Seattle has come a long way from a grungy working port to cosmopolitan city since it was founded 150 years ago. White settlers established the city in 1951, first calling it New York-Alki. Shortly after, they moved to Elliott Bay, currently the Pioneer Square district, for more protection. The settlers renamed the village Seattle, after the Duwamish Indian leader Sealth.
The beautiful Seattle scenery of the Cascade Mountains, evergreen trees and Puget Sound have remained, and the city’s growth and economy have blossomed steadily over Seattle’s lifetime.
Seattle was originally supported by Henry Yesler’s lumber mill, and coal later became another resource to the town. Since Seattle was nestled in Puget Sound, fishing and shipping industries also helped grow Seattle’s economy and population. The town started to diversify as more jobs became available.
Stephanie Ogle, 62, says she remembers Seattle being much more of a Scandinavian town just 50 years ago, with pretty standard restaurants and selections of shopping.
“Now, we have so many more choices,” Ogle said. “It’s more international and much more sophisticated.”
Martha Kristjanson, 83, who grew up in Ballard and lived in the neighborhood for 70 years, from 1928 to 1998, also remembers the neighborhood as a Scandinavian community growing up.
Kristjanson and her best friend, Muggy, who lived across the street, would throw their front doors wide open and play music so the whole block could hear. Muggy played the accordion, and Kristjanson played the piano.
“Neighbors would start singing with us sometimes,” Kristjanson said.
Kristjanson also raised her children in Ballard. Her daughter, Cheryl Naranjo, 50, of Lynnwood, remembers playing outside all day. All the kids went to the Evans Pool at Green Lake for swimming lessons. They would ride their bikes from Ballard over to Magnolia.
“The only TV channels were 4, 5 and 7, so we played outside,” Naranjo said.
Naranjo recalls the need to always know where people were hanging out in high school before the school bell rang in the afternoon.
“If you didn’t know where everyone else was before you left school, you didn’t hang out with anyone unless you lived close by,” she said. “There were no cell phones, and no one was ever home to answer the home phone.”
Naranjo said, when she lived in Ballard, “it was just a community, still with a bunch of Scandinavians. In the last 25 years, all the sudden, it’s the place to live.”
Naranjo and her husband wanted to buy her parents’ house in Ballard when her mother no longer needed to live in a big house, but the price skyrocketed since Ballard became a neighborhood people flocked to. She said it’s much more built up now and more charming, especially in the main part of Ballard.
Many people can no longer afford to stay in Seattle and move, instead, to the suburbs.
“There’s a lot more gentrification going on,” Ogle said. “I remember, in my own youth, there were a lot more working-class areas in the sense that some of these grand, old homes that are now in many ways unaffordable to working-class people were working-class homes.”
The entertainment scene
Ogle moved from Montréal to Seattle with her family at age 6 in 1955, and she’s stayed here since then. Ogle is the owner of Cinema Books in the University District, right below Seven Gables Theater. She was always interested in films and opened up her shop that specializes in books about the movie business in 1977, originally on Capitol Hill.
“There’s always been live theater and a great film-appreciation community,” Ogle said about the Seattle entertainment scene. “Of course, the Seattle [International ] Film Festival is attracting so many people. And the independent filmmaking scene, too, of people making their own films from zombie films to documentaries.”
Watching many movies while growing up, Ogle said she misses the historic theaters of Seattle, like the Coliseum Theater, which is now Banana Republic.
Roger Simpson, a University of Washington professor who now lives in Queen Anne, also remembers watching plays and musicals at the downtown theaters in his student days.
“‘My Fair Lady’ performed at the Orpheum Theater. It’s the closest thing to a Broadway musical I had seen,” Simpson said. The Orpheum Theater stood where The Westin Hotel is now.
Simpson also misses the Blue Mouse Music Hall. “As a student, the theaters on the Ave were really important for me,” he said. “I spent a lot of time [at the] movies.”
“There is that sense of loss that Seattle, at one time, had more of the grand movie palaces of the past that were built in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and now they’ve just disappeared,” Ogle said.
She now watches most movies at the Seven Gables, above her bookstore “because they are like family.”
Like students do today, Simpson said he hung out as a student at the local bars, like the Duchess, Blue Moon and Red Robin, when it was a tavern in the ‘50s. He spent most of his time around campus, saying that it was very rare to go downtown for anything, unless there was a big event.
“The city government covered up a lot of questionable or illegal activities in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. A transformation came in the early ‘70s,” Simpson explained. “We’ve had a remarkably good city government since that time, but it required the FBI to tear into the police department and force resignations and indictments.”
When Simpson returned to Seattle in the late ‘60s as a grad student, he said downtown was still a pretty rough place along First Avenue, but it was at the eve of a downtown transformation.
“It was led by some pretty enlightened mayors and City Council,” he said. “Some smart people figured out how to keep Downtown Seattle alive.”
Before, Simpson remembers Downtown Seattle as a collection of businesses and taverns, a low-rent district.
“Even though the 1962 World’s Fair had begun to change that whole area, it was still a pretty rough area,” Simpson said. “It’s totally different now. It’s become so hugely gentrified and turned into a nightlife center of city.
“When you look at Nordstrom, Pacific Place and high-rise bank buildings, you see the result of a collective effort to keep downtown interesting. It’s really made a difference in the vitality of the city,” he continued.
A different way of life
During the Vietnam War era, Simpson recalls a big increase in immigration from Vietnam and other Asian countries.
“Seattle became richer and more diverse. This region has the most interesting and diverse mixes of ethnic identities than any other part of the country,” he said. “You’ve got every kind of restaurant you could want [now]. “I don’t remember Thai restaurants being here in the ‘50s.”
Naranjo says Seattle is a much “cooler” place now, but it “has just become a much busier place with lots more people and way too many cars.”
Simpson gets around the city mainly by walking or by bus. “The Metro bus system radically changed the quality of transportation here,” Simpson said.
Back in graduate school, Simpson said, he would take “something that looked like a World War II-surplus bus,” transfer to a Greyhound bus and then to a city bus to commute from to Seattle from Kirkland.
“Now you’ve got buses everywhere, coming off the campus,” he said. “That’s just remarkable,” he said. “
Seattle looks quite different now, Ogle said, with many high-rises and condominiums popping up all over the city.
“Most of the skyscrapers weren’t here in the ‘50s,” Simpson said.
“There were smaller buildings back then,” agreed Ogle. “Seattle was more of a working port town than the more sophisticated city it is now.”
“I’ve always enjoyed Seattle no matter what condition it was in,” Simpson said. “You can’t stop the change. I guess you have to change with it, or you better move somewhere else.”[[In-content Ad]]