Madrona Memories, Part 3 -- Central Area Council

  • By Carol Richman
  • Posted 3/15/2001
  • Essay 3103
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Carol Richman moved with her family to the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle in 1961. She was a member of the Central Area Community Council (Madrona and the Central Area are contiguous) and in this People's History offers a reminiscence of and reflection on the Council in the 1960s. Other voices which join Carol Richman as co-rememberers are Richard Boerner and Diana Glenn.

The Madrona Neighborhood and the Central Area Community Council

One of my earliest memories is to have been invited, very soon after we moved to Madrona, to join the Central Area Community Council. Although the Central Area Community Council extended in its membership and activities far beyond the Madrona community, it had strong representation from Madrona -- because ... this was such a vibrant community with a diverse population with boundless energy, concern, and determination. Those were the days!

Since so much of the significant history of Madrona, and its residents, was intertwined with the significant history of the times, interaction with the larger community is a necessary corollary background for any account of Madrona during the 1960s and 1970s that could capture the essence. Those decades were among the more chaotic in American history. Madrona, because of its location and the nature of its population - its multiple orientation - was somewhat of an eye in a hurricane. .... While much of our community-identified activities were initially through the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) and later the Madrona Community Council, Madrona folk were involved in activities and events on a much wider spectrum. We could usually find someone to carpool with to any significant meeting anyplace in the city.

I was invited, or recruited, to participate in the Central Area Community Council by Milton Karr, who worked for a community organization branch of the United Way, and who coincidentally lived in Madrona. The Council met at Epiphany Church and was being chaired by Reverend Bob Baxter, the minister of Epiphany.

Epiphany was at the upper end of the Episcopal scale, serving some of the best, oldest, and richest Seattle families. It is situated at the North edge of Madrona, and sponsored Epiphany Elementary School, a small private school undoubtedly founded to serve the needs of neighborhood people who were uncomfortable with the rapidly changing Madrona Elementary School. The school still exists and shows a nicely integrated student population when one passes the playground during recesses. Epiphany Church was not blind to the changing community and made efforts to make its congregation open and welcoming. It did achieve a measure of integration.

Although I was only subliminally aware of it at the time, obviously the United Way was in the forefront of trying to promote a self-supporting integrated society, or, perhaps a more accurate definition of purpose was to help sustain the inner city - which was showing signs of crumbling in Seattle as elsewhere. The common demographic pattern of older, deteriorating housing serving as the logical destination for less affluent populations, and eventually leading to slums, was obviously showing in the central city of Seattle.

Thus attention was being given to the in-migration into what had been a middle income, working-class neighborhood in the valley between the hills overlooking the Lake and downtown Seattle of a predominantly low income and black population. The Boeing slump [1969-1970] resulted in more vacant and dilapidated homes, boarded up with FHA signs. This was part of the historical population movement of blacks from the South after World War II, and represented the overflow from the previously small, pre-War black neighborhoods which were now growing north and south to meet in the middle -- in the Madrona valley (now called Madison Valley) and the western hillside. This was, in those days definitely a deteriorating neighborhood, which since than has made a dazzling turn-around.

Richard Boerner: "The Madrona Valley was a rundown white blue collar area before World War II with a few black families interspersed. After the war -- since restrictive covenants did not cover the district -- blacks moved in in greater numbers and since the houses were largely one-story bungalows, they could apply sweat labor to their improvement. And the veterans could get low interest loans, etc. Leschi was quite a contrast with its run-down two-story houses which lent themselves to multiple family residences since it was too expensive to rehab them and beyond do-it-yourself rehabilitation."

One of the obvious points of the Central Area Community Council was to bring together disparate elements of the population. The Council was a coalition of community organizations from the Central District, which included the upscale lake edge [Lake Washington] neighborhoods, a middle area, mixed and middle class, and the ghetto, which housed a high percentage of low income people.

All of this was somewhat overlapping, with the poor housing and low income population clustered towards the bottom of the Madrona hill and on the slopes up to 23rd Avenue and somewhat up to 34th. Much of the housing towards the top of the hill on the east -- 31st, 32nd, 33rd, as well as the black side of 34th was not deteriorating, holding a middle-class population, predominantly black. Twenty-third Avenue was sort of a main street through the ghetto, with 23rd and Union housing an important cluster of stores and gas stations, probably considered as a shopping center serving the ghetto by both populations. Although this intersection was on the west border of the Madrona neighborhood, it was not considered part of Madrona.

Portrait of a Neighborhood

Thirty-fourth and Union, the true Madrona commercial center, also had a cluster of stores and gas stations. It was called, informally, the Madrona shopping district and was a pleasant place to shop and meet and chat with neighbors of whatever race. There was an IGA grocery store which was where most of the social interaction occurred. There was a small all night grocery store called Joe's, after its owner, and a drugstore called Frank's, also after its owner. Both Joe and Frank were Asian.

There were two hardware stores, and the real estate office, Lake Washington Realty, which had the dubious reputation of being the primary force maintaining the boundary for a white neighborhood. Also, there was a bakery, Mrs. Steiner's bakery, that drew customers from other parts of the city, and a small fabric store run by Mrs. Etkin, who had letters tattoed on her arm to remind us all of concentration camps. The cleaners at 34th and Union was run by a Jewish family. The wife also had letters tatooed on her arm.

There was a shoe repair shop and a little eatery notable for serving breakfast to folk on their way to work. There was a theater called The Cirque which housed amateur productions. Most of the shopkeepers lived in the neighborhood. It was not long since Madrona had been a center for the Jewish community, which had been so small that it probably had not been discernible to most Seattleites.

Diana Glenn: "The stretch of Denny between 34th and Madrona had a drugstore with real ice cream cones and briefly, what may have been the first PCC."

Central Area Community Council

The Central Area Community Council membership was made up of a variety of organizations and individuals - a quite loose coalition with the common goal of improving the quality of life in central Seattle.

The Jackson Street Community Council was a mainstay as the only community organization with full-time United Way funded staff - Phil Hayasaki -- and functioned to strengthen the businesses in the Jackson Street business area, many of which were Asian.

The Atlantic Street Center was a settlement house founded to serve Italian immigrants circa 1910 but by 1960, given the demographic changes, was serving mostly black adolescents, providing activities and guidance, under the directorship of Ike Ikeda. The Seattle Urban League was a member, under Ed Pratt, and his staff assistant, Ivan King. The East Side YWCA and East Madison YMCA participated -- both Y's were actually located within the Madrona boundaries although they served a much wider area -- mostly the black population. A Neighborhood Youth Corps project, federally funded, also serving adolescents, operated out of Neighborhood House at the Yesler-Atlantic Housing Project and participated in the Community Council.

The community organizations were the Leschi Improvement Council, the Harrison Community Council, a Mann-Minor group organized around housing, and a range of concerned citizens. The Madrona Community Council became a participant when it was formed at the end of 1966.

For me and many others the socio-political life crossed over and back and forth with Madrona PTA activities and action, neighborhood councils and Central Area organizations that we were allied with through cross membership and common interests. Civil Rights, schools, housing and zoning issues, and poverty were all cross-over issues. Peace and women's liberation took us out of our neighborhood to other parts of the city.



By Carol Richman, with additions by Richard Boerner and Diana Glenn, Seattle, Washington, 1999.

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