Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Musa, Postal Carrier, Madrona

Musa Mansa: If you live between Union & Marion Streets in Madrona, you probably have met your mail carrier, Musa. He’s famous for his infectious high spirits, his remarkable energy and his strong work ethic. 

Anything is possible here.

He was featured in the The Madrona News after being knocked down a staircase by a neighborhood dog. This accident not only shattered his arm but the hospital stay meant he had to forfeit his non-refundable ticket home to The Gambia to visit his large family. While the owners of the dog never acknowledged the injury, others in our community got together to help refund the price of the air ticket.

Musa on his Life and the Central Area:
“I was born in The Gambia of West Africa. I left to go to University in New York City and I thought once I landed that everything would be fabulous. Life was going to be fantastic. Instead I came to understand life was difficult, to afford my schooling I needed to work too. I found a job as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a Nursing Home. It became too difficult to work and attend school so I changed directions completely. I moved to Seattle and then signed up for the Armed Forces. I wanted to go for the toughest thing, the biggest challenge so I signed up for the Marine Corps. I like a challenge.

It helped me grow as a person. I learned self-discipline and hard work. Discipline is the key to surviving and doing well in the military, learning to take orders whether you like it or not. They determine your promotions based on your work and how well you make decisions. If you make the right decisions and guide yourself to be successful, they reward that. I don’t know about other divisions of the military but in the Marine Corps your proficiency and conduct creates your success.

I was sent to San Diego for boot camp and stationed at Camp Pendleton. I attended MOS (Military Operations Specialized Training) at Camp Lejeune and then went to the combat theater of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. I received an Honorable Discharge.

After my military service, I had to decide where to live. The crime rate in New York was too high and I didn’t like that. I’ve lived in a lot of different places both in the States and in the world before I came here. I went to North Carolina and have traveled to visit family in Texas, Chicago and Boston, then Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is one of the places I like the most in the country. I came back to Seattle after the military because the people are very friendly, they communicate with each other, and the crime rate is low. The air quality is good and it never gets too hot. That’s why I stayed here. I really like it here. I don’t mind the rain, the air is fresh, the people are friendly and it’s also a great place to raise a family.

So, I moved here and found work as a mailman in West Seattle. Now, I’m in the Central Area and my route is the heart of Madrona. I walk through the neighborhood every day, so I know it well. I’m here from early morning to dinnertime; it’s a second home to me. I feel safe here. Everyone has embraced me here, so this feels like home.

In Madrona the people are super nice, it’s fantastic, full of wonderful people. I get to know many people in the neighborhood through my work.  I know everybody, all the kids and in my experience it is a wonderful place. There are lots of great places to go and sit together, to have coffee or to eat at St Clouds, there’s the wine bar, you name it. Everything is in the community so it suits everybody.

I don’t really know the history of the neighborhood, as I don’t really have a chance to ask. When I first came here I used to go to Thompson’s Point of View and Deano's. Those places were wild. I looked at that party scene and was glad I had made good decisions for my life. From those days to now, you see so many big changes, lots of development and structural changes. The Safeway building wasn’t even there.  With development the market changed and that changed the Central Area.

Living here is very different from where I grew up in The Gambia. In America, if you have a goal, are mentally and physically prepared and are ready for the challenge then anything is possible.  You have to work hard, though. But in Gambia, the vast majority of people are living in great poverty so it’s very tough. Even if you aim for something there is no opportunity for you to achieve it. It is virtually impossible to actually accomplish what you want. Anything is possible, though, here.”

[Musa was chosen for this project as he's our mailman]

©  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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Anonymous, Retired Businessman

This interview is cobbled together from interviews both in person and over the phone over 
many months. Due to concerns about privacy, it is anonymous. It had been edited as condensed and identifying details have been both removed and changed. 
Photos do not necessarily correspond to the text 

Narrator's Grandfather. Family Photo Collection

How did growing up in the Central Area shape you?

Oh, in so many ways. The first being surrounded by Sephardic Jewish families they were close-knit and they taught me about a different culture. In a lot of ways they were instrumental in my life and upbringing. As a kid from a Chinese family, it took me out of my normal environment. After the Jewish exodus both families and businesses (1950s – 60s when people left the Central Area) when some families moved to Mercer Island, Bellevue and others to Mount Baker and Seward Park to get away from the new element. 

That was poor blacks and I learned from them about poor black culture. I saw kids raised by families that were distant relations, maybe siblings or cousins taken in by their grandmothers or their aunts for a while, then moving to another relative, from house to house. There was no stability. I learned for the first time about welfare and government subsidies and at the end of the 60s I saw lawlessness and violence which was completely foreign to my upbringing. All that shaped me both separate cultures.

In my young adult life I was introduced to the business community and mentored by an older, wealthy Jewish business man and from that I worked downtown for 50 years, from high school on.
The worst of the violence was largely within three to four blocks of Garfield High. My father had to abandon his house, he couldn’t even sell it. Just coming home from work or going to work he got robbed and beaten. My uncle lived a few blocks away and he was robbed right in front of his house. If you were Asian or white your life was in danger in that area. It wasn’t the working class people, it was the kids, young kids. There was rioting and looting and no one wants to talk about it. Even good kids got swept up in it. I remember seeing a store that used to keep fruit outside on the sidewalk and a group of about a dozen kids would just help themselves. The store owner couldn’t do a thing so a lot of businesses left.

There are so many people that were really important to the history of the neighborhood. I want to be sure they’re included in your history.

There was a great woman named Vera Faye Ing, she lived about a block from Doug Chin on Jefferson. She looked after me like an older sister. She had high energy and was very involved in lots of community activities. We were close. She had a strong personality, a combination of motherly and maybe a bit bossy. We were in Junior High and High School at the same time. Her mother owned the Don Ting (Restaurant) which became the Sea Garden. Her mother and my father were friends so I worked at Dong Ting when I was 10 years old as a bus boy and kitchen helper. I did that for several years on weekends and made about 25 cents an hour. Later, Vera worked behind the scenes during her life to help many people. She also did a lot for both North and South Seattle Community Colleges, she left a legacy at North Community College. That side of her that liked to influence people led her into politics and she was very involved in that.

I started working so young because my Dad liked to gamble. My Mom didn’t approve so he’d use me as a ‘beard’ saying he was taking me to Chinatown. He’d stick me in the kitchen of a restaurant and ask them to watch me while he gambled. They’d give me food or have me scrub vegetables. He’d come back after a few hours. Eventually, Vera’s Mom at the Dong Ting offered me a job and that’s how I got started in Chinatown. It was a good learning experience, I met a lot of people I’d not have known and I got to know Chinatown really well during that time.

Another person who is a big favorite of mine is Ruby Bishop. They were almost like family to my family. Here’s a picture of her (shows me a photo). She’s one of my favorite people, a nightclub singer, 94 years old and still performing at Vito's (see video). She played around town, in different clubs. Back in the day, Ruby had a 300 lb. Hawaiian bodyguard named Pineapple that used to accompany her.

She was a beautiful woman; she’s still very elegant. I know her daughter real well. We grew up together. Her daughter used to come over and play with us when we were kids.

Her husband, Mr. Bishop had a big apartment building on Twenty-seven & Yesler. Her husband owned the Bishop Pharmacy on Jackson between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Underneath it was a nightclub, and across the street was a Chinese doctor kitty-corner from the pharmacy. That doctor insisted all his patients go to Mr. Bishop for their prescriptions. And so he profited from that and built an apartment complex on Twenty-seven & Yesler. It’s still there today.

When I was young, I used to deliver things to this Club downstairs underneath Mr. Bishop’s Pharmacy.

Ruby Bishop. From: old Seattle Times. NW Source. Collection: Ruby Bishop

I wonder if it’s still there.

Possibly. Maybe it’s used as storage or whatever.

You should also know about Roger Croshaw. His parents own the grocery store on Madison. I think it’s still there, I don’t know if he still owns it or not. It was Bert’s Red Apple or something like that. Anyway, it was the main grocery store in Madison Park. He would know more about the, more well to do with people in Central District. He was one of the interesting characters in my high school.

Another is Charles Mitchell, he was the well-known football player for Garfield. He went to the University of Washington, was a star there and played football in the Rose Bowl. And I think he played professionally for Denver (and Buffalo). Afterwards, he came back, and he got his Doctorate. He is a very interesting man. If you go across from Seattle Central Community College on Broadway, there’s a huge building called “The Charles Mitchell Building.” Charles is a black fellow. One time, I think if my memory serves he just for the heck of it learned sign language. Anyway, he would be someone that would be very interesting to talk to.

One of the most famous people from the neighborhood, well, everyone knows of Quincy Jones. He’s a lot older than I am but he grew up on Twenty-second Avenue, just south of Jefferson. I played with a lot of kids on that block.

Near there they used to be a place that made sausages. It was an awful smelly place maybe the worst I’ve ever known. There were a lot of interesting businesses there about Twentieth & Cherry, one was a good barbeque place.

The other really famous person who lived here briefly was Bruce Lee (husband of Linda Lee Cadwell).

Was he around your age too?

He was a couple of years younger, I think, than me.  His father was an opera singer.

A Chinese Opera singer? (link shows video)

A Chinese opera singer. Chow’s husband was also an opera singer so the two men knew each other. Bruce Lee’s father called the Chows and arranged to have Bruce Lee come to America. When he came to Seattle, he stayed with Ruby Chow on Broadway & Jefferson.

Ruby Chow's Restaurant. Photo:

Ruby Chow & Bruce Lee. Photo:

Bruce Lee at Chow's Photo:

I grew up with Ruby Chow’s son; his name is Brian Chow. The Chow family is very prominent in the community. Ruby was a Councilwoman on King County Council. Her daughter Cheryl was on the Seattle City Council. Cheryl was also a Principal at Garfield (High) for a while. She’s no longer here either (passed away).

I remember the things they tried (while she had that position) for Garfield that didn’t turn out. They had a program for smart kids, and they put them on the third floor of Garfield. The first and second floors of Garfield were for the ordinary kids, which meant there was some resentment of the pinheads on the third floor versus the ordinary people. I don’t know if it’s still going on.  (What complicated it was) at Garfield, the richer kids from the Broadmoor area and then kids from the Yesler Housing Projects (second line more history of this fascinating project) and both went to Garfield. Another Chow is a teacher, and Mark Chow is a Judge here in Seattle. He was always in the newspaper with high-profile cases.

The Chow family was, I suppose, the closest in the (Seattle) Chinese community comparable to the Kennedys.

When I was a kid, I’d go around to the Jewish neighbors’ houses on Saturday mornings to turn out their lights, they can’t do any work on their Sabbath, like using electricity or pushing buttons or switches counts as work. So, I’d go around to help them out and they’d give me Jewish treats. There were a lot of Jewish bakeries in the area then. So from childhood I had a really good relationship with a lot of people in the Jewish community.

They’re really loyal, for years a Jewish man would come into my business and not say a word to me. Then one day he came in and told me he’d heard I had a long-time connection to the Sephardic community and we did business. It was a good relationship too. He became a good friend but I don’t think he would have done business with me without that connection to the Jewish community. He’d asked around about me.

One thing no one wants to talk about honestly is what happened to the Jews who settled in the Central Area. That’s a whole different situation where these people, (Jewish immigrants) were run out of Europe, then run out of Seattle (Central District) but who’s going to tell (about it) from their points of view?  No one wants to talk about what really happened to these people, other than I guess you could look it up in newspapers.

Did newspapers at the time talk about the animosity from part of the black community toward some of the Jewish community?

No. The emphasis was on that the blacks were doing this for a cause, for Equal Rights (civil rights), equal justice, equal job opportunities. There was some good things that came from that, it awakened the non-black communities eyes. I benefited from it. I’ve had a minority business loan.  I got it from a bank in the 1960s. The banks realized that, yes, minorities have not gotten a fair shake as far as everything from money to housing. So they set aside about five million dollars in the ‘60s, which was a lot of money, and they gave it to a guy by the name of Jim Stone. Jim was a head of a minority company, MESBIC (Minority Business Development) to give money to minorities. There are a lot of people that did benefit from it:

The Tamura Brothers got a minority loan to open Velocipede, (Velo Bikes) a bike store that’s still open. Another was Eddie Cotton; he was a boxer. He opened up a hamburger place; he got money. Never been in the food business in his life (because) he was always a boxer. But they gave him the money anyway.

So the Tamura’s were of Japanese descent, what about was Mr. Cotton?

He was black, he opened it but shortly after it closed.

I had another friend. All I remember, his name was ‘Slim’ something. He worked in a pool hall that sold magazines. He got a minority loan and opened up a magazine store on Pike Street right near the freeway. (He was) selling mostly porno magazines and pop, but anyway. This was the type of thing that was the result of the civil right movement. Banks just pledged this amount of money, give it to those minorities, get them all out of our hair and hopefully that’ll calm them down. That was sort of the attitude.

Everything is complicated. So during the fight for civil rights a few people took advantage and were unfair to their neighbors but overall it also benefited all people.

Right. There were benefits. There was Larry Imamura who owned, it’s still in business called “Officemporium” Larry, opened up an office store. Then, he started getting filing for minority projects where the federal government was setting aside, I think, two or three percent of every purchase for exclusively for the minorities and women. So anyway, he can tell you more about that if you want.

There’s another place that’s a remnant of what the Jewish Community built. It’s off Twenty-third Ave. & Cherry there was a little Jewish school Called Talmud Torah. Now it’s empty.

Langston Hughes Building, originally the Chevra Bikur Cholim. Photo: Madeline Crowley
It’s one of the things the Jewish people left for what I’ve heard referred to as ‘the bottom feeders.’ Certain people benefited from what the Jewish mainly built up here. They came with nothing, they’d been persecuted in Russia or Germany but they were tough, they built businesses, strong families and saved money and built some beautiful buildings. You know about the history about the Langston Hughes? (photo above) 

It was a synagogue.

The Jews were driven out, deliberately, from the neighborhood with violence. And others benefited. Nobody wants to talk about it but it happened. It still makes me mad.

Another famous person from here is Jimi Hendrix. Now, everyone tries to say they had some association with Jimi Hendrix. He grew up (near us), he used to come to my house. He used to ask my mother to cook for him. My mother used to make fried rice, but (pauses) we had a big family. So kids would come over play, and nobody could stay at our house once dinner started. Mother would send everybody, all of our playmates home. Once in a while, she would send Jimi home with a little box of food or something.

Do you think that it was because she was aware that Jimi wasn’t getting fed?

No. My mother, she would just say, “You want a cookie or something? You have to go home now. Oh, here’s a cookie” or a piece of apple or something. She was a full time mother.

So it wasn’t that there was something about him?

No, he was just a very ordinary kid. I read two books on Jimi and nobody has mentioned my mother. There’s just one picture in one of the books with Jimi and my sister. Jimi was just very ordinary, as ordinary as he could be as young child.

When he started getting into music, there was a guy by name as Skinner. In fact, Skinner grew up in the Yesler Projects. His real name was George Bennett. He knew how to play a guitar; he knew how to make arrangements and things. And Jimi couldn’t read music, none of the other guys in their could read music or arrange things together. So, it was Skinner who put the things together.

This is Charles Woodberry’s band (pointing to a picture) One of these is Jimi Hendrix. That’s Jimi Hendrix there in high school. It’s Garfield. He didn’t graduate from Garfield, but he used to carry this guitar wherever he went. Sometimes, he just started wailing on a guitar in the lunch room. But it was Skinner that showed him chords and things in the beginning. No one in the two books (on Hendrix) that I read even mentions Skinner. If you ask anybody that was close to the band, they’ll tell you the same.

Do you think that your mother had a special relationship with Jimi? Why would she feed him but not….

No, these kids, they would just come by. I had sisters that were the same age as Jimi and they were kind of good-looking in their day. My father was very open-minded about blacks until one day, one of my sisters came home crying and said, a black kid was trying to kiss her and pinned her against the wall. And from that day on, my father said, none of those black kids can come over and play anymore. Unfortunately, I think, my father held it against a race instead of against a person. But he claimed it was not (pause) prejudice. And even ‘til the day of his death, he never was comfortable referring to blacks as ‘blacks,’ it was always ‘colored people.’

Narrator's mother and sisters. Family Photo Collection

You mentioned that your father had a relative who was part black. Maybe it was that. Was his uncle?

It was my uncle. I don’t know if they were blood brothers (see photo below). He could have been part Chinese, but he was definitely part black. It was one of those things that I regret not ever having a conversation and saying, “Dad, remember the black uncle? What was up with that? I’m sure he would have told me but it just never came up. I know they used to correspond with each other: postcards, letters and Christmas cards. I remember him. My father did tell me when he (the uncle) moved to California, and had a family down there and he had a grocery store or something. Later, he moved to Mississippi, and that’s the last conversation about I remember about him.

I would imagine his life was interesting. Back then, especially in most communities, if you are not, all Irish or all Jewish, you kind of suffered for that.

Yeah, you don’t fit in. I’m sure he didn’t fit in the Asian community or the Chinese community.

Or the black community. That was tough particularly back then. Now it’s easier.

Narrator's father and uncle when both were children in Seattle
 Family Photo Collection

There were a lot of Jewish businesses in the neighborhood when I was growing up but they’re pretty much all gone. There was a place on Cherry Street, a deli between 25th and 26th a place called Blumas Grocery Store. In the late 1950s, 60s, that was a place to go buy your pot.

How popular was that with people back then? 

No, if you went to the Garfield, you knew that you can get pot there.

Where I grew up, it was not the entire student body. 

The ones that I knew that smoked pot, I don’t think they fell in any category. It was just, losers, or just people that didn’t do anything with their life, mostly rebellious kids.

Another famous Jewish business at the time was Brenner Brothers on Twenty-seventh & Cherry. One of them was a very colorful lady. Years later, I saw her in the Bellevue store. She must have been about 60 or 70 years old. She used to dress like a teenybopper like she was about 16 or 17, in leggings and short, short skirts. I can’t think of her name, but everyone knew her. She was just a 70 year old sexpot. It would make your day just to see her and laugh.

Then a very popular place for many years was Catfish Corner on MLK and Cherry St. A friend of mine used to own it, it’s a black-owned business. He was one of the succession of people who owned it and he was a drug dealer.

Photo: Catfish Corner

At Catfish Corner?

Catfish Corner, he owned that. He grew up on same block as the Jones family. In the civil rights era of the 60s I remember the (police) helicopters that came down and their spotlights they used to chase kids that were just raising hell in the Central District.

Was that the time that there were a lot of fires being set?

They were setting fires, throwing Moltov cocktails, breaking people’s windows if they were not black. There was violence against anyone who wasn’t black in some places. If you drove your car down like Twenty-third Ave., and you looked white then, there was a good chance you’d get a stone thrown at your car or something like that. There was that type of thing, I think, in that whole area. A Chinese grocery storeowner on Jackson Street, Frank Louie, he lived in the store, Frank's Superette, and when he saw a big crowd of looters coming, he and his sons stood in front of the store with their guns and the crowd went elsewhere. It was lawlessness and it was black against non-black. But Richard and I, we talked about the time (riot) when the helicopters came with their big spotlights, they would chase people through the neighborhood, people would climb the fences trying to run away from the searchlights.

Franks Superette. Courtesy Jackson

And this person, your friend Richard, he’s…

He’s a judge.

Oh, you mentioned him on the phone. Mr. Jones?

Richard Jones, he’s Quincy Jones’ brother but I don’t think he likes to be referred to as Quincy Jones’ brother.

No, no. Why should he? He’s a judge. It’s a big deal to become a judge.

The Tokuda Drug Store was on Yesler Way, about Seventeenth Ave. and Yesler. It was also a big hangout place for the place for the kids, especially the Japanese kids. The reason why Tokuda Drug was a popular place for the Japanese was that just north of it there were two large apartment complexes. And a large part of the (Japanese) community was there within a few blocks. When the Japanese came back from internment, they settled in that area. There was Tokuda Drug and Mutual Fish. Mutual Fish started on Fourteenth Ave. and Yesler serving mostly the Japanese community around there. They had sort of an open market, it had like garage doors that went up and you could shop for fish. That was how they sold their fish there.

On Yesler Way, if you talk to anybody from the older generation that grew up in the Jewish community around Yesler, there was a guy by name of Alex. He was a barber right near where Home of Good Barbeque is now. He had a little storefront there. And he only cut Jewish people’s hair. And I remember asking my father that I can just go get a haircut at Alex’s instead of him taking me all the ways down to Chinatown. And he explained to me that there’s an unwritten code that Alex only cut Jewish people’s hair, and that Asians or Chinese people only go to the Chinese barber but there’s something, till this day I don’t know what it is about hair.

Narrator's father as a teen. Family Photo Collection

I noticed there’s a Japanese barber next to Maneki. You can sort of tell they’re not gonna cut anybody else’s hair. Just the few clients they still have. So maybe there’s this thing about different types of hair.

I have relatives with a black foster kid. Their black friends gave them a hard time about going to a white or a non-black barber. They had to take him to a black barber right around here. Black people more than any other race are very sensitive; you’d think you wouldn’t care who cut your hair.

There’s something about hair. Apparently in ancient Japan, if you wanted to hurt somebody you would steal his comb. Because there’s something about the hair and in Thailand, if you touch somebody on the head, it’s very insulting. So it’s something about the head and the hair, every culture has something weird about it.

Yes, it’s a real violation almost like a sexual attack for some reason.

Another Jewish business was the Varon Kosher Meat Market. They were on Yesler Way and they thought they could get away from the blacks by moving to Twenty-third Ave. & Cherry Street. Unfortunately, the blacks moved very rapidly past Cherry Street, and even eventually, I don’t know where they went, I didn’t keep track of it after that.

Right up here on Thirty-fourth and Union area, there was Chinese restaurant called Cool Hand Luke. Curtis Luke and his wife, then she opened a restaurant on Madison on Twenty-eighth Ave. It was up near the home of the Black Panthers.

Collection: Aaron Dixon

You could talk to Orville Cohen, he’s got to be in his 90s and he has several brothers and they’re quite a prominent family. Orville grew up on Twenty-fifth and Yesler. And when he moved out, I don’t know if he kept the house or somebody bought it, but it turned into a Section 8, which a government subsidized house. This old black lady we called her grandma, she started out with about four kids, this elderly lady started having relatives just drop off kids with her. They’d make a baby and not be able to take care of it and they’d leave it with her. She took care of at least five kids and other kids would be there for a year or so until their parents could take them. Maybe in turn as many as 10 kids.

You could, maybe, ask Orville what happened to the house if he sold it or, but… Orville, he was very instrumental in building a lot of places around Seattle. He built the Chase Bank on Broadway (images show a bit of interior and exterior although not well) and he and his wife had a business on Broadway. He knows a lot about Central District. 

One of the Cohens worked at United Savings and Loan.

The bank at Jackson and down the street from the Bush Hotel?

Yes. It’s where all the Chinese people used to go bank. The person who started that bank was a personal friend of my father’s, Robert Chinn.

So it was Chinese owned, is it still?

No, they sold it. It was a fellow by the name of Bob Chinn who started the United Savings and Loan. If you’re on Twelfth Ave. and King, just half a block down, there’s a large building that is named in honor of Bob Chinn that a lot of people in the community contributed to it. I don’t know if it has been the success that they hoped it would be, they hoped it would be used as a meeting place.

I know that building. It has a nice façade.

Photo: Collection of the Narrator

It was supposed to be a meeting ground and people contributed money towards it including myself and we thought that this is where the Chinese were going to have their events and everything and then, then we found out that they were charging for it.  No one knows where the profit was going and so people stopped going there…

Returning to the history of Jewish families in the area and had an outsized and now forgotten impact on the area. One family that would know a lot about the area was the Alhadeff family.  They used to own a property on Broadway. Morrie Alhadeff was the property owner. The Alhadeff family was a very prominent family in Seattle. They were in various businesses in the Seattle area. I think Morrie graduated from Garfield around 1939. His name originally, was, they called him Jerry for some reason, he changed it to Morris.

There was also Levy family that owned one of the big fish markets in the Public Market. Let’s see, the Alhadeff’s are into a lot of different things. The Alhadeff’s they used to own Longacres Race Track. Now the younger son is in entertainment, I don’t know if you ever heard of the play Memphis?


They were the producers of Memphis. It was a play on Broadway and now I think they’re trying to turn it into a movie.

One of the people that lived around Garfield was Vic Calderon. He’s no longer with us but he started Pacific Fruit and Produce. I think he was in the class at about 1935 or '36.  He knew my uncle. He used to come in and talk to me about good old days.

Then there was another jeweler by the name of Fink, Harry Fink. He was in downtown Seattle, right where between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on Pike street. He had a little jewelry store there. And there was a man, Mike Ovadia who grew up here, he’s no longer here (alive) either. But he was a friend of Mark Toby, he introduced me to Mark Tobey. You know who Mark Tobey is?

Oh yes. Very famous artist.

His brother had a pharmacy downtown near Nordstrom.

Architectural detail. Garfield High. Photo: Madeline Crowley

Then there was Neiso Moscatel who grew up on Twenty-fifth Ave and Fir St., he owns Continental Furniture in that whole complex. There was He graduated from Garfield about 1954, or ‘55.  Back then, there were two other entrepreneurs, Bob Lucurell and Jim Moore they were what Tom Douglas is today.

Restaurant entrepreneurs.

Bob was kind of a wild man in his day - very colorful if you get to talk to him, he’s interesting. He’s the one that sold the Melrose on Pine Street.

He was my first, very first landlord. He managed the opened the restaurant in the Windsor Hotel and he managed the whole hotel and he put a locomotive in his office. In the downstairs office, there was a railroad track from his desk to his secretary’s desk. So if he wants something delivered to him, he put it on the railroad thing, hit the button and it delivered. He was a real character. The menus were on ping pong paddles. He put a sauna in his office and a fire engine. I’m sure he’s slowed down to say the least.

A really important figure in the neighborhood was Homer Harris, who graduated from Garfield (High). He was a black Dermatologist, a football player. A very popular man and near Twenty-third Ave. there’s a park named for him. 

Well, someone, a rumor was that a very prominent Jewish family donated money for that park. Someone bought that park, donated it to the city if they would name it “The Homer Harris Park.” Homer Harris was also good friends with my uncle. He was an outstanding, formal, black man that lived here. He was very light skinned. I’m sure there were some resentment towards him, being a light skin black.

And upper middle class.

He was sort of a hero on the sports field.

He was a pillar of the community in a lot of ways…

He was someone you can be proud of so he might not have felt the racism.

Then there was another Jewish business by the Jacob brothers, one of the brothers opened a clothing store and he lived on Twenty-third Ave and Montlake just before the Montlake Bridge. Do you know where the Spite House is? It’s across the street and about a block away. His brothers were all in the clothing business. Jay Jacobs and another store.

The Jewish community was heavily involved in the founding of the Seattle Academy as were a lot of non-Jewish people. The synagogue on Fifteen Ave & Madison, the school is a part of it there. The Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences. It started out in the Temple de Hirsch. It was started by the Jews. It has a lot of little branch (buildings) all around the area near Seattle University. It was started by some of the Jewish people whose kids went to the Northwest School.

They just opened a new branch right on Pike Street. That building used to be (pause) the Ben Bridges used to own that building but originally, the Northwest School started in the old school on Summit. And the property was owned by Kemp, I think, Kemp Hiatt. Anyway, the people sending the kids to the school - there was some dispute or something. So they opened the new school, Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences. And then they, they grew from that. One of the founders was a Tall, of Tall’s Camera.

You’ve given me this incredible overview, lots of important figures but we haven’t got into talk about too much about is what we talked about on the phone, you were telling these great stories.

Yes. (showing family pictures) Right. This is one relative, my Grandfather, who was in the rackets and things. He passed away before I was born but he left his mark. He bought expensive things, he had good taste. I remember this tie-pin, a 1.5 carat diamond. That made an impression on me. I still have a table and chairs he bought here in Seattle. He came with nothing but he saved money and he bought quality. He learned to read when he came here and he was well-spoken. I have a letter my father wrote to my grandfather.

Narrator's Grandfather. Family Photo Collection

Rackets? Like numbers and gambling?

Gambling, drugs…

Back then it would be like opium?

Probably opium. I know we have the drug scale that my grandfather used.



It must be beautiful too.

It’s a bamboo thing that you hold it. Here, you put your balances here, you put your drugs there, you move it, and you get the weight. 

He worked for a famous pioneer here, his name is remembered by the city in place names all over Seattle. My grandfather learned the finer things of life through him. My grandfather named my father after that pioneer. My grandfather had a good business doing what he did. My father tried to take over the business a little bit when my grandfather fell ill, but, it didn’t really work out real well.

From our phone conversation, it sounds like they were very different people. Your grandfather was very determined and your father was very dutiful.

My father was wonderful; I miss him every day. I was the luckiest, the most fortunate kid in the world. He played ball with me, he taught me penmanship and painting, he taught me sculpture. He was an artist. We had very different political views, though, he was a very conservative, staunch right wing Democrat. Seems like an oxymoron but he was fiercely against communism, he saw it as a danger to him, to the United States and to the world. He was highly principled, he got along well with everyone. As far as I know he didn’t cheat or have anyone beaten up.

Narrator's father. Family Photo Collection

Then there was a ‘Moses Druximan’, he was in the same type of rackets as my grandfather, and my uncle’s name is Moses. So I don’t know if there was a connection but I do know they were in the same type of profession, and they both lived on Yesler Way, just a few blocks away from each other.

This is a question you can pass on. I wonder if, because today you know, a lot of rackets actually involved human trafficking. And back then labor was needed. Do you think that there were people being brought over with the drugs?

I don’t know how the drugs got here, but I do know my father and grandfather were probably into prostitution. I have pictures.

There are some of the pictures of (pauses) my father owned nightclubs and after hour clubs like that. Some of the pictures are, the word I guess would be a little bit disturbing depending on who you are, to see: Asian guy, Caucasian woman; Asian guy, Caucasian woman all around table about this size. Men dressed in ties, the woman wearing corsages. I don’t know what role the woman played, but just looking at that gave you a, gives you a feeling of (pause) you try to imagine what’s going on there.

Narrator's father's gambling club. Family Photo Collection

I don’t know about China but in Japan ‘til this day, you have the bar hostess so they’re not necessarily prostitutes, but they’re paid to be entertaining company.

I’ve been in Japan, I don’t know (pauses) I do know some of the bar hostesses were prostitutes. Oh, they were in the bars. Without getting too graphic, you were serviced at some of the exclusive bars. I was entertained by a friend of my uncle who was one of the executives of Nissan. He took me to this private clubs in Japan. It’s a different attitude toward sex over there.

Yes, it can be very straightforward, like eating. It’s just a natural part expression of life, much less judgement, it's very different from here.

The wives they knew (about the bar hostesses). That’s the home (arena) and a whole different area of life that are unspoken in life.

The bar hostesses in Japan, I’ve heard some of them are young British girls.

White women are premium, for a price in any bar, or in any situation.

Narrator's father's gambling club. Family Photo Collection

Some young Asian women seem to be trying to be Caucasian women. They’re looking at fashion magazines. I knew a girl who was modeling here in the States, and she made like ten times more going to Japan. She was blonde. Just a model, she said.

Well, in the Asian community, there’s a certain thing where you got to, the old thing is to try harder because you’re Asian. You got to try, everything is to look, or be, or act as close as you can to be a Caucasian.

Do you think that’s changing? Because it seems to me that it used to be an impediment to be Jewish at one time and then to be Asian. But it seems like now, these are recognized as groups that have strong abilities and so it’s not as much of an impediment. So the idea of ‘white’ keeps changing, Jewish people not too long ago, we’re not considered white, now they are. And I think that’s happening to Asians too.

I don’t think so.

Well, you would know.

I would say, the majority of the Asians that I know, if they could be Caucasian they would change. I don’t know very many Asians that would say: “I look Asian, I am Asian, I’m proud to be Asian, I don’t want to be Caucasian.”

That’s so sad. The Chinese culture is so beautiful, and so… and you know before Mao it was philosophical and artistic - you have the literati, the scroll paintings, the poets…

Narrator's grandparents his father and his father's siblings in the US. Family Photo Collection

The history. Thousands of years of art and philosophy.

Thousands of years of beauty.

But still, the Caucasian is king ‘til this day, I think.

I hope that changes because we are moving to a Minority Majority. The world is faced with unprecedented challenges. And if each culture brings what’s strong and good about their culture, young people have a fighting chance of saving the planet. But if everybody’s trying to be what they’re not… then we’re doomed. The dominant paradigm is what’s gotten us to this point.

If you’re white here in America, you’re white in China.

What do you mean?

The attitude is everything is better in America including the people. If you go to, there was a documentary on it, it’s not too long ago, I think it was either China or Vietnam, but even the best pot is one is that you can buy from America.

Well, maybe that’s because it’s so hybridized, it’s not even pot anymore, it’s like a hybrid monster plant.

They say it’s better. I mean, they even desire drugs from America over what they can grow there. But I want to tell you about my family history, anyway. My grandfather was one of the pioneers of Chinatown. You can see that old Chinatown in the Kong Yick building that was sold to the Wing Luke. The other building across the alley is still owned by the Kong Yick. My grandfather used to have a chicken store in Chinatown, he gave that up.

Narrator's grandparents his father and his father's siblings. Family Photo Collection

Earlier, you were saying too that there were bars and there were women…    

There were clubs underneath lots of buildings in the basements, like the Hong Kong Café. You’d go through the barbershop and downstairs to the club.

And in these clubs the entire nature of some of the women’s ‘duties’ (laughs) is not entirely clear?

I guess I should give background. I used to, well, I forgot when this changed but in the 1950s, 60s, there was what they called the Blue Law. At 12 o’clock Saturday, no more drinks can be served or bought. So when I was 16 years old, I used to work for this bootlegger. I would buy these bottles from the Moore Hotel on Second Avenue. I would go by one of these three clubs, and they would say: “Go get me a bottle of Jim Beam or whatever and I would bring it back.” One of the clubs was a black jazz club but my favorite was the New Chinatown that Danny Woo owned. It was a strip club so for a 16 year old it was a highlight. I would have delivered that alcohol for free just to see the half-naked girls. I’d bring in the alcohol and they would sell it; I would get a little cut, and work for tips mainly. In the late 50s, if I made $20 in a night, that was...

That’s good money.

Yeah, I delivered bottles to the New Chinatown, this club under Mr. Bishop’s pharmacy. I used to call it the Cave because the stage looked like a Cave. It was in the basement there. Jackson Street was rocking joints back then, for the blacks there was the Ebony Club and the Cave, and there was a Club for Tiger Al Lewis. He was a boxer who opened a bar. On about Thirteen Ave. and Jackson there was a restrauant called Dumas. It was owned by Jim Dumas who was a good friend of my dad’s. He used to come over, have dinner with us. Then there was on Twelfth Avenue and Jackson, around the corner, there was the Black & Tan for many years.

Narrator's father. Family Photo Collection

Is that building still there?

The building is still there. It’s the south, southeast corner.

It was a beauty salon. But it was the Black and Tan for many years. Now, other joints were on Madison, there was the

Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras and Birdland and all the hip kids went there --- if you were one of the cool kids.

Did your dad let you go?

No, I never went there. Some of those places I didn’t go to.

Well, you were working too. You were moving alcohol around.

There were some interesting places around the town as far as entertainment. The Ebony Club on Fifth and Sixth Avenues and Jackson was one.

Does it seem more just kind of sedate, the whole city, than it was?

The city got along, things went better when there was more corruption, I think. When you could pay off people, you knew that if you paid, this would happen, that would happen, and that’s the way it went. There was a system where you pay this amount of money it went here, and it went to there, then it went to up there. And it was accepted.

Narrator's grandmother, his father and his father's siblings. Family Photo Collection

Right, and this is about the time of Mayor Royer?

This was during the time of Mayor Pomeroy. And I forgot who else. I know my father used to have these after-hours clubs for gambling and things like, you heard of the Wah Mee Club? (link goes to the detailed history of the club and the massacre) He had clubs like that all through Chinatown. Patrons would go through a restaurant to a very strong reinforced door with a peephole, they’d come in and there was a little closet-like room, one door would lock behind you before the other door would open to the gambling table.

My Dad had quite of few of these clubs though he never got caught when he was raided. He made his payments to the police and to politicians. Later that paid off, when he needed work a Governor made sure he got work with King County administration. And you know, I even went with him to make payments sometimes through the police officers, on the beat and things.

Narrator's father with politicians. Family Photo Collection

They didn’t have bag men?

No, we’d go down and eat. We’d hand our envelope to this police officer and he would probably distribute it on up.

My Dad also had a ‘posse’ every time one of his places would be raided, he’d have a bunch of friends he’d call that had carpentry and electrical skills and they’d secure the entrance and set up in another place pretty quickly.

What we these clubs like? Was there dancing or music?

No, just gambling. Later he opened a real nightclub with dinner, dancing, drinks and cocktails. In Chinatown you knew who to pay off but in north Seattle it was different and a church went after him. He had to close down. If you don’t have a tight-knit community and connections it can be very dangerous to start a business.

Narrator's father's nightclub. Family Photo Collection

It’s kind of (pauses) you look at these pictures and you know there’s a really great story behind it.

I had heard that some of the nightclubs in that area, that there was at least on the dance floor, a lot of interracial mixing. You know you’d have black couples dancing with Filipino couples, or dancing with white couples. Was that, is that true? Did you see that kind of thing?


Maybe it was just war time.

What I saw interracially was Caucasian women with minority men, never have I seen a Caucasian man with a minority woman other than from maybe the ‘50s forward. After that, was it was cool to have minority women as one of your objects for appearance and entertainment.

That’s another subject that America has been systematically, I believe, developed a fondness for Asian women as sex objects. It started from, as far as I can remember, Tea House of the August Moon with Marlon Brando, I don’t know if you ever saw that?

Then there was the World of Susie Wong, with William Holden. Anyway, it was, a Caucasian man and Asian woman, and it’s been a portrayed in movies like that. There’s a whole (pauses) it’s just on and on and on. I should write these down but I know there are so many movies but it’s always the Caucasian man and the Asian woman.

All of those. But when they portrait an Asian man, it’s always in a derogatory type of situation where the Asian guy was always a stooge in the picture. I think it makes people uncomfortable to see an Asian man romantically or sexually linked to a Caucasian woman for some reason. I don’t know.

Yeah, I think you may be right.

Jackie Chan never kissed a woman. I saw him speak once about discrimination.

Narrator's father and family member in a visit to China. Family Photo Collection 

It must make somebody crazy to see Asian men and Caucasian women. It’s even more acceptable to see a black male with a Caucasian woman than it is to see a Caucasian woman with an Asian man.

You’re right. There’s no doubt about it. It’s, you know, it’s really entrenched. I wonder why that is?

If you look at the Fred Meyer or Macy’s circulars, Asian women are represented the same (proportion) in the ads as in the population and hardly any Asian men. Asian men make people uncomfortable for some reason. We are at least, I think we are the, sort of okay to step on and make fun of because we will not protest that like others will. If you didn’t represent black people, you will see a big protest.

Maybe that’s why things changed. Black advocacy groups have been very effective at pointing these things out.

There’s a, I know, I forgot his name. There’s a black sportscaster, and he made fun of Jeremy Lin. He made fun of Jeremy Lin and his sexuality or something like that. And he made a small apology with no consequences. You know who Don Imus is?


Don Imus talks about a black girl’s hair being nappy. He lost his job.

Well, it was way worse than that. He called these young women “nappy headed hos” and they were playing in a state championship. So it was about very young women and it had an ugly sexual component to what he said too.

But people feel like they could feel good by making fun of that Asian but they won’t make fun of that black because I’ll get into trouble.

Narrator's father in China. Family Photo Collection

Maybe it’s safer, less controversial.

But for Asian men it’s open season. For Asian men, it’s getting worse because there’s too much of backlash against any other race. Blacks are untouchable to make fun of them for some reason. I have a lot of different theories but I don’t see it getting any better. I would love to see a sitcom where the Asian father is just a normal respectable figure, not a Kung Fu expert. It’s become a cliché if you’re Asian, you must know Kung Fu.

I collected a few examples (of how Asian men are depicted), just to show my a female relative. She thinks, Asian men are geeky, in her own words. She doesn’t find Asian men attractive but I think it’s the brainwashing.

Here I want to show you a picture. This is my mother and two of my sisters. My other sisters are in here.

Oh wow, so cute. I can see why the boys were coming around. She must have knocked ‘em dead. Which one of these sisters, was in the picture with Jimi Hendrix?

She went to school with Jimmy Hendrix in the same grade.

Does she remember him well?

Oh yeah. She probably has some stories about him too.

Another thing about my father, he used to be active in the Chinese Democratic Association or something like that, but he knew a lot of politicians and a lot of people, he was comfortable around politicians and people like that. I think he’s in a picture here with the King County Assessor.
Here’s a picture of my father when he was, I think, 16 or 17, but he was always dressed up in a tie.
This is my father (see below) the car that my grandfather bought for my father. This is one of his girlfriends and my father, I forgot what age he was, but my grandfather was having nothing to do with none of that. No Caucasians.

Narrator's father in a car with a female companion. Family Photo Collection

Yeah she looks, she looks a little bit almost Irish.

My grandfather wasn’t gonna have a half Chinese/half Caucasian grandchild, so that was that.
At one time if you asked an older Japanese person, there was a term a derogatory term for hapa, but the transition was love child, still, it was a very derogatory term. In Korea or Japan… It was a word worse than bastard to refer to mixed race kids. Fortunately, now ‘hapa hapa’ has gone the opposite way, maybe little too far. Every Asian girl wants to be either ‘hapa’ or completely Caucasian.

I grew up with a lot of blacks. In this photo (photo not included as to protect identities) I guess for no better words, these are pimps, they’re brothers. They used to throw these elaborate parties. Just to look at something like that it gives you a un-easy feeling when you know that these were (pauses) human traffickers.

They were so young.

Oh, they were very young and good looking. He had six girls.

He looks mean, actually.

He ran six girls.

That guy looks softer, but that one looks mean.

Eventually he found religion, he owned a Bail Bonds place. He’s one of my, oh, he used to be one of my closest friends.

I remember when my mother passed away. I had an old Volkswagen, and that friend had this huge Cadillac with a Rolls Royce grill. No other, no better word, he was pimped out. He knew that I had a not a real nice looking car, so he says just take my car to your mom’s funeral.

Narrator's father as a child. Family Photo Collection

Did you?

Uh huh. It made my father smile. I said, when I pulled up, this is a pimp’s car but my Dad liked it. He’s (my friend) someone people like to grow up with. 

I think the whole attitude towards prostitution is changed a lot, even in the last five years really, it used to be considered just a part of a life, now it’s also considered possibly human trafficking. 

There are, I think, to this day - there are people in the Chinese community that think of part of our family as descending from a grandfather who was a dope dealer and a pimp and so forth.

Narrator's father with relatives in China on a visit. Family Photo Collection

I kind of thought that maybe a long time ago in the Chinese community that since the laws were written to discriminate against Chinese people, whatever forms of business you need to do were legitimate.

I don’t think so, members of that part of my family were arrested for possession of gambling equipment, not even gambling itself - just possession of the equipment. They were convicted went to jail. Today it’s a type of gambling you’d see on Aurora Avenue. The gambling became a problem, became a social problem for the family in the larger Chinese community. I know it was never accepted. So, then, that part of the family was never accepted in the larger community. That might be the juicier part of the story, though.

I think so. Thank you for sharing your story and your memories with us!

A special thanks to Nikki Dang Nguyet for her greatly valued help with the transcription!

Anonymous was suggested for this project by his relative who spoke to his interest in history and perspective.

©  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
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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