Revisiting the Park: No sleeping in Seattle

Garfield High School turned 100 years old in 2020. To celebrate, a delayed reunion was held Aug. 27 for all classes, arranged by decades, at the school.

It was a cool, dark day, so the classes of the 1930s to the 1950s were happy to reunite indoors at an auxiliary gym. The ’60s and ’70s met at the Commons, the ’80s and ’90s in a tent on the athletic field. The years 2000-22 also met on the athletic field later in the day. Food trucks provided a plethora of delicacies in the performance center driveway.
 Our ’30s to ’60s-decades were designated by flags on several tables depicting the sections.

 Mine was the class of 1954, where only four males showed up. I remembered everyone who had come from J.J. McGilvra and Edmund Meany Junior High, even those from other years.

The class of 1952 had the distinction of Quincy Jones being a student. He and his musical group played at many affairs and taverns in the area. He was an honorary chairman for the centennial event and gave a speech via YouTube.

I have attended a few of the milestone reunions; I find myself reflecting on how small the class size has become and the toll 68 years has taken on our lot.

In its heyday, speaking of Quincy, there were many places to dance and/or listen to music. The Downbeat opened on Second and Yesler, close to the train station, and on one Friday night, I went in to have a beer. Like most males, I wandered around looking for a dance partner. A gentleman seated at the large Hammond organ played as the stage rotated.

Suddenly I heard, “Dick Lehman!” and turned to see Quincy. He said, “Join us!” so after thanking the young lady for the quick dance, I sat with Quincy, Dave Lewis, Dave Hammond, Bill Somrise — a disc jockey — and some band members. Several of the artists took turns creating impressive music. The club was open from 9 until midnight, and later we headed to the Black and Tan on 12th and Yesler. A dark stairwell led down to the sound of the blues.
 Every time I drive past that area, I think of all the good times and that we always left just before dawn.

Other evenings, we would head north to Madison and 23rd; there was no better place than Birdland to sip a beer behind a napkin holder. In those days, with the increase in clubs, the liquor board was hard and heavy on violations. You could not carry your brew to the table after ordering as that was the waiter’s job. The hours there were 10 a.m. until midnight, but closed on Sundays — Seattle really never closed.
Not far from the Black and Tan, west to Chinatown, was the Wai Mei Club, where Hank the owner/manager would let us in from a dark alley just east of Tai Tung’s. After pressing a bell in the small door, Hank peered through a peep hole and let us in and led us to a table near the dance floor.
 There were many Arthur Murray-types flailing their arms, inviting fisticuffs. Hank was always able to put an end to the mêlée; the dancers never missed a beat. It was easier to order two or three drinks at a time there because the place was so crowded. There was some gaming but only for special patrons.

One block west was Bob Kivo’s 605 Club, with a long staircase entrance where one could chance on dice or just partake of friends and conversation. The rule here was to bring your bottle of choice and pour drinks under the table, although bottles could be purchased in the kitchen. It always drew a great crowd from all areas of Seattle and Madison Park.

High rollers seeking a game of chance, cocktails and charming ladies could find private gatherings not far from Madison Park. Poker was open for the casual player, but as the pot grew, feelings of seriousness became apparent so one or two bouncers stood by. Some of these functions were by invite only. One was downtown where folks dressed to the nines attended.
 We took an elevator to the top and then a private elevator to the grand event. Everything from chips and dips to lobster was offered. A full band played for the guests who shined on the dance floor. The Western swing and its many versions were the dances of choice.


Simpler entertainment became common in neighborhoods abiding with the closed-on-Sunday’s rule. Events with baseball and barbecues were organized at local lakes. Sometimes the Red Onion and the Attic played each other there. A mile east of Issaquah and north through the woods sat a guy reading a paperback and collecting $2.50 a car for parking by the water’s edge next to a small stove. There were hot dogs or steaks grilling on the iron barbecue, keg beer and baseball all day.

A great sport north on Aurora was the Figure 8 and Demolition Derby, and nearby were modified races. Engine on a frame, helmet required. That was very close to Playland in Seattle, where most rides were 35 cents and 50 cents for the roller coaster. Playland disappeared in 1961 and is now a play field for the R.H. Thomson Jr. High School. The speedway was incorporated into a shopping center.

Seattle was alive with events. In the early 60s, rumors spread there was to be a race hosted by KVI’s star disc jockey, Bob Hardwick. He announced loud and clear, “A race between two top cars: the Madman Muntz Jet — plush coup — and an early ’60s Corvette.” Soon word spread via KJR and other stations about the upcoming race. The Corvette was owned by Bob’s father of Westlake Chevrolet. The Jet was a dealership on Pike near Boren, which was new in Seattle.

The big day took place on Fifth Avenue, which was blocked thanks to the Seattle Police Department. People lined the streets, banners and all. “And away they go!” The Jet, with four tail pipes, roared off the line. The Corvette did little more than squeal its tires, blowing the socks off the Jet.

Corvettes increased in sales and the Muntz Jet, like Seattle rain sometime does, just went away.