Three events happened in the ‘40s that changed the Madison Park lifestyle. The Depression was winding down, Hooverville was no more (homelessness became a nonissue) and last but by far not least: World War II began. It was the days of patches on the knees and hand-me-down clothes with the socks not matching most times.
Those who lived on the north side of Madison were mostly blue collar, working at Todd’s Shipyard and commuting via the Kirkland Ferry. There was much happening to increase the need for housing.
Houseboats were pulled to vacant lots; enclosures were built behind homes. Garages were turned into dwellings between 43rd and 42nd in the alley where several schoolmates lived. My mom, aunt, uncle and I lived in the very garage we still have behind our home. Everyone worked to spruce up their new digs with curtains, gardens and even picket fences.
Mother worked evenings, so I ate with families that I’m sure came from other depressed areas. One family invited me for a home-cooked meal. They smiled and seemed happy with what they had.
We all helped prepare the meal, but I noticed not one glass, plate or silverware piece was the same. I’ll always remember sharing the meal (obviously, as I am writing about it). Once dinner was finished, we cleared the table, washed everything and, voila, it was once again a front room.
On workdays most shipyard workers were seen in the early a.m. huddled around a kitchen window listening to Sam Hayes and the Breakfast News. When the ferry horn blew, they ran to get seats aboard, leaving behind only large chuck holes in the old dirt alleys, clothes lines full of clothes still drying from the day before, and cars deserted due to fuel rationing.
There were some small boats in the yards ready for the all too short summers. On weekends everyone was home outside working in the yard. Some worked on their cars and/or boats.
The alley was alive!
An area hit by the fuel shortage was Canterbury, which was then a cat-tailed long beach with many boats on the shore, tied or anchored. Most of the boat owners were away fighting the war.
North of that, beyond the moorage area, were some houseboats chained together headed for Lake Union or demolition. There were a few houseboats pulled into the area near the water in which friends lived. The rents were cheap and came with lots of wildlife. This was also a great play area for the pre-teen set.
Further north, the ever-present log boom left little room for ships of war heading for the Ballard Locks. It was such a great way to spend the summers, walking on the logs and swimming in the many cedar ponds, where you could see clear to the bottom.
The large vessels chained alongside the boom were great for exploring. This log boom area was the last option of all the beaches in our area, as the pure white sand north of Edgewater apartments was protected by three-foot walls that are still there today. Nothing like a long swim followed by a roll in the hot sand.
That was second only to Madison Beach, where after a swim we’d lay on the hot sidewalks for warmth. A favorite was the square area on the south of the bathhouse. Here we discussed current events — and girls!
There was an area with homes on the west side of Madison, where one had to walk down several stairs to enter —one of the homeowners prepared income taxes. It was next to Lakeshore Deli, now Home Street Bank, and on the other side was Johnson’s Grocery—a tall narrow building where Millie and John and their two sons lived.
They operated a handy shop for those working late. It was also a popular stop for students of J.J.McGilvra’s for buying energy candy to provide strength through the school day. It, of course, supported the local friendly dentists. Johnson’s met its demise in the early ‘60s, when all of the mom-and-pop grocery stores (over 800) were replaced by 24-hour markets and chain stores.
Soon most of the vacant lots were filled with businesses.
One was owned by an elderly gentleman who suffered from tremors—shell shock from World War I. He always had a smile and a warm “Good morning!” for passersby. Each morning, even in winter, he’d walk to a little beach with kindling and newspapers and start a fire to heat himself after a swim in the cold water. It helped with his affliction, and even made the daily papers.
Some shops we miss today are Jaffe’s Shoe Repair, Hollywood Barbershop and all the gas stations! Hadfield’s Garage repaired cars by experts. Bill Turner’s Richfield (where Starbucks stands now) would drive to your car when it went kaput and have you up and running and not late for work!
So many entities and neighbors have come and gone, it’s amazing the neighborhood has been able to keep its aura of wellbeing. If there is any doubt, just walk along the Ave and smile, and you usually get a smile in return.