Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Photoshopped photograph of Society Theatre at Broadway and John circa 1920 made to look as it may have appeared on October 5, 1918. Original photo via Museum of History and Industry
"Don’t grumble because you can’t see a movie or play a game of billiards—
or because the schools and churches are closed.
The health of the city is more important than all else.
An ounce of prevention now is worth a thousand cures…"
After three deaths and hundreds of reported cases of the flu, all places of indoor public assembly such as schools, theatres, sports venues, churches, and dance halls were ordered closed at noon on Saturday, October 5, by Mayor Ole Hanson, and city health commissioner J.S. McBride. The next day they expanded the ban to include billiard halls, card rooms, and cabarets. Culture had no doubt been cancelled. Capitol Hill was the home of nearly every type of business and institution affected by the order. In this third part of our pandemic series, we'll look at the initial impact of the shutdown on some of these entities and some cancelled events.
In the weeks leading up to the shutdown, the movie industry was booming. According to Tom North, west coast executive of Pathe, a major film distributor at the time that had just expanded it's office in downtown Seattle, all of Seattle's "52 high-class theatres" were "doing tremendous business." The flu obviously put a halt to this. Specifically, just like today, theatres back in 1918 lost money on refunds for any advance ticket sales and advertising and billing costs for upcoming screenings.
Capitol Hill's three movie theatres: Society Theatre at 201 Broadway E (pictured above), Bungalow Theatre at 505 15th Ave E (not pictured), and Madison Theatre at 906 E Madison St (corner Broadway, pictured below) no doubt suffered from this same loss. However, a closer look at the lives of their owners reveals that there were more unique circumstances that would have made enduring the shutdown more or less challenging depending on the case.
Left: Madison Theatre, circa 1940 via Seattle Public Library | Right: Broadway Building circa 1905 via MOHAI
Take Madison Theatre for starters. Its manager, Chester M. Biggs, had taken over the theatre barely a month prior to flu's arrival in Seattle and to make matters worse, it was a career change for him. He had previously worked as a traffic clerk for Southern Pacific Company. How he managed to take over a theatre on a clerk's salary and experience is a mystery, but we can say for certain he would have been in way over his head fearing he'd never make a return on his investment. So he naturally retreated for a time to familiar ground; he found work as a traffic manager for Bon Marche for the remainder of the shutdown. His employees would likely have been recruited for war work in the shipyards.
Meanwhile Bungalow Theatre on 15th suffered from a different set of problems. Founded in 1915 by brothers Herbert and Everett Hoke, it was the smallest and youngest of the the three theatres. Everett shipped out to France in December 1917 and had been declared missing in action since July of 1918. His brother Herbert promptly went looking for him, shipping out a week after he heard the news. Now derelict, the family movie theatre passed into the hands of James Crandall who'd previously operated a movie theatre on Yesler Way with a partner named Monroe. While more experienced than his colleague Mr. Biggs, Crandall would have suffered from a similar shock having only recently bought into a theatre in a new market when the flu hit.
Left: George Ring, 1949 via L.A. Times | Right: Society Theatre circa 1920 via MOHAI
Then there's Society Theatre, the oldest and most successful of the three. Its founder George Ring, noted for his innovations in theatre management, had been in the business since 1909. He'd owned, operated, and sold multiple successful theatres in Portland and Los Angeles before coming to Seattle in 1911. However, in September of 1918 he had to put his management duties on hold when the military summoned him for training at Camp Lewis near Tacoma. Thankfully, he had the advantage of leaving the business in the capable hands of his wife Frankie who'd been working alongside him since the beginning. They also owned the adjacent candy store and newsstand which was initially unaffected by the shutdown and would have given them some income. Therefore, Society Theatre was likely the least impacted of Capitol Hill's three theatres.
Below is the October 5 Seattle Star film section that lists all the films that would have been played in Seattle that weekend and the following week. Unfortunately, Capitol Hill's theatres did not advertise their showings in The Star on this day, but they likely would have been showing some of these films.
Clipping from the 1918-1919 Broadway High School year book via Ancestry.com
Capitol Hill was a major center for both academic and arts education where hundreds of students or more gathered in close quarters each day. There were 15 schools in all. These included four public schools and four religious schools serving grades k through 12 and one private college. There were six private art schools offering classes in dance, music, theatre, and elocution--Cornish being the most prominent among them. All classes (except one-on-one lessons) and sporting events were cancelled. The younger students would have initially welcomed the freedom until the novelty wore off. Without distance learning, mothers would have had to double as teachers as the only other option would have been private tutors--assuming they could even afford one. Faculty and of-age students would likely have either enlisted in the military or gone to work in the shipyards. As for the financial impact on the schools themselves, no reports were found. However, much like the theatres, tuition for large classes at the private schools, especially the arts schools, may have been refunded. To adapt to this new norm, many schools would have pivoted to private lessons whenever possible as Cornish was reported to have done in the Town Crier newspaper.
Town Crier, Oct 19, 1918 via Seattle Public Library
One mass gathering worth noting that took place the day of the shutdown was that of women teachers at Seattle Public Schools who signed a petition demanding equal pay with male teachers to the tune of a $25/month increase.
Cancelled events at Capitol Hill schools included a football match between Broadway High School and Franklin High School scheduled for October 12.
Left: St. Joseph's church circa 1909 - 1915 via MOHAI | Right: Sunset Club at 1021 University St, circa 1915, photo by Asahel Curtis via University of Washington
There were nearly 20 churches on Capitol Hill at the time of the shutdown and virtually all of them complied with it by either switching to outdoor services or shutting down entirely. However, St. Joseph's church unfortunately had a high-profile wedding scheduled for just seven and half hours after the City issued the shutdown order. This was the wedding of Ruth Marie Hamlin, Capitol Hill resident, Forest Ridge graduate (now Seattle Hebrew Academy), and daughter of Edward H. Hamlin, owner of a salmon cannery, to lawyer and Captain Roger Morse Bone. It was described as one of the few "large military weddings" held that fall with "friends to the number of several hundred, prominent in civilian and military circles" attending. So one can imagine the enormous amount of pressure felt by all involved not to cancel at the 11th hour. Or perhaps the reality of the situation just hadn't quite set in yet.
After all, the festivities continued with a reception at the Sunset Club on First Hill following the ceremony showing that there may have been little concern.
The next day though numerous representatives of Seattle's churches including Bishop O'Dea of the Seattle Archdiocese announced in the Seattle Times their intention to comply with the order. It appears some damage control was needed following the wedding.
Left: Andrew Black circa 1907 via Seattle Republican | Right: Mount Zion Baptist Church circa 1906, via Seattle Times
Conversely, when a high-profile death shook Seattle's black community, orders were followed. On October 6, Andrew R. Black, a prominent black lawyer in Seattle, most known for defending the right of Samuel and Susie Stone to live in Mount Baker, passed away of an illness not related to the influenza outbreak. He was a member of the Mount Zion Baptist church, then located within Capitol Hill's current borders at 11th and Union. The church only allowed his family and a few close friends to attend the indoor funeral service on October 8. An outdoor public funeral followed at Capitol Hill's Lakeview Cemetary and was "largely attended considering the closed conditions" according to Cayton's Weekly newspaper.
Left: Unitarian church, 1959 via Seattle Public Library | Center: David Starr Jordan, 1917 via Library of Congress | Right: Seattle Star, Oct 5, 1918
Aside from these two events, one other at a local church was known to have been canceled. This was a speech by David Starr Jordan, founding president of Stanford and noted peace activist on the one hand and eugenicist and racist on the other. One of his main arguments against war was that it removed the strongest men from the gene pool. Yikes. As if opposing mass murder and destruction wasn't enough!
Strange arguments aside, he scheduled a lecture to take place at Capitol Hill's Unitarian Church at Boylston & Olive on Sunday October, 6 titled "The President's War Aims and The Changes Needed in Germany." The only indication of its content comes from an ominous warning to the Unitarian Church published in the Seattle Star the evening before and likely written by a member of the Minute Men: a grassroots volunteer patriotic detective service. In their warning, they claimed that Jordan was arguing that Germany should not be made to pay reparations for the war and that this was "as nearly treacherous to American aims as he can go and yet remain within the law." That is to say, they demanded Jordan be de-platformed not for his racist ideas, but for his unpatriotic ideas. The opposite of what we would expect today.
Fate had other plans though. If the Unitarian Church was having any difficulty deciding whether to cancel, the global health crisis ended up deciding for them and any threatened altercation with the Minute Men was luckily avoided. Jordan spent a few hours in town and trained back to Tacoma that evening. The circumstances however did not prevent the Minute Men from holding their meeting at Broadway High School the following day.
Left: Masonic Temple, 1916 via MOHAI | Right: Knights of Columbus (722 E Union St) circa 1937 via Washington State Archives
The Masonic Temple (now Egytpian Theatre) and the Knights of Columbus building, in addition to serving as the central gathering spaces for their respective organizations, were routinely rented out to other clubs, organizations, and private parties as a substantial revenue stream. Prior to the ban, society pages in the newspapers were littered with all manner of dances, wedding receptions, and various outside club activities held at the Masonic Temple and Knights of Columbus auditoriums. During the ban, these all ceased.
Left: Harold R. Peat, circa 1918 via silentology.wordpress.com | Center: Peat and Miriam Fouche, 1919 via Silenthollywood.com | Right: Seattle Times, Oct 7, 1918
Known cancellations at the Masonic Temple include a big dance the Mystic Shrine had planned for October 9 and a lecture by Canadian author and veteran Harold R. Peat. Peat was in town promoting his new book about his three years fighting the Germans in Europe. The extent of the loss due to this and other cancelled events is unknown, but the circumstances later prompted the Masonic Temple to hold a series of fundraising victory dances after the lifting of the ban in order to offset whatever this loss was.
Other affected businesses
Overall, records do not tell of the direct impact of the ban on the remainder of Capitol Hill businesses of which there were many. Here's what can be determined indirectly based on the broader circumstances.
Capitol Hill had three pool halls. Initially unaffected by the October 5 ban, the ban was expanded the following day to include pool halls.
A Seattle barber wearing a flu mask via Seattle Times.
Capitol Hill had 12 barbers. All barbers were considered "essential" by the U.S. Employment Service, meaning they were not required to perform war work. However, their cleaning staff, known as "porters" were not considered essential and were ordered to perform war work in the shipyards. Initially these able-bodied male porters were replaced by women and those not able to perform war work. However, by late October the city health department ordered all barbershop porters to cease their work in order to check the spread of the flu.
Ice-cream, soda, candy, and cigar store next to Society Theatre circa 1920 via MOHAI
Cigar Shops, Ice-Cream Parlors, Soda Fountains, Confectioners, etc.
While these establishment types were often housed together in various combinations with pool halls and barbershops, the amount of establishments to offer each one of these individual goods on Capitol Hill in 1918 are as follows. Six cigar shops, one soda fountain (I suspect there would have been more--especially at drug stores), 20 confectioners, and one ice cream parlor (pictured above). While not impacted by the initial ban on public assembly on October 5, the city eventually ordered the closure of these businesses in late October--about two weeks prior to the lifting of the ban. The only exception was those establishments which served full meals.
Restaurants, Cafes, and delicatessens.
As mentioned above, Capitol Hill's 9 eateries would likely have been packed with would-be play and movie goers when the city issued its ban on public assemblies on October 5. These places were allowed to remain open throughout the ban assuming they were able to replace their staff who were ordered to leave their jobs and take up war work on October 9.
Such is the known impact to Capitol Hill businesses during the first days of the shutdown.
** Stay tuned for part 4 in which we will look at the first wave a deaths among Capitol Hill's very own **
** If you have ancestors who lived, worked, or went to school on Capitol Hill during the 1918 pandemic please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to incorporate their stories into this series if possible! **