By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
West Seattle rocks.
You already knew that.
The hundreds who gathered at Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor) Saturday for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society‘s annual Champagne Gala Brunch were served many reminders of why it’s true, and gave big in response.
For the gala’s centerpiece, they were the live audience for an on-location half-hour-long Marty Riemer podcast, co-hosted by his once-and-future radio partner Jodi Brothers, about West Seattle’s role in Seattle’s rock scene, with guests including a rock star, a record-label exec, and the owner of the city’s most-famous record store. Here’s the video (toplines later in this story, if you don’t have time to watch/listen):
Wait – you might think – didn’t you say “Historical Society”? Doesn’t that conjure an image of great-grandmas, tea, cookies, and lectures about the distant, misty past, more than rock ‘n’ roll?
Certainly, a few great-grandmas and great-grandpas were in the audience somewhere. And the family in the spotlight brought a multi-generational group – all 27 of whom gathered in front of the trademark Salty’s view windows; that would be the Schmitz Family, right after three members spoke movingly about the living legacy that traces back to one Schmitz’s emigration from Germany and eventual arrival in Seattle.
(WSB photos by Torin Record-Sand unless otherwise credited)
But when SWSHS executive director Clay Eals (above right, with Vicki Schmitz-Block and Dietrich Schmitz) spoke of “rebirth,” he made it clear the organization is looking ahead even as it celebrates the past. Especially what he said about this year’s biggest SWSHS event, the unveiling of the restored Admiral Way Viewpoint totem pole on June 6th, at its new home on the east side of SWSHS’s Log House Museum. He showed this five-minute video capturing the essence of the unveiling ceremony:
Eals enthused that the hundreds of Alki, Lafayette, and Schmitz Park Elementary students among the 1,300 people at the event (which we streamed live – coverage here and here) will be able to “walk by for years, and say, ‘I was there’.”
(6/6/2014 photo by David Hutchinson)
The event was “a rebirth for the totem pole and a rebirth for our organization,” he declared.
The organization’s founder got an early nod, too, when SWSHS board president Marcy Johnsen, even before introducing Eals as the emcee, pointed out one of the many distinguished attendees, Erma Couden, widow of SWSHS founder Elliott Couden, two months away from her 100th birthday. At the same table was Earl Cruzen, the community advocate best known for the West Seattle Murals project (including Walking on Logs).
Before long, it was time for the music panel/podcast. As announced by SWSHS, the theme was “Why West Seattle?” Riemer and Brothers tackled the question first:
He said he came here to work at KJR Radio, which had a “great big tower” here, and bought his first house, in Admiral, for $83,000. She mentioned living in various areas of Seattle before landing in Highland Park: “It’s wonderful – I love my neighborhood.”
They introduced guests Chris Ballew (aka Caspar Babypants and front man of the >Presidents Of The United States of America), Tim Bierman of Pearl Jam‘s Ten Club, legendary label Sub Pop Records executive vice president Megan Jasper, longtime music-industry manager Susan Silver, and Easy Street Records proprietor Matt Vaughan.
Their answers to “Why West Seattle?” included Silver’s explanation that she had grown up here so she just “chose not to leave” and Ballew’s love of this area’s forested/greenbelt areas:
He said, “I can feel my blood pressure drop when I walk in the woods.”
Vaughan (at left below, with Jasper) said he “just fell in love with The Junction”:
He told his famous tale of being in his original location, with “a bed in the back” and the ability to holler lunch orders down the block to Husky Deli‘s Jack Miller (who was announced earlier as a brunch attendee). Bierman said his West Seattle move was because “Eddie made me do it.” (As in Vedder, Pearl Jam’s leader, who’s a West Seattleite too.)
When Riemer pressed the question, “but what is it about West Seattle and music?” he got an unexpected reply shouted out from the audience – the 1969 rock-concert “riot” on Alki, “when police teargassed the crowd!” (Yes, that really happened; explains.)
Less-dramatic answers included “having neighbors you can go to a show with and hang out with.” Just go watch the discussion above, or here, or watch for it on Riemer’s website (where you’ll find his show every Friday morning at 9:30, plus past editions).
Post-panel, the gala’s music theme played on, with autographed posters among the live-auctioned items:
That’s a limited-edition, 18-by-36-inch poster – framed by Wallflower Custom Framing (WSB sponsor) in The Junction – for a Pearl Jam show in Santiago, Chile. (Check the event program to see what else was auctioned.)
Gala-goers had other opportunities to support the SWSHS – the Challenge Fund, Fund-a-Dream, sales of the recently published “Apron Strings” cookbook and special coffee/wine – and Eals told WSB last night that it all totaled ~$56,000, about 50 percent above the “apples-to-apples” figure from last year.
But the memories and evoked emotions were priceless. Particularly in what “the three Schmitzes,” as Vicki Schmitz-Block and her children Dietrich Schmitz and Julie Schmitz Broker, shared in the form of what Vicki called “a bit of our West Seattle story”:
Vicki answered the question “who were the original Schmitzes?” with the story of Ferdinand Schmitz, born a century and a half ago, who, she said, left Germany as a teenager to seek his path elsewhere, knowing that since he was not the family’s eldest son, he wouldn’t be its heir. After his eventual arrival in Seattle, he “sent for his childhood sweetheart Emma,” who arrived just before the 1889 fire downtown (where Ferdinand eventually acquired “a lot” of property).
You likely know Emma Schmitz as the namesake of the beautiful Beach Drive viewpoint, which is part of the family legacy Vicki described, also including Schmitz Park Preserve – donated “on condition it never be logged” – Schmitz Park Elementary, and Dr. Henry Schmitz Hall at the University of Washington.
The latter’s namesake, who served as UW president, was one of the “four children of Ferdinand and Emma (who) were no less public-minded,” she explained, with the others’ achievements including Dietrich Schmitz’s recordsetting 31 years on the Seattle Public Schools board of directors and Emma Schmitz Hartman’s service as national president of the (then-)Camp Fire Girls.
Vicki explained that she married into the Schmitz family in 1968 and had also come from a civic-minded background, “daughter of a police chief, always helping people, in a small town,” finding herself drawn to a role as “a catalyst,” and “see(ing) much of the Schmitz legacy” in her children, standing there beside her at the Salty’s event-room podium.
Julie, who now lives in Texas, explained her passion for philanthropy. Dietrich spoke of public service including his role as a community chaplain for SPD: “I do it because it needs to be done … it gives me the idea I have a role in this world, to make it a better place.” As a mortgage-industry professional, he added, he could see how someone might view 50-plus-acre Schmitz Park Preserve as profitably developable land, but it’s “unique and irreplaceable … you can go into that park and breathe.”
Vicki read, moved and movingly, from the 1908 resolution relating to the original Schmitz Park donation (we haven’t found it online, just the City Council’s acceptance). The gift was described as “a blessing” in the resolution, declaring it something “of which their children and children’s children will be more proud … than by the inheritance of wealth.”
Shortly afterward, she brought up the “27 extended members of the Schmitz family” who were in attendance, and urged attendees to think about their own families, the examples shown and lessons taught, and to look for “common threads of gratitude.” Just as we finished this report Sunday morning, we received from SWSHS the document with the Schmitzes’ scripted remarks, which you can read here or below:
P.S. One more rebirth was spotlighted during the brunch: The backstory of the concrete-and-rebar sculptures outside Salty’s. Here’s the video that was shown, in which Salty’s proprietor Gerry Kingen tells the story and then gives a tour:
He told the story of salvaging tons of pieces of what had been a bridge along Spokane Street and having them brought to Salty’s property, where neighbors first viewed them with concern and skepticism, and then, he said, “the neighborhood went from ‘what the hell are you doing?’ to ‘this is pretty cool’.”
Those last four words summed up much of what was said, done, and shown on Saturday.
P. P.S. While awaiting next year’s gala (for which WSB was a media sponsor), you can get involved with the SWS Historical Society in many ways. For one – go check out the Log House Museum and its displays, 12-4 pm Thursdays-Sundays at 61st/Stevens in Alki. Beyond that, SWSHS has events every month, from the volunteer orientation on first Saturdays (next one, December 6th) to the Words, Writers, & West Seattle author spotlights at Barnes & Noble in Westwood Village on first Fridays (next one, December 5th). Also, as announced at the gala, you can join SWSHS on its Totem Pole Cruise (not just for Saturday’s Golden Ticket drawing winner!) next year – watch the SWSHS website for info on how to book it as well as upcoming events at which you can find out more about it.