Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Interview with Edmund Olsson

  • By Mitzi Leibst
  • Posted 9/23/2004
  • Essay 5760

This is an interview of Edmund Olsson (b. 1923) done by Mitzi Leibst on May 16, 2000, for the Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Oral History Project. Edmund Olsson (b. 1923) was born in Sweden and moved to the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard at age five. His family and relatives owned and operated many businesses there, including his mother's Nordic Bakery & Delicatessen and his uncle's Ballard Tavern. He describes Ballard in the 1930s and details attending Ballard High School in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Today is the 16th of May, 2000. And I'll be interviewing Edmund Sture Waldemar Olsson. I'll spell those. Edmund, E-D-M-U-N-D; Sture, S-T-U-R-E; Waldemar, W-A-L-D-E-M-A-R; and Olsson is O-L-S-S-O-N. We are at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Washington. My name is Mitzi Leibst. I'll spell that also. M-I-T-Z-I.

What is your date and place of birth?

Pitea, in Sweden. It's up in Norland, and it was October 6th, 1923.

Could you spell PITEA?

Yes. P-I-T-E-A, but it's an "a" with a circle over it.

Uh-huh. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

I have a half-brother.

Uh-huh. Was the half-brother born in Sweden, also?

Oh, no. Quite a bit later.

Now, what kind of a place was Pitea?

Well, I didn't remember too much right then, I -- 'cause we didn't live there, but my mother and father were traveling to relatives. And my basic home was in Husum. That's H-U-S-U-M. And it's near -- the largest town is Irnska ldsvik, and I'm not going to try to spell that right now. But that I remember, 'cause that's where my grandmother lived, and most of my mother and my dad's family, they were from -- were in that little, little small area.

And the only thing I remember was first walking. And I believe my mother always used to tell me that I skied before I walked.

For goodness sakes.

Well, yes, 'cause it was up in the north, the northern part of Sweden, and so it had a lot of snow.


Was it -- what kind of a town was it?

Well, they had the world's largest pulp mill at that time.

And so that -- it had to do with a lot of lumber and that type of industry. And I had a -- I think there was a cousin that worked in there and my grandfather, he was a -- he worked in the sawmill. And -- but he had died before my mother was born. It was -- well, I mean, not before, but I mean it was very close -- because my mother was very young -- when her dad died, 'cause he got killed in an industrial injury in this sawmill. So it was one of those things. I think nowadays, they could have fixed it. He just got caught in a big wheel, and it turned him around and he got snapped in the neck, so. . . But those were just what my mother and my aunt tell me about, but -- it was really sort of an industrial town. And it had ships that could -- would come and dock and load and unload, right in there 'cause it was right on the water, so. . .

Uh-huh. What did your mom and dad do?

Well, my mother, she was just a homemaker, you know. And my dad was in the tool and die industry. He was a machinist. And they -- and he just -- he and his, well, he -- I was going to say his family were 15, and there was 12 brothers, 3 sisters.


And it -- all the brothers seemed to be into that type of machinist trade. And he came over to the United States earlier. Then when he came back and married, and then we got here about 1926. But --

Now, why didn't -- why did he decide to emigrate?

Oh, I believe it could have been something about World War I. Uhm, I'm not sure. You know, I never really, really -- really asked him that. But I know he came with four of his brothers, and they all settled in Detroit, and they all got into some kind of machinists' trade.

And he finally got to be a superintendent of all metal sheet -- all metal -- yeah, products. It was a thing that made the toys for kids, but everything was made of metal. There wasn't any plastic in those days.


And this was in a suburb of Detroit; it was called Wyandotte. And it's still there. It --

Uh-huh. Well --

Go ahead.

Well, how old were you when they came to Detroit?

I was about two years, nine months, something like that.

And -- but I remember, you know, a few of the things. And of course, then I lived there for -- till I was five, and then my mother got sick, and I had to -- I was -- went out here to live with my aunt and uncle who later adopted me. It was just because they didn't know how serious her illness was. And -- but it all worked out.

Uh-huh. Did they come out eventually? Did your mother and dad come out here eventually?

My dad never did. My mother came here and stayed with her sister. Then it was after the war, and then there was divorce, and I don't know what happened. I was in the service at the time, so it was right around -- oh, what would it be, 1940, somewhere between '42 and '45. But I was sort of surprised, but I wasn't even in the country when it happened. I was overseas, but -- and I don't know if I'd want to tell you the reason anyway.

Oh, no. No, no. That's fine. Did other relatives or friends from this particular town in Sweden emigrate with your family, or about the same time, or thereabouts?

I would say the brothers and their wives, the four of them that came, that also, you know, were in the Detroit area, I'm quite sure they all arrived here in approximately the same time period.

Now, my mother and her oldest sister, they came here in 1914, and they were sponsored by their aunt and uncle who lived in Tacoma. And so, my mother, she was only nine at the time, and so she went to school. And so she got to be pretty good at speaking the English language and writing. She always had a beautiful hand.

And my aunt, Hildur, she was 17, so she went to work. She went to work for -- it was the Pantages family, which is a pretty well-known theater family in both Seattle and Tacoma. And she was there as a nanny for the children.

And then, when they went -- I don't think my aunt went back. But my mother did go back to Sweden. And naturally -- and then, somewhere along the line, she and my dad got married. But my aunt stayed here, and she got married in 1918. And then they started a -- oh, somewhere in the '20s, they'd moved to Whidbey Island, and a little town, it was called Classic. It just was maybe a couple of houses or homes. But he was a sheet metal worker, my uncle. Evert. And he had to commute from Whidbey Island all the way down to Rainier Valley, where the --


That's where the -- his -- his working place was.


Now, how old were you when you arrived in Ballard?

I was -- it was in '28 -- 1928. I was five years old. Yeah, 'cause I remember starting school, kindergarten. It wasn't in Ballard; it was over by where The Times is now. There was a school, it was called Cascade, but they had to tear it down after the 1949 earthquake 'cause it couldn't be used anymore. It had structural damage.

But after I got out of kindergarten, then I came into Ballard. And I started at Adams. And I went through school, through the -- from the first through the sixth grade. And in that interim, back in 1933, my aunt and I went back to Sweden. And we stayed there for ten months. My mother was there. And we lived with my grandmother in Husum, like I mentioned the town before. And when I came back, they dropped me back in school a half a grade. They didn't give me any -- any credit for being over in Sweden and with all my knowledge and all that.

Well, that was too bad.

Well, I lost a lot of old classmates. I mean, they got a half a grade ahead of me. And I saw they had here in Seattle schools they were half grades until, I don't know, about 1944 or something. Then they dropped that. Once you started, you were in that class all the time.

But from Adams, then I just went to James Monroe. And -- which was junior high. And of course, that's something else now. And then, because of where we lived at that time, which was over on the other side of the lake, Lake Union, I went to Seward School which is still there, but it's being remodeled or something. And I graduated from there, and the closest one was Broadway High School.

So I spent two years at Broadway, and then I came back to Ballard school 'cause it was -- why was I over in Broadway, you know? My folks had all their businesses here in Ballard. So I went back to Ballard, and I graduated from there in 1942. And then, right after that, the war was on. And I enlisted in the service. And . . .

But in this same period of time, you were wondering about the businesses in Ballard. Well, my aunt, her name was Hildur Oakson. She was in the bakery business. And she started her own bakery right at 2205 Market Street. It was called the Nordic Bakery & Delicatessen.

And she -- it was real nice when I was here in Adams. After school, I'd always could go down to the bakery and have my refreshments, you know. And she kept that till about 19 -- oh, my gosh, she must have started it in -- yeah, it was there when I -- when I got here, so that -- she must have had it started in 1928. And she moved from there to right on 56th and 24th, because the rent was too high on Market Street. And so she opened up a new Nordic Bakery right on that corner which was right next to Gerke's Music Store.

So, old Ballardites would remember that, that area. And she kept that up until -- oh, it must have been '37 or '38. And -- and then in that time, well then, she went to help her husband, Evert, who started partnership the first tavern in Ballard on -- it was the 5400 block on -- on 22nd. And it was called the Ballard Tavern. Isn't that unusual?

Right, an original name.

Right. And so he had that tavern for quite some time. And it was somewhere during the war, he had moved down on Ballard Avenue, and possibly it was the same rent problem or something, but -- and when I came after the service, well, then he had this tavern on Ballard Avenue. I think it was 5419, if I think of my -- going back.

And then, after that, he sold it to the Olsen Furniture Company 'cause they needed a storage facility, and it seemed to be -- worked out just right, 'cause they were sort of diagonally across the street there on Market. And then he opened a new tavern right by the Locks, and he called that the Lockhaven. And it was taken over by Fentron Company 'cause he had a railroad spur right behind the tavern. And they wanted that spur to move some of their goods from Fentron. And I think at a later date, then another tavern started right next to where his old one was. And that's still there. It's called the Lockspot.

But it was -- that was their two businesses in Ballard. And in this interim, my mother, Mimi, she moved back in here after she'd remarried, and she and her husband started the Mimi's Coffee Shop which is down -- oh, it's pretty close to 20th and Market on the north side of the street. And I think the building has been taken over now by Seafirst, or Bank America, or whatever. But it was sort of the eastern side of that bank, 'cause the bank had moved in there after she'd left, 'cause they were further west on Market at the time. And they had that business, and it was called Mimi's Coffee Shop. And they had that business, I don't know for how many years. And -- until she just -- she just retired. She and her --

That's great.

Well, for her husband, Emil, Emil Strasser. That was their last name after their marriage. And she lived with Emil -- oh, what is that across there? Can't even think of the district. Interbay. I was -- couldn't think of it for a minute. Where all the trains --

Uh-huh. Sure.

Yeah. And they lived there in his house there for a long time there. I believe it was on about 22nd North. Or what -- I think that's right. And they finally -- it was a bit too much, because it was on the side a hill, and there was stairs, and --

Oh, yeah.

So they bought a duplex down on 57th. And, well, they lived there -- oh my goodness, it was -- it was around 1974 when they moved in there. And finally, they both got sort of ill. And Emil, he was 94, you know, when he died. And my mother was -- I think she lived there with my aunt, her sister for awhile, one in each half of the duplex. And it worked out real fine. And my aunt died first, it was in 1984. And so then, she rented out the other part of the duplex, which you almost had to do.


And then my mother got real sick again, and she was at the Ballard Convalescent deal, there off of Holman Road. And so, we had to sell the place. And -- but we had a very good tenant and really, really liked her. And -- because she moved in -- hmm, it was back in the late '70s, '78 or '79. It was right after Emil had died. So -- but it was -- they were just interested in Ballard as a whole, you know.


And my mother was sort of an entrepreneur type of deal. I mean, she was a head hostess with Mannings. And she had her own store over by the Roosevelt High School, it was called Roosevelt Sweet Shop. It was right across the street from the high school. And it was just catering to the school kids.


Yeah. And then she opened another place on University Way. So -- but she was always into that restaurant business. And at one time before my uncle died, Evert, after he'd semi-retired from the tavern business, well, she, my mother and my aunt and my stepfather, they all opened a place down on 17th and Ballard Avenue. And they called it O.K.'s Cafe. And they kept that going for quite awhile. That was prior to her buying or getting her own business, that Mimi's Coffee Shop. And she just did coffee shops and lunchrooms and things for -- that was -- that was just her -- my mother's life.

That's great. Well now, where did you live in Ballard?

Where did I live in Ballard?


Well, we had an apartment on 59th and 24th. I can't remember the name of it. I remember the streetcar tracks went by all the time and you could hear them, because it's where they made their turn on 59th. And then I lived with them when they lived -- my aunt and uncle, I lived with them on 60th and 30th. We had a house there. That was after -- or just before we'd gotten married, I lived there. And then, after the wife and I got married, well, then we found our own place. But both Hildur and Evert, they built --had a house built on, I think it would have been 37th and 64th. It was down there, just overlooking all the nice Puget Sound area. It was a beautiful house there.

And -- but when they first -- my aunt and uncle, when they first had their own house, it was sort of in a -- what would you call it -- Scandinavian block. Their name was Oakson. And the people on one side of us was Larson, and there was Fredrickson on the other side, and then there was another Swedish family that lived by them, and one right behind us at the alley, Fabbe, all I remember is his first name was Fabbe. And he was -- had something to do with -- they had -- they called it the Svenska Posten. And it was a local Swedish paper here in Seattle. And there was a whole bunch of Scandinavians. And those on Minor Avenue North is what they called it then. But it just -- just a block off of Lake Union on the east side.

So, was that really in Ballard then?

No, that's where they started -- because of all their Swedish friends. I mean, of course, this goes back into the '20s. But how we got to Ballard, it had to do with my aunt's bakery, and so they were commuting, you know, to the bakery, and he was working in Rainier Valley, and she was working in Ballard. And finally he quit that sheet metal business and started helping, you know, in with the bakery.

And I don't remember exactly how they did it, but he also had a service station down on Second and -- oh, my goodness, Second Avenue -- I think I can remember one thing about it; it was right next door to Best Pie Company. And right now, I think the Seattle Center has more or less taken over that whole district there, off of -- but he'd had that station for quite awhile. It was a General Petroleum station. And how they commuted and got the bakery going and him staying at that station and then looking after me in all this time when I was going back and forth to school --

How did everybody commute?

Well, we had a -- I thought we only had one car. And it was sort of odd. They'd start out in the morning from over by Eastlake, and he'd built -- it was an old Model A. And he'd built it into a van so he could stop right by Seattle Pacific College on the way. Well, first of all, he'd start right on Mercer there at where the Civic Auditorium was, 'cause there was a bakery there. So they had a stop in and get some fresh bakery goods, plus a whole bunch of hardtack.

And then they went to this other little bakery by Seattle Pacific. And then they'd pick up maple bars and also some Scandinavian wienerbrod and things that was native type to the Scandinavians in Ballard.

And then they'd drive, unload it at the bakery there at Market Street, and then she'd start the business. And then, I guess he -- then he went and opened up his service station. I don't remember -- I'd have to leave and go to school. Of course, it was no big deal to walk from Market up to 60th, you know, to Adams. And then, after she'd close the bakery, well, he'd come by and pick us all up and we'd go back home.

Was Ballard much of a Scandinavian village back there in those days?

Oh, yeah. It's all it seemed there was. There were so many fishermen; you know, that was the big trade. And of course, they worked at the Seattle Cedar and the other, Stimson's Lumber, I think. And they all seemed to have a Scandinavian background. Like looking at some of the names, you know, and looking in my yearbook, they -- everything seemed to end with -S-O-N, or -S-E-N, you know.

Uh-huh. Was Swedish spoken in Ballard, down in the business area?

Oh, yes. Both my -- well, I called my aunt, I called her "Ma" to distinguish between aunt and my mother, who I called Mother. So it was Ma and Pa and Mother and Dad type of a deal. So --'cause I remember going in -- and of course, I still, when I was here, I spoke Swedish all -- it seems like it was all the time when I was young, when I first got here, 'cause that's what they spoke at home. And of course, I hadn't been gone from Sweden that long. And that's what we talked with the neighbors. It was like that. And so many customers, they were always either Swedish or Norwegian. And the same thing happened, you know, in the tavern. Seemed like every fisherman was a Norwegian or a Swede. And they all would speak broken, but you know, they had that accent. And my ma, she never got rid of it. It was just -- she'd speak sort of a mixture once in awhile when she was talking. Sometimes she'd mix Swedish in with English. It was sort of cute.

Well, when did they stop speaking Swedish in Ballard, do you think?


As far as the Swedish language, I think the businesses changed. Ballard expanded, you know, they -- and --

Why did they expand?

Well, I mean, they had more like grocery stores and different businesses that -- well, they just changed ownerships and things like that. They went down more on 15th instead of being around here on 24th and Market. And they did go down further west on Market. There used to be just quite a few empty lots. And then they -- then those apartments that they started down there, well, it just brought in a variety. And I would say that happened right about the wartime, right in the '40s.

And it was noticeable when I was -- about the time I graduated from Ballard that there were just more -- well, the people, they were -- I don't recall any influx of Asians or anything like that, but it just seemed like they were more Americanized, their background. The older Scandinavians, they were just, you know, dwindling away, I would say. So, I would say -- 'cause right at that time, you know, Boeing was going gung-ho building, you know, bombers for -- different planes for the war effort.

And so you had a different bunch of people that came into -- into the area. And they weren't Scandinavians. So I would say right there in the war years is when it got away from where you could go into almost any store, and somebody would understand if you were speaking Scandinavian or not. That's -- of course, then after, you know, the three years I was gone in the service, I didn't hardly know it when I got back, you know.

Is that so?

Well, it was just sort of different and --

How was it different?

Well, for one thing, I was different, I guess, because they had -- I got this on a G.I. Bill, a chance to go to the University. And I found out, for instance, that I lost my study habits. And so I just had one quarter at the U. I took a music major 'cause I had played piano for -- well, quite some time. I started taking piano lessons here in Ballard and -- well, when I was six years old. And I took them until I graduated. And then, sort of, I couldn't even get back into learning piano anymore. It's -- well, I guess I got more independent, or something, and I tried to study. And I had the same music teacher. And I -- it was just one of those things that happened. I just -- well, prior, I took the time, or I sort of had to practice at home. I had to practice all the time. And I didn'y have that parent type of dominance.


Say, "Okay, you practice for two hours" or whatever the heck you had to do. After being in the service, I didn't have to worry about practicing.

Now, when you were a child, were there a lot of other children also taking piano lessons and lessons of various kinds?

Oh, well, yeah. Through -- well, my neighbor, he was taking violin lessons. And of course, there was a lot of them here from Ballard you could spot in one of these things here. Had a recital, and these were all Ballard people. And we didn't have a piano in our home at the time when I was practicing, so I went to practice at my music teacher's mother's place which they lived right where Nelson's Chevrolet is now. It was on that 50th or something like that. But after school, I'd have to go right to their place and practice there for about -- at least an hour-and-a-half to two hours every day. And I'd go back and I'd walk to the bakery and have a little snack, and then we'd all head home to eat, you know.

Uh-huh. Did you eat Swedish types of food?

Oh, yes. Definitely. I don't think anybody could make Swedish meatballs like my ma did, I'll tell you. You know, with potatoes and hardtack and Swedish pancakes and our good old friendly Mother's Oats type of a deal, you know. Of course, everybody has mush, you know. But we'd have, oh, a lot of things I imagine that you'd have now, you know, parsnips and rutabagas and things. I don't remember us ever -- I don't know how you would, you know, explain a complete Swedish dinner because it was always meat and potatoes. That seemed to be one of the basics, and then whatever type of vegetable.

And of course, they'd -- there was sometimes we'd have a spread, you know, between the families. And we'd -- you know, there was a bunch of real friends that were all interested in -- well, they just seemed to meet all the time; it would be from one house to another. And there would be the smorgasbord type --

Uh-huh. And they were Swedes, these people?

Oh yes. Right.

Did they speak Swedish in these gatherings?

Oh, yes. And it was just sort of common. And my uncle, Evert, or Pa, well, he and his best friend, they came from northern Sweden, a town called Bodin. And they were partnerships in the tavern that they opened in 19 -- well, right after Prohibition, it would be 1933.

And then my pa bought him out. His name was John Uderstrom. And he was well known here in Seattle, also, 'cause he started another cafe type of business called the Little Bit of Sweden, on Sixth and Pike, in Seattle. And they were there for quite some time. He and his wife, Gertrude, they ran that. And then, finally, he'd opened up a brand new one on, oh, I believe it was about 42nd and Aurora. And that was also same name, Little Bit of Sweden.

And then he sold that out and sort of got tired of the business or something. He sold it to King Oscar. And I think, I'm not sure -- well, I know what happened. King Oscar's burned. Oh, it must have been somewhere in the '70s, I think. And he got remarried, and they went up and he started a business in Anacortes.

But he and his -- his son and I, we were born two days apart. And his name was Ray, Raymond. And so we went through school together and always had our birthdays together. And I don't believe -- it's sort of odd now -- he didn't play any instrument, but we went to school all the way from Adams, same thing, right up through Ballard so -- and we sort of drifted apart after the war. He was my best man at my wedding.

Uh-huh. Well, now, did you belong to that Swedish Club, the Swedish Club?

Yeah, it was an order of it. It was called the Vasa.

Oh, the Vasa was part of the Swedish Club?

Yeah, it was a -- it was a branch of it. Because the Swedish Club itself was down on Eighth Avenue, on Eighth and Olive, I think, in Seattle. But both my aunt and uncle belonged to that, I think. As far as I know, they most likely were charter members. Who knows, it was back so far.

And then, when they opened up this Vasa Club Hall, the Vasa Hall, it was right on -- oh, it was between Market and 56th right on the west side of the street there, and they had a hall and they had dances. They had all their meetings. And there was also a young group, 'cause I even got a picture someplace of me and this girl, we were dressed in Swedish costumes and -- I'm not sure what we were dancing, a Hambo or something, you know. And it was another -- well, it was a social deal where -- well, you talk about everybody speaking Scandinavian, that's what it was then. And now, I guess, the Swedish Club is up on, oh, down below Aurora.

On Dexter or something?

Yes, on that -- it's on the east side of Queen Anne Hill there.

Does the Vasa Club even exist any more?

I don't -- I don't believe so, huh-uh.

When was its heyday, the Vasa?

Well, the time I can remember being there all the time was when I was about 10, 11, and it just seemed -- and that would have been about '34 or '35. '36. In -- oh, up to '37, I think. So it would be in that little -- mid-'30s. And it -- well, you know, you look at it as a child, it seemed like the place to go. And there were special days and nights, you know, that you'd have weekends that'd be for the kids, if I remember right.

But -- and I can't remember any of the officers or anything there, but I do know there was a name, a Gus Beckman, that seemed to be predominant in a lot of Swedish affairs that were going on. And he lived here with two brothers. And they were great friends of the family, you know. And like I was saying, it seemed like we'd always be going to some Scandinavian friend or, you know, or family, for dinner. It just seemed like it was a weekly affair. You'd be going to one place or the other.

Uh-huh. Well, did the Vasa Club have picnics and things like that?

Oh, yes. They had their picnics out there at Lake Sammammish. And it was called the Vasa Park. It was out there, and then, especially, their mid-summer's festival that usually comes up in, it seems like it was June. It was all -- that was where you'd -- then there was a group. I mean, there were hundreds there.


Yeah. And I think the park is still there. But I think it's used by everybody now. I think you can even rent it out and have, you know, separate individual parties and things like that. But that was an occasion to go over there by the lake.

And it seemed to me that we also had some friends that were very close. They were at Pine Lake. I think Pine Lake's still there. But it was at the time we'd have big get-togethers there because it was such a nice area. And I remember I'd bring my accordion along. And there was a -- the name of the people that owned it, their name was Hilmo. And they had two boys. One played the trumpet, and another one was an accordionist; and then there was some gal that she'd sing, another sister. And it was quite a festival.

Uh-huh. Well, when did they stop having those festivals?

I'm not sure they ever stopped. I think I just got out of the -- out of that picture. You know, after I got married and we started on our own type of deal and then with a couple children, well --

Well, the Vasa Club doesn't exist anymore, does it? Or does it?

No, I don't believe it does. I think just the Swedish Club.

Do you still belong to the Swedish Club?

No, huh-uh. That was one of those things that -- well, I know my ma still belonged for quite some time. And -- but it was one of those things that when she got elderly, too, that to drive there, you know, and -- it was quite a little trip. And after Pa died, well, that -- it just changed her habits entirely, also, and, you know, living alone and things like that. I know about the first thing -- well, she had done it a couple times. She went back to Sweden quite a few times there. And, well, so did he in the middle '40s, but he died in 1959. He was 70 years old. And she lived quite awhile longer 'cause -- yeah.

Was there a lot of going back and forth by all the Scandinavians that lived in the area?

Well, it seemed like it. Yeah. They'd have to go back to their homeland, you know, and --

Uh-huh. Were they writing back and forth also, you know, writing letters?

Oh, yes. Right. Yeah. My mother and aunt, my ma, they continually were writing letters, because of their -- well, they had three sisters and my grandmother, and they were very close. Of course, then there was the nieces and nephews that were involved. And then, on my mother's side, of course, then she'd be writing to my dad's family. And there was a going -- writing it seemed like all the time that I can remember.

And it was -- writing them, it was always in Swedish. And they'd get letters back in Swedish. And then, she'd give them to me, and I'd read them. And there were a few words I'd have to, you know, get her to translate. And then, the other -- my dad's brothers that still lived in Detroit, well, she was always writing to the wives, you know, 'cause they were my aunts on my dad's side. So it was a good correspondence going on there. Even though there was this divorce, heck, they were still, you know, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, so --

Well, now, what happened to all these letters?

Oh, boy. I don't think she saved too many of them. I got something in a suitcase after she died, and there was photographs and books. And I'm quite sure there was some letters there also. And you know, after she died, I don't think I've hardly ever looked into that suitcase. And I had it -- I was going to do that this last week, and then I went on vacation. But I was going to sort them out 'cause I thought maybe there'd be some pictures that they could bring. I know I've got a couple albums that show some pictures of old Ballard.

Oh, wow.

And, you know, the Bagdad Theater that's -- and some of the buildings that have changed, you know, like Ben Lafferty -- his building is still there on the corner, but right across the street was a funeral home, Pheasant and Wiggin. And I think Wiggins now is up on -- he merged with a Mittelstadt, who, I believe, was sort of odd, but I think he was a coroner of Seattle.

Oh, really. Huh.

Yeah. And then -- they had this other funeral home, and I think that one is the Ballard Blossom Shop now.

Oh, for heaven's sake. Well, I was going to ask you something.


Was much of Ballard rural at the time that you were a child? I mean, were there like cows and chickens and all that stuff?

Oh, no. No, no.


There wasn't any farms or anything that I could -- people -- some places would have chickens, you know. But as for being rural --

It wasn't?

No. Huh-uh. And I can -- I was trying to think -- going all the way up toward Woodland Park on Market, that it didn't seem to me that there was anything but houses and a few businesses.

Uh-huh. Very many vacant lots?

There was a few around, but it seemed like there was the old houses all the way. They might not have been as close together -- I mean, there might have been vacant spots in between, you don't remember. But it seemed like they all seemed to build up -- just somebody moving and putting a house in.

And the one thing I just vaguely remember, coming down, say from Eighth Avenue, heading west on Market Street, is when they paved the street.

Uh-huh. Wow. When was that?

Oh, that had to be about in the early '30s. And they had to make the curbing, and they put the sidewalks in, and they seemed like they took forever to get the cement finished. And they had sprinkler systems to keep it wet. I guess it took a long time for the cement to cure properly. And so, at one time it seemed like half of Market Street was, you know, blocked off with all that work going on. And the sidewalks, they never -- they didn't have -- well, they had sidewalks, but I think there was wooden planking that they -- but that was just in that one small area. Because the --

I remember my music teacher had moved and lived on 60th on Third Avenue, and so I had to go up there for music lessons. And -- but I'd still practice at her mother's place. But for when I had to have my lessons, every week, I'd have to go and have her see if I was doing the correct fingering and playing the tunes correctly, you know.

Uh-huh. Now, did the Depression have much of an impact on Ballard? I know that you were really young then in 1929.

Well, I don't really know, because you know my pa working here, he was in the sheet metal business. And that didn't seem to bother him. And so we never, ourselves, that I can remember, ever felt anything about the Depression. And course, with my ma in the bakery business, that still was going on. And I'm trying to think of the roofing company that he worked for, or the sheet metal company, but he had three sort of historic things that I can remember. They were hired to put the roof on St. Mark's Cathedral.


And that was a copper type of roof. And Liberty Theater down on First Avenue, they had the whole marquis that was under their contract. And then, there was, I think it was Schwabacker -- oh, I don't know what it was, department store or something. They had their monstrous marquis with their name coming down, and then their -- and things like that. And so, he was always kept busy, as far as I know, you know, in the '20s. I don't think I got in to any politics. I was too young then, but I do remember -- I don't think he liked Hoover 'cause I think he voted for Roosevelt. But that's just one of those things, you know, some little thing had happened. And of course, from the way he always put it, he blamed everything on Hoover, you know. It was all his fault.

All his fault.

Yeah. And there was -- well, our next door neighbor, he was always working. He was a truck driver for Piggly Wiggly that I think changed to Lucerne and -- what do you call it? Safeway now. Yeah. So he was always out early in the morning. And of course, he didn't deliver milk to residential. He was going from store to store, supplying them then.

And, I don't know, it's just -- I know there was some people -- you look back -- and they were hurting, but it seemed like I got an idea everybody was helping themselves. Or, you know, one family or another, if somebody needed it, they were a pretty close-knit group so. . .

Uh-huh. Now, did you go to church regularly, your family?

Yeah. I was trying to think. I don't believe so.

Were there any churches in Ballard that gave services in Swedish? Do you remember?

I don't recall. I know they went to this -- we went to Sunday school. I can remember going to Sunday school. I think it was a Free Lutheran Church up on about 67th, somewhere in through there. But I don't think anything was in Swedish. I just can't -- I just can't remember that. So.

Well then, it sounds to me like World War II had more of an impact on Ballard than the Depression; is that a fair statement?

I would believe so. There was a lot of -- a lot of service people, you know, that had to -- had to have come out of the whole Seattle area. And I knew that Ballard was -- you know, they had their share of people moving on. And also, like I'd mentioned before, people were coming in here to work in government-associated jobs, you know.

Well, I know my dad, his all-metal toy company, it converted into doing all military work. And so, he even had his own lathe at home, and during his off hours, he would -- he had a private little contract that he was making some little kind of a thing that went into the -- into some of the munitions.


But if I remember being back there, you know, when -- you know, visiting, and I'd stay with my mother and dad back there, and then the -- well, just prior to the war, it seemed like they knew that something was going to be going on because there was a lot of factories, of course, in Detroit area that -- oh, so many vehicles, like -- well, like the Jeeps for instance, they were quite a production line that they just kept going on and on. And I'm not sure which car outfit made, you know, different various things, but it affected that area just like Boeing did around here, I guess, as far as working for some war effort. Yeah.

I've got a picture here that's showing Market Street in 1939. Does that look familiar to you?

It surely does. Right about here -- well, here's Matt's Hamburger. He had the best hash browns and cube steak. Oh, boy, I remember that. And, of course, Bartell's on the corner. There was a little apartment building here. I don't know, Washington, that might have been it. And -- but right in here, 39th on the black and white was in there, it was right here where my ma had the bakery, the Nordic Bakery. It was at 2205, so it would have been three doors down from the corner. And I think when she sold out there, I think City Light went in as a -- to be a place you could pay your light bills and things like that.

Oh, yeah.

And, it was, yeah, I think it was Kress, and Woolworth. I think they used to be pretty close together, and right in here was J.C. Penney's. And, of course, the Bagdad Theater, and this was called the Eagles' Building. And -- 'cause the Eagles had their big -- well, I think they took a whole fourth floor over. That's where they had their big lodge and where they had all those big tall chairs and all of the benches and everything and had their meetings. And down in the basement, they had sort of like their -- a little recreation place in the basement.

Uh-huh. Did you belong to the Eagles?

I think my pa did. Yeah. He was even here in a business. Yeah, you've got to belong to something. He belonged there.

Uh-huh. Were they mostly Scandinavians there in the Eagles?

Oh, I just can't remember particularly. If they were -- I got an idea there was quite a few of them like that. And --

How about Ballard Avenue? Was it the main drag in '39, or was it Market Street?

Market Street would have been your main drag. See, Ballard Avenue cuts right in here -- right where Bartell's is, right there it starts. And it went just -- well, I always figured it went to the Ballard Bridge, but it didn't. I think it extends a little bit toward Leary and down there. So he had those three streets; Ballard Avenue and Market and Leary Way. But if you notice, see, there's no streetcar tracks here, but down here is where the streetcar went. So -- on --

What's that?

That's a bus.

Oh, yeah. I guess it is.

This was in, you say, '39?

That's what it says, yeah.

Yeah. But see, if I remember right, the streetcars were still running here. And they'd go up 24th to 59th, and then they'd turn and they'd go all the way up to 32nd and 85th. And there was a little turntable up there where they'd pull the streetcar in and then they'd -- the conductor, or whatever, he'd get out and turn the streetcar around, head it back down into Ballard again.

And there was another one that went up to -- not quite 32nd, I think -- I mean to 65th -- that went up 65th and on 32nd. And it made a turnaround right in there. It didn't go all the way up because the other one -- the other one went up, and there was no cross-traffic. If you wanted to go, say, from, oh, Greenwood district, you'd think, well, there should be a streetcar that went all the way across, but there wasn't. I think that all you had -- I think there was a bus that ran across 80th. But that top part of 88th --

So they were all north/south?

It seemed that way. Yeah. They had --

And when did they do away with all these streetcars?

Boy, I just can't remember. Eighth Avenue was one of the last ones I remember. And I would say it was in the '40s. And they -- well, they were digging them up before that because -- well, yeah, it was right around that time -- 1940s they were changing them. And there was rumors that the old streetcar tracks, when they dug them up, they were sold to Japan --

Oh, really?

(Continuing) -- for the metal. I think, yeah. Yeah. Makes you wonder. I don't know if they were rumors or not, or if that was a fact. But the one I recall most of all was the one that went up Eighth Avenue, because when they took it out, they had all these concrete things that were built just perfectly to fit into where the tracks were. And they hardly even made a difference in the surface. And so somebody had a good engineering plan there, and they fit these slabs in and they -- well, they had to do a lot of little filling-in, of course, but it seemed like they knew exactly. I think one of my pictures is right leaning on this post.

It used to be a shoe store right in here. And right in along with the shoe store itself was a shoe repair guy, two brothers. They ran that. And I used to always go in there and watch them work on shoes. You get that smell of that nice leather. And one of the brothers was left-handed, and I was wondering why his knives and all his tools were different. Of course, I didn't know the difference. I figured you use scissors -- you use scissors no matter if you're left- or right-handed. But the scissors had to fit, you know, to cut with the left hand. And the knives had to have the bevel going when so you'd draw or cut on the leather. And so I used to ask "Dave how come those knives were different?" He says, "Well, we use different hands."

Makes sense.

Well, it does.

Yeah. Were cars very prevalent as family cars when you were, you know, say in the '30s?

Oh, well, yes. For -- we had to go visiting. Sure.

So every family had a car?

Oh, I'm quite sure. Seemed to be. There -- darn right. And some of them had more expensive ones than others, too, you know. I was trying to look at this. Looks like a Pontiac.

Were there any what you would call defining businesses in Ballard, you know, much like Frederick & Nelson's was sort of a defining business in downtown Seattle at one time?

No. You're -- you mean like the Bon or something like that?

Well, I was thinking like the businesses that everybody sort of flocked to, that were very important. Like maybe J.C. Penney's.

Well, Penney's was about the biggest store here that I remember. And I remember that they had the funniest way -- you didn't -- they didn't have a cashier at Penney's. You paid your money to this clerk on the floor, and they went and they put the bill and the money in a tube. And they put it in this pneumatic thing and pulled the cord, and it shot up to the -- they had sort of a mezzanine floor. And here's where all the people kept all the cash and did all the accounting. And then, the next thing you knew, your change in the thing would come flying back down. And I always thought that was sort of interesting. It's the only one that I can remember in Ballard, you know, that had that, because I mean, like Kress, you went in and you just paid at the counter and ...


Right down in here, there was another drugstore. I always thought it was sort of odd there were two right across the street. But the other was an Owl Drugstore. That's quite a nice picture.

Well, how about Kress and Woolworth's?

Well, they were side by side. Yeah. I think this is Kress and I think the Woolworth was right next door. The hospital was on the third floor here.

Oh, the hospital was --

That was Ballard Hospital, yeah, on the third floor. And then these were just offices by -- could have been anybody, attorneys. And there was another little office building here.

Uh-huh. In the '30s and '40s, were there any sizeable minorities in Ballard, like American Indians or Asians?

There was . . . I remember this apartment we were living in for awhile there on 59th , they had a Japanese tailor business down below, and I went to school with that person. I can't think of the last name. I know his first name was Suzuki. And there was, I think, one Negro family, is all that I can remember that went through school. I think their name was Spearman. But aside from that, I can't recall anybody but Caucasians.

Uh-huh. Did you ever hear of an Indian cemetery or graveyard down by, or I guess the -- like the -- down in the area where the Lockspot is now, down there where that bridge that goes across?

Hum. No, I don't. I could ask -- I'll ask my wife. She might, because she is part Indian. She's a -- well, her great-grandmother was an Indian princess.

Oh, for goodness sake.

Yeah, from the old Chehalis tribe. And then the Chehalis tribe was absorbed by the Quinaults. And my father-in-law is a -- I think he was -- he would have been an eighth. I think my wife is 1/16th Quinault Indian. And she has property over there on the reservation. And it's one of those things that are passed down from generation to generation. And my mother-in-law says -- always used to kid me and says, "You've got blue eyes, you can't have any of that Indian property." Well, she couldn't either. But it passed down to both our daughters. I mean, we even have an Indian Will that I had to get through the BIA. But it's unusual to get into that type of family, 'cause I don't think I mentioned it, we got married in '46, and we both went to Ballard High and we never met each other until after the war.

For goodness sake. Uh-huh.

And I met her through a fisherman friend of mine, and we just got acquainted. And I was the only one that had the car. So we'd go together all over the place. And one of those things happened, and we just got married. And we got married right up at the First Lutheran, right there on the corner of 65th and 20th. So that's the old Ballard. Of course, I believe there's more Norwegians there than Swedes, but it was a church. So . . .

Well, now, did you live in Ballard after you got married, your first home?

Yes, for awhile. Right.

Where did you live?

It was on 65th and 36th. It was the end of the street. It was two houses up the street, and actually, it was my mother-in-law -- father-in-law and mother-in-law's house, but they had a basement apartment, and so we lived there for -- oh, must have been close to two years. Then we moved to Greenwood. We found a nice little place there overlooking Green Lake, and it was real nice. But we -- like I said, she was also here since 1939, so -- and --

Well now, why did she -- why did you elect to leave Ballard after you got back from the service ?


Yeah, after I got back from the service in 1945, it was October, and I started working with my pa as a bartender in his tavern. And while I was working there, in that time, I met my wife. And I worked, it would be the late shift, tending bar. I think at that time we had to close at midnight. And so my wife then, Jan, she got a job down at Boeing as a riveter, or whatever, down there. And so she'd drop me off at the tavern and drive down to Boeing, and she'd come back after -- cause she worked that swing shift -- and she'd come back, pick me up at the tavern, and we'd sort clean up and then go home.

And at that time, we had moved from her folks' place and found that -- our house on Greenwood, right at 75th and Greenwood. And we just kept -- what would you call -- looking for something else, and she says, "Well, why don't you get a different job than tending bar?" So her dad was a superintendent of a Standard Oil plant down on the waterfront, Pier 32. And so he suggested I try to get a job with Standard Oil at their plant out by Richmond Beach. And so I went out there about twice a day until they finally -- the boss must have got tired of seeing me, so he put me to work on the 19th of May in 1947. And so, we started looking then for another house that'd be away from Ballard and Greenwood. It'd be closer to Richmond Beach.

Makes sense.

So at first, we found a little spot out in Alderwood Manor. It was a two-acre farm type of a deal. And I remember it cost us $3950 for the house, two acres, had a cow, a 1947 Hudson, and 300 strawberry plants. And so we moved out there, I think it was about -- oh, about 1950 -- somewhere in the '50s. And I'd commute then between Richmond Beach and Alderwood Mall, ten miles to where I worked at Standard Oil. Got a good paying job, too, a dollar an hour. In 1947, boy.

Well, that was good money then.

Oh, yeah. And then we wanted to get closer to this plant. See, it was a big distributing plant. It was enormous. And we found this little place right in Richmond Beach. It was a mile from the plant. So we bought that. And that cost $7900. And so we moved in there in September of 1953. Our oldest daughter was just ready to start school, so she started at Richmond Beach School. And I worked that plant for over 35 years.

So, that's one reason we left Ballard is to be in an approximate distance from my work -- the place I worked. And after both the girls grew up and left, we moved four blocks away, 'cause our house was two and a half stories and three bedrooms, we didn't need. An upstairs we didn't have to worry about. I miss the basement is all. But we found a rambler that was four blocks away, but it was all one level, and the wife really appreciates that 'cause she has arthritis, you know, in her back and her knees are hurting, so -- but we've been out since the time I started working in '47 'til now; we've never left in an area, except for the time we were in Alderwood.

We've been at Richmond Beach Heights for so long. And then here, three years ago, they wanted to make Richmond Beach into -- or that -- see, it was unincorporated area, and they wanted to make a city out of it. And I didn't need a city. I figured I was all right right where I was. But -- so now, it's the City of Shoreline out there.

Uh-huh. Well, I understand that. Oh, how about, did any of your boyhood friends also move out of Ballard?

Well, I was trying to think back. Well, one for sure I know, because he lives about two blocks from me. And he was an old high school buddy. And another friend that I had during that time was -- he moved down to the south Seattle, and I think it had something to do -- well, he got married, too, and I don't remember too much about that. But I don't recall too many of my -- places -- any other friends. They did just sort of disappear. I know one of my other school buddies, he lives over by the Washington State Fair grounds in Enumclaw. He says he lives a block from there, just come and see him sometime. And I haven't made it over.

And it's not that I didn't have a lot of friends, but it seems they did scatter around. There were some that lived right up on 24th and 65th. The next thing I knew, they were over in the Wallingford area, or things like that. I never really thought back that much. And it was the same with -- you know, with the wife's friends. That they seemed -- after they got married and had their own families, they did sort of scatter. I don't -- just don't recall too many still left here.


Videotape interview of Edmund Olsson by Mitzi Leibst, May 16, 2000, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle.

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