VIDEO: Hope, generosity set the stage for successful Southwest Seattle Historical Society gala

(WSB photos/video unless otherwise credited)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Honoring our area’s history is “the stuff of identity, legacy, and hope,” Southwest Seattle Historical Society executive director Clay Eals told the 230 guests gathered for the organization’s annual Champagne Gala Brunch today.

Though Eals emceed most of the 3 1/2-hour event, he presented that message via a video preceding the gala’s major fundraising round – and it clearly resonated, in this time of seemingly light-speed change; that round and other components of the brunch brought SWSHS $107,759, 36 percent more than last year.

This is a rock-n-roll Historical Society, with those in attendance at Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor) spanning a wide range of ages and affiliations. Though “Loving Our Landmarks” was the official theme, the history celebrated was from the relatively recent past, too. Among the live-auction items was a Pearl Jam poster with band autographs (including those of West Seattleites Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament).


It went for $1,200. And during the bidding – ring-led by auctioneer Ron Hippe – Vedder’s wearing of an Easy Street Records cap during World Series Game 7 was mentioned – ESR’s Rod Moody, given the microphone for a moment, told brunchers that ever since, “we’ve sold SO MANY hats.” The Chicago Cubs’ historic win also got a nod from Eals, briefly donning a Cubs hat toward the start of the brunch – he was interviewed on NPR last weekend as biographer of music legend and mega-Cubs fan Steve Goodman.

Easy Street also ties to this year’s theme because it is the anchor of the Hamm Building, one of the two buildings in the heart of The Junction for which SWSHS is seeking city-landmark designation, along with the Campbell Building across the street. The West Seattle Junction Historical Survey that paved the way for the landmarking proposal was lauded as one of this year’s SWSHS highlights.

Some of the local buildings that already are landmarked played a prominent role in the gala, too, particularly the Admiral Theater, now in the midst of a long-awaited renovation that will transform it into a four-auditorium venue. SWSHS led the fight to save it more than a quarter-century ago. Photos from the ongoing work were displayed – the first signs of the upcoming stadium seating:

(SWSHS photo as displayed onscreen at the gala)

And glimpses of long-hidden murals that will likely be the subject of another restoration campaign, potentially with crowdfunding:

(SWSHS photo as displayed onscreen at the gala)

The Admiral also figured into the auction items, including the chance to “christen” it when the work is done sometime next year. (As we have reported, the moviehouse is staying open during the work, showing one movie at a time right now, but the completion will merit a “grand reopening” anyway.) It also inspired the choice of Hollywood as a sub-theme of the gala; other auction items were donated by actors with area ties, Dyan Cannon (who grew up in West Seattle) and Karolyn Grimes (who lives right across the Sound in Manchester and is known best for playing Zuzu in “It’s a Wonderful Life“). Yet another item offered a tour of local stars’ former homes, guided by Eals and SWSHS vice president Peder Nelson.

The most charming view into West Seattle’s movie-related history, though, came during West Seattleite and longtime KOMO-TV reporter Connie Thompson‘s interview with Jim Bonholzer, who was a teenager working at The Admiral on its opening night in 1942. Here’s our video:

Bonholzer’s family surprised him earlier this year by throwing him a 90th-birthday bash at the Admiral. Asked about his hopes for the landmarked moviehouse’s future, Bonholzer said he hopes that in 75 years, his descendants would stand on the corner of California and Admiral and point out that their great-great-great-great (etc.) grandfather worked there 150 years ago.

Another milestone birthday prominently mentioned at the gala – that of Husky Deli proprietor Jack Miller, who got a “Happy Birthday” serenade when the crowd was told he recently turned 60.


Miller also was part of the panel that played what has become a SWSHS Champagne Gala Brunch tradition, a version of the popular radio trivia game “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” You probably won’t be surprised to hear he won, racking up more correct answers than the other panelists, former City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, West Seattle Junction Association director Lora Swift, local radio star John Maynard, and your editor here. Brian Calvert from KOMO was the lively host:


No prize, but Miller has bragging rights! (He also donated auction items including a 4-hour sunset tour on his boat and the rights to have a Husky Deli ice-cream flavor created by and named in honor of the winning bidder.)

Yet another gala tradition: The Golden Ticket drawing. Up to 100 tickets are sold at $100 each, and the winner gets a Holland-America cruise. This year’s winner, Jennifer Farria – a Fauntleroy resident who moved to West Seattle less than a year ago – had just left the event minutes before the drawing but rushed back on hearing the news:

(Photo of Golden Ticket winner Jennifer Farria with SWSHS’s Clay Eals, courtesy Gail Ann Photography)

The gala also looked toward SWSHS’s future. Toward the start of the gala, SWSHS supporters learned that board president Marcy Johnsen is stepping down. She has had a unique tie to the organization – having grown up in the building that is its headquarters, the Log House Museum (open noon-4 pm Thursdays-Sundays at 61st/Stevens on Alki), originally the carriage house to the nearby Alki Homestead/Fir Lodge, whose restoration, Eals said, is “on track.”

Also looking ahead, Eals mentioned a plan to create a bicycle ride between the Log House Museum and the Duwamish Tribe Longhouse, further solidifying ties with our area’s First People. Duwamish Tribe member Ken Workman is on the SWSHS Advisory Council and greeted the brunchgoers in Lushootseed. He also has been a speaker in SouthWest Stories, one of the two monthly speaker series that SWSHS presents (the other is Words, Writers, West Seattle).

Along with those in attendance, the gala was made possible by an army of volunteers and a long list of sponsors (featured in the official program); WSB was a media sponsor. After some hours to reflect, Eals offered these final words on the gala’s success: “We are deeply gratified by the generosity of those who ‘love our landmarks’ and appreciate the important role history plays in connecting, engaging, and inspiring all of us, including the succeeding generations we will never know.”

P.S. Want to know where all of West Seattle’s official landmarks are? Here’s the city map.

Want to get involved with the Southwest Seattle Historical Society? Its annual membership meeting is at 10:30 am next Saturday (November 12th) at Providence Mount St. Vincent (4831 35th SW).


6 Replies to "VIDEO: Hope, generosity set the stage for successful Southwest Seattle Historical Society gala"

  • Pops November 5, 2016 (10:20 pm)

    Didn’t know Jeff Ament lives in West Seattle. 

  • Dora-Faye Hendricks November 6, 2016 (8:53 am)

    We REALLY appreciate your positive, thorough and participatory reporting and photography of all of the activities of the SW Historical Society!!  The public hears about us through you and it’s all good!!  Thank you so much!

    Dora-Faye Hendricks, Board Member

  • movie goer November 6, 2016 (12:58 pm)

    When will the new auditoriums be completed?

    • WSB November 6, 2016 (1:05 pm)

      No exact date yet, according to the update at the event. They’re hoping, early in the year.

  • Diane November 6, 2016 (5:50 pm)

    thank you so much for video of interview with Jim Bonholzer

    • WSB November 6, 2016 (6:21 pm)

      I’m glad we recorded it! Highlight of the event. The SWSHS site should eventually have a clearer version along with other video from the event – professional videographer Klem Daniels and assistants recorded the whole thing with a multi-camera setup around the room.

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