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Samuel and Susie Stone win legal battle for right to live in Seattle's exclusive Mount Baker District on June 7, 1910.
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On June 7, 1910, Judge Boyd J. Tallman of the Supreme Court of Washington State upholds the ruling that Samuel Stone (1869-1942) and his wife, Susie Stone (1869-1962), an affluent black couple, could purchase property in the exclusive Mount Baker Park District. The developer of the district, Hunter Tract Improvement Company, had filed suit against the Stones and the former owner of the lot to reverse the purchase contract. Due to the couple’s skin color, the company claimed the presence of the Stones could compromise the real estate value of the surrounding lots. After winning the original court case and the appeal, the Stones proceeded to build their home at 3125 34th Avenue S. The case represented the increasing need to fight institutional discrimination, including restrictive covenants.
The Mount Baker Park Addition
The economic boom of the first decade of the twentieth century brought some 156,000 new residents to Seattle, including almost 1,900 new black citizens. The dramatic growth of the city created a desire for “exclusive” and aristocratic living away from the hectic, noisy urban core. The rise of residential developments engendered more restrictions and discrimination among landlords and real estate agents toward minority families. More and more informal agreements limited the housing available to the black community. The changing atmosphere in Seattle forced black individuals to purchase land through the help of lighter-skinned family members and friends or though white intermediaries.
Real estate developer Daniel Jones (1856-1924) formed the Hunter Tract Improvement Company with the vision of creating the “biggest and best” development south of the city along Lake Washington. In 1905, Jones purchased from Dr. A. V. Hunter 130 acres of David Denny’s original holdings to develop the Mount Baker Park District. By 1906 the company, under the management of Jones and Fred L. Fehren, considered hiring the Olmsted Brothers of Massachusetts who had just completed their 1903 plan of Seattle.
But instead it chose George F. Cotterill (1865-1958) of the civil engineering firm Cotterill and Whitworth. Additionally, the company asked the respected Edward Schwagerl (1842-1910) to create the landscape design of the district. With the focus on incorporating the landscape into the district, the plan included framed vistas and curving boulevards following early bicycle trails. In June 1907, the corporation filed the 70-block area plat with 900 lots of the Mount Baker Park Addition with the city of Seattle. Within the district, the company set aside 25 acres of land for parks and boulevards, including a mile and a half of frontage property along Lake Washington.
The Hunter Tract Improvement Company envisioned Mount Baker to be an “aristocratic residential district” early in its development as one of Seattle’ earliest planned residential areas. In an effort to maintain the exclusive atmosphere, the Tract Company also implemented restricted covenants under the suggestion of John Charles Olmsted; he intended the deed restrictions to “assure the quality of the development of the plat” (Tobin, 18).
Under these covenants, the homes built on the lots had to cost more than $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the lot size. Property owners also could only build single-family homes. Ads at the time recommended the Mount Baker Park Addition for the man “who is looking for an exclusive homesite in one of the choicest parts of the city will” (“Less than 25 Certificates of Ownership Left”). These covenants required a high level of income and sufficiently limited prospective buyers, but additionally, it was understood that the company would not approve sales of lots or residences to “undesirable” races.
Stone’s Silver Service
Although discrimination certainly existed in Seattle, at the end of the nineteenth century the black community's status was "more flexible and less rigid" than in most other communities in the United States (Seattle's Black Victorians, 15). Prominent members of the community owned and operated successful businesses. Black families lived all over Seattle, from Queen Anne Hill to Capitol Hill to Washington Park to the International District.
From his home at 1714 Broadway on Capitol Hill, Samuel H. Stone ran his catering business, S. H. Stone Catering and Party Supply Company since 1907. Stone’s business gained a reputation for high quality service and excelled as one of the “leading caterers of the Northwest” (Cayton, 60) with a warehouse of silver services, crystal glassware, and exquisite linens, the company catered parties for Seattle’s wealthy class as well as for businesses and organizations such as the Colored Citizens Committee. Horace Roscoe Cayton quipped that Stone’s Catering was “just as qualified to serve a thousand as a baker’s dozen” (Cayton). Eventually, the catering company would become Stone’s Silver Catering Service and Confectionary. Historian Esther Hall Mumford described it as a “luxury silver shop and Ben and Jerry’s rolled into one” with the Confectionary serving frozen desserts and ice creams “without parallel in Seattle and its environs” (Mumford).
As vibrant members of the black community, Samuel Stone and his wife Susie attended parties and events with the most prominent black families. Susie Stone also played a key role in representing Seattle’s community to prominent black visitors. In 1909, Susie co-hosted a party for Margaret Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington, when she visited the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. From his writings about the family, Cayton seemed to value his friendship with the Stones enormously and held great respect for Samuel. Cayton noted that the Stones exhibited a constant willingness to help and a generosity of resources, “financially and otherwise, to better the condition of the colored folks of the community” (Cayton, 60). Three years after winning the legal decision, the Stones would act as founding members of the Seattle Chapter of the NAACP.
Susie Stone initiated the purchase of the lot in the exclusive Mount Baker Park Addition. Choosing a route necessitated by the inherent prejudice of the Hunter Tract Improvement Company, she made arrangements with Marguerite Foy, who bought the property and then sold it to Mrs. Stone on September 29, 1909. After the Stones sent in all the payments, the Hunter Tract Improvement Company approved the contract seemingly without hesitation. Construction had even started on their grand new six-bedroom home, when the company filed suit against Foy and the Stones in an attempt to deny their claim to the lot.
Ultimately, the company attempted to invalidate the purchase contract on the grounds of a mistake in the approval process. Under the representation of Hughes, McMicken, Dovell & Ramsey, they claimed that the contract did not present the buyers, the Stones, as a black couple and accused the defendants of “willfully and wrongly” concealing the race of the Stones. According to their argument, the presence of a black family would threatened potential buyers and “be detrimental to the development of the tract,” and the company wanted to invalidate the purchase contract, and exclude the Stones, to avoid compromising their sales (“Negress Wins Suit in Highest Court”).
Andrew R. Black (d. 1918), a prominent black lawyer in Seattle, defended the Stones and won the case for them. After arriving in Seattle in 1901, Black specialized in challenging discriminatory practices. On November 5, 1909, Judge John F. Main (1864-1942) of the King County Superior Court sided with the Stones and Marguerite Foy in his decision to uphold their contract.
A Community Cause
Despite the financial ability of the Stones to continue the case in court and retain attorney Andrew Black, a newspaper article at the time stated the intention of the black community to raise funds in the event the case traveled to the United States Supreme Court. The Stones’ cause became an opportunity to push the “race question” and challenge the increasing acts of racial discrimination witnessed in Seattle at the time (“Negroes May Carry Case to Washington”).
Prior to the decision of the Washington State Supreme Court, the weekly Seattle Republican, published by Horace Roscoe Cayton, another founding member of the Seattle NAACP chapter, spoke out against the company for holding the bottom line over racial equality. “For God’s sake let the negro alone,” the weekly editorialized, indicating the mounting frustration of black voices in the city (“Another Phase of Negrophobia”).
In the appeal to the Supreme Court of Washington State, the Hunter Tract Company claimed injury due to the anticipated fall in interest and value of the surrounding lots due to the presence of a black family. Additionally, the company explained that its agreements with investors required the withholding of property sales to black individuals. On June 7, 1910, Judge Boyd A. Tallman (1911-1976) in the Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the decision of Judge Main.
The legal periodical the Pacific Reporter explained the basis of the decision and pointed out the original contract signed by Marguerite Foy with the Hunter Tract Improvement Company did not guarantee the company’s right to approval in the event that Foy’s assigned the land to another party. She could sell the land to anyone she deemed fit: The appeal did not possess legal merit. Additionally, another judge ordered the Hunter Tract Company to pay $532 in compensation for the lost of rent due to the delay in construction of the house.
After winning the legal case, the Stones built a handsome Prairie-inspired foursquare house, and Susie lived there until the 1960s. The house still stands today and contributes to the historical character of the Mount Baker neighborhood.
From Bad to Worse
Despite the success of the lawsuit and the obvious frustration of the black community, housing discrimination increased throughout Seattle after 1910. As real estate developments became standard practice, more minorities were systematically prevented from living in certain neighborhoods through restrictive covenants.
Additionally, the large number of new arrivals between 1910 and 1920 became funneled into the growing Yesler Corridor and East Madison neighborhoods. Due to the growth from this period, these neighborhoods would merge and later form the large Central Area.
Richard Berner, Seattle in the 20th Century, Vol. 1 (Seattle: Charles Press, 1991); Esther Hall Mumford, Calabash: A Guide to the History, Culture, and Art of African Americans in Seattle and King County (Seattle: Anase Press, 1993); Shaping Seattle Architecture ed by Jeffrey Ochsner (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994); Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District, from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994);
Esther Hall Mumford, "Seattle's Black Victorians -- Revising a City's History," Portage Vol. 2, No. 1 (1980-1981), p. 14-17; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Seattle Neigborhood: Mount Baker -- Thumbnail History” (by Junius Rochester), http://historylink.org/ (accessed July 1, 2010); Carol Tobin, "Mount Baker Historic Context Statement," May 1994, City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods; “Another Phase of Negrophobia,” Seattle Republican, November 9, 1910, p. 1; Horace Roscoe Cayton and Ed Diaz, Horace Roscoe Cayton: Selected Writings (Seattle: Bridgewater-Collins, Publisher, 2003), 60; “Only The Negro Not Wanted,” Seattle Republican, April 9, 1909, p. 5; “Negress Wins Suit in Highest Court,” The Seattle Daily Times, June 8, 1910; “Negroes May Carry Case to Washington,” Seattle Daily Times, November 29, 1909, p. 6; “Wife of Prominent Negro in Seattle,” Seattle Daily Times, September 14, 1909, p. 9; Hunter Tract Improvement Co. v. Stone et al, 109 P 112 (1910).
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Horace Cayton (b. 1859), 1910
Courtesy Esther Hall Mumford, Seattle's Black Victorians
George F. Cotterill (1865-1958), 1912
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Street construction, Mount Baker Park, Seattle, 1909
Photo by Asahel Curtis, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Image No. CUR669)