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Tacoma Community History Projects: 1992

A guide to oral history projects compiled by students in Professor Mike Honey's "Doing Community History" course. Projects date from 1991.

Project Descriptions

From Tules to Tiara: A History of the Masonic Temple Building and the Temple Theatre - Call # 1992#09

I interviewed Mr. Will J. Conner on Sunday, February 9, 1992, at 2:00 P.M., in the living room of his apartment. We spoke about the Temple Theatre specifically, as well as the other theaters owned or leased by Mr. Conner in the area. Mr. Conner began by telling me about his early childhood in Auburn, Washington. His interest in theater began when he was in elementary school, and by the time he reached high school, he was working for a motion picture theater in Auburn. He worked for an entire year for no pay, in order to learn everything about the motion picture theater business. On the day he graduated from high school, the theater owner made him manager of the theater. Mr. Conner then went on to manage theaters for the Fox theater chain, the same company that owned Fox studios. He began the first Mickey Mouse Club in the Northwest in Chehalis, Washington, by request of Walt Disney himself. After Fox theaters shut down in 1932, Mr. Conner went to work for Mr. John Hamrick and came to Tacoma as assistant to Hamrick's Tacoma City Manager, Ned Edris, in 1932. Edris and Conner pooled $300 and bought the first popcorn concession stand in Tacoma and, with Hamrick's permission, set up shop outside the Temple Theatre. Conner eventually managed the Temple, the Roxy, the Blue Mouse, the Music Box, the Rialto, the Proctor, and the Narrows theaters in Tacoma, as well as theaters in Seattle and Portland. He spoke ofthe stars he had met and related some humorous anecdotes. Conner sold out in 1975, turning his theaters over to the Mullendore chain. He remained the mortgagor of the Rialto Theater, however, and only just sold it when an anonymous buyer decided to purchase the theater for donation to the city as a cultural center in 1990. We spoke of the renovations to the Rialto and to the Pantages, as well as the recent purchase of the Temple Theatre and the renovations being made there. -Barbara Thomas


Hillside Community Church: A Path to Liberalism - Call # 1992#01

Hillside is a small church nestled in some of the last of the country property left in the city of Tacoma. Its ceiling and wood work are beautiful white pine or to be exact they once were, but history has colored more than the wood work at this church. The beginnings of the church go back to the very start of the industrial revolution in England, circa 1710 CE, in the city of Epworth, where Methodism first developed and who's name is on a Methodist church here in Tacoma. Both Dr. Harold Bass, Hillside's founder, and his successor Rev. Milton Andrews came from very dynamic and controversial backgrounds that started in religious fundamentalism and progressed to liberalism, both theologically and politically. Anyone thinking that religion has a diminished effect in today's modern society should pause to consider these two men and their congregation. Many ofthe social outcasts of Tacoma, particularly during the red scare era ofthe 1950's and early 1960's, have found sanctuary at Hillside and legitimacy for their causes by being sanctioned by this warm and loving church of exodists and heretics. -Robert Ewing


History of Council 28, The: The Washington Federation of State Employees - Call # 1992#02

In the beginning, State employees were often required to work 60 hours per week, 6 days per week, with no over time pay, as they were on salary. The system of political patronage was in control. State employees could count on nearly complete turnover with each new administration. The Union activities that did go on were fragmented. There was no cooperation among the workers. Locals sometimes were controlled by managers and supervisory staff in a way that made them company unions. What changed in 1943 was that Council 28 was created. It organized all the previously independent locals under one leadership. It gave locals the strength of all state employees in Washington. It established a method for getting the voice of the local worker carried all the way to the Governor's office for action. Passage of the State Civil Service Initiative in 1960 marked further improvement for state employees. In the near strikes of 1975 and 1976, the strength of Council 28 was demonstrated. Council 28 gives state employees a real competitive advantage over the Legislature. The combined strength of all the union locals is hard to beat. Council 28's political action committees lobby for support of union initiatives. It keeps an active force of state employees overseeing the union activities to the highest levels of the union. The Executive Board, in responsibility to the union members that elected them, directs the paid staff. Today state employees enjoy the benefits of years of active union action on their behalf. This project includes conversations with former and current (1992) members Norm Schut, George Masten, Howard Jorgenson, and Esther Sthohl. -Randy Brooks


History of the Tacoma Smelter and It's Workers, A - Call # 1992#04

The Tacoma Smelter has been a visible land mark in Tacoma for over seventy-five years. To many it is an eye sore that they say blocks their view of the Puget Sound. To others it serves as a navigational marker when they are out sailing on the Sound. For some it is a symbol of an industry that once flourished and provided them with the means to support their families. Curtis Dungey, the senior environmental scientist at ASARCO, attributes the closure to three things, low copper prices, foreign competition, and pollution. The plant announced it's closure in July of 1984 and closed in March of 1985. When the plant closed, there were 570 employees who got laid off. 380 of those workers found another job through the relocation center and dislocated workers program that the Union, Local 25, and ASARCO put together. "However, they were working for lower wages than they were making at the smelter. we've had fourteen closures on property that people have lost. There have been 116 divorces since the closing of the smelter. The death rate amongst smelter workers has increased beyond belief any more. It's hard to really realize that they can sit down as management and say that there was no health effects on any of the smelter workers, when in December, alone, we had thirteen funerals ... of the thirteen, eight of them were cancer victims!" According to Chuck O'Donahue the smelter workers blame a lot of people for the plant's closure, but the person they don't blame is ASARCO. "That is certainly not so, ASARCO had a hell of a lot to do with it. They could have been a hell of a lot more honest to the people working there." The plants closure may have cost the area about 2,850 jobs. (The effects were) especially (hard felt) in the little Town of Ruston, where hope of economic rebirth and growth lies in the demolition and clean-up of the smelter. -Angela Cookson


Meet the Tacoma Friends - Call # 1992#07

In Tacoma's University District, there is a house perched on the corner of North 21st and Cedar with a large sign planted in the front yard. It reads, "Welcome Friends." This greeting extends to everyone, but it is specifically addressed to a small group of worshipers who gather there on Sunday mornings as part of The Religious Society of Friends. The Friends are better known to many of us as "Quakers." My first interview was with Julius Jahn. His previous history included military service as a l-AO, meaning that he served in a non-combat capacity. This led to his work in the Medical Corps. where he counseled war weary soldiers in the psychiatric wards. During that time he learned a lot about humankind. When the war was over he became a Sociology professor, teaching at universities and working in research. He considers his main accomplishment, however, to be the family life that he and his wife provided their five children. He believes if we are ever to have world peace, we must first find peace in our personal lives. Now in retirement, he continues to be a part of the Peace Movement. Leonard Holden took the alternate route to become a Conscientious Objector. He was working on his undergraduate work when he was required to register for the Draft. He filed for C.O. status (no military duty) and went into Civilian Public Service. Part of his time then was spent working in mental hospital units. Throughout his career as a Tacoma school teacher and counselor, Leonard also worked as a social reformer and peace activist. He and his wife, Eloise, were instrumental in founding this group (Tacoma Friends Meeting). Their Meeting is affiliated with the Associated Ministries in Tacoma, as well as the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. He belongs to a local United Nations organization, he has been the local president ofthe American Federation of Teachers, and he was recently appointed to Tacoma's Human Rights Commission. Leonard is fond of quoting Jacob Bronowski who said, "We ought to live in such a way that what is true may be verified to be so." This simple statement clearly reflects the beliefs of the people I met at the Tacoma Friends Meeting. -Juanita Hembrow


St. Leo the Great Parish: Tacoma, Washington - Call # 1992#08

This short history provides a back drop for the role St. Leo's currently plays in the Hilltop Community and wider Tacoma Community. Pat Ditter discusses how she views the involvement or lack of involvement of other Catholic churches in social justice issues here in the community. Her feelings for St. Leo's future are discussed. In the last section of the interview she discusses what St. Leo's has meant to her personally. I spoke with Reverend David Algers to obtain an "outside" perspective on St. Leo's. I wanted to get an opinion concerning the impact St. Leo's has had on the community due to its social justice mission and endeavors. He also discusses what he sees as the role the church, any church, needs to take in our current and future society. Father Bill Bichsel is a Jesuit Priest. He was born in Tacoma in 1928 and grew up in the Hilltop neighborhood. Father Bichsel was instrumental in the Martin Luther King Center coming into being. He worked with many committed people over the years. Many are mentioned concerning the various programs. Father Bichsel currently lives in the "G" Street Community House which enables mentally challenged or mentally ill to cope with outside living. Bill Bichsel lives out what he believes. Doris Barkley was born in 1921 in Tacoma. From the 2nd grade on she attended St.Leo's school. She recalls the different ethnic groups here in Tacoma and tells of the Italian's desire for a parish of their own. Some discussion of the 1960's is present. This interview covers autobiographical information as well as touches on several issues relating to growth, development, social change concerning St. Leo's. Barbara Thomashofski offered additional insight into the period oftime when all the physical changes were being instituted in the church. She was president of the women's group at that time and became a vocal spokes person for the group against the changes. It clearly illustrates her growth from the very reserved, respectful person she had been taught to be, in the presence of a priest or nun, and the feelings she exhibited in expressing her/their outrage at what was happening. -Cynthia A. Thomas


Sweet Taste of Success, A: A History of Tacoma's Own Fred Haley and the Brown & Haley Company - Call # 1992#03

The Brown & Haley Company was founded in 1913, and has achieved a significant place in Tacoma's history as a family-owned business and a manufacturing landmark. Today (1992) they are one of the largest candy manufacturers on the West Coast, exporting a large percentage of candy to more places throughout the world than any other candy company in the U.S. Instrumental in directing the company for some 40 years, chairman and CEO Fred T. Haley successfully instilled his ideals into the business, thereby making it a forerunner with regard to many social issues. Willing to act upon his beliefs with little concern for the cost, Haley established himself as a man of principle who would rather stand alone than stand aside. His history in the community is one that can be studied and admired by many generations to come. -William Cookson


Tacoma Buddhist Temple - Call # 1992#06

The Tacoma Buddhist Temple has been in Tacoma since 1915. Prior to that, when Japanese immigrants first came to the United States, their Buddhist religion under went some major changes in approach. There were many influences on Buddhism in America, but within the Buddhist religion, doctrine and most traditions remain the same. In this paper, I will discuss the origins of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. Tacoma Buddhist Temple belongs to this sect of Buddhism. I will also examine influences on Buddhism, Tacoma Buddhist Temple and the once-thriving area known as Japan Town of Tacoma. Also, I will discuss some customs practiced which are as important now as they have been in the past. By early 20th century, there were approximately 1,500 Japanese in Pierce County, with 600 in Tacoma and the balance in the areas. Temple was completed at 1717 South Fawcett, its present location. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave to the Secretary of War and the military commanders the power to exclude any and all Japanese persons, citizens and aliens, from designated (West Coast of the U.S.) areas in order to provide security against sabotage, espionage and fifth column activity. Japanese and Japanese Americans with as little as 1/8 Japanese ancestry in Alaska, King County, and Pierce county were sent to Camp Harmony at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. There was gross mistreatment of resident alien Japanese and Japanese American citizens during the war. Only about one-third of the 400-450 members who attended Tacoma Buddhist Temple before the war came back after the War. This project includes conversations with the current (1992) minister of Tacoma Buddhist Temple, Reverend Kosho Yukawa, and Mrs. Yaeko Nakano, a member of Tacoma Buddhist Temple and its main organist. -Susan Stout


Tacoma Judaism: One Hundred Years, 1892-1992 - Call # 1992#05

In the early 1960s, on a local scale, the Tacoma Mall in all of its colorless conformity was still a drawing on some architect's table, being copied and mass-produced all over the nation to like-minded developers with little originality. In the early 1960s, on a personal scale, I was in junior high school, and downtown Tacoma was the place to be. I remember that it was full of color, personality, and excitement. The downtown district was where we went for entertainment, to just "hang out," or to shop. We spent our money on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho at the Rialto Theater, or The Birds at the Roxey. Our mothers bought their extra-good dresses at Lou Johnson's or Andrew's Fine Ladies' Apparel. Our fathers bought their suits at Robert Hall's Men's Clothiers and their dress shoes at Pessemier's. Uniforms were purchased at Brodsky's, and engagement rings were the province of LeRoy's or Weisfield and Goldberg Jewelers. For those of us who were young and had the slightest aspirations to be "cool," there were only two stores that could sell us the expensive, trendy clothes that were necessary to rise above our peers in adolescent chic ... Bernie's for young men and Lyons for young women. I remember picking raspberries for three summers just so I could go back to school in Lyons finery. Who owned these stores so vital to the Tacoma personality? Almost exclusively, the retail businesses belonged to members of the local Jewish community. These merchants gave the downtown district its color and flavor. Who were the Brodskys, the Brotmans, and the Sussmans? What impact did the families of Kleiner, Farber, Warnick, Friedman, and Rosen, as well as many others, have on the Jewish community and the city of Tacoma as a whole? The following project addresses and explores these issues and endeavors to answer these questions. -Nardah Leah Fox