South Park Bridge: How Jim Crow operates in Seattle

I have been writing about a bridge that is to be torn down in a poor and many-cultural part of Seattle.  Posted on the bridge are signs in three languages giving notice of the Counties intent.  The bridge actually touches three governments.  King county, the City of Tukwilla, and the City of Seattle.  By slight of hand, the county retained a small sliver of land touching the West bank of the Duwamish River.  The bridge once served a essential route to Sea-Tac Airport.

Seattle is a divided City.  Geographically, South of Elliot Bay, a river drainage creates a valley called the Duwamish Valley.  Their are two ridges on either side.  Most of the poor, colored, and non-professionally skilled immigrants are warehoused here.  At the center of the City are skyscrapers and 10-20 story condominiums filled with the professional class.  In the North are professional, high-tech, high-tech business class, and a huge amount of old wealth.

From a line that crosses Downtown runs a road called Yesler Way.  It is the original mill road that brought the fallen timber down to Yeslers Mill.  It’s previous name was Mill Road.  The Folks called it Skid Road, as did Murray Morgan in his book ‘Skid Road’, a Seattle classic.

North of Skid Road are fine homes, beautiful parks, and nice beaulevards.  All attractive amenities are located in the North of the City.  The areas of West Seattle and South Park were added to the City to help pay for the City Beautiful Parks and Beaulevards plan developed by the famous landscape architects the Olmstead Brothers.  They never received much of the advantages.

South of Skid Row, and down to about where the stadiums are built, is where Seattle unofficially zoned in an area committed to gambling, whiskey, and most importantly, whore houses.  These had been closed down before the Alaska Gold Rush (1898).  They were quickly re-opened during the Rush so as not to miss out on an oppurtunity to extract money from gold seekers.  They were kept open to get the gold from successful Prospectors returning home.

After the Gold Rush was over, the City found it convenient to find their morals again.  The Mayor, Hiram Gill, was recalled.  After a short stint with another Mayor, Hiram Gill offered his services again as a new and ‘reformed’ Mayor.  The good Citizens didn’t want to see drinking and prostitution.  Mayor Gill gave them what they wanted.  The good citizens on Capitol Hill wouldn’t see any of those Box Houses (whorehouses).  About the same time six new saloons opened in South Park, Washington.  It hadn’t been annexed as yet, but was completely dependant on Seattle, and if it wanted to do commerce in the City, it needed to know what was good for it.  The McCallister Clan was located in the north end of the berg, and would have had it’s stills in the woods above the valley.

This is how reputations get started.  There was still a house in Pioneer Square, but it was run by a respectable madam named Lew Graham.  She catered to a respectable clientele (government officials mainly), on 2nd and Washington.  It was euphemised the ‘Carriage Trade’.  Today South Seattle in general carries the stain of disrespectability.  The restrictions against drinking are gone, but the contempt has shifted to the poor.  I don’t think this poverty is an accident.

If you look at South Seattle, and Southwest King County, you find three airports bisecting the land, running north-south.  King County Airport is in the Duwamish Valley, and seperates West Seattle from the opposite ridge (Columbia City et al).  Two freeways run through the narrow flat section of land that is South Park, running north-south again.  Hwy 99 cuts the town in half.  It connects the north end of the port with I-5.  Hwy 509 connects the east half of the port, and old section of the port, the touristy waterfront.  The zoning considers only commercial and industrial uses.  The town used to be all farms and residences.  Many Japanese Farmers were deported from this area, and the deeds to their property never returned.  It was at the time of WW2 that the area shifted to Industrial Use.



King County Airport is in the Duwamish Valley and cuts it in half.  Besides Boeing filling up the valley, most of it’s support vendors surround it as well, as do support businesses for downtown Seattle.  It presses the residents terribly.  They don’t complain, and are happy to live peacefully amongst the industry, but greedy forces are not content to leave the situation as is.  The land is extremely valuable, even if some of the buildings and houses are somewhat rundown.  Sea-Tac Airport occupies the western ridge of the Duwamish and Kent Valley.  Five communities have been driven out since the establishment of the airport in 1944.  Two additional runways have been added.  The valley residents and the ridge residents bear the burden of the airports and Boeing facilities.  Filling in the remainder of the ridge, are commercial properties.  The ridge is the best natural space for people.  It is high up, light filled, and are natural grasslands.  The beauty of the Earth is removed from the People.  This is a very foreign practise to the Western States culture.

The ridges are a very sandy soil.  If left to their own after forest have been cut down, they fill in with tall grasses.  A boy, naturally has a lot of energy, and will trounce on things.  If he is in an open field or park, the damage will be to plants.  If he is in a filled up city, the damage will be to property.  That is a crime.  Reputations will be established; esteem will be diminished.  The County and Municipalities have taken all the ridges for commercial and Airport purposes.

After WW2 the Cold War kicked in.  Seattle is a military town, and a huge supplier to the military.  Their was a huge urgency to building the proper machines to fight the Soviet Union.  Patriotism still ran high.  The taking of land was rightly considered patriotic.  The social effects were given little consideration, and grumbling about it would bring a rebuke or a stare, or total avoidance in the future.  The original planning for the city and County was completely ignored.  The City was originally built with people foremost in mind.  Commercial oppurtunity now went unchallenged.

The area started to segregate into more and less desirable areas.  Surrounding the Airports were increasingly run-down areas.  People earning enough began to move out for queiter and prettier locations.  People with strained histories began moving in.  The 60’s brought drug use and poverty.  Reputations set in, and criminal statistics for areas were being documented.  Segregation, like the seperating of different size rocks from a glacial pit, each being assigned a higher or lower value, started.  There is a plant on the north end of the Duwamish that used to be called Glacier Sand and Gravel where you could see these types of rock in piles.  Society here was not that different.  Each type seperated and located in it’s own pile.  The piles have names like Laurelhurst, Blue Ridge, Trossachs etc.  The area I grew up in was unique.  It was just called West Seattle, and all sorts lived together.

Considering the nuissance of the Airport, the property around it is valued very low.  The poorest live there.  Single young males with the least education, and single mothers.  It is a formula for people failing.  The social cost is picked up by the State.  The profit remains private.  The municipal benefits go elsewhere in the County.  The poorest facilities are by the Airport, and in the valley.  The edges of ridges go to the employed Union and professional class.  The waterfront properties go to the high income earners and moderately wealthy.

The north end of the City is where most of the wealth and amenities are.  The edge of ridges and waterfront and lakefront are the best properties.  The owners  generally appeal their property taxes and win.  Those in the less expesive homes appeal much less frequently, and win even less.  Their is no income tax in the state.  Global and out of state sales are exempted from tax.   Their is a 9.5% sales tax, but investment income and savings are not subject to sales tax.  Housing is subject to a much smaller excise tax.  The cost of government and infrastructure is born by the lower and middle income earners of the area.

Their is a serious revenue problem at all levels of government in the State of Washington.  People who are genuinely suffering are being turned away in their time of need.  many of those in need have been able to supply for themselves there entire lives.  Their are budget reductions on roads, schools, police, libraries; neccesary functions within a limited government.  All sides should agree with this.  The revenue system badly needs to be reformed.  It is exactly inverted from where it should be in this State.  As far as Jim Crow, we all know a wealthy elite make decisions for the city to benefit themselves.  It is written all over the city in buildingd and placement of buildings.  The voters have no power to stop them.  The vote means nothing.  Most of the showplace buildings and the property under them are heavily subsidized by government.  The placement is north of Skid Row.  It has turned into a city of haves and have nots, by design.

The infrastructure in South Park could be a lot better.  Roads dead-end into freeways, where a underpass could be built.  Access to the river is almost non-existant.  The sediments of the river are toxic from wartime and industrial excrements.  A bridge is about to be torn down, without a new bridge in place, or even funding for a new one in place.   The old bridge was built at the start of the Great Depression, and the old bridge was still there.  In fact the area has less bridges now than in 1932.  They can build a Hooters in the connecting community to the south, but they can’t build a Longhouse for the Duwamish Tribe who originally occupied the area, let alone place it by a clean river.  Enormous commercial benefits come out of the area never to return.  It is shameful.

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