came from; it's their own fault." And of course it wasn't the fault of the merchants at all -- none of them were really supporting that. It's just a matter of we were here when it happened.

But that work was a 10-to-12-year process, and it was finally rewarding, as well. We learned how to put pressure downtown, and we learned how to get our act together and we put some money to start it out, so we seeded money into it. All those things that you need to do. And the result has been very good, I think. Not everybody says, "Well, it isn't instantly beautiful." Well, the people are what makes it beautiful, and it's still pretty good. Yeah. So I still like it.

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