West Seattle Memories Part 8: Early Days in West Seattle

  • By Alyssa Burrows
  • Posted 8/23/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3500
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This file contains reminiscences of the early days in West Seattle taken from interviews of West Seattle residents done for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society in 1999. In those days summer rental cottages down on the beach had names, and once a mother bear and her two cubs lumbered out of the bushes on Edmunds to scare the horse pulling the school buggy. Lois Watkins interviewed Carroll Mage; Patricia Filer interviewed Elliott Couden; and JonLee Joseph interviewed Lawrence Pierce, Gertrude Stevens, and Erma Schwartz.

A Father's Decision by Carroll Mage

"My father came to Seattle from Illinois in the year one. Nineteen hundred and one. The first year of the Twentieth century. They stayed in a hotel downtown the first night; the Arlington Hotel on 1st or 2nd Avenue. The next morning my father looked out the window and it was kind of foggy. The tide flats were visible and he looked across Elliott Bay and he thought Duwamish Head was an island. He made some inquiries and someone told him he could take a ferry over there.

"Probably at that time, he took a trolley car from the ferry landing up to California Avenue. He got off at Atlantic Street and walked over towards the sound. When he hit Sunset Avenue, he encountered a sign that said 'West Seattle Land and Improvement Company: Lots for Sale' All of the cedars and Douglas firs had been logged off in this area but thickets had grown up -- thickets as big around as your arm. So he had to part his way out to the edge of the bluff to see the view. When he got to the edge, he looked out across the water and could see the islands and the mountains and he said to himself, 'Here is where I want to live and die.' So he bought some lots and started building houses."

We Learned to Love West Seattle by Elliott Couden

"The primary reason we came to West Seattle was because that's where these houses were going to be built. We learned to love West Seattle just by being here. We learned about all of the benefits we had. Almost ever present cool breezes that blow across this part of the city and the small town atmosphere because we were isolated to some degree on this peninsula.

"It was also the greatest period of development in Seattle, all of West Seattle was being built up, lots of building sites were available here and building permits were being given here. This was a popular and interesting place for people to decide to live."

Rustic Cottages by Lawrence Pierce

"I decided to come West from Boston in 1926. Ed Campbell and I met out here and lived together in the summer. We went out to Endolyne in West Seattle and rented a cottage from Mrs. Goodman on the beach. We stayed for two months and then would go back to the city. The cottages were rustic, just for summer use."

A Mama Bear in West Seattle by Gertrude Stevens

"There was a farm down here below Edmunds Street and they had cows and horses. It was there that a horse pulled a buggy up through the valley and took the kids up to school. My parents had the opportunity of watching this happen right out in front of their house. It wasn't much of a street. I think it was just a trail that the horse and buggy would go hauling the children up to school at Lafayette. My mother was looking out the window with my sister who was just a little girl and couldn't go to school. The horse was hauling them up and right out in front of their place where there were a couple of holes in the bushes.

"All of a sudden, a mama bear came out with her two cubs right in front of the house and the horse. The horse got all excited and reared up and dumped the buggy and all the kids right out. I didn't see it because I wasn't born yet. But it was a story that she told us. When my boys were little, they would line up at the kitchen window and she would tell them about it. They would get all wide-eyed when she told them about how it was in the early days. They just couldn't believe that bears lived around here."

The Blue Suit by Erma Schwartz

"I attended West Seattle High School in 1923 until I graduated in l926. I joined a sewing class because, being very poor, we had to make everything count. My mother found a beautiful pink cotton remnant and I was very proud of it. Mother said, 'Now you tell your teacher that you must put a 2 foot hem in it so you can wear it for a long time.' And I did.

"One time we were supposed to make a suit and my mother said we don't have any material. She had a suit that was beige and she said I could dye it blue. Miss Allen, the teacher, wasn't very happy about it but she let me make the suit.

"Later, they had a performance on the stage of the girls in the class wearing what they had made. I wasn't allowed to go on because they didn't think my suit was suitable. That was a very crushing experience. But I learned to overlook it. Being poor, you have to overlook a lot of things. But it made a better person of me. Having wonderful parents helped me immensely."

The Issue of Open Housing by Elliott Couden

"Open housing was a very tough issue that the people of Seattle had to deal with -- whether or not we were going to discriminate against people on the basis of their color, creed, national origin, and so on. It was very interesting being a real estate broker during the civil rights movement that took place during the 1960s. The real estate board of which I was a member was the primary organization against it.

"I went back to Washington D.C. and spoke before congressional committees about the subject and got to know Senator Henry Jackson. I was invited to attend a reception for President Johnson after the death of President Kennedy. This meeting was also a meeting of small businessmen who had been selected for 'an exchange of views.' It was set up in an effort to calm the country down after Kennedy's shocking demise.

"It was quite an experience to be there at the White House and greet the President personally and hear all the top people in the Cabinet telling about where we stood militarily and economically."

To the Beach by Gertrude Stevens

"My father would take us for rides on Sunday after breakfast or church. He had a Model T, and then had a Gardner and a Durant. But it always was a thrill to go around the beach.

"As we would pass the little houses on the North side of Beach Drive, many of them had names on them. My sister and I would argue over who got which house because we loved certain names like 'Dew Drop Inn,' and 'Bid-a-Wee.' 'That's my house.' 'No, that's mine, I saw it first.' We'd come around down here probably as far as we could, then turn around and come back. It was a nice Sunday drive."



Lois Watkins interview of Carroll Mage; Patricia Filer interview of Elliott Couden; JonLee Joseph interview of Lawrence Pierce, Gertrude Stevens, and Erma Schwartz, 1999. Oral History projects conducted by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. Transcript excerpts of these interviews were used in two Memory Book projects: West Seattle Memories: Alki (Seattle: Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 1999); and Memories of Southwest Seattle Businesses (Seattle: Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 1999); Excerpts are also available on a video produced by Valerie Vazza, BJ Bullert, and Sadis and Vaughn. All can be seen at the Log House Museum, 3003 61st Avenue SW Seattle, WA 98116. See Log House Museum in HistoryLink Museum Library, (www.historylink.org).

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