In 2001, New York poet John Callaghan rode a Greyhound bus to Seattle.
“Three days on the ‘Jeepers Creepers Dog,’ and I smelled like an old ham bone and felt like pulled pork,” he recalls. “The bus went over some mountains, a lake, a curve, and there it was: the Space Needle, Elliott Bay, Queen Anne Hill and the glorious vista of the Olympics. After the dirt-bag bohemia of New York City, I was ready to live again.”
Although he had fallen in love with the city, Callaghan soon beat a retreat to New York to escape a horrifying relationship. Eight years later, he returned in a rental van, intending to make Seattle his final nest.
Approaching the city, he noticed the traffic had increased threefold. As he got closer, it grew worse. The Interstate 5 bridge looked like a parking lot, and it took him two hours to get across it.
He parked at a friend’s house in the University District and was excited to take a bus downtown the next day.
“It was packed and got slower and slower as it crept down an avenue I no longer recognized. I walked to Pioneer Square and headed up my once-beloved First Avenue, now ripe with packed sidewalks and ugly new buildings, noise and air pollution,” he said. “I stood underneath the windows of the loft I used to live in, just above Taboo Books, surrounded by an urban nightmare, which continued all the way up to Capitol Hill.
“There was no way I could ever live in Seattle again. It had become just another city without an individual character. I quickly put Plan B into action and moved to Bellingham,” he said.
Founded in 1851, Seattle is a relatively new city, one that remained peacefully secluded until the Great Northern Railroad connected it to the rest of the country in 1884. Three years later, the quiet lumber town was invaded by prospectors lured to the Northwest by the Klondike Gold Rush.
The growth of The Boeing Co. during World War II solidified Seattle as a company town, and it remained so until the end of the Vietnam War, when a decrease in military spending led to massive layoffs, and a lot of people left town.
Ten years later, Californians began moving northward, laying the foundation for the Microsoft era.
So, compared to the Boeing babies, Callaghan’s encounter with a changing city comes rather late in the game. Consider Don and Ron Edge, two brothers born in Swedish Hospital and raised in Sand Point’s Belvedere Terrace, a modest neighborhood surrounded by the high-end Windermere community.
As kids growing up in the 1950s, with a father who worked as an inspector for the Air Force at Boeing, Don, a retired avionics specialist, and Ron, recently retired from logistics and computer support work at Boeing, were acclimatized to a Seattle that was more a company town than a metropolis, inhabited by people who appreciated the hayseed carnivals and community festivals.
“I miss the Green Lake fireworks, a working waterfront that was more than a tourist destination and hydroplane races that were not propelled by helicopter motors,” said Ron, who blames the yuppification of Seattle on Californians who started moving here in the ‘70s.
“Actually, John Wayne was the first Californian to move to the area,” interrupted his younger brother, Don, citing Wayne’s purchase of property in the San Juan Islands in the late ‘50s.
Both are trumped by Pacific Northwest historian Paul Dorpat, who has waited for the moment to interject his insights into the conversation.
“I think this generation’s complaint about ‘Californation’ is primarily a cover for mourning their loss of youth. They no longer have the city that that they remembered as young people and enjoyed so much in the splendorous imagination of youth,” Dorpat explained. “Everything was so tingly wonderful as a child. Then, when you grow up and the city changes, it is the Californians who are to blame.”
“Fireworks are fireworks,” Ron admitted, “but the atmosphere at Green Lake was more family-focused, with the emphasis on the kids. Now its geared toward the young adults.”
“Nonsense,” Dorpat interrupted. “It is still a family event. What happened at Green Lake was that the locals were upset because everybody trampled the park and the neighborhood.”
The city tried to put an end to it in 1972 by imposing a $500 license fee.
The next year, Ivar Haglund, who had been running his own show over Elliott Bay from the captain’s table at his Acres of Clams restaurant since 1965, stepped in and kept it going for another six years.
The Elliott Bay fireworks ceased in 2005, and the Gas Works Park Fourth of July celebration has been in effect for the last quarter-century.
Dorpat, who is currently nearing completion of his biography of Haglund, goes on to say that Haglund was, for practical purposes, enthusiastic about tourists.
“He expected that many visitors would decide to abide here or at least take up a double residency,” Dorpat remembered. “He envisioned a peaceable kingdom on the Seattle waterfront where clams and culture meet, where Republicans and Democrats resolve their differences over steaming bowls of chowder, where tourists and homefolk stuff themselves with seafood delights and point in chuckling high humor to the deep-sea décor.”
Haglund and his fellow West Seattle import, Post-Intelligencer columnist Emmett Watson, would go different directions. In his book “Digressions of a Native Son,” columnist Watson writes, “The old waterfront was for real. It wasn’t a place for tourists or boutiques and import shops; it was crowded, smelly, tough and altogether splendid.”
Watson imagined that all tourists came from California, and while reading Watson’s celebration of the working waterfront, you sense that he would not mind seeing a tourist or two dropped in the bay.
Game designer Andy Roo Forrest, a Californian who has lived in Seattle for 30 years, thinks the whole business of natives and newcomers is nonsense.
“I grew up in San Francisco, where people in the 1960s drove around with ‘California Native’ bumper stickers on their cars. There was a point in the cultural evolution of Northern California when it was important to distinguish whether you were really born a Californian or whether you were just some nouveau-riche trash that had moved into California from the East Coast,” he said.
“When I came to Seattle, I saw the same ‘Washington Native’ bumper stickers, and I knew that I was nouveau-riche trash rising up from California. After a while, when the newcomers outnumber the natives, nobody seems to care anymore,” he continued.
From the point of view of a social worker who has lived in the Rainier Valley since 1998, the climate changes in Columbia City result more from an influx of North Seattle gentry than new residents from out of state.
“They come here with a sense of entitlement,” claimed the anonymous source. “One minute, they are all hip and cool about embracing an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Then they turn around and put their kids into private schools because they don’t think the public ones are good enough.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Elaine Bonow. She was a high school senior when her family moved here in 1967, and she attended Roosevelt High School, then the University of Washington.
“It was a small community; everyone knew everyone. And we never thought about much that took place outside of our little bubble,” she stated. “I have lived in this same house in Wallingford since 1974. In spite of the fact that I am very insular, I meet a lot of people who are new here through my work as a ballet instructor. I tell them all they are very lucky to have escaped their horrible existence in places like Illinois.
“Half of the people on my block have been here for 30 years,” she added. “There are some out-of-towners who have moved in here that will turn you into Animal Control if they discover your cat has tangles. And if you don’t have a nice yard, they think you are evil. But they don’t bother me much. Really, they are mostly just white people, and I look at them all as being pretty much alike.”