Construction on the changes at Jefferson Park Golf Course is planned to begin later this month, to be completed in December 2014. The project includes a new two-story modern-style clubhouse, a double-deck driving range, and improvements to paths and parking.
The course will remain open, though temporary facilities for the pro shop and food service will be located across Beacon Avenue, behind the existing first tee.
Advance notice — this Friday, October 26, at 9 a.m., the Seattle City Council Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee will meet to discuss (and possibly vote) on the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse project.
There will be a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting according to an agenda distributed yesterday.
Here is the information from the agenda about the Jefferson Park discussion and vote:
5. C.F. 312119
Council land use action to allow a new 19,800 square foot two-story clubhouse and driving range structure, a new 4,1 00 square foot cart storage structure and 20,000 square feet of paving improvements, including a request to waive development standards to allow field lighting up to 90 feet in height and netting and net poles up to 140 feet in height (Project No s. 3012845and 3013107, Type V).
DISCUSSION AND POSSIBLE VOTE (10 minutes)
Presenters: Susanne Rockwell, Department of Parks and Recreation; Dan Miles, Bassetti Architects; Michael Jenkins, Council Central Staff
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.
The locals were a bit restless at last night’s North Beacon Hill Council meeting. The agenda included presentations about the new Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse plan and about the development planned for the southeast corner of the Beacon Hill Station block, and both projects seemed to raise some hackles.
The Golf Clubhouse caused the most ruckus. Susanne Rockwell of Seattle Parks and Recreation was there to present the plan, and started off the evening on a defensive note, introducing the plan by saying Jefferson Park “is not an Olmsted park,” and emphasizing that the improved views from the clubhouse would provide “more eyes on the street” — as well as views to the golf course on the other side of Beacon Avenue. One neighbor asked if the new views of downtown would only be enjoyed by those at the driving range, and Rockwell answered that passers-by on Beacon Avenue would be able to enjoy them too.
After this the tone of the meeting grew tense. Several members of the audience challenged Rockwell’s assertion that Jefferson park is not an Olmsted park. Rockwell replied “There was not an Olmsted plan for the park.” There was disagreement and shaking of heads in the room. One neighbor commented that the planned building is not attractive: “If the clubhouse was being replaced by something really beautiful, it would be an enhancement… [those drawings] look pretty crummy to me.” Later in the meeting, after Rockwell left, neighbor Roger Pence called the planned structure “a strip mall turned on its side.” Continue reading Clubhouse, station block development both cause controversy→
(This story was supposed to post on the website on March 2. Because of an error, it did not post when it was scheduled to in the blog software. We apologize for the delay. — Ed.) The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has published a notice of application for the new Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse, as follows:
“Council Land Use Action to allow a new 19,800 sq. ft. two-story clubhouse and driving range structure (Jefferson Park Golf Course). Project includes new field lighting up to 90 ft. in height, netting/net poles up to 140 ft. in height, and 63 additional surface parking spaces for a total of 80 parking spaces. Existing clubhouse and driving structures to be demolished. Review includes a 4,100 sq. ft. single-story cart storage structure and 20,000 sq. ft. of paving improvements located on the eastside of Beacon Avenue South (DPD #3013107: 4100 Beacon Avenue South). Determination of Non-Significance prepared by the Seattle Parks & Recreation.”
Currently, the project still needs to complete the SEPA environmental review process, and the City Council must approve the expansion of a public facility in a single family zone. SEPA is the State Environmental Policy Act, which requires public agencies to consider the environmental impacts of a proposal before it can be approved.
The decision to demolish the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse to make way for a low-budget two-story driving range should consider a lot more than money. If money was the only issue of import, there would be no Pike Place Market. The Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse is made out of very attractive 80-year-old probably locally-made fired red brick, and its wood components are traditionally-built assemblies, with actual tree wood in solid profiles we used to call lumber and mill work. Such things are still made, but only the very rich can afford them. Why would we throw something so valuable away?
Just because some fool painted it and did a bunch of sloppy remodeling is no reason to throw it away. If we fix it and turn back the remodeling clock to 1936 in the process, we will have an architectural treasure: standing in the park largely made of the original materials which we could not hope to replace at any reasonable cost, looking wonderful, and reminding us that America was once a great nation populated with carpenters and masons who were skilled and principled craftsmen of a high order.
We will walk through it and remember that it was in those rooms that Americans of every race met and socialized and shared a love of golf more than they valued the segregation that separated them everywhere else. We will be reminded of the power of our American social contract to create the WPA, to restore the American economy, and lift Americans out of the ditch that greed and unregulated capitalism had thrown us into. And we will be reminded of the care that was taken to invest beauty and quality into our public investments in the commons. If you seriously think today’s Parks department is up to matching that in new construction in 2012, please send me some of whatever you are smoking.
Anything they build new and cheaper would be made out of glued-together wood flakes and cheesy cladding products made out of vinyl-skinned foamed plastic and sawdust cement slurry. The enclosure detailing would undoubtedly be the usual leaky hollow section, nail-on flange windows and pseudo-rainscreens we see being tented and repaired all over town. I see so much of that all over everywhere; do we have to go out of our way to wipe out all remaining vestiges of well-built buildings that remain? That clubhouse has stood there for barely 75 years—it is just getting warmed up! All it needs is a little respect and responsible maintenance, and it will outlast and outperform whatever they build new.
George Robertson is a Beacon Hill resident of more than twenty years, an architect, an artist, an occasional writer of often incendiary rants that annoy the neighbors, and a daily user of Jefferson Park.