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White Center -- Thumbnail History
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At the southwest edge of Seattle, in King County, a plateau stretches from Puget Sound in the west to the Duwamish River in the east, home of the White Center neighborhood that straddles SW Roxbury Street, the southern boundary of Seattle. In 1870 pioneers tried farming among the forests, stumps, and swamps, but logging became the area's first successful enterprise. By 1900 logging roads began to link the area to the outside world, and logged land was then sold to small-scale farmers and real-estate speculators. In 1912 a streetcar line connected the area with Seattle, which spurred the development of a small business community. World War I then World War II brought waves of working-class people to the area to work in the war industries along the Duwamish River. Unincorporated and little regulated, White Center was perceived as untamed and independent. In the words of White Center poet Richard Hugo (1923-1982), "White Center had the reputation of being just outside the boundary of the civilized world." The postwar years produced a boom in affordable housing that stimulated new businesses, new schools, and a nearby shopping mall. From the 1970s on, the federal housing projects, built for wartime workers, evolved into homes for low-income families and eventually immigrant families, resulting in one of the most diverse communities in the Northwest. After 2000, investments in White Center by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Starbucks, the White Center Community Development Association, and others began a revitalization of the community that continues to this day.
On October 19, 1870, Ed Solomon bought 319 acres from the U.S. government for $1.25 an acre. He was the first non-Native American to settle in the Burien/White Center area of Washington Territory. Solomon's purchase was soggy and densely forested, fitting this description by local historian Clarence Gresset (1920-1976): "In the beginning the forest was everything, somber quiet, and all enveloping. The 600-year-old growth of fir predated the European settlement of America" (Gresset, 2). After struggling to drain the swamps and produce crops, Solomon gave up and sold his land in bits and pieces to newcomers. Mike Knapp and Peg Young, in their 1976 book White Center Remembers, retell the story of the early years in interviews with old-timers and their descendents.
Sam Carr and Tom Hood recognized that the value of the land was in timber. Their timber operation started in 1877 at the remote Seola Beach on Puget Sound, providing the first payroll in the area. Logs were slid down the ravines and collected at a booming ground on the beach. From there, booms were towed to sawmills in the region. The work was dangerous, resulting in serious injuries and sometimes taking lives. For this, loggers earned all of $1 for a 12-hour day, room and board included. The timber enterprise reached to Salmon Creek and what became Oak Park, and fields of stumps and crude roads of mud were left in its wake.
In the early 1880s Gottlleib Green, German-born and a Civil War veteran, arrived in White Center and purchased 80 acres. He built a sawmill at 102nd Street and 8th Avenue SW, the current site of a King County park. By the 1890s, as land was logged, it was subdivided and sold in 5- to 20-acre lots to families willing to try farming amid the stumps and bogs. Hearty souls dug wells, cleared stumps, put together crude shacks at the end of a trail and, over the decades, tried most anything to make a dollar on their patch of land. Some planted orchards, berries, potatoes, or mushrooms. Others raised foxes, rabbits, or mink.
Logging required roads. In 1892 a road was built up the steep, muddy grade from the Duwamish basin at South Park to Hicks Lake, where it turned west and eventually ran down to Seola Beach. "In the beginning White Center transportation was as medieval as 16th Century England," wrote Gresset, "only our roads were worse. Dusty in the summer and a morass of mud in winter" (Gressett, 5).
In 1902 Jacob Ambaum bought 20 acres where St. Bernadette Church is today at SW 126th Street. The tax bill on his property in 1904 was $10.70. Ambaum is remembered as a road builder: "This man attempted to push a road through single handed with hand tools, a wheelbarrow and without pay. After two miles of struggle the county took over with blasting crews, followed with gangs of men, horses, slip scrappers and fresnos" (Gresset, 5). The result was Ambaum Road, which made its way to Burien and Des Moines. Jacob Ambaum then worked with several neighbors on McKinnon Road from Youngstown to White Center, a corridor later known as Delridge Way.
By 1905 a logging railroad had been built from Seola Beach to a roundhouse where the Roxbury Lanes are today, at SW Roxbury and 28th Street. Soon another line was built from Glendale to Highland Park. As the nineteenth century came to a close, boats of the Mosquito Fleet were linking isolated places like Seola Beach to other points along Puget Sound.
Early settlers, and especially real-estate speculators, understood that a streetcar line connecting their rural outposts to Seattle was the key to growth and profits. In 1912 Sam Metzler, Jacob Ambaum, Hiram Green (1863-1932), George White, and other White Center leaders financed construction of the Highland Park and Lake Burien Streetcar Line. The line was hastily built on bare dirt starting near Spokane Street and West Marginal Way, in the vicinity of Youngstown in present-day south Seattle. The line eventually turned up Dumar Hill (Holden Street), then went south to White Center. It next followed the muddy Ambaum Road to Seahurst and Lake Burien. "There was no need to purchase a right of way," wrote Gresset. "Settlers along the proposed route were glad to cooperate. The benefits were so obvious that land, cash, labor and materials were offered" (Gresset, 8). When the streetcar line was completed, a nickel could get you to White Center, and a dime gave a two-hour ride to Seahurst and Lake Burien. Within months, part of the line was swept away by a mud slide, and the City of Seattle bought the line for $1, promising to repair it and continue the service. The line became the first municipally owned streetcar line in the Seattle area.
Among the challenges of a rural streetcar line were seasonal infestations of caterpillars. A sweeper car often preceded the streetcar, going ahead to rid the way of the yellow masses. Another oddity was conductors hunting pheasants from the windows of the streetcar on the first run of the morning. Winter 1933 produced another slide, and the line was closed for good. Meanwhile, White Center had become connected. In 1934 White Center residents knew the community had come of age when a blinker light was installed.
Building a Community
In 1908 White Center's first store, the Oak Park Grocery, was built at 16th Avenue SW and SW 107th Street. Another store was located at 16th Avenue SW near SW Barton Street. By 1916 the store was relocated to 16th Avenue SW and SW Roxbury Street and eventually became known as the White Center Mercantile. This corner was to become, and remain, the heart of the commercial district of White Center.
The Puget Sound economy boomed during World War I. Early White Center settlers subdivided their small farms. Inexpensive residential housing sprang up, providing homes for families working in the busy industries of the nearby Duwamish River valley. Two major developers of this era were George White and Hiram Green.
George White and his brothers Harry and Will White were among the largest real-estate developers in Seattle. Their activities included the pursuit of oil in Alaska, the filling and reclamation of tide flats in Seattle, starting a newspaper that became The Seattle Times, and Seattle city politics. George White was a developer with experience and connections. He was part of bringing the streetcar line to White Center.
Hiram Green first settled in Fremont on the north shore of Lake Union. He next invested in lands north of Seattle and in the Green River valley. According to Knapp and Young's White Center Remembers, Green bought five acres in White Center from 18th Avenue SW to 16th Avenue SW, stretching from SW Roxbury Street to SW 98th Street. This was to become the commercial district of White Center. One of Green's first buildings was the Apothecary House that included a drugstore and a theater at the southwest corner of 16th Avenue SW and SW Roxbury Street. Next door Green built a bakery, and he built the triangular Rozella building across Roxbury on Delridge Way. He built houses as well; after all, he needed homes for his eight children who all grew up in White Center.
The local newspaper, the White Center News, described Green as "a lover of sports, who in his younger days played professional baseball and in his later years was an ardent fan of the fisting world" (p. 1). It should be no surprise, then, that on 16th Avenue SW Green built the White Center Boxing Arena. Boxing continued into the mid-1930s, when the building became a dance hall. In 1937 it reopened as the Southgate Skate Center under the guidance of Green's daughter Ethyl and her husband William "Pop" Brown. Thousands recall Southgate as the recreational and social center of the community. In recent years, Southgate became home to a resurgence of Roller Derby with the popular Rat City Rollergirls, but the building now (2008) stands vacant. There are plans in the works to reopen it as an indoor soccer arena and Brazilian restaurant.
In 1918 George White and Hiram Green good naturedly resolved the question of what to call the booming community. White won a coin toss with Green, and thereafter the community was called White Center.
Sam Metzler and his wife Lucretia came to White Center in 1905 after trying their hand at wheat ranching in Harrington, Washington. Metzler, Green, and others started the Mountain View Water Company by connecting to the Seattle water supply at 35th Avenue SW. Customers paid $25 to attach a spigot to the water line. Metzler and others also helped to found and build the area's first school, Mountain View.
On their own, citizens of unincorporated White Center set out to solve problems, as in one. such self-help episode described by Gressett:
"In 1922 neighbors had been waiting for City Light services. They were informed that the firm of Stone and Webster had instigated an injunction against Seattle City Light's further extension of service beyond the city limits. White Center citizens were equal to the occasion. They noted that the injunction was not immediately effective. So they all stayed home from work for a day. They dug post holes, felled and trimmed poles, set them and strung wires. That same day they called City light for a hookup. They got their lights ahead of the deadline" (Gressett, 31).
Omar Schau (b. 1893), a Norwegian immigrant who ran a successful bakery for years in White Center, once called King County and asked for a rowboat to cross the river of mud that 17th Avenue SW had become. Schau then rolled up his sleeves and took action with petitions that produced local improvement districts for paving and lights. Schau also helped acquire land on SW 102nd Street, where the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built the still-standing building for the White Center Community Center in the 1930s. Schau later joined community leaders in bringing the Salvation Army to White Center. He also contributed to the construction of the St. James Lutheran Church, White Center Post Office, fire department building, and White Center Library. In 1963 he was named Man of the Year for White Center.
Rough and Tumble Years
In the past, many building codes and regulations in White Center were nonexistent or unenforced. An early settler commented, "We all came out to White Center and 'shacked it up' in the early days" (Knapp and Young, 7). In his poem "West Marginal Way," Richard Hugo described the area's vacant lots and shacks:
"A dim wind blows the roses
growing where they please. Lawns
are wild and lots undefined
as if the payment made in cash
were counted then and there." (Hugo, 3)
White Center was also outside the jurisdiction of Seattle law enforcement. Almost from the beginning, isolated Seola Beach was a smuggler's haven. Opium and Chinese laborers made their way up the hill from Seola. During the Prohibition years (1916-1933), the trade was bootleg liquor. Some members of local law enforcement were in on the smuggling. Retired Seattle Police captain Morey Skaret shares the following lines that captured the era:
"T'was nineteen and twenty-four
Bootleggers landed booze on the shore.
The cops had been paid, and so had the judge.
But mud stuck the damned truck and it wouldn't budge"
(Richardson interview with Skaret).
Retired White Center fire inspector Russ Pritchard (b. 1947) recalls discovering a crude tunnel system that ran from SW Roxbury Street to SW 100th Street. In effect, it was an underground White Center. Over the years, several taverns and other businesses burned along 16th Avenue SW, prompting Pritchard to say, "I hope I retire before White Center burns down" (Richardson interview with Pritchard). Inspections followed the burning of a building and often revealed hidden underground spaces and tunnels, where evidence of bootlegging, gambling, and other questionable activities was often found. Resident Ernie Wolf recalled a bootlegger who was old, crippled, and a retired longshoreman. Wolf was asked: "Was he ever caught?" Wolf's answer: "Sure, lots of times, but he always came back" (Knapp and Young, 85).
Bonnie Liebel (b. 1934) and her mother Laverna Thommason (b. 1917) ran the S and L Realty Company, located across from what was a swamp in the 1920s and 1930s. Much of the smuggling operation of the earlier era was run from that swamp, where 17th Avenue SW turns toward 16th Avenue SW today. With the end of Prohibition, clubs and taverns of White Center sprouted and multiplied. They opened early and stayed open late, well beyond the closing time observed within Seattle city limits.
Described as rough and tumble, edgy, an "active place," White Center was considered lawless by some, usually outsiders. It was not. White Center citizens have praised and supported law-enforcement officers of the King County Sheriff's office, which has long had jurisdiction over the area. One greatly respected officer was Horace Paine, a huge man who worked the White Center area in the 1940s and 1950s. Paine toured the clubs and taverns on the lookout for troublemakers, doing things his own way. A favorite technique was to handcuff a rowdy patron to a light pole. Paine would then find a box for the violator to sit on until closing time. At the end of his shift, Paine would determine if the person should be booked or sent on his way. People tended to keep a low profile in the presence of Horace Paine.
A more recently lauded member of law enforcement was Sheriff Deputy Steve Cox (1960-2006), who grew up in White Center. He graduated from Evergreen High School and Central Washington University. He earned a law degree from Willamette University and then became a prosecutor in the Tri-Cities, working on gang- and drug-related issues. Cox then tackled the same problems as a prosecutor in King County. In 1997 he resigned as prosecutor and joined the King County Sheriff in order to make a difference in his home community. He was later elected president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, where he worked on his goal of bringing a diverse community together to take on problems and community issues. Deputy Cox was shot in the line of duty in December 2006, and the community still mourns his loss. White Center Park has been renamed Steve Cox Park.
World War II
World War II had a dramatic effect on White Center. War industries along the Duwamish River were magnets that drew families to Puget Sound from the Depression-battered upper Midwest. Boeing, shipyards, steel mills, and foundries worked three shifts, and Seattle was not prepared for this population explosion. White Center was one of the places where people looked for housing, and locals rented out attics, basements, garages, tents, and chicken coops to newcomers.
The federal government funded temporary housing for war workers at White Center Heights, where 569 units were completed on the south side of SW Roxbury Street in 1943. At Highland Park, overlooking the Boeing plant, the U.S. Army located observation posts, antiaircraft guns, machine-gun emplacements, as well as ammunition bunkers and barracks. The new, largely blue-collar population in turn stimulated commercial growth in White Center. During the war years, White Center acquired its first post office near 16th Avenue SW and SW Roxbury St. In 1944 White Center's first bank opened with a capitalization of $50,000.
During the war years, Walter Coy's Center Theatre, the Southgate Skate Center, and a collection of clubs and taverns provided after-hours diversions. The Southgate Skate Center became the unofficial USO for soldiers and sailors passing through Seattle to and from the war in the Pacific. Resident Bonnie Liebel recalls strolling along 16th Avenue SW as a young girl and passing no less than a half-dozen taverns in half a block: the Newnick, the Swallow, Center Rec, Glendale, J and W, and A and B. Each new group that migrated to White Center found a tavern that served as a social gathering place. People from North Dakota would meet in one, those from Montana in another, and so on. Liebel also remembers that these places were friendly and orderly, for the most part.
Resident Martha Stevens recalls a different effect on wartime White Center: "Servicemen unleashed from duty would spend a great deal of money and drink to excess causing many fights" (Knapp and Young, PAGE). Dances were "not always under control" (Knapp and Young, 92). Another resident, Melvin Larson (b. 1914), remembered that when he waited for the bus home from 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle, he was frequently approached by soldiers and sailors who invariably asked the same question: "How do you get to White Center?" (Richardson interview with Larson).
White Center also garnered a new nickname during the war: Rat City. The possible origins of this name are diverse. The local wartime military establishment was called the Reserve Army Training Center or the Recruitment and Training Center, depending on who tells the story. Often the military would designate an area out-of-bounds for servicemen, and these areas were designated Restricted Alcohol Territory. Some people recall that the youth at the Southgate Skate Center were known as rink rats. Whatever the source, the name Rat City was coined and stuck, and many in White Center hang on to the moniker with pride. Rodents had nothing to do with it.
Postwar White Center
Community leaders and volunteers worked to bring order to the multiple and overlapping jurisdictions found in unincorporated White Center. The PTA at Mountain View Elementary started the White Center Library, and residents donated books to stock the shelves. A sewer district was approved in 1945. The Commercial Club worked on widening Roxbury Street, planned for underground utilities in the business district, and worked to develop better relationships with King County officials. The Commercial Club became the White Center Chamber of Commerce and continues to support the community to this day with the guidance of Sigrid Wilson.
In 1945 many fathers were in the military, and in many families fathers and mothers were both working (these were the days of Rosie the Riveter, when women were called upon for war work). Youngsters were often left to their own devices. Delinquency, assorted felonies, misdemeanors, and fights resulted. As Richard Hugo recalled, "People came to White Center from miles around to have a good time and a good time often involved a good brawl. When I was fourteen I would go to the roller rink, not to skate but to wait for a fight to start" (Hugo, 8). Louie Marino remembers bringing a group of tough Italian kids with something to prove from Garlic Gulch in Rainier Valley to White Center.
Headed by Dr. Roy Velling, Mel Olson, Art Mullen, and Omar Schau, White Center community leaders joined to do something for young people. They founded the White Center Boys Club with the help of the Lions Club, Highland Park PTA, Holy Family Church and School, and the White Center Commercial Club.
Another collaboration of many Southwest Seattle and White Center citizens produced the Salvation Army's Red Shield Youth Center at 9056 16th Avenue SW. As reported in Clay Eals's book West Side Story, leadership of the project was provided by Willard Rhodes, Jerry Robinson, and Elliott Couden (1911-2004). Financial contributors included United Good Neighbors, White Center merchants, and neighbors solicited in door-to-door canvassing of homes from Fauntleroy to Burien. At the dedication, Salvation Army board member Dick McAbee praised the accomplishment and proclaimed a vision of the future: "The White Center area is a sleeping giant. You don't realize your own strength. Your accomplishment is even greater that the recreation center itself" (Eals, West, 187). Time has proven him correct. The Salvation Army Center continues to serve the community under the leadership of Frank Bunch.
Clay Eals also chronicled the story of White Center real-estate agent Elliott Couden (1911-2004), who provided leadership in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Couden promoted the Open Housing Initiative for minorities, and his business suffered as a result. As chairman of the Race Relations Committee of the Greater Seattle Council of Churches, he worked tirelessly for diversity and justice, earning the respect of the White House and U.S. Senate. "Ultimate reconciliation of all of God's children is an objective worth our highest and best efforts," Couden said. "Someday we will learn to be human beings together, to be Americans together. And then, perhaps, we can honestly sing about the land of the free and home of the brave" (Eals, "To Love," 22).
In the 1950s and 1960s the commercial hub of White Center was dynamic. With its affordable rents, White Center had no fewer that 70 commercial establishments along just two blocks of 16th Avenue SW, starting south from SW Roxbury Street. Among the businesses were five restaurants, six taverns, four drugstores, four barbers, six variety stores, three shoe stores, three electrical appliance stores, dentists, a gun shop, and more. However, shopping malls were on the way.
Just north of Roxbury there was a large depression and pond. Japanese Americans Bob and Linda Kodama still recall productive truck gardens, flower fields, and a dairy at this location in the 1930s. (The Kodama family was among the Japanese Americans sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho during World War II.) Children came to wade and swim in the large pond in summer and to ice-skate in winter. Fifteen years after the end of the war, the Skinner Corporation set its sights on the area, and Westwood Village Shopping Center opened in 1965, patterned after University Village and Aurora Village. Southwest Seattle and White Center residents now had two new places to shop, hang out, and, most importantly, find plenty of parking: Westwood Village and nearby Southcenter Mall. This put a dent in White Center retail businesses along 16th Avenue SW, but local service businesses such as cleaners, car-repair shops, cobblers, and insurance companies continued to prosper.
In 1966 the Skinner Corporation donated the land immediately south of its Westwood Village project to the Seattle Parks Department. Early in the 1990s, citizens began the process of restoring the wetland and peat bog that is the source of Longfellow Creek. By 2001, Gary Sink (b. 1961) and Terri Griffith, along with 350 volunteers and organizations, had restored natural plantings and successfully preserved the wetland area.
Beginning in 1893, with one room and one teacher, Mountain View Elementary provided two decades of schooling for the scattered families of White Center. Looking back over the years, the need for new schools indicates the pattern of White Center's residential growth.
Highland Park School opened in 1913. With the opening of Highline High School in 1924, children of White Center had a choice for secondary schools: West Seattle High or Highline High. In 1927 Holy Family School opened along Roxbury and remains a vibrant part of the community. A new elementary school was opened at Boulevard Park in 1937. In 1941 the independent public schools in White Center joined with Lake Burien, Angle Lake, and Des Moines to form the Highline School District.
With the World War II federal housing at White Center Heights and Lakewood, came White Center Heights Elementary in 1943. Also built by the federal government, it was sold to the Highline School District in 1950 for $11,000. Hazel Valley Elementary was built in 1948. Puget Sound Junior High, built in 1949, was soon bursting at the seams.
The postwar housing boom resulted in 27 new schools in the Highline School District during the 1950s, seven of them in White Center. Beverly Park was built in 1950, Shorewood in 1952, and Salmon Creek and Southern Heights were completed in 1955. Secondary schools added during this era included Evergreen High in 1955, Cascade Junior High in 1957, and Glacier High in 1960. The Seattle School District built Denny Junior High in 1952, Roxhill Elementary in 1954, and Chief Sealth High in 1957, all adjacent to White Center. The building of North Shorewood Elementary in 1964 marked the end of the frenzied expansion of housing and school building. North Shorewood was closed in 1975, after only 11 years. Glacier High closed in 1980 after just 20 years. The following year, Puget Sound Junior High was closed.
South Seattle Community College was opened in 1970. Situated on 63 acres along 16th Avenue SW, the college provides advanced education and opportunities for students of all ages.
A New White Center
As White Center moved into the twenty-first century, the area faced its share of problems. Little or no industry in the area has always meant a low tax base; property values were low compared to other neighborhoods in the region; and unemployment and crime rates climbed in the 1990s.
Other changes have brought challenges but also vitality. What was intended as temporary housing, built for World War II workers, became low-income housing for newly arriving immigrants from all corners of the world. White Center has become one of the most diverse areas in Puget Sound. Close to 50 percent of its residents are non-white, and 27 percent are foreign-born. Samoans and other Pacific Islanders, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Latin Americans, Ukrainians, Bosnians, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis are among those who enliven and enrich White Center. Over 37 languages are spoken in the public schools. "You can get all kinds of flavors in White Center," one resident said with pride. And a local bumper sticker reads, "White Center: Not quite centered and not quite White."
Although many problems of the past remain in this unincorporated area, the White Center community has rallied. Katie Cote's 2007 master's thesis recounts the goals and accomplishments of several groups and agencies.
White Center became one of a few sites in the country to receive a 10-year, $20 million investment from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one result being the Making Connections in White Center program. This program's goal is to "improve the success of vulnerable children living in tough neighborhoods; strengthen their family's connections to economic opportunity, positive social networks and effective services and supports" (Cote). To this end the White Center Community Development Association (WCCDA) was created and works on economic revitalization, affordable housing, and community organizing. Among their projects are revitalizing the main street business district; repairing and preserving existing affordable housing; purchasing land using public and private funds to establish more affordable housing; and establishing a pedestrian corridor along 98th Street connecting the Greenbridge housing and the business district. Today Rob Watt (b. 1969), Aileen Balahadia, Virgil Domaon, and the staff at WCCDA carry on the effort.
A Trusted Advocates organization was established to produce resident leadership among White Center's many groups. The Trusted Advocates encourage community events and programs that celebrate White Center. A Partners Group was formed to give financial support to the programs established by the Casey Foundation and has itself received support from HUD, Boeing, U.S. Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundations, among others.
HUD's Hope VI project provided a grant of $35 million to the King County Housing Authority to make over the Park Lake Homes low-income housing project. Additional public and private funds have brought the total to $250 million. The number of housing units is being increased from 659 to 1,025 on the 100-acre site, now called Greenbridge. One-third of the homes will be low-income, one-third will be moderate income, and one third will be market rate.
White Center is one of the communities in the state to share a $90 million grant for early childhood learning from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The result is a childhood learning hub called the White Center Early Learning Initiative, whose goal is "sustainable, integrated and accessible child development and family support services."
Other investments and plans include a Starbucks grant of $550,000 to fund an Ultimate Park Makeover of White Center Heights Park; a dozen units of affordable Habitat for Humanity houses built on the north side of SW Roxbury St in the 1990s; a TechStart training facility funded by the Tech Access Foundation for young people in the Hicks Lake area; and space for the diverse groups of White Center to run a cultural center in St. James Lutheran Church.
Current trends suggest continued improvement for White Center. King County Sheriff statistics for the year 2005-2006 show that felonies declined in White Center by 10 percent and misdemeanors fell 2.46 percent, twice the rate of reduction in King County as a whole. Between 1990 and 2000, the percent of White City residents living below the poverty level fell from 17 percent to 14 percent.
As property values have jumped dramatically in Seattle, White Center has remained relatively affordable, attracting middle-class and professional first-time home owners. Many have mentioned that White Center's location near employment in Seattle and Tacoma and close to Sea-Tac Airport will contribute to further growth. These pluses have also produced the first stages of gentrification, and providing affordable housing will continue to be a challenge.
White Center's future has promise, but a large issue is looming. The state Growth Management Act has left White Center citizens with a decision: incorporate as a city or be annexed by Seattle or Burien. There is no consensus.
Kate Cote, "The Rise of a Working Class Suburb" (master's thesis, University of Washington, March 2007); Clay Eals, "To Love in a Land of Hate: Words of Elliott Couden" (2005); West Side Story ed. by Clay Eals (Seattle: West Seattle Herald, 1987); Clarence Gresset, "Highline History" unpublished manuscript, 1972, White Center Library; Richard Hugo, The Real West Marginal Way (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986); Mike Knapp and Peg Young, White Center Remembers (White Center: The Print Shop, 1976); White Center Record, April 28, 1932; Ron Richardson interviews with Aileen Balahadia, Martha Cohen, Maxine Gresset, Bob Jepperson, Joanne Houk, Rob Houk, Mel Larson, Bonnie Liebel, Louie Marino, Russ Pritchard, Morey Skaret, Laverna Thommason, Rob Watt, and Sigrid Wilson.
Note: This essay was corrected on May 8, 2010.
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Rosella Building, White Center, July 2008
Photo by Ron Richardson
Jacob Ambaum House, White Center, n.d.
Courtesy White Center Remembers
Inman Durand and his store, White Center, before 1921
Courtesy White Center Remembers
Southgate roller rink, White Center, 1941
Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch (Bellevue Community College)
Tracks of White Center line, 16th Avenue SW and SW Henderson Street, White Center, ca. 1920
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. SMR77)
Pancake-flipping race at Pancake Festival, White Center, 1956
Photo by Harvey Davis, Courtesy MOHAI (Neg. 1986.5.16652)
Bunge Lumber and Hardware, White Center, 1938
Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch
Coy’s Grand Theater and Riser’s Drugs, corner of 16th SW and Roxbury, White Center, 1938
Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch
Triangle Building, White Center, ca. 1940
Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch
Triangle Building, White Center, July 2008
Photo by Ron Richardson
White Center, July 2008
Photo by Ron Richardson
Greenbridge Housing, White Center, July 2008
Photo by Ron Richardson
Greenbridge housing, White Center, July 2008
Photo by Ron Richardson
White Center Field House (WPA-built), White Center, July 2008
Photo by Ron Richardson
St. James Church, White Center, 2008
Photo by Ron Richardson