Cleveland High School students and alumni will gather on Saturday, June 29, at 11 a.m. for a ceremony officially dedicating the school’s library to the late Edward Landon, who spent his entire career (1948-1973) teaching history and coaching football, basketball and baseball at Cleveland. Landon’s 4-year-old great-grandson, Dilon Hagedorn, will unveil the plaque honoring his great-grandfather, who died on January 15, 2013, aged 98. The event will take place at 11 a.m. on the second floor of the main building.
Landon, a World War II veteran and former minor-league pitcher, was known by the nickname “Mr. Cleveland” for his dedication to his students. He wrote the first Seattle Public Schools curriculum on African-American history, as part of which he invited members of Seattleâ€™s Black Panthers to sit in on his history lectures and provide feedback.
Landon was previously honored by a scholarship fund in his name, managed by the school’s alumni association. Donations may be sent to Ed Landon Scholarship Fund, Cleveland High School Alumni Association, PO Box 94004, Seattle, WA 98124-9404.
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 wouldnâ€™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 Seattleâ€™s Beacon Hill.
This is the second in a series of three articles on the current plans and process to demolish the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse. See Part I here.
by Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek
The citizen golf activists: E.C. Cheasty And Sherwood Gillespy
Soon after the first Olmsted Brothers preliminary report in 1903, and for two years after presentation of the 1912 Olmsted Seattle Park Plan, golfers lobbied the city to turn the planned 9-hole design into an 18-hole configuration. Among these pioneering golf activists were Seattle Park Commissioner E.C. Cheasty, and Sherwood Gillespy (1953-1912), who brought a petition with 1000 signatures to the City Council asking for an 18-hole course at Jefferson Park. Unfortunately, Sherwood Gillespy died in 1912, and his friend E.C Cheasty followed him the next year, passing away in 1913, never to play golf at Jefferson Park or know if they would succeed in bringing an 18-hole golf course to Beacon Hill.
Fortunately, their tireless dedication did pay off in 1914 when Seattle hired a renowned golf course architect to rework the original Olmsted 9-hole design. To honor the efforts of Sherwood Gillespy, his friends commissioned a statue of him with sculptor Max Nielsen of Denmark, and placed it in front of the first golf clubhouse in 1915. A round bronze plaque commemorates him with the inscription: “Erected by the friends of Sherwood Gillespy. A kindly, lovable man, an ardent golfer. The founder of the idea of a municipal golf course in Seattle.” Ninety seven years later, the weathered bronze statue of Sherwood Gillespy still stands in front of the Jefferson Park Golf Course Clubhouse, missing only his club.
Thomas Bendelow, architect of the Jefferson Park 18-hole golf course
In 1914, after a decade long lobbying effort by golfers, Seattle hired Scottish born golf course designer Thomas Bendelow (1868-1936). Known to work in a “naturalist” style, and often called “Olmstedian” in his approach, Thomas Bendelow was the logical choice to carry through the Olmsted vision into the 18-hole design. On May 12 of 1915, the Jefferson Park municipal golf course opened to the public. It was the first municipal golf course in Seattle. As testament to the timelessness of Bendelow’s design, the tees and fairways of the 18 remain much the same today as when the golf course first opened.
Thomas Bendelow, once disregarded as insignificant and even mediocre in golfing lore, is currently experiencing a revival. Thanks in part to the historical research and work of his grandson Stuart Bendelow, and a trending popularity in golf industry media, Tom Bendelow is now regarded as one of the most prolific golf course designers in American history. It is said more Americans learned to play golf on Bendelow-designed courses than those of any other golf course architect. As an early promoter of municipal golf courses, Tom Bendelow was at the forefront of the movement for municipal golf in the United States. In fact, he was often called the “Johnny Appleseed of Golf.”
In 1895, at the start of his career, he designed the first 18-hole municipal golf course in the America, converting a 9-hole course into an 18 at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Working for the Spalding Company (1900-1920), Tom Bendelow designed golf courses all across the United States. It is estimated he designed anywhere from 488 to 1000 golf courses throughout his career. He is well known as the architect of the famous Medinah Golf Courses outside of Chicago, home of many professional golf tournaments. In 2005, Tom Bendelow was inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame.
The author of the nomination is Bassetti Architects, hired by DOPAR to both prepare the landmarks nomination and to design the replacement facility. Bassetti was about 50% of the way through the new clubhouse/driving range design when DOPAR submitted the nomination to the Landmarks Preservation Board. The Historic Preservation Officer, Karen Gordon, head of the Landmarks Preservation Board staff, approved the nomination for submittal to the Board.
During their presentation, Bassetti Architects and the Parks Department diminished the historical and architectural aspects of the Clubhouse on all six standards in SMC 12.45.350, the Seattle Municipal Code which defines the standards for historic designation of buildings and sites in Seattle.
“She said that this nomination was submitted as part of the MUP process. She said that this building is not part of the Olmsted plan, many alterations have been made, and it does not meet the needs of DOPAR now. She said that DOPAR has been a good steward and has twenty five landmark properties but did not support nomination.â€
Four Beacon Hill community members spoke in support of the Clubhouse. One community member noted the nomination was incomplete because it was for the “building only” and did not include the putting greens, forcing the Board to discuss the Clubhouse out of the context of rest of the Golf Course. From the minutes of the meeting:
“She said that the nomination has a hole in it and the putting greens need to be included; all information needs to be included in the review and if the clubhouse and putting greens are not looked at together it doesnâ€™t make sense.”
The Landmarks Preservation Board chair noted that, according to the rules, they could only consider the contents of the nomination. The Board staff then recommended against approval of the nomination. The Board vote ended in a split; four in favor of approval and four against. Without a majority this meant the nomination failed: the history of the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse officially declared not “important” in the Landmarks Preservation Board archives.
A brief discussion followed the vote. Two Board members noted the absence of the putting greens from the nomination. From the meeting minutes:
“Ms. Strong said this was a difficult one for her; she learned to golf here. She supported nomination and wished the putting greens were included… Mr. Hannum noted the loss of integrity but said the building deserved more analysis; he supported nomination. He said he would be more comfortable if the putting greens were included.”
The Seattle City Council will vote either for or against “Concept Approval” for the Bassetti plan in a hearing before the Land Use Subcommittee chaired by Councilmember Richard Conlin on September 12, 2012. If the City Council approves the new design concept, the Golf Clubhouse and the century long history of the Jefferson Park Golf course will be tossed in the trash like yesterday’s newspaper.
Meanwhile, just a few miles away, over at the West Seattle Golf course, it is a different story. DOPAR will fully renovate the Clubhouse, and will not ruin the integrity of the historic golf course with a driving range: a project cancelled last year by Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams due to overwhelming public pressure.
What exactly do DOPAR, Bassetti Architects, the Historic Preservation Officer, and four members of the Landmarks Preservation Board find so uninteresting about Jefferson Park Golf History?
Coming up next: The vanishing history of Jefferson Park Golf, Part II: Dreamers and Builders.
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.
Those interested in the history of our part of Seattle should journey to nearby Columbia City this Friday, June 1, at 5:30 pm for a free all-ages public event celebrating the Southeast Seattle Community History Project.
The Community History Project’s goal is to use traditional historic preservation methods combined with community-based research to identify and illuminate the people, places, events, and policies that shaped Southeast Seattle during the post-World War II era. See the Project’s website here.
Some of the Project’s activities have included studies by community organizations such as El Centro de la Raza, the Northwest African American Museum, the Wing Luke Asian Museum and the Washington State Jewish Historical Society; essays on geographic and social themes related to the neighborhoods within Southeast Seattle; a new local history app by HistoryLink.org; and a multilingual poster series in Chinese, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
The event is at the Royal Esquire Club, 5016 Rainier Ave. S. in the Columbia City Historic District. Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith and City Councilmember Sally Clark will be there to join the celebration. Free Southeast Seattle posters will be available.
This is the intersection of Beacon Avenue South and South Hanford Street, looking north on the west side of the street. Beacon Hill is apparently much greener than it once was, at least as far as street trees are concerned. You can see that the 1959 view shows no trees at all.
Another notable difference between Beacon Hill then and now is the pharmacy. The Hill currently has no pharmacies, but in the past there were quite a few, including Engstrom’s where Hello Bicycle is now located. North Beacon residents could easily walk to their local drugstore for prescriptions or — as the sign on the front of the old pharmacy advertises — Carnation Ice Cream.
Nelson’s Gifts is also gone, unfortunately replaced by a completely blank storefront. (We’re told it’s an art/design studio.) On the other hand, the shop one door north of the pharmacy is now exactly what it was in 1959: a barber shop.
Robert Ketcherside in the CHS Capitol Hill Seattle blog has a great historical article about the first Broadway streetcar, from the 1890s. Why am I mentioning it here on the Beacon Hill Blog, you ask? Scroll on down to the addendum to the article and you’ll find a discussion about the murky origins of the name of Seattle’s Beacon Hill:
“Someone on Beacon Hill needs to stop freakin’ and figure out who really named Beacon Hill and why.”
Apparently there isn’t any paper trail for the commonly accepted origin story — that M. Harwood Young moved to Beacon Hill from Boston and named it after the famous Boston location. It could be true. But as far as the current sources are concerned, there isn’t really anything concrete.
“At least up here we have a healthy debate about the origin of Capitol Hill,” says Ketcherside. “…Down on Beacon Hill they settle for tacit acceptance of a hole-ridden story.”
On May 12, 1915, the Jefferson Park Municipal Golf Course opened here on Beacon Hill. It was the first municipal golf course in Seattle. 97 years later, the golf course still operates, and still draws golfers from throughout the area to enjoy a bit of Beacon Hill.
Joel Lee, who took this photo and posted it in the Beacon Hill Blog photo pool on Flickr, writes:
“The owners of the building at 3210 Beacon Ave have been restoring their building and uncovered this AWESOME vintage mural, I hope they can figure out a way to keep it. I couldn’t get far enough back for a good photo so I collaged several together. You should go see it in person.”
The City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, February 15 at 3:30 p.m. to consider the landmark nomination of the Jefferson Park Golf Course Clubhouse.
All interested are invited to attend and comment. Written comments are also welcome, and should be received by the Landmarks Board by February 14 at 5 p.m. Comments may be mailed to:
Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board
Dept. of Neighborhoods
P.O. Box 94649
Seattle WA 98124-4649
The landmark nomination application includes an extremely detailed description of the building as well as a summary of Beacon Hill and Jefferson Park history, and may be viewed here (PDF link), as well as at the Beacon Hill Library.