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West Seattle Memories Part 7: Businesses
HistoryLink.org Essay 3499
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This file contains a selection of memories and reflections on West Seattle businesses taken from oral history interviews conducted by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. Owners and patrons describe The Seaside Pharmacy, the C and H Grocery, Vann Brothers Restaurant, and the haunted Admiral Benbow Inn. Bob Hallberg also remembers an "interesting" house that caught his eye when he delivered papers as a boy. JonLee Joseph conducted these interviews in 1999.
Marcy Johnsen on The Seaside Pharmacy
"I loved the drug store on Alki -- The Seaside Pharmacy. We went to the pharmacy to buy cokes and little sundries. It opened early so no matter how early you had to go to school or work, people could come into the counter and have coffee or a cherry coke or a Green River. I hated Green Rivers because they were so sweet and green But cherry coke and chocolate coke? Man, right from the fountain That good tingly taste -- it was so good! Bella worked at the counter. I don't remember how early they opened, but it was early.
"The fountain was to the left as you came in and the cards and magazines were to the right and the pharmacy was in the back. Lots of us got our prescriptions filled because there wasn't anywhere else at Alki.
"I had a cousin Anne who lived with her mom on Delridge and they would come over once in a while to visit and we would play dress-up. We just loved to get in our mom's old clothes because they were clothes from the 1940s and earlier 1950s, but especially stuff from the 1940s. Velvet gown things! Lovely things! Rhinestones and hats and gloves. So my mom was going to give all this stuff away and it was on the front porch of our house. Anne and I went through it picking out stuff and we put together a get-up with gown and heels and hat and everything. Then we went walking down the block to the Seaside Pharmacy and sat at the fountain and ordered just like proper ladies, you know.
"And we were treated so properly and we were learning to be grown ups. We had great fun. It was a sad day for me when the fountain went away from the pharmacy."
Marjorie Watt on the C and H Grocery Store
"We took over the C and H Grocery Store on February 23, 1955. It was frame building on this little corner of 63rd and Alki. And behind it, there was no alley. It was just a little mound of dirt. That's where we parked. We did not change the name. We just kept it like it was. The owners were the Capalettos and Husers; that's where they got the C and H. We were there until 1963.
"The first owner of the store went to the landlord and asked the landlord not to renew our lease. Another fellow wanted to rent it. Naturally we were disappointed. So my husband was going to buy the place on the corner and the man who wanted to rent our building space told them that 'If you sell that space to them, I don't want to rent from you.' He'd be going in there as a grocery store too and he knew we would give him competition.
"So my husband bought this empty lot and built another grocery store. We ran it until 1976 when my husband got sick. He had one of his kidneys removed. So he had to go on a kidney machine. He was in the hospital for a few days. When he came back he had me close the grocery store.
"He let the kids convince him into changing it into a restaurant. The Golden Sun Restaurant. My husband was here for so long in business ... and the sunsets, have you ever noticed them? That's where he got it. The Golden Sun. Like one lady says, 'Only on Alki do you see it like that!'"
Leonard Vann on the Vann Brothers (Restaurant)
"Back in 1922, Vann Brothers was originally located in the Admiral District on the present grounds of the Safeway Store at Admiral Way, across the street from Lafayette Grade School. The reason it was located there was because it was in close proximity to the high school.
"To begin with it was not a restaurant, it was just a place for the young folks at West Seattle High School to gather and had kind of a gym effect. It also had a soda fountain, candy bars, and so forth, for the kids to gather. And it wasn't until approximately a year later that my grandmother started to cook roasts and hams and so forth. My cousin and my dad's younger brother were going to school across the street at Lafayette. He'd go home for lunch. Then with his little wagon, he'd bring the meat, the roasts, the hams and what not, up to the restaurant. They would slice them and serve sandwiches and that was the beginning of starting to serve food.... Four generations of Vann's, including my grandmother, worked there.
"We served real veal cutlets, the type of food that people would come clear from Issaquah or the north end on a regular basis to have. We were a neighborhood restaurant and depended on repeat trade to make it. My dad and uncle started the business under the premise that if we would serve good food, keep the place clean, and give good service at moderate prices, people are going to come back. And that's basically what happened.
"One time, my dad told me that the health inspector came in and told him, 'I had a visitor from the East Coast (I think he said New York) and I told him I was going to take him to the cleanest restaurant in the city of Seattle.' We thought that was a very good feather in our cap at that point. That's what my dad and uncle wanted to do, to have a good clean restaurant. My dad would always say, 'Check the rest rooms. If the rest rooms are clean, you're probably going to have a very clean operation.' And I think that's a good yardstick down through the years.
"I attribute our success through the generations to the fact that family members are in management and there practically around the clock. They were on top of things and would see that things were kept up and done. They were meticulous in keeping the standards that my dad and uncle had established. Also, our help was just super. We had a waitress who retired after 32 years with us, and a bartender who retired after 25 years with us. You don't keep people that long unless you treat them right."
Bill Ransdell on his Father and West Seattle's Steel Mill
"My first recollection was probably around 1930 and it was the first time I saw my dad at work at the steel mill. This was a hand mill where people would handle the bars of steel as they came out of the rollers. The rollers resembled to me, the old washing machine rollers where you put clothes through the washers. The clothes, or in this case -- bars of steel -- would come through and they'd grab it with a pair of short tongs and turn the hot steel around in a coil and put it through another set of rollers which were smaller. That way the extruded steel would be smaller in diameter.
"That's what my dad did most of his life. Anyway, I was watching this and according to what my parents say, I became very frightened. I was probably about five or six years old and I didn't go down there again to see it until I was an adult.
"All the steel was handled that way, by a guy with tongs. Now, in truth, he only worked four hours a day. Because he would work 15 minutes and then would sit down and then he had a partner who had the same job. And he would get up and work 15 minutes. They did this because of the heat and the tremendous fatigue. It was a very strenuous job. So that's the way the thing went. They had partners.
"There was a dressing room in the mill where you could change from your street clothes to your work clothes. They had protective clothing they wore because they were close to that heat all the time. Like cowboy chaps sort of. And they had shoes that had a lot of covering on them. Once my dad slipped and fell on a place which was not anywhere near the steel, but was hot enough to burn both of his hands with second degree burns. But there was an infirmary there with two nurses who worked permanently. A physician was there two days a week. There were a lot of injuries that my dad used to talk about that didn't happen to him, you know, over the years.
"My dad died on the job at 65. He had been working there since 1918. He was doing the same job and he sat down during his rest period. He said, 'I feel a little dizzy' and just fell over dead. Which was a great way to die compared to some of the stories you hear about people dying of cancer an inch at a time like my wife did. Yeah, he died very quickly. He had just turned 65 and had been thinking about retiring. He was like a lot of guys who do strenuous work all their lives -- He was devoted to that job in spite of the monotony and the physical effort it required. He really loved it -- he liked the camaraderie of the guys he worked with for one thing."
Neysa Longmire on the Ghost at the Admiral Benbow Inn
"Oh, we have a ghost right here at the Admiral Benbow Inn. It's hard to explain. How do you explain a ghost?
"We first realized there was something unusual going on when I had my office upstairs and I'd hear footsteps and walking around. I thought it must be crows on the roof or something that were walking around. I thought, 'Wow, that's a lot of noise. I better go up and take a look to make sure nobody's up on the roof.' There was no one there. So I thought maybe it was coming from next door.
"But I finally realized that it had to be somebody walking around up there that I wasn't seeing, but I was hearing. So, one Sunday we were closed and I came back down to work and was here in the back where the safe was. And I heard somebody out in the hall. I thought I had left the door unlocked and maybe a customer had walked in. And so I called out, 'Who's there? We're not open.'
"And I came out in the hall and I saw this long skirt. I didn't see a head, but I saw the shoulder. I saw the long skirt. Long dress, black shoes, just go around the corner. And I thought, 'Well, my goodness, who in the world is that?' So I hurried real fast to look and she had disappeared. I thought, 'Well!' So I went to the back door and looked up and down the alley. Nobody there. I thought, 'Well, must have been the footsteps I heard upstairs walking around. There's somebody in here that's not here when we're around.'
"So another Sunday I came down here and the cleaning man was here. I said to him, 'Will you quit turning the water off and on in the restrooms.' He was out front cleaning where the coffee shop was and he says, 'I'm not in the restrooms, what are you talking about?' I said, 'Well, why is the water going off and on all the time?' He said, 'I don't know. Is someone in there?' So he went down and looked and there was nobody there. He said, 'There's nobody in here. What are you talking about?' So I thought, 'Well, I'm losing my mind.'
"Pretty soon, the water starts again, off and on, off and on, off and on. Finally he said, 'What's going on?' I said 'Well, we've got a ghost around here. Evidently it is playing a game with us.' The cleaning man was Lithuanian and he was from Europe. He finished his cleaning and didn't stay around. He got out of there real fast. It bothered him quite a bit. The girls who work here have heard it too and one of the girls swears up and down that the ghost pushed her down the stairs because it doesn't like her.
"Sometimes on Sundays when I'm here all by myself, I try very hard to be quiet to see if she won't come around again. Nobody's ever seen her from the head up. All that we've seen has just been part of the long skirt and the legs. So we don't know whether she's young or old. I've kind of wondered if on this space that the Benbow Inn sits, back in the early days, none of this was here. Did somebody die or were they killed or was there a house here? Maybe they just never moved on from this place so they're still around here."
Bob Halberg on the Mystery House on the Corner
"In the late 1930's, there was a house at the corner of 64th that had an air of mystery about it. When I delivered newspapers, I sometimes helped another boy who had that house on his route. You never put the paper on the front porch or opened the front gate. The gate was always locked. There was a little newspaper receptacle in this huge laurel hedge that surrounded the house. You had to peek through a cyclone fence and the hedge to see what was going on inside. I thought from what my mother said that they were bootleggers living there.
"At any rate girls came out and they were dressed just spectacular. They looked like movie stars and they had hats and gloves up to their elbows and silk print dresses. They looked just fabulous. Somebody told me they were prostitutes. I thought, 'My God, that's a wonderful profession, look at how nice they are dressed and look how beautiful they are.'
"I thought that was a pretty high calling because they had their own chauffeur who opened the door for them and helped them into the cars. They had a very large touring car with a top that went back. There was a man who seemed to have a relationship with the madam of the house and seemed to be the caretaker. He cut the lawn, trimmed the hedges, and did the shopping."
JonLee Joseph Interview of Marcy Johnsen, Neysa Longmire, Bill Ransdell, Leonard Vann, Marjorie Watt, Bob Halberg, 1999. Oral History project conducted by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. Transcript excerpts of these interviews were used in two Memory Book projects: West Seattle Memories: Alki (Seattle: Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 1999) and Memories of Southwest Seattle Businesses (Seattle: Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 1999); Excerpts are also available on a video produced by Valerie Vazza, BJ Bullert, and Sadis and Vaughn. All can be seen at the Log House Museum, 3003 61st Avenue SW, Seattle, WA 98116. See Log House Museum in HistoryLink Museum Library, (www.historylink.org).
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