Modern Snohomish

Featured Image: “Why Not?” Photo illustration by the author.

A lingering notion I’ve had, probably since Early Snohomish was published a dozen years ago — if I were to write a sequel I’d call it Modern Snohomish.

In June 1926, Snohomish residents approved, by only three votes, the construction of a new fire station on the corner of Avenue A and 2nd Street to replace the 19th-century wooden building referred to as a shack in the news accounts.

Included in the vote was the construction of our first City Hall with offices for the police and a jail in the basement.

By then the new Lon Brown Theatre, a 40×100-foot structure of concrete, built on a lot purchased from the city for $2,500, and snuggled up close to the ten-year-old First National Bank (our first “fireproof” building) had been screening movies for two years. The Iron Horse, John Ford’s “blazing trail of love and civilization” played an extended run that past September.

Mac Bates, native son and retired middle school teacher, begins his remembrance of the Brown Theatre, as found on RootsWeb (posted in 2002), like this:

Every day as I cross the bridge into Snohomish, I turn onto First Street, pulled ineluctably by memory. I don’t really expect to see Schott’s Meat Market, Snohomish Drug, Mel’s Delicatessen, or J.C. Penney instead of the antique stores and boutiques, which have breathed life into downtown Snohomish, but, invariably, as I turn onto Avenue B, I look to see what’s playing at the old Snohomish Theater. Of course, nothing is playing. There have been no coming attractions for almost three years when the last movie ended, the credits rolled, and the screen went black forever.

Jackhammers three years ago leveled the lobby and exposed the darkened theater. Rows of sticky, soda-stained seats were ripped from the floor. For a few days, the patched movie screen was exposed to the last warm light of fall before workmen dismantled it, leaving a gaping black hole on First Street and in my heart.

I had never been backstage and had had little desire to see what lay behind the curtains. The screen was my window to the world of romance, adventure, terror, and fantasy. Movies enchanted me. The images came not from the projector but from behind the screen if one dared look (and I could not), an ethereal vapor spiraling out over the Snohomish River, wisping above cornfields and grazing cattle, and soaring over the forested foothills to Hollywood where almost anything seemed possible.

Download the entire story as a pdf file.

The late Carroll Clark, who posted Mac’s story on Rootsweb, I met in connection with the Annual Mother’s Day Vaudille Show produced by Eleanor Leight to benefit the Snohomish Historical Society for many years. His granddaughter was a featured dancer in the show along with other key dancers nicknamed the “Dawn Patrol.” In 2004, I followed the creation of the 26th Annual show with the documentary: To Dance with Eleanor.

Indulge me with a fantasy that could have been: The renovation of the Lon Brown Theatre in the 1970s for the Annual Mother’s Day Vaudville Show! Instead of screening the Northwest Premiere of Deep Throat, as told in Mac’s story.

Eleanor’s show was presented in the PAC — the high school’s Performance Art Center until a new center was built with many tax-dollars — its use was too expensive for Eleanor’s annual show to continue.

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A heartfelt thanks to Mac Bates, and your memories of the Brown Theatre are encouraged, please comment below.

The Fire and Water Birth of Kla Ha Ya Park

The oldest element in our historic town is pretty much ignored most days until it flows free of its boundaries — then we come to watch the Snohomish River.

Over the years, I have adopted Kla Ha Ya Park, a riverfront park below First Street between Avenues B and C in Historic Downtown Snohomish, as a place to practice Tai Chi. For me, it’s a place to appreciate the historic beginnings of our town, and I’m not alone these days. Since the flooding began on the winter solstice (pictured above), people have been coming to check out the rising river. Some stand with their toes right up to the edge, others further back to snap a wide shot to share on social media.

On Sunday morning, the second day of February, I went a step further and set up my camera to capture my practice of Tai Chi alongside the rushing river several feet above the riverfront trail, and very close to my spot of green in the park

Our riverfront park with the odd name translated as Welcome is the proud product of community action rising up from the destructive powers of fire and water.

The first commercial buildings of 19th-century Snohomish were built of wood and on the riverside of Front Street, the buildings were built on tall wooden pilings, some 20 feet high, in order to bring the structures up to the street level.

The Great Fire of 1911 destroyed all the buildings on both sides of the street between Avenues B and C. As if named from a Dickenson novel, the three-story Burns Block at 1118 First Street built of brick in 1890, stopped the fire and saved the two wooden buildings still standing as neighbors to this day.

Read: The Building That Stopped a Fire!

Block 2 rebuilt of brick, courtesy David Dilgard, Northwest Room, EPL.

Both sides of the street were quickly rebuilt of brick, the south side completely (pictured above). Snohomish was railroad rich around this time as the Milwaukee Road had just begun passenger service on its line running on a trestle built over the north bank. The building at the far end of the photograph was the former Wilbur Drug Store, which became a train depot.

Instead of wooden pilings, the brick buildings were brick all the way down to the foundation, and flooding over the years weakened the brick foundations. In the early 1940s, the liquor store, and the restaurant had become home to Poier Motors, the local Chevrolet dealer in town and a floor displaying a new model collapsed toward the river, nearly killing an employee. The entire block of brick buildings was condemned immediately. The storefront structures remained vacant for over 15 years.

It was not until 1965 that funds were appropriated to finally tear down the abandoned structures and community groups rallied to create a riverfront park.

We imagine the former editor of the Tribune, Bill Bates, sold this ad idea to the business community.

Published in the Tribune, date unknown.

Front page photo published in the May 25, 1972 issue of the Tribune.

The River Front Trail, such as it was, was severly damaged in the 1995 flood which led to the master plan linked below. The plan includes this sketch for Kla Ha Ya Park that would feature sitting areas and ramps leading down to the water.

Download: 1998 Snohomish Riverfront Master Plan, Kla Ha Ya Park discussion begins on page 29.

One of several informative plaques on the Riverfront Trail, which was based on the master plan, the trail as we know it today opened in 2006.

Captured Saturday, February 8th from the ramped section of the trail that is meant to honor the history of the railroad that once followed this route on a wooden trestle.

Locating Home Plate

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“In the game of baseball, Home is rugged, fixed into the earth, trod upon, but precious. Home is an altar. It is protected. It is defended. It is cleaned. Home plate represents the sacred amidst the profane.” Abe Stein, “How Home Plate Lives Up to Its Name,” The Atlantic, March 31, 2014

“We should all put our shoulder to the wheel and see to it that our city has a park, where children may go to recreate.” The editor of the Snohomish County Tribune, April 1, 1921, was inspired by the volunteer action of residents Herb Halterman, R. E. Main and F. V. Bowen who improvised a baseball diamond out of a vacant lot alongside the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad on the east side of town in the spring of 1921.

Leading up to the metaphor of manual labor the editor had a specific list: “This park should be fitted up with swings, rings, teaters and everything that goes to make a playground for the children.” Immediately, the three men formed the Snohomish Play Ground Association with the “aim to equip the property in the vicinity of the N.P. tracks with all kinds of apparatus for the amusement of the children” — but it depended on the sale of season tickets for the Snohomish Baseball Association which had been taken over by the Play Ground Association. (Tribune, April 29, 1921)

As the world turns, there would no playground apparatus until the early 1990s when members of the Tillicum and Snohomish Kiwanis put their collective shoulders to the wheel and built the playground we see today. (“Kiwanis urge city move on Averill,” Tribune, June 19, 1990.)

It’s not clear when the field was officially given the name “Averill” — perhaps it was simply adopted when Earl Averill left the hometown team to play with the Cleveland Indians in 1929 — where he “became the first rookie in major league history to score a home run his first-time at-bat.” (Tribune, April 7, 1999.)

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“Podunk” Averill would return home to play with the Old Timers in the annual fundraising game against the Garden City Boys, Snohomish’s current team. The Old Timers were kept in line by Herb Ness, the manager who discovered Averill back in the day. Courtesy Snohomish Historical Society

“Know How to Build a Pool?” the Tribune asked in its October 9, 1947 issue — but it was not until July 7, 1970, that its front page boasted: “Ground Broken for Moe Memorial Pool.” The headline stretching the width of the paper was accompanied with a large photo of Lila Moe holding a shovel, her right foot in place ready to push it into the ground. Her late husband, Hal Moe (1916-1968), was the beloved principal then superintendent of Snohomish Schools who died around the time the city was tearing down the grandstand (pictured above) to make room for the pool. The baseball diamond was eventually reestablished at the southwest end of Averill Field, but a smaller layout intended for Little League play, while plans developed to install a full-size diamond in new parkland alongside the Pilchuck River.

When two bond issues put before city voters to cover the outdoor pool failed, the Hal Moe Pool Working Group recommended that the school district take over the ownership and operation of the pool from the city. Bringing in voters from the school district, a $1.4 million bond issue passed in a September 20, 1988, primary election — a successful outcome following months of discussion between citizens, school and city representatives. Under terms of the agreement, the city transferred ownership of the pool and 20 feet of the north end of Averill Field to the district with “a guarantee that the public will have access to the pool no less than 65 percent of the time that it is open.” (Tribune, August 8, 1988.)

Plans were to open the covered pool with new locker rooms in the fall of 1989; meanwhile, a March 3, 1989 editorial in the Tribune read: “Time to consider Averill Field sale.” Seems it was in response to a city planning commision decision “to not consider a city staff request to designate the southern half of Averill Field for commercial use.” City Manager Kelly Robinson felt the remaining property was undersized and underused and selling it for commercial use “the city would have money to buy enough land in the valley to replace the field many times over, and put the balance into a trust fund for city parks.” The editorial points out that “some doubt Averill Field can be sold because of a clause attached to the deed which specifies the land can only be used for recreation purposes”– the first mention of the deed that 25 years later became the emotional protest tag: “Restore the Deed!”

“City leaders agree to keep Averill Field.” Councilwoman Ann Averill, daughter-in-law of the field’s namesake was quoted in the Tribune’s April 11, 1990 issue: “I think the city needs to preserve a green space for the people who live here now and the people who come after.” The field, including the pool in the process of being covered, is sandwiched between the now Burington Northern railroad tracks and Pine Avenue, west to east, and between 3rd Street and 2nd, north to south.

The property was deeded to the city in 1922-24 by the three men whose volunteer muscle started the wheel turning with the restriction that it be used for “playground purposes only” — the irony is that the Play Ground Association never did install a playground as baseball dominated the use of the field, to the timid chagrin of some citizens. Even Councilwoman Averill suggested the council arrange for experts to evaluate if the field is still practical for playing baseball. At the time, the two-acre site was being used for a variety of sports activities and the annual Kla Ha Ya Days carnival.

The grand opening of the Snohomish School District’s newly covered facility was greeted, on one hand, by neighboring merchants “predicting parking problems” reported the Tribune, June 20, 1990, which has a solid history of stirring the pot on parking issues in Snohomish. In 1991, the city council accepted the Park Board’s recommendations for Averill Field, explained by the late Bill Blake in the Tribune’s December 11, 1991 issue:”Planned improvements include a playground area for small children, picnic tables for families, an exercise area geared toward seniors and a new field for baseball and football.”

“Council approves youth center at Averill Field,” announced the Tribune’s September 27, 2000 issue. “The Snohomish City Council voted 5-1 last week to locate a youth center and skate park at Averill Field.” Howard Averill, son of Earl Averill, said he opposes the change because “it would do away with his father’s memory.” Part of the council’s action is to designate the baseball field at Pilchuck Park as Averill Field, “and directed staff to contact the Baseball Hall of Fame and inform the agency of the change and indicate that Averill Field is now a standard-size baseball field.”

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Pictured from/at Home Plate!

The Snohomish School District’s boarded up Hal Moe Facility was sold back to the city in 2013, destroyed on May 14, 2018, and the site is now a field of new grass. This post is research for a proposed exterior interpretative sign located near the parking lot. The sign will feature a large photograph of the 1932 Old Timers Game pictured above, a brief timeline of the Hal Moe Memorial Pool and the interactive activity of locating home plate hidden in the new grass close to its original position!

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A Promenade for the Carnegie

Carnegie promenade

prom·e·nade (prŏm′ə-nād′, -näd′)
n. 1.
a. A leisurely walk, especially one taken in a public place as a social activity.
b. A public place for such walking.

Snohomish’s 1910 Carnegie building with its attached 1968 addition was closed this month because the addition’s flat roof is water logged and unsafe. (“Snohomish group hopes to restore historic Carnegie building”) Mother nature intervened in the nick of time as the collective imagination around our historic property was moving in reverse.

In 2005, I served on the seven-member Carnegie Preservation Commission with the mission to oversee a feasibility study of returning our historic library building to its 1910 stand-alone stateliness. While many of the commission members went on to form the Snohomish Education Center at the Carnegie, I went on to write an Op-Ed.

“A gathering place for Snohomish,” published in the Snohomish County Tribune, October 25, 2006, was a plea to consider the practicality of the addition that increased the functionality of the small historic library (its restrooms are in the basement and no interior stairs) with the common sense solution of a lobby between the old and the new structures that included restrooms!

Over ten years later and still without funding to demolish the addition and restore the former library, city hall talk turned to modifying the lobby in order to use the main floor of the Carnegie for council meetings. The talk included the necessity of installing a chairlift-for-stairs in order to meet the requirements of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to the rumored tune of $70,000. No cost mentioned for adding a second egress or fire escape.

Then, Mother Nature stepped in and put the brakes on this backward thinking.

Since doing my thought experiment sketch some 10 years ago, fitting a 200 seat theater into the footprint of the addition, I’m wondering if ramps might solve the sticky social issue of dividing the abled from the disabled access from the ground to the grand room of the historic structure. Confirming my calculations with two architects, I prepared the sketch pictured above.

It calls for the removal of the addition, completely, especially across the front of the historic structure. Then, installing three runs of ramps with landings and modify the existing penetration of the south wall with exterior doors and portico over the top landing. It might be called the Snohomish Education Center Promenade — children would love it. At the same time, the historic stairs to the front door would be restored providing a second egress.

To close with a thought from 2006: the gift of a Carnegie Library is not from the man whose name it carries, but from those who lived here before us and pursued a dream. Members of the Women’s Club who went door to door gathering donations for the new library. Members of the city council who four times a year had to pony up the contractual $250 for library operations from a tight budget. This is why we collectively treasure the small, problematic structure – for the stretch, the previous residents reached to celebrate life in Snohomish. How far are we willing to reach?

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Thanks to Dale Preboski for editorial advice.

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Thought Experiment October 26, 2007 (Click to enlarge)

Ralph Tronsrud, Baseball Player

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Ralph is pictured above with his two grandsons, Bob, age 5 on the left, and Jim, age 4 — all suited up for the Snohomish Indians’ Old Timers Game of 1952.

“This is my favorite picture,” Bob said, showing it to me last of seven photographs. We were meeting at the Snohomish Bakery to accept a gift of the photographs and Ralph’s baseball uniform for the Snohomish Historical Society. “I’m keeping the jock strap,” confessed Bob, confidentially.

2016-03_joan-bob-shirt Joan and Bob Davis holding up Ralph Tronsrud’s baseball uniform.

Ralph began playing baseball in the 20s when Snohomish had a real baseball stadium right here in town, where the Boys and Girls Club, the skate park, playground and the closed Hal Moe Pool are located.

snohomish storiesThe Snohomish Ball Park, on 2nd Street, between Maple Street and the Centennial Trail.

The Snohomish Ball Park hosted the annual, “Averill Day game celebrating the return home of the local player, who is now starring with Cleveland Indians of the American League,” reported the Tribune on October 13, 1932. “The stands and field were jammed with fans from all over the Northwest here to see the game,” the account continued. Ralph’s brother, Ing, played first base while Ralph went in to catch.

snohomish stories Site of the Snohomish Ball Park, renamed Averill Field, as it appears in 2016.

Best guess is that I’m standing about where center field might have been in the old stadium, close to where the photographer of the historic photo from 1932 stood. The Boys and Girls Club’s building is to my back. The bleachers were removed to build the pool in 1973, and the baseball diamond was reduced for Little League play. Use of Averill Field for the skate park and the youth center was approved by city council in 2000.

What to do with the long closed Hal Mo Pool is currently under consideration by the Hal Mo Pool Advisory Committee, which meets monthly at the Senior Center through June 2016. Follow this link to learn more.

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Harvey Heritage Destroyed

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Pictured above is the “White House,” as it’s referred to by Donna Harvey, who wrote of her memories growing up in the home.

The image dates from around 1910, shortly after it was built by Nobel Harvey to use as a barn, even though it looked like the home it would become one day. The young person in the center is Eldon Harvey, who eventually raised his family in the structure. Behind him stands his mother, Edith White Harvey and next to her is Nobel, son of John who homesteaded the claim in 1859. Standing on the left is Maude Wheeler, a cousin, and alongside her is Bunny Bunstead, a family friend.

This significant piece of the Harvey Family heritage, empty of life for over 50 years, and listing badly to the south, was quickly demolished and disappeared into several large dumpsters during the last week of August 2015.

Going: 2012
This is when I learned from Kandace Harvey, owner of the Harvey Airfield, that she could not restore the historic home since it was in a flood plain and the county would not permit building a new foundation. I contacted Snohomish County Councilmember Dave Somers, and he contacted the appropriate people to work with Kandace Harvey….

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Going: 2014
…. two years later, the structure had only sunk further. (Kandace Harvey has not responded to my invitation to include her side of the story.)

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Gone: August 27, 2015.
The heavy equipment stands on the site as if on a grave, preventing the historic home from rising up.

Doing all we can to preserve our historic structures is vital because of the stories our old buildings tell us. You may download the pdf of Donna Harvey’s Memories of the White House.

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What’s with the Goat?

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When the Odd Fellows took over the town of Snohomish to mark the 73rd Anniversary of its organization in America, it was front page news in the April 30, 1892, issue of The Eye.
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The procession began at the lodge hall on Second and Avenue C, led by a 16 member band and the “historical Goat, which on this occasion wore a Past Grand collar and attracted much attention.” The route took them down Avenue D to First Street, (referred to as “Front Street” in those days), turning left at Cedar, again at Second, then Maple and back down to First, coming to a stop facing the opera house, (Athenaeum or Cathcart Hall), where our local photographer, Frank Perry captured the impressive gathering pictured below.

snohomish storiesTHEN: 73rd Anniversary of Odd Fellows in America, photographed by F.Perry in Snohomish on April 26, 1892.

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NOW: First Street, between Avenues C and D. Only the Wilbur Drug Store building remains, home to the American Legion Post 96, who also owns the parking lot and the former gas station building leased by Andy’s Fish House.

Inside the opera house, every chair was taken facing the huge American flag covering the entire wall behind the stage. Following the musical opening, W. W. Hewitt’s three raps with the gavel brought the large audience to its feet, when Rev. Mr. Feese offered the prayer. With the audience seated, he followed with some lively remarks, including a “deserved tribute to the Goat who had borne himself so majestically through the parade.”

Following another song by the choir, Past Grand Representative Kelly of Minnesota spoke of the origin of the order going all the way back to the middle ages, but that it was a “modern organization.” To illustrate his point to the overflowing crowd, he told of more recent beginnings with English working men holding meetings for “social intercourse and hilarity,” but they always came to the aid of a fellow in distress. “From this nucleus Odd Fellowship spread, and was introduced in America 73 years ago by Thomas Wilde,” The Eye’s report continues.

Seventy-three years later, the American order has more than 700,000 members, and it expends $3,000,000 annually in charity. “Odd Fellowship, said the speaker, closes its doors to atheists, and no man can join unless he is white and believes in God.” However, Odd Fellows was the first national fraternity to accept women when it formed the Daughters of Rebekah in 1851.

“The ball in the evening was one of the finest ever given in this latitude,” reported The Eye, with its entertaining style: “When it came to dancing the first quadrille, twenty-five sets took the floor. The goat, however was not there.”

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When the Methodists Moved to be Higher Than the Catholics

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Working on the first essay of the J.S. White Story this past month, it appears that John and his wife Delia, along with their three daughters, Linnie, Alice and Elise, moved to Snohomish specifically to build the newly formed Methodist Congregation its own church.

Two newspapers reported that the White arrived in February 1884. Two months later, the April 12th issue of The Eye reports: “The Methodists of this place have purchased the vacant lot on the corner of C and Third streets and will shortly erect a church thereon.” Then in November we read: “About all of the lumber for the new Methodist church, which is to be built on the corner of D. and Third streets, is on the ground, and carpenters will commence work in a few days. Its dimensions are 28×50 feet.”

Further digging revealed that joining the Whites as Trustees of the new church, were Mr. and Mrs. Mudgett; and, Isaac Mudgett was born in the same New Hampshire town as John White. The Mudgetts arrived in town in 1883 and within two years they had a home in the Clay Addition on Avenue H, just a few doors North from where the White’s would build their family home. Isaac was a bootmaker by trade, but once settled in the Snohomish Valley, he added his own saw mill to the cluster of small, family run operations around Snohomish.

Without the exchange of letters between Isaac and John, we are left with our imagination to make the connection. But it’s also a matter of common sense to think that White had a promise of work before moving his family and household goods to this remote river front town.

THEN: The Methodist and Catholic churches along Third Street photographed by Index resident Lee Pickett in 1910, just before the Methodists moved their church higher on the hill to its current location. The Methodist’s built the second church in Snohomish in 1885; and the Catholic Church was the third, dedicated in 1889.

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NOW: (Above) Looking west down Third with the Methodist Church on the corner of Avenue B. Architectural photographer Otto Greule is capturing the structure for our book project: J. S. White: Our First Architect, in 2009.

Karen and I renovated the former St Michael Catholic Church between the years of 1994 and 2000, when we moved to Snohomish. Several times we were told the story that the Methodists’ moved their church from Avenue C, up the hill, to B because they wanted to be higher than the Catholics. We laughed and got back to work.

Can you imagine that being the reason given in the church’s history, published in 1983, celebrating 100 years?

Of course not. It was because more room was needed to add a Sunday School and three lots on the southeast corner of Avenue B and Third were purchased in 1908. Two years later, White’s gentle structure was indeed moved uphill and placed on top of a full, concrete basement, that eventually included a kitchen. Church membership numbered around 200 at the time.

It served well until the 1980s, when it was clear that the historic structure was too small and five acres were purchased northwest of Blackman Lake. The 1983 account ends with completion of architectural plans for the new church — their current home.

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Captured from the internet in a search for “moving structures with horses.” Note the dirt path that was 3rd Street in the historic photo above — it was labeled “not fit for teams” on the Sanborn Insurance maps — meaning that it would be a tough go for the Fire Department horses pulling the pump and hoses!

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