We, the thriving and inquisitive students of J. J. McGilvra’s, were especially riveted to what adults were doing in the 1940s. Most intriguing to us was the draw of the taverns in Madison Park.
There were three then, and although they were quiet during the day, with just a few regulars, at sunset the ladies appeared via the rear door joining the ever-increasing crowd. The big Wurlitzer juke box was turned up, and soon everyone was laughing and dancing. This frivolity was a far cry from what we kids saw during the day of quiet neighbors talking over the fence.
The makeup of residents didn’t change much after the war when families moved to find work elsewhere. Madison Park suddenly had many home and apartment vacancies along with the stores and restaurants on the Avenue closing. Soon the area started perking up after folks noticed what the area had to offer. College students, airline staff finding themselves based in Seattle and other singles were happy to find reasonably priced dwellings.
The Quality Café had been popular, but in 1953 it was in the midst of a total change. It was becoming a tavern and it would be called “The Attic.” Peeking through the torn paper on the windows, you could see sheet music on the walls from the 1910s, sawdust on the floor, big wooden barrels for tables and smaller ones fashioned into chairs. Above the bar hung a broom with a horn, rear-view mirror, a bicycle seat and handle bars.
Nearby, the Red Onion was serving the influx of new singles from all parts of Seattle. Being on the lean side of 21, my friends and I spent many an evening watching this happy phenomenon, sometimes finding music that befitted the mood. These two taverns were so popular that they, along with the Lynnwood Tavern that my uncle John Swank owned, were rated the top 10 in Washington state!
It was time to join this society. As we sat in a friend’s car drinking beer, we decided to make the change from observer to participant. We moved in amongst the crowd in The Attic looking for a spot to land and found a section for four. With an almost adult voice, one of us ordered a pitcher, four glasses and some peanuts. 1950s music in the background, we toasted our breakthrough and threw the peanut shells onto the floor, which was encouraged.
Years later, when we wished one of the original four happy 21st birthday, Mac McCart, the owner at the time, laughed and said, “It’s about time! You’ve been coming in here for three years!”
A true camaraderie existed, and “The Stein Club” was formed. Some 200 steins hung from hooks with everyone’s names. If you were a member, a schooner was only 35 cents. Now part of the social scene, we were invited to keggers, small dinner parties and drop-ins. Sometimes invitations were left on the bar or mailed, which was considered a formal invite. That was usually from four or five flight attendants leasing homes from owners who were gone for the winter.
We entered one party, accepted the obligatory champagne from the waitstaff and listened to a musical group playing in the background. Hors d’oeuvres were served while a fire roared in the living room. Something was missing — people! There was an outdoor garden in the middle of the house where everyone smoked. One gal said, “Can you imagine? No smoking indoors?” It was 1954, after all; we were bulletproof.
A young lady I knew found a vacancy in the park. Mr. Schneider’s building on 43rd. We helped her move into the upstairs unit with a view of the lake. It was not easy schlepping furniture up iron escape stairs, but we were compensated by being invited to a small function she was having that night. It was a great evening, but the next morning she called crying that Mr. Schneider had put her out due to the “move-in party.”
Sad day, really, and there are many stories about that building and Mr. Schneider Sneaky Shoes. Another friend lived on the top floor. She had taken a shower and left the window open to let the steam out, and there was Mr. Schneider standing on the rooftop. She yelled, “What are you doing here?” He yelled back that he was fixing the TV antenna.
A function that promised to be over the top took place near the tennis club with plenty of keggers; it was a little over the line for a house party. The next morning, I attempted to find my car and was forced to announce, “Where’s my car?” I passed the bakery, and across the street a friend called out loudly, “Lehman? Lose your car?” Laughing, he told me where it was. I was hoping, like in the Western movies, I could just whistle and my horse/car would show up.
The Park always was and is a fun time, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.