The business district in Madison Park, compared with 75 years ago, has been reworked with the many shops and restaurants closed.
It is odd dining outside in the elements but helpful in keeping socialization somewhat steady and restaurant workers working. Takeout is a wonderful invention to thwart the “I am sick of cooking” refrain.
Madison Park started with a few small businesses with only a few restrictions. Many trucks roamed our area in the mid-’40s. One truck sold fresh fruit and vegetables from the farms in Kirkland and surrounding areas. Another sharpened cutlery, even hand-push lawn mowers. Jolly John was an ice cream vendor that cruised our streets with a welcoming bell. John sold many delights and had a way with the ladies. Other trucks offered samples like shiny Bing cherries as big as golf balls — it was hard to say no.
My grandmother and Mom’s snack bar at the south end of Madison beach was on Johnson’s boathouse property and was a favorite for Madison beach and the neighborhood. Everyone made a buck.
I personally miss a car repair garage: Someone like Oly from Bill Turner’s Richfield where Starbucks is today really knew his stuff.
“Oly, my car battery is dead,” and in a few minutes your ride was up and running.
In the ’50s, there was quite the assortment of restaurants and cafes downtown — a kind of hodge-podge society. Pioneer Square was then called Skid Row and had an art environment rivaling what we see in the art galleries today. There were rentals that some termed “cold water flats.” Some who were down and out due to unemployment, divorce or family hardship found cheap rentals. Many slept in the alleys and doorways but looked quite different from our present homeless situation.
As a bakery salesman at Wonderbread, I served Skid Row and Chinatown, which left memories hard to forget. A notable gentleman I ran into in Skid Row was Lenny Peterson. He had been a bus driver when I met him years ago at the King Fish Café, where my mom worked. He had become a policeman and was a good guy to have nearby.
One early morning, two large dudes were waiting in front of my truck.
“Mind if we grab a couple of samples?”
There was little I could say when I heard, “Shall I call the paddy truck?” It was Lenny.
Later we stopped at a nearby coffee shop and noticed a man at the counter. He had ordered oatmeal, but when the waiter set the bowl down, it slid onto the man’s lap. The diner quickly grabbed the bowl and scooped the remaining mush back into the bowl. The waiter added a bit more and handed him a rag to clean his peacoat. Lenny commented, “Don’t happen at Canlis!”
Most of the stores in the area were “mom and pops,” but there was a Safeway, and one day I walked in to introduce myself to the manager, but he was busy telling a man, “I caught you stealing a pint of wine. You have a choice: Give me your shoes and clean out the boiler on Sunday, then you get your shoes back, or I’ll call the cops!”
I couldn’t believe the ne’er-do-well gave him his shoes!
The manager took me to the back room and showed me row after row of shoes! He was one of the more easy-going store managers.
When I started in the early morning, some of the after-hours clubs were closing and female impersonators were milling about. The streets of Skid Row were full of merriment. While serving a grocer near a public steam bath on First, I was witness to a raid and a crowd of steaming people wrapped in big white towels shivering on the sidewalk before being loaded into a police wagon.
A favorite store was near Tai Tungs, and one early day, after running back into the truck, I smelled perfume.
There in the corner was a young lady begging me to let her stay. It was good she was smoking as it covered the awful perfume she was wearing. A rather large fellow stood just outside. I was counting the order standing on steps a few feet high when I turned and damned near looked straight into his eye. This very big dude says, “You see a tall, thin white girl?” I walked past him, and he left, thankfully.
The woman of the night rode along on my route, and at lower Capitol Hill she thanked me as she disembarked with her black eye and bruises.
I gave her the name of a restaurant manager, and weeks later there was a card above my visor with $10 enclosed.
Madison Park has remained in a sort of bubble, away from much of other world goings on, and we are thankful to have our friends nearby with places to walk, eat and shop.
We may not have Hart, Schaffner and Marx suits to buy here, but where are we going to go anyway?