This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time now. The blog went on hiatus in 2014, and I’ve gotten a lot of emails since then from people asking “What happened to the blog? Why don’t you post something?” When you get right down to it, the blog has been on hiatus for a variety of reasons, both practical and personal, and this story is not terribly unique.
There are a few things I should probably clarify to get started.
The blog is not run by the city. I started it with Jason Simpson in 2008 because I personally felt the community needed it. But we never got any support from the city, or the North Beacon Hill Council, or anything like that. The “seattle.wa.us” domain name doesn’t indicate government ownership, though I can see why some people have been confused about that.
The blog never brought in any income to speak of. We did have some ads, but most were just Google ads that didn’t really pay anything. Occasionally we had more ads, but never to the point where anyone involved could be paid any sort of reliable income. I did pay one contributor for a few articles, but it was unsustainable.
We could do this because we had other means of support at the time. When the blog started, Jason and I were married, and both of us were employed. I had a job and he had a great job. There was no real reason for the blog to earn a ton of money. I wanted it to become self-supporting someday because I wanted it to become my full-time job, and I believed that Beacon Hill could support a blog, but I knew that would take a while.
I don’t have that support any more. Suffice it to say that the marriage ended. A while later, my employment situation got drastically worse. And yet, I continued keeping the blog running, as much as I could, while trying to earn money, attend school, and more. I won’t go into all the details, but the stress of doing that took a major toll on my health. At the end of 2013 I decided I needed a break from the BHB over New Year’s. And as 2014 began, I realized I needed to take a break from the blog entirely. I never intended it to be permanent, but it absolutely did need to happen.
So, here we are now. It’s been a bit over a year, and I’ve been thinking recently more and more about how to resurrect the blog. (As have others on Facebook and elsewhere.) People have offered to help over the last year, and I have followed through with some but not always with others. Most people get excited about it but then never get back to me. Without the funding to allow me to devote enough time for this, I can’t do what I used to do here by myself.
I still am not in a financial situation (not even close) that would allow me to work full-time on this. But I want to make it clear that the blog is still here, still alive, and I am absolutely willing to print submissions. They have to meet editorial guidelines, most of which are probably common sense. But if you want to write something up about an Artwalk or the Beacon Hill Festival or new public art, that’s great! I’d love that. I’m also open to talking to people who want to take on regular “beats,” and who aren’t just interested in beating the drum for a particular pet cause.
I am going to try to post a bit more when I can. I have pretty high standards, which makes it a bit more difficult, sometimes. Do I take the time to meet my own journalistic standards, or just get something online and get back to the business of making a living doing something else?
Beacon Hill community members, business owners, and so on: a blog like this cannot exist without actual support. Whether that support comes from other employment to pay the bills (as it once did for the BHB), local businesses buying ads (in enough volume), paid subscriptions through something like Patreon, forming a non-profit and applying for grants, or a critical mass of community members volunteering — the support part is vital. This is why so many local blogs and printed publications have gone under. When a blog relies on one or two people to keep them going, they are one major life change away from ceasing to publish, unless there is other support to keep them going.
There is not a lot of support for journalism these days, despite the large audience. Are you willing and able to change this? Let’s talk about it here in the comments.
According to Seattle Public Schools, enrollment increased by 1,400 students this past school year and is expected to grow by 10,000 students in the next decade. To accommodate the growth and alleviate overcrowding, the district is looking to move elementary and middle school boundary lines. In the North East corner of Beacon Hill,, students’ assignments will take families from Beacon Hill International School to Thurgood Marshall, then to Washington Middle School in the Central District. Kimball Elementary students will matriculate to Washington Middle School instead of Mercer Middle School, and John Muir to Meany Middle School. Other parts of Beacon Hill are also seeing significant shifts as well.
School Board Director Voting 411
One of the unintended consequences of this shift is that many Beacon Hill residents will lose the ability to vote for school board members who represent our students’ assignments in the primary election. Much of Beacon Hill resides in School Board Director District VII, yet Thurgood Marshall and Washington Middle School are in District V.
Seattle Public Schools has seven elected board members. Each board member has a slate of schools they represent. During the primary election ONLY those residing in the director’s district are allowed to vote; the top-two candidates advance to a city-wide general election.
School board directors are an important part of a well-functioning and high-performing school district. They are responsible for approving the district’s budget, assuring sound legal and fiduciary practices, student assignments (as presently happening), and representing the public’s voice in school district decisions.
The problem comes for those families who are a part of the boundary change. Beacon Hill to Thurgood Marshall, Kimball students moving on to Washington — our students will be sent to schools in District V. This means we lose the ability to vote in the primary election for a school board member representing our student assignment. This problem already exists in the north-end neighborhoods of Ballard, Crown Hill, and possibly other areas.
As South End residents we have more to lose by losing a vote in the primary election. Southeast Seattle schools aren’t performing as well as their North End counterparts. Voting for a school board director that represents our Beacon Hill students, how funds are allocated, and where students attend school is important.
What You Can Do
Now is the time to speak up and ask Seattle Public Schools what their plan is to address the discrepancy. Tell them how you feel about the boundary changes and wanting to keep Beacon Hill students in Beacon Hill. Let Seattle Schools know that it isn’t ok to take away this important voting right in the primary election.
As another neighbor wrote, Seattle Public Schools cannot afford to disenfranchise voters. As taxpayers and citizens we have a right and a duty to pay attention and vote in accordance to our values. I hope you will join me in pressing the need for Seattle Public Schools to pay attention to this important voter right. A feedback form and more information can be found here.
In both their latest boundary maps, Seattle Public Schools wants to kick Mid Beacon Hill out of the official Maple walk zone (an area so close to a school that bus service is not even provided) and instead make our kids bus miles to school every day.
We’ve been working hard to rally the neighborhood to oppose this change, but the majority of our neighborhood are not native English speakers, and none of the boundary materials have been translated into any other language. At the Oct. 16 School Board meeting, we were supported by members of our local Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese communities, and we spoke about retaining our Maple walk zone, and also the need for native-language outreach in these important decisions. Together with an East African woman (to whom we donated one of our speaking slots, as she was also speaking out for the need for cultural and native-language outreach), we were the only voices speaking about the lack of racial and linguistic equity in this process. (See this post on the Mid Beacon Hill Blog, containing a bar graph depicting the lack of diversity in feedback the district has received so far.)
If you also feel it’s unjust that SPS is kicking a majority-non-English-speaking community of color out of its local school walk zone without even notifying affected families in the languages they understand, please fill out this two-question SPS survey before Oct. 25 at 6 p.m.:
Choose Zone 36 for the area of concern, and provide a comment like “Let kids in the Maple walk zone walk to Maple. For a racially equitable process, notify affected families in their native languages.”
Seattle Public Schools is scrambling to avoid overcrowding. They’ve introduced a proposal to move kids around called “Growth Boundaries.” Kids would be bused miles instead of attending a school two blocks away or another school less than a mile away. We must encourage complete transparency and work together as a community to keep Beacon Hill awesome. SPS needs to be thoughtful and engage our community more in the process before any decision is made.
Even if you don’t have a child in the Seattle Public School system, you are affected by this proposal. When families travel farther from home for school, they have less time to invest in our community. We have fewer eyes on the street and less of the daily interaction that makes our community so strong and interesting. We all benefit from the volunteer efforts and the small businesses started by families with kids. When families are forced to send their kids outside of the neighborhood they’ve invested so much time and money in, they may feel less committed to the community and may even decide to leave. Property values are affected by reference schools. Our homes may be worth less after this proposal is implemented because potential buyers are holding out for a better or more convenient school.
Please sign up now to “Walk the Boundaries.” It’s another important way to share feedback about the proposal. Feedback is due by October 1.
Drive or walk the boundary shown on the map. Look for portions of a school’s proposed boundary that have geographic barriers or local features that separate a specific area from the rest of the attendance area. (For example, we are recommending that the elementary boundaries in Southeast Seattle be modified so that the light rail is a dividing line.)
Mark any issues on your map and note the reason, or note that there are no issues.
While you’re “Walking the Boundaries,” remember: the City of Seattle has invested millions of dollars in Safe Routes to School and Neighborhood Greenways. The SPS proposal doesn’t take any of that valuable infrastructure into consideration.
“Walk the Boundaries” is only one part of the outreach. Please attend meetings and send letters to our school board representative, Betty Patu; School Board President, Kay Smith-Blum; Sally Bagshaw, Chair of the City Council committee responsible for the Neighborhood Greenways; and any other elected or appointed officials you believe may be interested in this proposal.
I’m confident we can help Seattle Public Schools find a solution to the problem that works well for communities. I’m confident that Beacon Hill will work with Georgetown, Mt. Baker, Seward Park and other South Seattle neighborhoods to create a plan that meets the needs of students while maintaining strong communities. We must.
Please note: all opinions expressed or implied in this message are Melissa’s own and do not reflect the position of the North Beacon Hill Council or the NBHC Board. This topic is on the council agenda for Tuesday, October 1. Please attend the meeting at 7 p.m. at the Beacon Hill Library and share your ideas. (Melissa adds: “The NBHC does actually agree that Beacon Hill is awesome. That’s an official position.”)
View 14th Ave. S. dangers in a larger map. This unsafe stretch of 14th Ave. S. should be improved, says Mark Holland.
by Mark Holland
The intersections at 14th Avenue South and College and Walker need crosswalks.
I live on the corner of 14th Avenue South and College. On August 6, the night of the rollover accident, I was on the street within 10 seconds of the impact which was deafening. I had to pull my car away from the wreck as it burst into flames, after stopping the passenger from fleeing as the driver ran down College toward the greenbelt.
In the last wreck at this corner, five teenagers in a stolen Honda roared up College eastbound toward 14th, crashing into the curb, taking out two trees, up onto the sidewalk where they nearly hit a group of kids on the corner. The suspension was damaged and they all jumped out of the moving vehicle which rolled up onto the sidewalk across 14th and landed against a retaining wall. The motor was still running and I saw there were no keys. I had to pop the hood and pull the plug wires to stop the engine. Every six months or so my neighbors and I have to deal with carnage on this corner. Luckily we have great neighbors around here. Any time something happens everyone is out on the street within seconds. Police and Fire respond within minutes. It’s a great place to have a disaster. Everyone does their part. I wish I could say the same for SDOT.
The bicycle lane on 14th gets painted every three months, but the center yellow line does not. SDOT just painted the center line after the accident, but before it was barely visible.
Cars speed on this section of 14th because it is engineered to be a speedway. Northbound Beacon traffic hits the “slip lane” (SDOT’s term) at 14th and takes the turn at full speed, bypassing the four way stop intersection, just as the traffic engineers designed it to. At the end of the “slip” lane the driver looks north on 14th and sees a green light three blocks down at Hill, and nothing in between. There is no cross walk, curb bulbs, signage or anything on 14th to tell drivers there is a lot of activity at College, or at Walker.
I just had an application for a crosswalk at 14th and College turned down by SDOT. It costs $15,000 to install a crosswalk. More if you want curb bulbs. For $30,000 we could install crosswalks at College and at Walker in front of the store.
SDOT said they did not see 20 people per hour cross at College, and the intersection is under bus trolley power lines, which is apparently a problem. Those are their reasons for doing nothing.
For comparison our lovely “Greenway” just cost $420,000 for a little over two miles and there were no accidents recorded at any of the intersections affected by the Greenway, according to SDOT. Except for the weirdness at Beacon and Hanford, most of the Greenway seems to consist of lots of stop signs in inexplicable locations and bicycle stencils on a quiet neighborhood street. Other than that, 18th is the same as it’s been for the last 100 years: missing sidewalks, curbs, and gutters north of College.
SDOT has the police reports. They know the accident numbers. Why is all the focus on an already safe Greenway, when we have truly dangerous roadways that are due to “bad” driving, but also due to “bad” traffic engineering, or lack of any engineering at all, like at College and Walker?
We need crosswalks, curb bulbs and ramps with “Stop when pedestrians are present” signs at College and at Walker. SDOT is installing crosswalks like this all over the city but there is not one on Beacon Hill. Why not?
The “slip” lane has got to go. It sends cars speeding through the intersection creating conflict with traffic merging onto 14th from the four way stop. Often vehicles “slip” through in a train of several cars. If the first car accelerates, they all do, while tailgating. That is when the honking and screeching of tires happens at College where the northbound vehicles are moving 40+ mph. The vast majority of honking and tire screeching interactions involve a speeding northbound vehicle on 14th and a westbound vehicle on College turning in either direction onto 14th. Most accidents involve a northbound vehicle on 14th.
The light at Hill is always green unless someone presses the button to cross. It simply draws drivers forward. Drivers think they need to make the light before it turns red, but it never changes unless a pedestrian pushes the button. Even the buses speed down this section of 14th. Maybe the light at Hill should be replaced with a yellow yield or crosswalk light with curb bulbs and a more visible crosswalk. What is the point of a 24/7 green light?
Beacon Hill should be paying more attention to what SDOT is doing or not doing in our neighborhood. The thing to remember about SDOT is the Mayor pretty much has all the control. There is little the City Council can do except approve or disapprove the Mayor’s plans. Just like the rest of us.
Mark Holland is a long time Beacon Hill resident, a founding member of the Jefferson Park Alliance (JPA), and served on the Jefferson Park Planning Committee (JPPC) during the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood planning process from 1998-2000.
Do you have something to say? Send us your own opinion pieces on this or other Beacon Hill-related topics.
View Larger Map. The “slip lane” shown on the right in this satellite image is hazardous, says Mark Holland.
The process is slower and more restrictive than that of other cities, causing hold-ups or cancellation of several broadband upgrade projects planned for 2012 and 2013. Robert Kangas, a Beacon Hill neighbor and member of UPTUN, released a presentation comparing Seattle’s process with that of other cities. It’s worth reading if you wonder why your house is still stuck with 1.5 Mbps DSL.
In February, Bruce Harrell sent a letter expressing support for a broadband pilot project on Beacon Hill to the North Beacon Hill Council. The project would allow CenturyLink to deploy two fiber-to-the-node sites and provide homes near the sites with 80-100 megabits/second broadband speed before the end of 2013. If successful, the approach could be followed in other parts of Beacon Hill and Seattle.
On Wednesday, June 5th at 2PM, the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee of the Seattle City Council will discuss the proposal. The discussion will take place in the City Council Chambers at Seattle City Hall. The Committee will discuss the issue in its next scheduled meeting on June 19th and vote on whether or not to support it. If the proposal is approved by the committee, it will then move forward for review and approval by the whole Council. The agenda for the meeting is available here.
In addition, there will be a presentation and discussion of the pilot project tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 4) at the North Beacon Hill Council meeting at 7 p.m. at the Beacon Hill Library. Representatives from CenturyLink will present the details of the pilot project and be available to answer questions. Details of the two areas for the pilot can be viewed in this document.
Much depends on the support of the community. A number of Beacon Hill residents will attend the meeting on Wednesday to testify in support of the pilot project, but more support is needed. Please show your support by attending the meeting if you are available or by sending an email to Bruce Harrell (firstname.lastname@example.org) and other City Council members.
Today at 5 p.m. is the end of the “scoping period” to submit written concerns about the proposal to run new coal trains through South Seattle near Beacon Hill from the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Comments submitted in this scoping period will help in defining the impacts to be included in the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Neighbor Mira Latoszek wrote this commentary letter:
Dear Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Ecology and Whatcom County Council:
I am a resident of the North Beacon Hill neighborhood of south Seattle. I live directly to the east of the train tracks that would carry an increased number of trains to and from the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Beacon Hill is a large Seattle neighborhood of approximately 40,000 people. I am asking that you study impacts associated with the increase of trains at crossings in south Seattle, specifically at Spokane St., Lander St. and Holgate St. These are major intersections connecting Beacon Hill to the Industrial District, the Port of Seattle, the waterfront, and downtown.
I, along with many of my neighbors on Beacon Hill, are dependent on goods and services from the SODO area which would be directly affected by the increase of trains at these crossings. In addition, many of us work in an around the SODO area and the southern end of downtown Seattle, including several owners of small businesses. I travel by car and bike through these intersections on a daily basis to get to my job on Second Avenue in Pioneer Square. Being able to get across the train tracks quickly and safely is an important part of my life.
According to the applicant’s Project Information Document (Feb. 2011), full build out of the coal export facility would result in nine full northbound trains along this line a day, which equates to 18 train trips a day; however, nothing in the project materials specifies a maximum. The 18 trains per day round trip could be increased if export capacity of the proposed port were expanded in the future. The current port proposal occupies 350 acres of a 1,000-acre site. Each train may be over 1.5 miles long, which at 50 miles per hour would mean approximately 3-4 minutes between train approach warning/gate closure and ultimate gate opening. At 35 miles per hour it could take approximately 6-7 minutes to clear a crossing as the siding near
this area is rated for 35 mph. The 18 trains per day would equate to approximately one additional coal train every 1.3 hours, all day long, in addition to existing train traffic. That would translate to an addition of approximately two hours per day that vehicles and people would not be able to cross these major intersections in south Seattle.
The nearest dropboxes to us are downtown and in Renton. There is also the West Seattle drop van, which closes at 5 p.m. And there is an accessible voting center (where you can also deposit ballots) at Union Station, but that also has limited hours.
Voting by mail is, generally, an improvement that promotes more participation in the voting process than the old polling system. But we should not assume that it has solved all accessibility issues, nor that vote-by-mail means that dropboxes are unnecessary. At the very least, it is not right to require payment (even of a mere stamp) to vote. But there are other reasons dropboxes are useful. For example, the polls are open until 8 p.m. on Election Day, and last minute votes are just as valid and acceptable as any others. (Otherwise, we’d close the polls earlier.) In most areas, there is no way to get something mailed that late, so a dropbox is the only way to vote in the late afternoon or early evening on November 6.
There used to be more dropboxes in the city, but King County Elections had to remove many of them to save money. Saving taxpayer money is good, but shouldn’t every quadrant of the city (at least) have a dropbox, or at least a van? North of downtown, there are three options, all north of the canal: two dropboxes and a van at the University of Washington. South of downtown, there is only the limited-hours van in West Seattle. Shouldn’t there at least be an attempt at equity here?
I know not every neighborhood can have a dropbox. It’s a problem that we provide so few of them, but I understand that with current financial reality King County Elections cannot put dropboxes everywhere we might want them. But shouldn’t there be an attempt to distribute them fairly? And wouldn’t it make sense to put dropboxes in a part of the city that has many lower-income voters who may prefer to use a dropbox to save a stamp, or who may not have easy automotive access to dropboxes further away?
For those of us in North Beacon Hill, the downtown dropbox is not too far a trip. But Southeast Seattle is a large area, and it’s not as easy for everyone to get downtown as it is for most of us on North Beacon. If Magnuson Park can host a dropbox — one of three locations north of the Ship Canal — Southeast Seattle ought to at least warrant the presence of a van to pick up ballots in future elections.
(While we’re at it, Bellevue and Mercer Island residents could use one too.)
Neighbor Tina Ray sent this letter to the blog about the Quieter Skies task force here on the Hill:
Hope everyone is enjoying the fall! All parties included on this email chain were on my earlier airplane noise list – if you have friends and neighbors interested in this issue, I encourage you to forward this email! We also have a Facebook page: Quieter Skies – you can “like” us and keep updated on what we are doing as a community.
This meeting is very important for our neighborhood, and I encourage everyone to attend. Please get the word out to all your neighbors – this is such an important issue for our community.
I have flyers printed, and I have been delivering them to houses, passing them out at the Beacon Hill light rail station, and handing them to just about everyone I encounter throughout my day. In addition, these flyers are being translated into several languages, so all our neighbors can join together at this meeting. We are also trying to line up translators for the meeting – Spanish, Somali, Chinese, and Tagalog. If we need additional languages, let us know!
WE NEED HELP GETTING THE WORD OUT. If anyone can spend an hour passing out flyers, it would really help us out. I have flyer copies at my house, and we can forward the printable document to anyone interested. Black & white copies are inexpensive – about a nickel apiece, but I am more than happy to provide neighbors with copies myself.
This is the third in a series of three articles on the current plans and process to demolish the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse. See Part I here, and Part II here.
by Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek
The Jefferson Park Golf Club
The first club associated with a public golf course in Seattle formed at Jefferson Park in 1917. The main purpose of forming the Jefferson Park Golf Club was to provide opportunity for participation in golf tournaments for golfers who could not afford to join private golf course clubs. Most golf courses were private and golf tournaments were only open to club members, and members of other private golf course clubs. As a result, without club membership, lower income golfers could not compete in tournaments. For the first time in Seattle, the Jefferson Park Golf Club gave working class Seattle golfers the opportunity to compete in tournaments on both public and private golf courses.
The golfing clubs that operated out of Seattle’s public courses were private, even though they carried the names of the Seattle municipal golf courses in their titles. Although the Jefferson Park Golf Club provided opportunity for golfers to enter tournaments, not all Seattle citizens were welcome to join the Club. Everyone was welcome to play golf at Jefferson Park, but the Jefferson Park Golf Club was open to white golfers only. Because the golf clubs controlled the tournaments, minority golfers could not enter contests held on Seattle’s municipal golf courses.
Racial discrimination in sports and denial of access to public facilities began to unravel in the late 1940s when a series of Supreme Court decisions overturned many local and state discriminatory policies. In response, many southern states enacted new racial discrimination laws in a desperate bid to maintain Jim Crow. As the battle raged between the Federal anti- and State pro- discrimination forces, on December 5, 1946 President Truman signed Executive Order 9808, establishing the first President’s Committee on Civil Rights.
On a local level, many Americans began to form organizations to directly confront the racial discrimination they faced in their own lives. In South Seattle, golfers were some of the first citizens to join the front lines in what would turn out to be an epic decades-long battle against institutionalized racial discrimination across the U.S. and in Seattle.
The Fir State Golf Club and the Cascade Golf Club
In 1947, a racially-diverse group of fifteen Jefferson Park golfers formed the Fir State Golf Club. Like the earlier Jefferson Park Golf Club, the Fir State Golf Club was created to to give more golfers an opportunity to compete in tournaments. Tired of waiting for the Seattle Parks Department to make the Jefferson Park Golf Club change their discriminatory policies, these determined golfers became some of the earliest heroes in the fight for equality and racial justice in Seattle.
Although the Jefferson Park Golf Course was the home of the Fir State Golf Club, members still could not compete in tournaments controlled by the Jefferson Park Golf Club. Determined to compete, members of the Fir State Golf Club often traveled to Portland and other cities to participate in tournaments on public courses, where racial discrimination policies were abandoned in the late 1940s.
“The Fir State Golf Club was born out of ignorance, bigotry and racism. In 1947, World War II had only recently ended, and the official classification for Black Americans was still Negro or Colored. Rosa Parks had not yet been arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man [the action which started the civil rights movement in the United States]. This wouldn’t occur for another eight years, in 1955. The 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution [the Civil Rights Act] was seventeen years away. So, having colored people interested in and playing golf was just not heard of, or considered practical. Negroes were not allowed to join the established city golf clubs. Fir State Golf Club was born in order for Blacks to play on the public golf courses.”
In 1951, a group of Chinese-American citizens formed the Seattle Chinese Golf Club. Though most were tennis players, they formed the club because they wanted to learn how to play golf and to compete in tournaments. In 1954, members changed the name to the Cascade Golf Club and chartered with the Jefferson Park Golf Course.
In Seattle, discrimination against minority golfers continued uninterupted until two events occurred in 1959 and 1961 that would change the game of golf on a national level, and Seattle history, forever.
Bill Wright breaks the color line in American Golf
Bill Wright was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1936. In 1948, he moved to Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood with his parents; his father, Robert, was a postman and his mother, Madeline, a schoolteacher. An avid golfing family, they would often practice putting after dinner in their backyard where they set up a small green.
A gifted and multi-sport talented athlete, Bill Wright learned to play golf at Jefferson Park throughout his years at Franklin High School. By the time he graduated high school he was one of the best young golfers in the Seattle area. Despite Wright’s skills and membership in the Fir State Golf Club, he could not enter tournaments sponsored by the Jefferson Park Golf Club. Up until the age of seventeen, tournaments on Seattle’s public golf courses were open to all races. After the age of seventeen, entry in tournaments required membership in a club. Those who wished to join required a sponsor, but club rules barred members from sponsoring non-white golfers.
Despite all obstacles, Wright was determined to win. Like the members of the Fir State and Cascade Golf Clubs before him, Wright persevered, honing his skills and entering tournaments on public courses outside Seattle. He soon built up enough victories to enter the tournament that would change the game of golf nationwide.
“TO A CHAMPION: You are now a national champion with all the glory and fanfare, but with all the responsibilities. Responsibilities to yourself and to the world.”
Bill Wright’s Public Links title qualified him for entry in another USGA tournament. On September 14, 1959, he came in second place in the National Amateur Golf Championship, at the Broadmoor Country Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Although Wright did not win the second contest, he became the first African-American to win a USGA-sponsored event (the Public Links Championship), and the first to compete in the National Amateur Championship.
The Seattle Daily Times paid close attention to Bill Wright’s progress.
“Wright Wins US Public-Links Crown” (July 19, 1959)
“New Park Board Study of Public-Links Use Promised” (Sep 10, 1959)
“Tee Talk: Wright’s Advent is a Milestone in Golf” (Sep 13, 1959)
“Wright Opens Quest For Amateur Crown” (Sep 13, 1959)
“Knowles Ousts Wright in Amateur” (Sep 14, 1959)
“2nd Golf Title in a Year: Wright Adds Collegiate Crown” (Jun 11, 1960)
Wright went on to win other golf titles and graduated from Western Washington State University with a teaching degree. He moved to California with his wife, Ceta, becoming a teacher and owner of car dealerships. He is a golf pro at the Lakes at El Segundo golf course near Los Angeles, where he taught golf for over 25 years.
On October 10, 2009, the Jefferson Park Golf Course hosted “Bill Wright Day” to celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of his historic victory. Wright was the guest of honor for the day.
After Bill Wright broke the color barrier in golf, the stubborn remnants of racial discrimination on America’s public golf courses began to dissipate. Unfortunately, some cities, like Seattle, clung to their discriminatory policies with tactics far more subtle than the overt approach of the southern Jim Crow states.
Robert and Madeline Wright battle the Seattle Parks Department
As Bill Wright did battle on the golf course, his parents directly confronted the racial discrimination policies of the Seattle Parks Department in the Parks Board and through the State. Robert Wright officially challenged the racial discrimination policies of the private golf clubs by charging the Seattle Parks Board with a complaint to the State Board Against Discrimination (“State Board to Act On Complaint By Negro Golfer”, Seattle Daily Times, May 3, 1961) on May 3, 1961.
The complaint charged the Parks department with allowing the private white only golf clubs to discriminate against non-white golfers. Robert Wright’s application to the West Seattle Golf Club was denied even though he had sponsorship from a member. At issue was the use of Seattle public golf course names in the title of the golf clubs. The association with the municipal course name in the club title made the city governement appear liable. This charge resulted in the Parks Department instructing the golfing clubs to either stop discriminating or change their names.
In response, the Jefferson Park Golf Club changed to The Beacon Hill Golf Club, and the West Seattle Golf Club became the Bayview Golf Club. With the city no longer liable, the private clubs could continue to discriminate.
Governor Rosellini intervenes
Tired of Seattle’s leadership stalling and not satisfied with a mere name change, the State Anti-Discrimination Board voted 3-2 on May 4, 1961 to send a plea for Governor Rossellini to intervene. The Board charged the Seattle Parks Department with “willful violation” of the rights of Robert Wright.
On November 8, 1961, Governor Rosellini called for a full investigation (“Rosellini Asks Probe Of Race Ban In Golf Here”, Seattle Daily Times, Nov 8, 1961) of reported discrimination against non-white players in golf tournaments played on Seattle’s public courses. Governor Rosellini said:
“I am disappointed that the City of Seattle Park Board has not been able to stop this practice by carrying out its’ agreement. Discriminatory policies against minorities in the State of Washington are indefensible.”
Despite the serious nature of the charges, Mayor Gordon Clinton and the Seattle Park Board failed to respond to them.
A series of newspaper headlines from the Seattle Daily Times tells the story:
“State Board to Act On Complaint By Negro Golfer” (May 3, 1961)
“Governor Gets Plea For Negro Golfer” (May 4, 1961)
“Rosellini Asks Probe Of Race Ban In Golf Here” (Nov 8, 1961)
An excellent golfer in his own right, Robert Wright went on to qualify for and compete in the U.S. Public Links championship in 1963, four years after his son won the same USGA title.
The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned racial discrimination in public accomodations, overturning many municipal and state discriminatory laws. In response, across the country, many private clubs associated with public facilities changed their names to continue discriminatory policies.
It is unclear exactly when the Seattle golfing clubs stopped discriminating against minority golfers, or if the Seattle Parks Board responded to the Governor. Robert Wright told his son as late as 1968 that the clubs still practiced discrimination. Eventually, the golf clubs changed back to include the names of the associated golf course. The Bayview Golf Club once again became the West Seattle Golf Club, and the Beacon Hill Golf Club changed back to the Jefferson Park Golf Club.
The next generation: Fred Couples
In 1959, the same year Bill Wright achieved his historic win, Fred Couples was born in Seattle. A Beacon Hill resident and graduate of O’Dea High School, Couples grew up learning to play golf at Jefferson Park.
Earning the name “Boom! Boom!” for his powerful and accurate drives, he is the most successful pro golfer to emerge from the Jefferson Park Golf Course. Throughout his long professional career, Fred Couples won many prestigious golf titles and was a top-seeded golfer throughout the 1990s. He continues to compete in seniors’ tournaments.
Jefferson Park Municipal Golf Course today
Today, Jefferson Park is the most racially-integrated public golf course in Seattle. Golfers of all races share the course and clubhouse equally and without conflict. The Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse represents a time and a place where Seattle worked out serious social, cultural, racial, and political problems without a single punch thrown or shot fired—except from the end of a 9 iron.
The classic “Olmstedian,” Tom Bendelow-designed, 18-hole course and the Archibald N. Torbitt Clubhouse are a matched set that stood the test of time and served Seattle well for almost a century. The story of that century gives Jefferson Park and Beacon Hill a special place in Seattle history and culture that cannot be duplicated.
On the 100-year anniversary of the Olmsted Brothers’ 1912 Preliminary Plan for Jefferson Park, the Seattle Parks Department declared they can demolish this unique piece of South Seattle history. Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams’ cover letter to the Seattle Landmarks nomination for the clubhouse claims that there is no “important” person or event associated with the clubhouse and “no connection” to the diverse community of Beacon Hill. If the clubhouse is demolished, that cover letter and flawed nomination will become the epitaph of Jefferson Park golf history.
West Seattle and South Seattle golf history
In 2011, the Seattle Parks Department tried to convince golfers and the community to accept a new golf driving range on the West Seattle Golf Course. Although golfers asked for the driving range in the Golf Master Planning process (2008-2009), they changed their minds when they saw how the design would radically alter the historical integrity of the golf course. It made them reconsider the value of their history and they decided it was worth saving. After much public pressure, Seattle Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams cancelled the driving range project. The historic golf clubhouse will be restored to original condition, preserving West Seattle golf history for future generations.
What makes West Seattle golf history so much more important than Jefferson Park golf history? Why preserve one and not the other? On September 12, 2012, the City Council should answer these questions before they vote against or for “concept approval” of the new plan for the Jefferson Park Municipal Golf Course.
Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek are long time Beacon Hill residents, founding members of the Jefferson Park Alliance (JPA), and both served on the Jefferson Park Planning Committee (JPPC) during the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood planning process from 1998-2000. Mira is a co-author of Seattle’s Beacon Hill.