Thursday, July 28, 2016

Andrew J. Harris - Of Seattle's Pioneer Denny Family, Former MoHAI Trustee and Businessman

This is an interview with Andrew J. Harris, Pioneer Descendant, though very occasionally his daughter, Amy Johnson contributes. 

Andrew J. Harris. Photo: Madeline Crowley

Today we're in Andrew J. Harris's house and we're going to talk about his family's experiences and role in the Central Area. Were you born in Seattle?

No, I was born in Riverside, California but we returned to Denny Blaine in Seattle in 1932.

Did you spend most of your childhood there?

Yes, I didn't leave Denny Blaine until I got married at the age of 23.

How would you describe the Denny Blaine neighborhood when you were a child?

A very nice neighborhood with very nice neighbors. It was certainly a wonderful place to grow up. I can't think of a better place in Seattle to grow up. I went to Madrona School on 33rd and then to Edward Meany's School. I didn't like that school because I didn't like the building itself. However, the experience there as a student was just fine.

What didn't you like about the building?

I didn't like the architecture; it was too old. I liked Madrona much better. Of course, when I got to Garfield (High) I just loved Garfield.

You were saying earlier that the student body was quite varied. Could you explain that a little bit?

Well, there was everybody there. There were the rich people from Broadmoor, there was poorer people from the Central Area, there were all races. I don't know so much if we had American Indians, but there was everybody else. We got along just fine. It was just a real good experience.

Were you involved in any groups or sports when you were at Garfield?

I got a letter in tennis - barely. I was in a couple of high school fraternities. The girls had their clubs and we had our clubs, of course there were other activities too. I wrote about sports for the school newspaper. I was on the Annual Arrow staff, which helped me when I got out to the University of Washington. I was an editor on the Ty-ee, which was the yearbook.

When you were at Garfield, who else was on the yearbook and newspaper staff?

It was a good mix of folks, people that were interested a little bit in writing. However, we did have a couple people that were so good that they went on to have career as writers at the Seattle Times.

It sounds like they were serious. Was the tennis team mostly white?


Yeah. When you covered sports, did they just cover, games win-loss or did they do as they do now where they have, you know, features on the different star players?

I was a sports reporter and we tried to cover all the sports and if there was a reason that someone stood out, we would do so (a feature).

That meant you got to spend time with people from all the different sports. At that time, they would have played football, baseball, basketball... were people playing soccer back then?

No. Golf, tennis, track. At the football games I got to sit up in the press box with the reporters from the local papers. That was fun.

Did you think about writing as a career?

No.It was something I wanted to learn about but--no. There were other things that interested me. I think that one of the best classes I took there was business law. I didn't have to take it, but I heard about it. I got myself in it as a Senior. Amazingly, as I got in business later on in my life, I remembered quite a bit of it. It did help.

It sounds like you had a love for sports but you were more interested in business. Is that accurate?

Yeah. I didn't participate in sports, just the tennis. I tried track but I was slower than anything. (Laughter)

What did you end up doing once you got out of college?

Well, during college in my Junior year, I got a job at the Davie Chevrolet company on Capitol Hill which was a very big, well-known, Chevrolet dealership. As the lowest ranked employee in the place, I would go down there at one o' clock and work 'til 6. I did every odd job you could imagine.  I liked it. I liked doing it. I got familiar with, well, at first, I didn't know anything about cars. I learned about them. I got familiar with the industry. After a couple of years I wanted to be a floor salesman but they had quite a staff of guys that were very, very good salesmen. So they hired me out to the used car lot in Renton to learn the business. I was there for a couple years and came back and they hired me as a used car salesman. I was in the business there for 20 years and worked up to Assistant General Manager. Then, the business changed. I wanted to have a business of my own so opened a little used car lot, if you can believe it.

What year was that?

It must have been about 1960. That was kind of the heyday of big, beautiful cars.

When you started working on Capitol Hill, that whole area was auto businesses.

It was the center, virtually, of the industry here; our building is still there. It's exactly the way it did except it's been turned into part of Broadway College. In fact, you can see exactly where my office was. It's still there.

Really? There's the old Edison High part of the building. Where is the part you were in?

Well, it's on East Pike and Harvard. It's a brick building.

East Pike & Harvard. Google Earth. 

It's one thing in Seattle that's still close to the same.

Yes. That district was interesting because it was a very good district. Commerce was great. The banks, restaurants, auto dealers, motion picture theaters, and it had its upswing and then later on, its down turn. And then it's comeback. It's amazing. Most of the communities in our city have had their ups and their downs and then back ups. In fact, we had a group from cities around the country. About 10 or 12 cities were represented. The idea was to come out here and take a tour of our districts and trying to see why in the world they were so prosperous. Their districts back home were failing! All of our districts are prosperous at this time and they were very interested.

Yes, Seattle has taken leadership in a lot of city issues.

West Seattle. Madison Park, my goodness. The Capitol Hill district. Quite different (now) but it's booming.

When you were growing up, were you very aware of the role your family had had in the beginnings of Seattle?

Yes, but it wasn't of importance to me. I knew about it. My Uncle, Victor Denny, was the grandson of David Denny. He really was a force for representing the Denny family. He did a wonderful job. My goodness, he was just a fine fella. He was big in tennis and was, at one time, President of the United States Tennis Association and then the World Tennis Association. Just an amazing guy.

He also was president of the historical society for the Museum of History and Industry. When he died, I was 40. By that time I was in the investment securities business. It wasn't too long after he died that I got a call from a worker at the museum who said, "Well, you're now on the Board of Trustees." I said, "I am?" (Laughs)

Then I, of course, had become much more acquainted with the situation. I was up there for 13, 14 years as a trustee. It's a fine thing that I'm proud of, of what I did out there. I don't think I missed hardly two meeting in 14 years. I did some really great things. I don't want to brag but I did.

I believe you. It sounds like you were very busy with different businesses until you were in your 40's. Did that ignite an interest in history, being involved with MOHAI?

Well, yeah, you had to. I'm certainly not a historian, no more than most, let`s put it that way. There's some facts I'd like to have people know. It's the date that the Denny party arrived at Alki Point. You've heard of Alki Point?

Oh yes. I've been there.

The name of the point is Alki Point. It is not (pronounced) ‘Alkey.’ Alki is a Chinook word for ‘by and by’ meaning something in the future. Originally, it was named New York Alki. New York By and By. It's a Chinook word and it shows that the time in the future by how you pronounce it (if you say) Alki (it means) pretty quick. Alkiiiii - a little more. Alkiiiiiiiii - that's way out in the future.

Oh, interesting! That sustaining of the note indicates the amount of time.

And most people (back then) knew about that and called it that. Then into the 30's somehow newcomers couldn't pronounce it. The date that the founders landed at Alki Point, of course, was November 13th, 1851. And if you know that, you know more than 99% of people. (Laughter)

I suppose it's natural that most young people aren't interested in history or their families until they get to their middle years. But as you took over for your uncle, did you spend much time thinking about how Seattle, as we know it, would actually have been different without the Dennys. There's no doubt about that. Have you thought about that too much?

Yes, I'm very proud of what the Dennys did. I think they probably did more than most at that time to keep Seattle going and not failing. There was a point after the unfortunate business with the Native Americans that it might've failed. There's other places that people might've wanted to come. Our people and the rest of the pioneers, they stuck it out and look what happened. The patriarch of the Denny family, John Denny, actually went down to Willamette he and a son founded a town in Oregon called Sublimity, which is still there.  It’s a small town. Then he decided to live up here and tried to help Arthur Denny and David Denny, in particular, to get the university (started).

They worked very hard. John Denny was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln. He served in the Illinois State Legislature in both houses with Lincoln. When Lincoln was inaugurated he sent an invitation and he went!

Also, everybody working together, we did get the (state) capitol here (it was moved later), that's why it's Capitol Hill. And, of course, Arthur Denny and another pioneer had the land for the university. That (land) is still owned by the University (the land roughly where the Fairmount Olympic is and extending over about 11 acres from Seneca to Union Streets from 3rd to 6th Avenues. Including the land of the actual Avenues)

The University owns the land and it leases it as a source of income. (Founding the University) was certainly a united effort of all the folks in town. I think everybody in town was up there pounding nails (laughs) to build the first building. And look what we have now! The greatest institution, obviously, in the state.

Do you think that your experience growing up in Denny Blaine and in Central Area schools, do you think that had an influence on the man that you became?

I think so, sure. Sure. There were the great friends I had and the neighbors were so good to you. I mean, you'd go play in their yard and that was fine with them. It was just good people.

Do you think it influenced the way you did business having been in school with so many different types of people?

I think so. One thing you learn is honesty. Don't lie to anybody. I remember when I was at Garfield, one of the fellows said, "You can sign the coaches name on a slip, turn it in and can go home early." So I did. Of course the coach saw it the next morning and said this isn't my signature. I was in my first period class; I was President of the class. My teacher said, "There's a report right now that the coach… don't lie." So, I got to the coach's quarters, there was the football coach and the basketball coach waiting for me. He handed me the slip and said, "Is that my signature on there?" I said, "No." "Did you sign that?" I said, "Yes." My punishment was instead of taking Physical Ed twice a week, I had to go in early and take it every morning for 2 months. I learned right then, never, never, never, never tell a lie. (laughs) You gotta learn the hard way sometimes.

Yes. Back then they weren't afraid to actually punish people in ways that were meaningful. It's a lot harder to do that now.

Well, in school, the coach, if anybody got out of line, he used a tennis shoe and whapped you on your posterior. They don't do that anymore, I don't think.

There would be a big stink if they did, no matter how badly somebody needed it.

You were saying earlier that you have memories of Quincy Jones. He was in a class behind you?

Yes. I didn't really speak to him because he was always busy. But I admired him for the fact that he had this orchestra that played at the new hour. You could even go and dance to it and use the gym. He was a cool cat.

I did know how much Parker Cook, the teacher, felt for him. So he (helped Quincy) get in the band in at the National Guard for a while. I was in the National Guard, too, but by then he was already doing something else. So I think he was in the division band for a couple of years or so.

You said that one of your teachers described him in a particular way.

As the only true genius he ever had.

Yeah. Did the other kids see him that way, too?

I think so, because of the teachers remarks. It pretty much got around. Everybody kind of laughed when he kept coming to school at different hours than the rest of us because he was working nights.

People would dance in the in the cafeteria or the gym?

The gym.

At lunch time?


What was the style of dance back then?


And can you describe that for me?

Well, it was kind of a slower dance. You got pretty close to your partner; it was a dance where you had to really be smooth, as we called it in those days. The kids got pretty good at it.

Did kids spend a lot of time learning to dance then?

Well, you wanted to learn to do the Avalon because you didn’t want to look like an idiot out there on the floor. The guys, everybody tried to do as good as they could.

Where would you learn to dance? Did you learn from other students?

You’d watch.

Must have been a little easier for you because you play tennis so you were good at footwork.

Amy: (laughs)

But, for some kids, just watching to learn would be hard.

Well, yeah. But you had to have your partner be good, too, or you couldn't do anything. As you went from your freshman year on, well, you got better and better.

Did a lot of social events involve dancing when you were young?

Yes. We had high school dances all the time.

That's not true anymore, is it?

Amy: No.

Not really!

That or that whole culture of learning to dance that's kind of gone.

Back then it was a big deal. They'd have a prize dance. It's very, very hard to get it.

Did you ever win the prize?

I got in the final. Where there were two couples. I should'a won it. (laughs)

Amy: Oh well.

Oh, yeah. I was really… mostly me and my partner were scared to death, but we didn't miss a beat.

Now, did people choose partners based on dancing ability or did they choose partners based on romantic interest?

Oh, I think romantic interest. They could dance together fine. Though sometimes your partner… was not very good.

So you'd let her-- you'd let her tread on your feet if she was cute?

Yes. (laughs) Well, I got other tidbits (for you).

Yeah, that's a great point, is there anything we didn't cover?

Amy: Oh, I mean, there's just so, so much. Well, you could tell about Victory Denny and tennis when he was President of the Tennis Association and then they wouldn't allow Black people (in the club).

Oh. I can't remember the girl's name but she was invited to the U.S. Open in New York. And there was a problem. She apparently was refused entrance to the women's dressing room. At that time, Victor Denny was head of the Tennis Association, so he was actually responsible for the tournament. A manager on the site physically was getting the thing done and he came up to Victor and he said, "We have a problem. This Black lady wants to get into the women's dressing room." He said, "Well, why can't she?" "Well, it just isn't done.”  Victor Denny looked him right in the eye and-- and said, "If that lady is not invited in the dressing room, there will BE no U.S. Tennis Open." From then on, it was open tennis. Huge victory.

Yes. When you grew up, was that something that you were aware of in your family, that there was this sense of fairness and justice?

Andrew: Oh, sure. Sure.

That makes your family unusual in another way.

Thank you very much. This was a wonderful addition to the project! 

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2016   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 
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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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