A century ago, the Great Seattle Boom was much bigger–and sketchier

Great Seattle Boom

Hiram Gill (via HistoryLink.org)

In five years the population of Seattle has risen 9% from 608,600 to 662,400 (including me, still New To Seattle). That’s a hefty increase of 53,800, a compounded annual rate of 1.6%. The city certainly has been feeling the growing pains, thanks in large part to limited land forming an isthmus between two bodies of water and an infrastructure not really up to the task.

But that rate of growth is nothing compared with the epic boom that exploded hereabouts a century ago. From 1900 to 1920 Seattle’s population rose an astounding 290% from 80,671 to 315,312. That’s a compounded annual rate of 6.5%–four times higher than now.

Whereas the current population boom is fueled mainly by new jobs in technology, the one a century ago was a lot more primeval. Its roots were primarily gold and vice–the latter of which which led to the voter recall of Seattle Mayor Hiram Gill in 1911.

But of course, at the heart of both booms was economics. Continue reading

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Seattle homeless problem dates back to arrival of first gringos

Seattle homeless

Arthur A. Denny

Tomorrow is the 164th anniversary of the day the first group of gringos arrived at what would become the great city of Seattle. On November 13, 1851, the so-called Denny Party–10 adults and 12 children led by Arthur A. Denny, a 29-year-old surveyor from Cherry Grove, Ill.–pulled up around noon in a schooner named Exact on Alki Point, across Elliott Bay from the future downtown area.

Now, the 164th anniversary of anything generally occasions little notice. But I find it noteworthy given the current concern in Seattle about what to do about all the homeless folks. That’s because Arthur A. Denny et al. were sort of the original homeless folks of Seattle. Their initial lodgings starting that day consisted of a single unfinished log cabin without a roof–not exactly a home for the climate of Seattle, which gets pretty wet every year by, oh, November 13.

One of the newcomers, William Bell, later wrote that on that first rainy day the five women in the party “sat down on the logs and took a big cry.” It’s not hard to imagine why. Continue reading

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It was a dark and rainy day in Seattle (and now the news)

Weather forecast starting today on KING5.com

Weather forecast starting today on KING5.com

Kicking in a little later than normal, it looks like the dark and rainy season of Seattle–which is most of the year, actually–is finally beginning. After an alternating week of rain and sun, forecasters think there will be significant precipitation–with not much sun–for at least the next seven days.

Seattle remains the only one of the many places that I have lived in over the decades where “sunbreaks” regularly are part of a forecast (look at Sunday on the display above). The forecasters simply may be doing their best to bolster local spirits. The TV weather dogs probably could have stretched out that rain prediction for about eight months, and not be wrong any more than usual.

Seattle weather, especially the rain, has been fodder for late-night comedians. Many news outlets around the country had great fun a few years ago when Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn, the newly crowned Miss Seattle, got caught tweeting “can’t stand cold rainy Seattle.” The weather here is even the stuff of legend, almost a tourist attraction like the Gum Wall under Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. Indeed, a friend visiting recently from that desert known as Los Angeles actually stood in the rain on a downtown sidewalk for a moment, saying he wanted a true Seattle experience. Continue reading

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One Seattle ballot question will test intelligence of new voters

Seattle ballot questionIn the U.S., one big difference between state-level elections in the East and the West is the widespread presence in much of the latter of ballot measures. I don’t mean bond issues–they are found almost everywhere–but initiatives, referendums and proposals to raise property taxes. Products of the Progressive Era, ballot measures reflect a suspicion of and limit on elected representative democracy. Still, sorting out motives can be an illuminating and even entertaining endeavor that says something about the local condition.

For instance, one Seattle ballot question next week appears to me to reflect the belief by city officials that the hoards of young people moving to Seattle for all those high tech jobs actually aren’t all that smart. Continue reading

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A marketing plea to support OFFSIDE: A Mystery

This is a rare post on my part of unabashed OFFSIDE: A Mysteryself-interest.

As part of an effort to market my debut novel, OFFSIDE: A Mystery, please click RIGHT HERE. This will take you to a promotion page called Thunderclap. On that page, click one of the “support” boxes (Facebook, Twitter or Tumbler). You’re not under any obligation to buy anything (although I would be thrilled if you did).

The promotion folks with the book publisher tell me this will generate insane attention and, hopefully, a few sales. Thanks to all who visit or follow.

For those unfamiliar with the conceit of OFFSIDE, an adult referee of youth soccer in a ritzy Los Angeles suburb at the peak of the real estate bubble in 2006 is murdered. Suspicion quickly centers on a Latino coach with a gang background upset over an offside call by the ref, especially after footage of the rant pops up on YouTube.

The book contains a fair amount of social commentary and history about soccer parents, soccer, Southern California, finance and race relations. The reviewer at a Latina book blog in Los Angeles called OFFSIDE “enlightening and thought-provoking.”

Without giving away the ending, here are the novel’s last two words: “Alan Greenspan.” You can learn more about the book, and me, by clicking here.

It is, of course, a total coincidence that I have been a soccer referee for 18 years, long before becoming New To Seattle, and that part of that time, including the year 2006, was spent officiating in the Los Angeles area. Hopefully, the novel won’t be too personally prescient.

Meanwhile, the regularly scheduled programming here will resume soon.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Sixth candidate in Seattle for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’

America's Stupidest CharitiesThe telephone caller was working for the National Police and Troopers Association. He said the organization provided help to families of cops killed in the line of duty. Would I make a small financial pledge and return it in an envelope I would be sent? It certainly seemed like a pitch for a charity.

The caller said his name was something that sounded like Ken Doherty. But it might have been Ken Dougherty, Ken Daugherty or some other spelling. I didn’t know. So I politely asked him to spell his name for me.


Ken promptly hung up without uttering another word. Some questions, I suppose, are just too difficult.

But I already knew the general answer. That’s because I once wrote up in this space the NPTA, a trade name used by the International Union of Police Associations AFL-CIO. I called the organization “among the scuzziest” outfits trolling for money in Seattle. Why? It outrageously misrepresented what it did and spent next to nothing on anything remotely connected with good works.

Besides “scuzziest,” I now can make the IUPA/NPTA the sixth candidate for my long-running list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is pretty simple: charities that call the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money despite being the subject of a previous critical post. Can it get any dumber than that?

(Maybe. This organization also is severely challenged by spelling. It can’t even agree on its own name. The official NPTA website home page calls it the “National Police and Troopers Association”–Troopers in the plural. But an official badge, reproduced above, that was on the site until a few days ago uses “Trooper”–singular. In his call to me, Ken He-Who-Can’t-Spell-His-Last-Name also used Trooper in the singular.) Continue reading

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From Seattle area, one on, one off, new Forbes 400 list

Forbes 400The new Forbes 400 list of the, well, 400 richest Americans was released today. Led again by Bill Gates, the Seattle-area contingent still numbers eight, including four of the top 26. But there’s been a slight change in the lineup.

Gabe Newell, the co-founder of Valve Corp., the video game store, is on the list for the first time at No. 307, with a net worth of $2.2 billion. He’s been on previous Forbes lists of the world’s billionaires (put at $1.3 billion in March, so he’s had a good half-year ride). But that list includes any billionaire. The U.S., on the other hand, is so lousy with billies that not all of them can make the Forbes 400. Continue reading

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Is the Seattle boom about to implode?

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle

The latest national traffic congestion list just came out, and the Seattle area ranked No. 7. That’s really no surprise to folks who live in the isthmus that is Seattle. But it’s likely going to get a lot worse. People are pouring in here for jobs, and the infrastructure just isn’t ready for ’em. The city is becoming a poster child for inept urban planning.

In their infinite wisdom, city and state leaders are working on a project that will will reduce from six to four the number of lanes on one of the only two north-south limited-access roads in Seattle. (That is, if the project is every completed; this is the famous Tunnel Sinking Seattle.) While somewhat extensive, the mass transit system is slow and inefficient, even when mudslides don’t shut down the only commuter railroad from north of the city, as they have hundreds of times over the past decade.

Meanwhile, The Seattle Times just came out against a proposal on the November ballot to raise taxes for transit purposes. The paper pointed out the large number of mismanaged, delayed and over-budget infrastructure projects that adorn the Seattle area, like Starbucks coffee shops. Continue reading

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The Rime of the Seattle Mariners (reprise)

Rime of the Seattle MarinersThe firing today of Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik, whose seven-year reign produced five losing seasons and no playoff trips, called to mind my April 2012 post, shortly after becoming New To Seattle, about the seeming lack of local enthusiasm for the baseball team. The post seems worth repeating below.


Okay. I grew up around Philadelphia, where rooting for the Phillies was an article of faith even though for much of my formulative years it was a crappy, disappointing team playing in a falling-apart stadium in a bad part of town. We talked baseball all the time, even when the Phils hit the National League cellar four straight seasons, including, in 1961, their epic 23-game losing streak. That’s still the MLB record for this century and the last. It wasn’t until 1980 that the Phillies won their first-ever World Series–two months after I had moved to Houston.

But there I had the Astros, which had a decent following and baseball’s first indoor stadium as a respite from the city’s drenching heat, rain and humidity. Later, I lived in other places where, despite ups and downs, baseball fanaticism was legendary: New York, Los Angeles and even Albuquerque. When I resided there during the 1994 major league baseball strike, the Dodgers triple-A farm team, the Albuquerque Dukes, won the Pacific Coast League title and a claim to be the best professional baseball team not on a picket line.

Then I became New To Seattle.

In my 10 months here, the Seattle Mariners have been mentioned in my presence maybe twice. One was by an acquaintance who happens to own a small share of the team. I can’t remember the other instance, but I’m just being cautious. Continue reading

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Charity trolling in Seattle is sued for fraud by a donor

charity trollingThis could get interesting.

A Florida lawyer who got a telephone call asking for money on behalf of a charity frequently criticized in this space has filed a small-clams-court lawsuit alleging fraud and deceptive practices.

The civil lawsuit by St. Petersburg lawyer Matthew D. Weidner names Breast Cancer Research and Support Fund; its parent unit, Community Charity Advancement, of Pompano Beach, Fla.; and something called The Fundraising Center. The action, which alleges “furtherance of a fraudulent charitable solicitation scheme,” was filed on August 14 in the Small Claims Division of Pinellas County Court and carries the case number 15-006598-SC.

I sent a request for comment about the lawsuit to BCRSF/CCA through its website and will update this if I hear back. Based on my past experience with this charity, that’s not too likely. Continue reading

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The Miser–‘worst statue in Seattle’–is quietly replaced

The Miser

The Miser, formerly outside the Grand Hyatt Seattle

More than three years ago, as part of a series on local public art called “Monumental Seattle,” I wrote about “The Miser,” sitting just outside the entrance to the Grand Hyatt Seattle at 721 Pine Street. The bronze sculpture, fashioned in 1997 by Tom Otterness, whimsically depicted class struggle. A cartoonish tycoon hands a coin to a down-and-outer, with both standing on a globe supported by other tycoons. (For other installments of my public-art series, click here, here and here.)

I thought “The Miser” was brilliant. But not everyone shared my view. Paul Constant, a writer at The Stranger, the well-read local alternative weekly, had been offended by the juxtaposition of such political commentary with the fancy hotels and restaurants along one of downtown Seattle’s fanciest strips. He wrote in 2008, “The aggravating combination of weak satire and poor location makes this the worst statue in Seattle.”

Still, it came as a surprise last week when a visitor to New To Seattle posted this comment under my 2012 story: “Do you know where ‘The Miser’ went?”

I hot-footed it downtown to look. Gone! Missing in action! And, it turns out, recently replaced–quietly–by a more innocuous piece of art. Continue reading

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Seattle upzoning proposal collapses like the Mariners

Seattle upzoning

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (via Wikipedia)

Well, that didn’t last long.

Barely two weeks ago, I wrote about a radical proposal from a Seattle committee that would allow single-family homes virtually anywhere in this city of neighborhoods to be torn down and replaced with multi-family units. The upzoning proposal, intended to generate more housing at lower cost, was staunchly backed in its entirety by liberal Mayor Ed Murray and, it seemed, a majority of the liberal City Council, whose approval would be needed for zoning-rule changes. I suggested that Seattle, a city of neighborhoods, might end up looking like no-zoning Houston, and wondered if a homeowner revolt here might ensue.

It did.

Last week, Murray completely bailed on the Seattle upzoning bid. “I will no longer pursue changes that could allow more types of housing in 94 percent of single-family zones,” he said in a statement that killed the proposal as surely as the chances of the faltering Seattle Mariners making the baseball playoffs this year.

Murray blamed “sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets” for fanning a local uproar. Perish the thought that a dumb policy proposal potentially affecting almost every homeowner should be blamed. Continue reading

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NewToSeattle.com quoted on Seattle racial profiling

Seattle racial profilingIn its August issue, glossy Seattle Magazine contains a story entitled, “Is Nextdoor.com Becoming a Home for Racial Profiling?” The article, by Linda Morgan, focused on the growth of Nextdoor web sites in neighborhoods across the country and especially in Seattle. Nextdoor.com has partnered with the Seattle Police Department in what has been described as an effort to fight crime.

Back in March, I wrote here about a debate on Nextdoor Magnolia, which covers my neighborhood, that seemed to touch on Seattle racial profiling. My post somehow caught a wider attention.

The Seattle Magazine article can be read by clicking here.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Police nonprofit soliciting around Seattle mainly benefited fundraiser

police nonprofitEvery so often, the New To Seattle world headquarters gets a query about a nonprofit that hasn’t yet called to ask for money. This latest question came from someone in the Seattle area asking about the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, which had made a pitch for a contribution. “What is your opinion of these folks?” the email said. “I have given before, but your comments on this type of subject makes me ask.”

After looking at its most recent filings with regulators, for 2013, I have formed an opinion. It isn’t great, although I’ve seen worse in the law enforcement realm. Continue reading

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In hot weather, residents of A/C-less Seattle head for their cool basements

A/C-less Seattle

Seattle weather on Sunday, July 19 (via KOMO)

At a recent block party, some of my Seattle neighbors talked about how they made it through the recent string of hot nights. “We slept in the basement for a week,” one said. “It was fine.”

Now your image of Seattle might be that of a technologically up-to-date metropolis with all the modern trappings. That largely would be true. But one thing is in short supply: air conditioning. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 16% of all housing units in the Seattle metro area has central air, compared with a national average of 65%. (and 58% in the Philadelphia area, where I grew up). Among units occupied by renters, the local cooling rate is only 7%. One doesn’t see a lot of window units, either.

Fortunately for those in Seattle who live in a single-family house, there generally is a basement. And thanks to the coolness of the surrounding earth, the basement temperature during the summer is (in my experience) about 15 degrees cooler than the upstairs and the outside. So if it is, say, 95 degrees (the record-tying temperature on Sunday and the hottest day of the year), the basement will be a comfortable 80 degrees or so, and a lot lower at night. With no cost of electricity, either. Continue reading

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Will upzoning Seattle resemble no-zoning Houston?

upzoning SeattleSome 35 years ago in 1980, I moved from the East Coast to Houston as it was experiencing an epic boom. Houston was (and remains) the largest city in the U.S. without zoning. So in some of the older neighborhoods, I saw all kinds of anomalies, but especially multiple town homes or multi-family housing crammed onto a single lot. It didn’t always make for a pleasant streetscape. Few lists of well-planned or scenic cities have included Houston.

upzoning Seattle

Downtown areas of Houston (top) and Seattle

I’m wondering if Seattle–also in the midst of an epic boom–is about to go the way of Houston when it comes to land-use planning. A proposal leaked to The Seattle Times and now confirmed by city officials would do away with a central tenet of traditional zoning: Single-family-home areas in which just one living unit can be on a single lot.

A Seattle panel is recommending an almost-anything-goes approach. In effect, the plan would give a green light to developers to, say, buy and tear down an small, older house–or maybe a string of them on a block–and put up higher-density housing. Ed Murray, the liberal mayor, seems to have given this “upzoning” scheme his blessing, although it would need City Council approval. Continue reading

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When–not if–the Big One hits Seattle

big one hits SeattleConsider this a rare New To Seattle guest post, of sorts. Click here to read a story in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker by Kathryn Schultz. The not-so-understated headline:

Annals of Seismology


An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.

Not much for me to add here.

The same geology that makes Seattle very beautiful also makes it very dangerous.

Which is why, albeit with a ridiculously high deductible, I carry earthquake insurance.

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

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Nominee for ‘America’s Stupidest Charities’ list calls again in Seattle

America's Stupidest CharitiesHe went by Mike. Mike McCann. And he wanted money from me. Now.

On the phone recently, Mike said he worked for American Veterans Support Foundation, part of the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation. Mike said the organization was based in Eatontown, N.J., did good work for veterans in need and was hopeful I could aid the cause. And oh yes, he was recording the call.

Mike had a smooth pitch. But then I asked him to spell his last name.

After a pause, he simply repeated his full name. No spelling.

I asked him again to spell his last name.

Another pause. “That’s okay,” he finally said. “We’ll call back at another time.” Mike hung up.

The likely reason there were pauses is that Mike actually was an interactive computer controlled by a handler monitoring the conversation and deciding on responses by hitting a keyboard. The handler probably decided to cut and run.

But I knew about the AVSF/NVVF. A lot, actually. That’s because it was the first nominee to a list I started last year of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” The criteria is simple: nonprofits that contact the New To Seattle world headquarters asking for money even though they already had been the subject of a negative write-up by the New To Seattle world headquarters. Can it get dumber than that?

My earlier description was negative for the same reason now. AVSF/NVVF blew almost all the money raised on fundraising costs and spent precious little on stuff that reasonably could be called veterans support.

So I hereby again nominate AVSF/NVVF for my list. Continue reading

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National prayer breakfast movement began in unchurched Seattle

national prayer breakfast

Abraham Vereide (via Wikipedia)

Seattle ranks high on lists of the country’s least religious cities. Sperling’s Best Places figures that only 38% of Seattleites profess a religious affiliation, compared with a national average of 49%. The Public Religion Research Institute reckons that Seattle, tied with San Francisco, is the country’s second most godless city (behind Portland, Ore.). Among the country’s 100 largest metro areas, Seattle/Tacoma placed No. 7 on a list of highest percentage of adults who have not attended any service in the past six months. That squared with a Gallup Poll that said only 2% of all Washington State residents attend religious services weekly, tying the state for next-to-last place (behind Vermont).

Still New To Seattle, I found it surprising and interesting to read in a newly published book tracing the intertwining of capitalism and Christian religion that the National Prayer Breakfast, the famous annual Washington, D.C. religious event attended by top governmental leaders, got its start 80 years ago as a local tradition in Seattle. And one grounded in conservative politics, to boot.

According to One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevin M. Kruse, the prayer breakfast movement was started in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, a Methodist minister in Seattle who went by Abram. Vereide gathered local business executives to pray and fight the worsening poverty of the Depression–as well as Communism, labor unions, anti-free market philosophies and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Vereide’s conservative movement based on trickle-down economics and what he called the leadership skills of “key man” Jesus spread across Seattle, then to other cities and eventually to both houses of Congress in the Other Washington.

In 1953 Vereide was instrumental, along with Billy Graham, in staging the first national prayer breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel. The attendance of the new president, Dwight Eisenhower, insured its significance. More than 60 years later, the once-a-year National Prayer Breakfast is still going strong, held on the first Thursday of each February at the Washington Hilton. President Obama has been a frequent attendee.

Vereide is a figure largely lost to history, especially in Seattle. He is rarely noted here, even though he was a prominent pastor and founder of the local Goodwill Industries operation that nearly a century later still dominates the thrift store scene. Looking at Seattle Public Library databases, I can’t find a single reference to Vereide in the pages of The Seattle Times since the aftermath of his heart attack death at age 82 in 1969. Nor is there any mention of him at all on HistoryLink.org, the comprehensive online encyclopedia of Washington State history. Even the Goodwill Seattle website completely omits his name. Continue reading

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In Seattle Confederate flag is on open public display

Seattle Confederate flag

Confederate Veterans Memorial, Lake View Cemetery, Seattle.

In light of the Charleston black church massacre, South Carolina lawmakers have begun debating whether the Confederate flag–a favored emblem of accused killer Dylann Roof and the symbol of the pro-slavery South in the Civil War–should be removed from the state capital grounds in Columbia.

That also could be an interesting debate here in Seattle. For 89 years, one of the several versions of the Confederate flag has adorned the top of the Confederate Veteran’s Memorial in venerable Lake View Cemetery, located on Capitol Hill.

What, you don’t believe liberal Seattle has a monument to the racist forces of the Civil War, let alone an open display of its most famous symbol? Nearby is a photo of the monument that I took just this morning. The monument sits amid assorted Nordstroms, Dennys, Seattle mayors and the one-and-only Bruce Lee, the martial arts film star who married a Seattle girl.

Seattle confederate flag

Confederate flag engraved in cross atop the memorial

Also nearby is a close-up photo of the cross at the top in which the Confederate flag is engraved in metal.

But that was not the only local reminder of a dark period in American history. State Highway 99, which runs from Canada to Oregon through Seattle as Aurora Avenue N and the Alaska Way Viaduct, was once named Jefferson Davis Highway after the Confederacy’s president. A bid to change the name died in the Legislature in 2002, although it’s not used anymore. Continue reading

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