Phil Webber, 1938-2006: P-I photographer remembered as a colorful character around Magnolia

Magnolia resident and longtime Post-Intelligencer photographer Phil Webber was a colorful character in more ways than one, those who knew him say.

Webber, who died March 18, was well-known for his colorful outfits and his usually mismatched colored shoes, two of which had portraits of his pet beagles painted on them, said Bonnie McGoldrick, who works at Secretarial Services in Magnolia Village.

Webber's latest business card also demonstrated a colorful personality, McGoldrick said. The card includes a photo he took of his wildly painted home at 31st Avenue West and West Barrett Street, and it shows his dogs, Milo and Bagel, looking out the living room window. And in a perfect bit of timing, two raccoons on his roof are included in the shot, and they're, well... fooling around.

Webber, who was 67 when he passed away, also had strong connections to the community, McGoldrick said. He took pictures of board members for the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce Web site, and he always photographed neighborhood events such as the Summer Fest parades and the yearly Halloween celebrations in Magnolia Village.

Annie Pond, who runs Magnolia Custom Jewelry in the Village, also has fond memories of Webber, whom she had known for 13 years. "I was really lucky to have been a pretty good friend," said Pond, who added that Webber had dinner at her house the night before he died.

"I loved his photos," she said. "I loved everything he did." That included his embracing a kitschy fashion sense. "It was Phil, that's all I can say."

Pond noted that Webber said he was colorblind to explain his choice of attire and the dozen or so colors he used to paint his home. "But really, I think he did it for the attention." She also theorized that the color scheme on the house was meant to appall people in the neighborhood.

With a couple of exceptions, that didn't happen, said Barbara Downs, Webber's live-in girlfriend. "A lot of people like it," she said. That included her.

"I didn't mind the colors, but I wanted to have a pattern," she said of a design approach that saw the shutters and trim painted yellow, while a section of the front was painted purple and the garage painted a combination of blue and maroon. The home also features 14 flamingos on the lawn, painted in the colors of the rainbow.

Downs said she first met Webber back in 1969 or so, when she was working on the switchboard at the P.I. They became friends.

Decades later, when Downs was living in a duplex in Lynnwood, her downstairs neighbor noticed that Downs had a photo of Cannon Beach that Webber had taken. It turned out the neighbor went to Lincoln High School with Webber and was still in contact with him. One thing led to another, and Webber took Downs out to dinner. "It was like the last 30 years had never happened," she said.

Before moving to Magnolia around 10 years ago, Webber lived for 20 years on a houseboat on the Queen Anne side of Lake Union. He had to move because of a divorce, Downs said. Webber had five wives in all, and he was going through his second divorce when she first met him.

Webber photographed the famous and the infamous in his nearly 50 years at the P.I., and the house he and Downs shared for three and a half years is full of the photos, she said.

They include a shot of the Beatles, as well as one that shows Webber walking behind John Kennedy when he visited Seattle. "Right there is a picture of Bob Dylan he took," Downs said during a phone interview.

John Dickson, photo editor at the P.I., has been on the job for only four years but said he was impressed with Webber, whom he described as a dyed-in-the-wool newsman.

"It's pretty amazing to look at the span of years his work encompasses," Dickson said. Webber watched Seattle grow up, he added. "His life was Seattle's history, too."

Webber was always listening to police scanners in an effort to find stories to shoot, Dickson said. "He was almost always a step ahead of me."

Downs said Webber had police scanners in his car and in their home. The one in the house was always on, and Downs said she got used to the noise after a while. "But every so often, he'd go, "Wait, I've got to hear this,'" she said.

Downs also said Webber used to have his mother drive him to photo shoots before he had his driver's license, and in the early days he used to sell his photos to the Seattle's dailies for $10 a pop.

Webber was finally hired on at the P.I., and he was just short of reaching the 50-year mark at the paper when he died, Downs said. She thinks the golden anniversary should count anyway. "He was published at the paper before his official start date," she said.[[In-content Ad]]