By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As a community-owned-and-operated neighborhood center, Highland Park Improvement Club is one of a kind in West Seattle.
Statewide, it has a rare designation too. In a proclamation read at HPIC’s 100th-birthday party today, the Secretary of State’s Office noted that it’s one of fewer than two dozen 1919-founded corporations still in existence (out of 3,000+ founded that year).
But what the centennial celebration was truly about was heart – HPIC’s mission “to be the heart of the neighborhood.”
The party was open-house style indoors at HPIC (1116 SW Holden) except for about 45 minutes of presentations, appreciations, and reminiscences, which we recorded on video:
Becca Fong emceed – here she is with newly re-elected City Councilmember and Highland Park neighbor Lisa Herbold showing a mayoral proclamation that HPIC’s 199th anniversary of incorporation (originally the Dumar-Outland Improvement Club), November 28th, will be Highland Park Improvement Club Day in Seattle:
(“That’s Thanksgiving,” somebody called out. “We have lots to be thankful for!” was the rejoinder.)
The stories shared were not just warm memories but tales of how the club was revived ~20 years ago when an aging, dwindling membership had trouble figuring out how it could sustainably carry on into the future. But they did, and HPIC’s current standard-bearers are confident it’ll last “another hundred years.”
HPIC trustee Kay Kirkpatrick acknowledged HPIC’s presence on Coast Salish land and thanked Duwamish board president Lupe Barnes for her presence at the party.
Newly re-elected County Councilmember Joe McDermott, a third-generation West Seattleite, recalled early in his political career driving someone to vote at HPIC, briefly expressing nostalgia for the days of in-person voting.
He also congratulated HPIC for a King County 4Culture grant facilitating some of the renovations/repairs that have helped the building weather the years.
The speaker who really brought down the house was grande dame Martha Mallett, who said she got involved in the late ’50s at age 30, “you do the math.”
“I’ve got so much I want to tell you,” she said after ascending to the stage.
She singled out old friends in the crowd, and paid tribute to HPIC leaders before and after her, from the founders who she said bought the site for $10, to the current leaders who have overseen improvements including a kitchen upgrade and wi-fi.
She also spoke of connecting with now-retired city neighborhood-district coordinator Ron Angeles, who followed her onstage:
His own Highland Park roots go back to moving there as a 5th-grader. He lives outside West Seattle now, but he assured HPIC, “You guys are the ENVY of other neighborhoods.”
HPIC’s current president Nicole Mazza was the final speaker.
She recalled moving to Highland Park a dozen years ago and having since met at least a hundred neighbors she knows by name. “That happens in Highland Park. … This place has a heart, has a soul.”
This is a party that was a year in the making (as well as, obviously, 100 years in the making!), with HPIC counting down by spotlighting a different decade each month at the first-Friday Corner Bar events.
The decades of history were also detailed in banners by Highland Park’s own Digital Genie, Dina Lydia Johnson, displayed during the party along with other exhibits looking back.
News of the decades was captivating – like a clickbait-style headline from the early 20th century, “Sicko Hearing About Flappers? Then Don’t Rea This.” Other headlines and document excerpts on display were a reminder that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” – meeting notices circa 1940, with “Highland Park district transportation problems to be discussed.” In 1967, a mudslide on Highland Park Way, which was hit with one again in just a few years ago.
Historic events of the past decade were noted as well, including the late-’00s fight against a proposed misdemeanor jail that the city ultimately agreed with Highland Parkers didn’t need to be built.
The 75th and 90th anniversary parties were noted as well – though nothing was likely as grand as today’s centennial celebration. As emcee Fong said onstage, “Through it all, (the club) has been there to sustain the neighborhood.”
And the sustenance will be mutual as long as people keep walking through the doors. With the neighborhood continuing to evolve – across the street to the west, modern townhouses replaced a small church – they no doubt will.
HPIC membership info is here.