2022 Find of the Month Archive

Curfew in Ballard

Ballard City Hall

In a letter dated February 4, 1896, Ballard mayor George G. Startup explained his reasons for vetoing an ordinance recently passed by the Ballard City Council. Referred to as the Curfew Ordinance, the measure made it a misdemeanor for boys and girls under sixteen years old "to be on the streets, alleys, or public grounds of the City of Ballard" after 9 pm during the months of April through August, and after 8 pm the rest of the year. Exceptions were made if they were with a parent or guardian, or had written permission. Children found in violation could be fined up to five dollars or jailed for up to two days. The town marshal was to ring the fire bell each night to signal the start of curfew.

Startup’s list of objections included:

First, it is my opinion that the enaction of this ordinance will greatly injure the hitherto good name of our fair city. I submit that such an ordinance carried out and published to the world will convey the impression that we have in our young people of both sexes a great many incorrigibles and candidates for the reform school and that the authorities are utterly unable to cope with them without practically declaring martial law, which is a blotch on the escutcheon of any community even in the case of an emergency.

Second: I submit that we have less rowdyism here than will be found on an average when you consider the inefficiency of our police department which consists of only two men.

Third: I further submit that no good can come of a measure that authorizes the imprisonment of children under 16 years of age except they be actually guilty of some crime. I consider such a course to be demoralizing in the extreme for instance throw a half dozen boys & girls in to our common jail and imagine the result. They are then fairly launched on the highway to desperation and lawlessness. Such treatment of the young in my opinion tends to break down their manhood and womanhood and leads them on to recked [sic] and desperate lives.

Startup asserted that the majority of their constituents were not in favor of the law. Despite his objections, his veto was overridden by the council.

Police chief search

Richard R Foster

As Seattle looked for a new Chief of Police in 1946, Mayor William F. Devin recommended Richard Foster for the position in part because of his high scores on the examination. Devin saw the appointment as a move toward professionalizing the police force and creating a merit-based system that would help to eliminate cronyism and other problems in the department.

However, the City Council did not confirm Foster's appointment, with their stated opposition based around the fact that he was not from Seattle. Many citizens agreed with the council, writing letters and signing petitions promoting the view that the job should go to a Seattleite.

One resident, Nellie Casey Pappas, wrote a poem to express her opposition to the appointment:

Seattle! Just remember,
You want the world to know
About your wonderful scenery,
And everything you grow.

But it certainly seems funny;
When you want a Chief and pay him taxpayers' money
You try and send it to another City,--
And our men [patrolling] streets.
Oh! what a pity.

Of course we need a good Chief--
And businesslike too;
Surely Seattle has a man
To do this work for you.

Kansas City may be our relation,
But we have boys from our own plantation;
And why not keep our money home,
So our dear boys won't have to roam.

So Councilmen--take this one under advice;
We know Seattle will be glad--
Let us give our own men all the work we have.

At the bottom of the page after the typed poem, Pappas included this handwritten addendum: "If you can't find a man in Seattle that can do a good job. Let us have a Seattle Woman."

After the Foster appointment failed, Mayor Devin proposed SPD Sergeant George Eastman for the job and he was confirmed. Eastman served as chief until 1952.

Irish independence

Times ad for de Valera visit

In the summer of 1919, City Council discussed a resolution inviting Irish independence leader Eamon de Valera to Seattle. The resolution began:

Whereas, the people of Ireland, having for centuries suffered the long catalogue of wrongs and oppressions set out in the American Declaration of Independence, having, like the American Colonists, petitioned in vain for the redress of these wrongs, and having, like these Colonists, finally and reluctantly come to the conclusion that nothing but final separation from England could secure to them the natural rights of man, and therefore proclaimed Ireland to be a free and independent Republic and organized a government with Eamonn De Valera, a native of the United States, as the President of the Irish Republic...

After escaping from jail in England, where he had been held for his pro-independence activities, de Valera came to America to raise funds and rally support for Irish nationhood. The council's resolution ended with a determination to request that he visit Seattle as part of this tour "to address its people upon the condition of affairs in Ireland."

Apparently the language inviting him as the leader of Ireland was a sticking point, so another version was drafted without that designation. This did not go over well with some members of the council and Seattle's Irish community; the invitation as a private citizen instead of a president was "practically an insult to Mr. de Valera," as one man was quoted saying in the Seattle Times. The disagreement over language ending up causing the resolution to fail.

However, local citizens and groups such as Irish societies and the Central Labor Council continued to urge de Valera to visit, and he eventually did come to Seattle and Tacoma in November 1919. A letter to the editor in the Seattle P-I argued against the event:

Suppose the government of a large English city should invite a rebel and an outlaw to be its guest of honor and address the citizens as the pretended "president of the Republic of Alabama," in behalf of secession? As Americans would we regard this as anything less than an intolerable insult?

Naysayers aside, the P-I reported that de Valera was greeted by cheering crowds and a parade down Second Avenue.


Hoping to use zoning laws to regulate communes that were starting to appear in Seattle, some homeowners in 1971 petitioned the city to change the definition of "family" in the municipal code. A staff memo about the potential amendment noted that "undoubtedly, some of the objection is based on grounds of propriety, morality, deviation from traditional standards of building and grounds maintenance, loud music and noise, nighttime activity, and the like." The memo helpfully included a definition:

The typical commune consists of a loosely organized group of people living together in one dwelling unit and sharing in the costs and labor involved. Members are usually young and of both sexes. Any relationship by blood or marriage among them is only incidental. Membership in the group may change readily and often. The housing is usually rented. Maintenance of the building and grounds is often poor by traditional standards.

A proposed code change limited the number of non-related people in a household to five. At a Planning Commission public hearing, several citizens spoke in favor, hoping that requiring most occupants to be related by blood or marriage would reduce the number of rooming houses and communes. The hearing minutes report one citizen testifying that "the character of single family areas should not be destroyed by people moving in and out and flaunting the rules." A representative from the Central Seattle Community Council spoke in opposition, saying the amendment attacked a lifestyle and reduced individual rights. City department representatives were concerned about enforcement, particularly about having to ask to see marriage certificates.

Planning Director John Spaeth asked staffer Jim Berkey to investigate "some of the rooming and boarding houses that offer that 'new style of living'" and report back. Berkey checked out several houses in the University Park area that were reported by a neighbor to be communes and wrote up his findings. Details he noted from the houses included "moderately loud 'rock' music," windows covered in butcher paper, overgrown plantings, and a motorcycle. At one residence he noted that "a long-haired youth came out of the house and worked on a disabled car parked in the street." As a whole, he noted.

There is very little to distinguish the appearance of the communes from the buildings occupied by traditional families. The chief thing I noticed is that lawns were not recently mowed or weeds pulled. Perhaps concern about keeping up appearances according to "establishment" standards is anathema to typical commune residents. However, I also observed other properties in the area, apparently not communes, which had equally unkempt yards.

In the end, the proposed changes to the definition of "family" were dropped, at least in part because it would have unintended consequences for group homes for disabled children and other small-scale care facilities.


The Seattle Sunday Times of December 11, 1942, ran on its front page an article titled, "Pupils lose school bus because of rowdyism." Roosevelt High School students from Laurelhurst had been behaving badly enough to warrant a warning two weeks prior that they risked losing bus service if their conduct did not improve. The paper reported that boys "have been pelting bus drivers with missiles, on occasion have lighted ‘stink bombs’ made of photographic films which generate poisonous chlorine gas, and their behavior generally is reported to be disgraceful."

Roosevelt’s principal attributed most of the trouble to a "hazing spirit" among sophomores who felt they "must show their authority" to new freshmen. (He said most older boys came home later due to sports and activities so were not on the bus.) With busses urgently needed for transportation of workers in war industries, the principal said the boys should recognize the privilege of having a bus provided for them.

A citizen named Donald Haas (who was also a regional vice president of the National Apartment Owners Association) sent the news clipping to City Council along with a letter decrying the "appalling rowdyism" and declaring it "a shock to the citizens of our fair city." He continued,

However, for such rowdyism amongst juveniles there is always a definite cause and a definite cure. When youth becomes a problem to the community and juvenile delinquency rears its ugly head the cause is always SUB-STANDARD HOUSING! The cure would of course be obvious, nothing less than a SLUM CLEARANCE PROJECT for Laurelhurst.

Haas closed his letter by asking Council to act so that "the slums of Laurelhurst may be cleared away and these poor unfortunates cured so that they will grow into honorable citizens!"