Seattle voters reject Bogue Plan for city development and elect George Cotterill mayor, and King County voters approve plans and funding for Port of Seattle, on March 5, 1912.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 3/03/2020
  • Essay 160
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On March 5, 1912, Seattle voters overwhelmingly defeat the ambitious "Plan of Seattle" for comprehensive city development proposed by civil engineer Virgil G. Bogue (1846-1916). However, voters across King County approve harbor-improvement plans developed by the new Port of Seattle, including many envisioned by Bogue, and bond measures to fund them. George F. Cotterill (1865-1958) narrowly defeats former mayor Hiram C. Gill (1869-1919) for the office from which Gill was recalled the year before. Seattle voters also approve a minimum wage of $2.75 per day for workers on city construction projects and $125,000 in bonds to fund the municipal tuberculosis hospital that will become Firland Sanatorium.

Making Plans for Seattle

By 1912, planners and engineers, Virgil Bogue prominent among them, had for more than 20 years been preparing plans intended to guide and rationalize Seattle's development. Bogue, a civil engineer, first came to Washington Territory in 1880 while working for the Northern Pacific Railway. He and his crew located Stampede Pass through the Cascade Mountains, which became the route for the Northern Pacific's transcontinental line to Tacoma, completed in 1887. Bogue later went into business on his own, and despite his prior employment he did not hesitate to criticize the railroad corporations that dominated the early development of Seattle and other western cities. As early as 1890, a year after Washington gained statehood, Bogue called for all harbors in the new state to be publicly owned, rather than left in the control of railroads and other competing private companies.

A few years later, Bogue was hired by the King County Board of Tideland Appraisers to create a plan for the Elliott Bay waterfront. In his 1895 plan, Bogue called existing conditions on the waterfront, a tangle of tracks and trains separating downtown from the harbor, "a blot on the city" (Rising Tides ..., 16). Along with physical improvements, including construction of an extensive seawall to create dry ground for development in place of tidelands, Bogue called for institutional changes -- a single terminal company to control and coordinate all waterfront development, including the railroad lines serving the waterfront. Although even some rail lines agreed, opposition from the Great Northern scuttled the proposal.

Elsewhere around the city, however, plans for coordinated development made more progress. In 1903, the Seattle City Council hired landscape architect John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) to prepare plans for a system of parks and boulevards throughout the city, and over the next several decades his Olmsted Brothers firm worked with the city to implement that and subsequent parks plans. Olmsted also designed the grounds for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition world's fair held in 1909 on the University of Washington campus.

That same year marked the beginning of the effort to combine planning for harbor improvements and parks, along with roads, utilities, municipal buildings, and more, into a single document that would eventually become the Bogue Plan on the 1912 ballot. Shortly after the A-Y-P ended in October, the Municipal Plans League, which had formed earlier in 1909, proposed an amendment to the city charter that would create a Municipal Plans Commission to prepare such a comprehensive plan. Voters approved the charter amendment in the same March 1910 election in which Hiram Gill was elected mayor.

The Bogue Plan

The Municipal Plans Commission was soon formed, and in September 1910 it hired Virgil Bogue to prepare the "plans for the arrangement of the city" called for by the charter amendment ("Plan of Seattle," 15). The Seattle Times editorially lauded Bogue's appointment, although it would end up strongly opposing the ambitious plan he developed.

Bogue spent a year working on his plan, which he presented to the commission on August 24, 1911. Bogue's report incorporated existing plans, such as Olmsted's design for parks and boulevards and his own earlier plans for the waterfront, including an extensive seawall. But his 1911 "Plan of Seattle" -- soon commonly referred to as the Bogue Plan -- also included many novel, even audacious, proposals that together envisioned a complete makeover of the city.

On the waterfront, Bogue went well beyond his 1895 plan. Among other things, he called for seven enormous piers and terminals on Harbor Island, the artificial island recently created at the mouth of the Duwamish River in the course of dredging the East and West waterways on the Duwamish. In his report, Bogue discussed improvements in other cities to illustrate and provide support for his recommendations, and it's clear that he modeled his plan for Harbor Island on the Bush Terminal in New York City, whose "seven modern piers fourteen hundred feet long" he described in detail, noting they had "attracted ... widespread interest in the commercial and industrial world" ("Plan of Seattle," 73-74).

On land, Bogue designed an extensive transportation system, including roads and streets, street railways, and "rapid transit" (rail lines separate from streets). This included a network of arterial highways linking downtown Seattle to locations throughout the region, and even a tunnel for a light-rail line under Lake Washington, connecting Seattle to the Eastside. Bogue was a big advocate for "grade separation," and his plan called for eliminating grade crossings where rail lines crossed roadways, by raising tracks and/or lowering streets in "subways" ("Plan of Seattle," 163-64). His roadway plan for the central city included multiple traffic tunnels, including several connecting to the waterfront. The proposed Spokane Street Tunnel (actually two separate tunnels totaling more than a mile and a half in length) was to connect Lake Washington and Rainier Avenue to Harbor Island and West Seattle. The Interlaken Tunnel would run under Capitol Hill, connecting Union Bay to downtown, while the Blanchard Street Tunnel would run from the central waterfront to the intersection of Westlake Avenue and Virginia Street.

Perhaps most ambitiously, the Bogue Plan called for a grand new Civic Center, with municipal buildings housing all the city's departments and services. Aiming to locate it centrally given the city's future growth, Bogue placed the Civic Center north of the existing downtown, at Fourth and Blanchard in the recently regraded area that would become known as Belltown. As historian Walt Crowley described it, the Civic Center was "the capstone of [Bogue's] design for Seattle --"

"A grouping of massive government buildings melding classical and baroque architecture and set amidst great, landscaped promenades and gardens ... [t]he Civic Center would for Seattle, 'translate her ambition and determination into terms of Art, art in its truest and highest significance'" (Crowley).

Unfortunately for Bogue and others who favored a comprehensive plan for future growth, Bogue's "Plan of Seattle," especially his proposed Civic Center, proved too ambitious for much of the city's existing power structure. While the overall expense of the plan gave some pause, it was the Civic Center that provoked opposition from many downtown business owners who feared it would reduce their property values by shifting the city's commercial center northward.

Progressives and other reformers argued in favor of the Bogue Plan, but the campaign to approve it was "seriously hampered by the ineptitude of the city government in publicly presenting and explaining the plan" (Crowley). With all three major Seattle newspapers urging a no vote, and confusion and uncertainty as to what adopting the plan would mean, voters convincingly rejected it by a vote of 24,966 to 14,506.

Planning the Port

Even as the Bogue Plan was going down to defeat, however, Virgil Bogue's calls for public harbor facilities and his plans for the Seattle waterfront were finding favor with voters in the form of the many measures on the ballot relating to the newly formed Port of Seattle, all them successful. In 1911, even before Bogue completed work on his plan, the state legislature had finally adopted a law, long advocated by Bogue, George Cotterill, and others, authorizing local voters to create public port districts to develop and operate harbor improvements, and in September 1911, King County voters created the countywide Port of Seattle to do just that.

Both Bogue and the new Port's commissioners -- Hiram Chittenden (1858-1917), Robert Bridges (1861-1921), and Charles Remsberg -- recognized that it would fall to the Port to carry out the harbor development the Bogue plan envisioned. As required by the port-district legislation, the commissioners prepared both a "general scheme" of the facilities they intended to develop and bond measures to fund each specific proposal, all of which had to be approved by voters ("Harbor Improvement Bonds ..."). The commissioners planned to put six Port measures on the March 5 ballot -- their general scheme, and bond measures to fund a large deep-sea terminal at Smith Cove ($1 million), a large pier on the East Waterway ($850,000), a small public wharf and warehouse on the central waterfront at Bell Street ($350,000), general moorage at Salmon Bay ($750,000), and ferry service on Lake Washington ($150,000).

However, public pressure arising somewhat ironically from a combination of the Bogue Plan's vision for Harbor Island and insistence by the downtown establishment that the Port's role was to aid private development plans led the commission to add two additional bond measures for terminal development on Harbor Island. While the press and downtown businesses strongly opposed most of Bogue's plan, they embraced the idea that a massive "Bush Terminal" type of complex would prepare Seattle for the trade that they expected to flow from the upcoming opening of the Panama Canal. And it did not hurt that if the Port concentrated on the Harbor Island terminal, which was to be turned over to a private company to run, it would not own and operate other docks competing with private owners. Over strong objection from Bridges, Chittenden and Remsberg agreed to add two bond measures, totaling $5 million, to the Port's ballot package, but with the proviso that the funds would go to the private terminal company only if it posted a performance bond to guarantee its obligations.  

King County voters easily approved all eight Port ballot measures. The general scheme won overwhelmingly, as did bond issues for the five projects the commissioners proposed. The Harbor Island bonds passed by smaller but substantial margins. (As it turned out, the terminal company never posted the performance bond and those Harbor Island bonds were ultimately canceled. Only later would the Port develop terminals on Harbor Island.) With plans approved and money in hand, the Port of Seattle began building, with the first construction coming at Salmon Bay, where the plans had been modified to create Fishermen's Terminal as a home for the North Pacific fishing fleet. Fishermen's Terminal and the other projects approved in 1912 remain central parts of the Port of Seattle more than a century later.

Cotterill versus Gill

George Cotterill might not have run for mayor if the Port commissioners had made a different decision when they hired a chief engineer to help prepare the development scheme presented to voters. Bridges thought the position should go to Cotterill, a civil engineer and a politician, who in 1907 as a state senator drafted the first public-port legislation. However, Chittenden and Remsberg outvoted Bridges to select City Engineer Reginald H. Thomson (1856-1949), Cotterill's one-time boss, as the Port's first chief engineer.

Without responsibility for preparing harbor-development plans, Cotterill, something of a perennial office seeker, entered the race for mayor. He had served in the legislature as a Democrat, but the mayor's office had just become officially non-partisan by virtue of another city charter amendment approved in the 1910 election. And it was likely Cotterill's identification with the Progressive movement, more than the Democratic Party, that boosted his candidacy. Public ports were just one of many Progressive reforms that Cotterill worked for. He also supported municipal ownership of water and power utilities, and while working for Thomson came up with a then-novel revenue-bond financing method that allowed Seattle to fund its Cedar River water system. A lifelong teetotaler, Cotterill was an ardent advocate for Prohibition. In his state senate term, in addition to pushing port-district legislation, he helped win passage of a proposed state constitutional amendment, approved by voters in November 1910, giving women in Washington the right to vote.

Attorney Hiram Gill was Cotterill's political opposite in almost every respect. A Republican, he had served on the Seattle City Council before being elected mayor in March 1910. He opposed many Progressive reforms, like municipal ownership of utilities, that Cotterill championed. As mayor, Gill's tolerant policy toward "vice" -- illegal gambling and prostitution -- outraged Progressives and other reformers. Supporters of an "open town" policy, including Gill and The Seattle Times, argued that vice was best dealt with by tolerating it in certain parts of town, while their opponents called for the laws to be enforced everywhere. Gill reappointed police chief Charles W. Wappenstein (1853-1931), who had earlier been dismissed for corruption. Police collected payoffs from brothel owners and gambling operations flourished around the city, not just where Gill had promised to confine vice. Reformers petitioned for an election to recall Gill from office, which was held in February 1911. With women voting following approval of the suffrage amendment three months earlier, George W. Dilling (1869-1951) was elected to replace Gill as mayor for the remainder of the term expiring in 1912.

Dilling did not run in 1912, when Gill sought to regain the seat from which he'd been ousted, so Cotterill carried the banner of the anti-Gill forces. The race was closer than the recall election, in which Dilling had prevailed by more than 6,000 votes. Cotterill edged Gill by less than a thousand votes, 32,085 to 31,281.

Cotterill's term as mayor proved contentious. His attempts to crack down on vice and police corruption, which produced thousands of arrests (with many charges subsequently dismissed), were criticized even by some supporters as being heavy-handed. He was also caught in the middle of a bitter labor contest between the Teamsters union and employers. Rather than seeking re-election as mayor in 1914, Cotterill ran, unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. In 1922, Cotterill was elected to the Port of Seattle commission, where he served until 1934. Hiram Gill did seek the mayor's office yet again in 1914, his fourth mayoral race in four years. He won that race, and was re-elected two years later. Corruption allegations again dogged Gill during his final term and in 1918 he lost in the primary.

More on the Ballot

The Bogue Plan and Port bond issues were just a few of the measures on the long and complicated March 5, 1912, ballot. Many were defeated, including a complex city primary-election system and elimination of the mayor's power to veto legislation. Seattle voters also rejected a charter amendment to adopt the "single tax" policy advocated nationwide by followers of reformer Henry George (1839-1897), which would have imposed a single tax on land value, eliminating all other city taxes.

Voters approved a proposal authorizing Seattle to establish a municipal telephone system but, although the city had successfully established municipal water and electric systems, it did not enter the telephone business. Also approved was a measure requiring contractors on city construction projects to pay employees a minimum wage of $2.75 per day. In 1913, the state supreme court narrowed the projects to which the minimum wage applied but did not overturn it.

A vote with lasting effect was the overwhelming approval for a $125,000 bond measure providing city funding for a permanent tuberculosis hospital. In 1911, the Anti-Tuberculosis League of King County, with some help from a prior city bond measure, had opened a sanatorium north of Seattle (in what is now Shoreline) to combat the major public-health threat that TB posed. With approval of the additional $125,000, the League turned the property over to the city, and the facility was developed into Firland Sanatorium, which would treat TB patients (at a new location after 1947) until 1973.


M. M. Mattison, "Terminals Win; Bogue Plans Fail to Carry!," The Seattle Times¸ March 6, 1912, pp. 1-2; "Harbor Improvement Bonds Are Carried," Ibid., March 6, 1912, p. 2; Walt Crowley, "Virgil Bogue's Plan: Seattle That Might Have Been," Ibid., September 17, 1972, Sunday magazine, pp. 8-9; "Plan of Seattle: Report of the Municipal Plans Commission Submitting Report of Virgil G. Bogue, Engineer," 1911, available at HathiTrust Digital Library website accessed February 21, 2020 (; Myra L. Phelps, Public Works in Seattle: A Narrative History, The Engineering Department, 1875-1975 (Seattle: Seattle Engineering Department, 1978), 13, 70-73, 132, 171, 289-90; "Mayors, 1890-1948," Seattle Municipal Archives website accessed February 18, 2020 (; Walt Woodward, "Port of Seattle History -- Draft 1," unpublished manuscript, Port of Seattle files, Seattle, Washington; Kit Oldham, Peter Blecha, and the HistoryLink Staff, Rising Tides and Tailwinds: The Story of the Port of Seattle, 1911-2011 (Seattle: Port of Seattle, 2011), 16-31, 115; Jahn Contracting Co. v. Seattle, 74 Wash. 298, 133 Pac. 458 (1913); "Henry George," Encyclopaedia Britannica website accessed February 25, 2020 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Bogue, Virgil Gay (1846-1916)" (by Dotty DeCoster), "Shaping Seattle's Central Waterfront, Part 1: Moving People and Freight" (by Jennifer Ott), "Olmsted Parks in Seattle" (by David B. Williams), "Port of Seattle, Founding of" (by Kit Oldham), "Cotterill, George Fletcher (1865-1958)" (by David Wilma), "Gill, Hiram C. (1866-1919)" (by David Wilma), "Firland Sanatorium, Seattle's municipal tuberculosis hospital, opens as Henry Sanatorium on May 2, 1911" (by Paula Becker), (accessed February 16, 2020).
Note: This entry replaces two previous entries on aspects of this election.

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