Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jack Dunn, Photographer & Retired Firefighter, Madrona

Jack Dunn was a talented photographer who also was a firefighter in our neighborhood until retirement. He lived with his wife in Madrona in the same house since the late 1940s. He raised a family there and over that time has gathered a great deal of insight on how the neighborhood and the people in it have changed together. (He has since passed away is still much missed)

Photo by Madeline Crowley

Honestly, though, this neighborhood was the only interesting one in all of Seattle... It’s gone through so many changes that no other neighborhood can duplicate.

Jack Dunn fairly crackles with energy so it’s little surprise to learn of his love of exploring mountains by hiking, mountain climbing and skiing. Today, he restricts himself to riding his electric bike and photography. He has a great sensitivity and integrity that his views below reveal and reflect.

Jack on Madrona in the 1940s:

Well, it was a whole new world for me after I moved to Madrona. You might say that at that time I was a little old hillbilly who didn’t know anything about the world but I evolved. 

I’d grown up in a logging camp near Mt. St. Helens so I’d only ever seen one black person in my life. During WWII there was a lot of anti-Japanesepropaganda (link to images) so I was shocked to see people being friendly with Asian people. During the war a lot of people felt similarly suspicious there had been a lot of propaganda.

About ’42 Internment happened and that changed the neighborhood too.

Photo: Collection Jack Dunn

How did people view the Internment decision at that time?

Well, at that time people trusted the government so if they said it had to be done, well then, people thought they were probably right. There were a couple of newspapers who protested against it, one on Bainbridge Island. But protests were a minority view. The Japanese didn’t protest; they went mildly. Maybe inside they were seething but outwardly they didn’t show any signs of protest. It was one of the worst crimes the government committed at that time.

Later our family became friends with the Kuroses. I was good friends with Junx Kurose, he accepted me because our wives were friends.  He was very bitter after the Internment camps so he didn’t like white people.  We shared a similar political philosophy. I was a protestor against the VietnamWar too. And I liked him. Junx Kurose said I was one of them, I was really happy about that.

His wife, Aki, became a well-respected teacher and a peace activist, it’s not often you have a school named after a teacher. She protested against the Vietnam War and her sons were war protestors too. They were social protesters back in the days when the cops didn’t like protestors.

Firehouse. Collection: Jack Dunn

Madrona in the ‘60s – The Red Line & The Impact of the Black Panthers

There wasn’t much change in the Madrona area after the war. Then blacks started buying houses further up the hill towards 35th Ave. There was what was called a “Color Line” (Redlining) that restricted where people could buy houses. A lot of people talked about wanting to “Hold the Line.” It was a big hullaballoo. Then the real estate man, Hardcastle (mentioned in text), decided the heck with the line, and there was a house sold on the other side of 34th. Of course, after that other houses sold. It was very racial here in that respect.

The neighborhood went through real changes during the 60s. In around 1968, that was the time of what they called, “White Flight.” You should have seen it. The red line had been crossed and black people were buying homes up to 34th Ave. White and Jewish people were selling their houses at a loss and moving to Bellevue. Then, they realized the commute was terrible and they moved back but had to pay through the nose to get back into a house here.

There was a Jewish family who lived over there on one corner near our house, and when they sold they sold to a black man who worked for them. So, at that point, there were black and Jewish families on this corner.  At that time, there was no conflict that I knew of, everybody got along, kids always played baseball on the corner.

I couldn’t understand the White Flight. A lot of the firefighters I worked with didn’t live in the neighborhood, and they’d always ask me, “Why don’t you move?” Honestly, though, this neighborhood was the only interesting one in all of Seattle. I’ve always liked this neighborhood and our corner; it’s always been interesting to be here. It’s gone through so many changes that no other neighborhood can duplicate.

Old Madrona Elementary. Collection: Jack Dunn
The Sixties were also the time of the Black Panthers here. They had a store-front office on 34th Ave, behind the Fire Station. I used to play tennis with a couple of the Black Panthers. I got blackballed in the fire station because I stood up in support of them at a community meeting where the police were talking about a program they’d developed to deal with the Panthers. I said, “Maybe the program sounds great in your office but on the streets your cops are still beating up black kids.” When I got back to the station I’d been blackballed. I was told I had better watch my back.

Now, the Black Panthers in Seattle was different than it was in other places at that time. See, Elmer and Aaron Dixon started it. Aaron was the head guy but he was mostly in Oakland. Aaron was trying to develop self-esteem in these kids, to give them a reason to be alive and to stand up for themselves as men. They were pretending to be militarized which terrified the cops but in reality they were more interested in social issues. That was in part because of the way Elmer ran things here in Seattle. He was well liked. They started a food program for kids and a free health clinic.

There probably wouldn’t have been a Black Panther organization here without Elmer or it wouldn’t have been the regimented, disciplined organization it was. He kept them out of trouble, he didn’t believe in violence.

At the beginning they had a storefront almost behind the Fire Station. They ran out this awful man, a rip-off artist who sold real estate and everybody was happy about that.

You wonder what it was like for the mothers of these young men in the Panthers?

They knew, we all knew that the police wanted to shoot them on sight. Aki Kurose’s sons were in the Black Panthers and they were in the same position.

Were there about 90 fires set during that period in the late 60s?

That’s true but it seemed more like a way to get attention. There was only one big fire, on 14th & Union, it was a big apartment building being built. The fire was started on the top of the building with gasoline, so the whole thing went up. All we could do was stop it from spreading. I thought the fires were just a way of protesting. 

Still, though, the fire station got shot at twice. Both times I was in it. The first time it was a shot gun, the second time a rifle. I asked Elmer if he knew who did it. He said he did but he wouldn’t say who it was.

There was one night all these police turned up and they were going to raid a house, the wrong house. I told them that anyway the Panthers had already moved and that there were two kids in there renovating the house. They didn’t care. The police broke in the door, guns drawn. I was so afraid that those kids were going to pop up in their sleeping bags and get shot dead. It wouldn’t have mattered that they were white; the Police were so gung-ho. They actually are sometimes so intent on their plans they don’t think. They don’t seem to understand control.

Since The 1960s –  The Fire Station & the Library

There is a sore point for me, though in this neighborhood about the Fire Station. It has a long history. Originally, it had a horse-drawn fire truck. In 1919, they rebuilt it for a fire engine. Then in 1973, they closed it and it became a library.  There had been fire fighters who made a lot of sacrifices and some who’d even died doing their jobs. All that service for the community was ignored when they renamed the building for Sally Goldmark. It bothers me a lot, I complained to one neighbor and he was instrumental in getting a plaque about the fire station.

Were there other changes in this neighborhood that you remember?

In the 1970s, there was an influx of Californians who sold their houses at inflated prices down there. They came up here and started bidding up the prices on houses around here. Taxes went up dramatically. People were very unhappy with that. Then in the 1990s Microsoft’s fortunes came up and that drew a lot of new people to the area. They had money to buy old houses and restore them. Then both housing prices and taxes went up again.

It’s still a very interesting place to live. I love living here.

[Jack was referred to the project by Benjamin Chotzen] 

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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