Civic activists' efforts pay off in big way

Anacortes and its economic situation in mid-century were the reverse of the old saying about March weather. The city entered the 1950s like a lamb, but, gaining momentum, it roared into the 1960s like a lion.

Barely into the '50s, a conspiracy of events signaled the beginning of a decade that, before it ran its course, would be a springboard to a community of which pioneer settlers who stoked the engines of the railroad boom could only dream.

We were assigned to write about these two decades because those were the years (1950 to 1964) of our co-ownership of this  newspaper with the late John Webber. One could raise a question about our objectivity because these are the years in which we were involved civically, politically and personally, as were others with whom we worked and warred over issues that left a strong mark on the Anacortes that emerged in the latter half of the century.

Names of who took exception to whom are no longer the point of the fractious 1950s in particular. Nor who was on what side and who did combat with whom. It was the end result that counted and, despite the differences that sometimes divided us, there emerged some remarkable achievements which, in many cases, laid the groundwork for many things that are given much thought today. After all, that was 50 years ago. More than half of today's population (estimated at 14,500) had not been born yet, and many others who have now retired here in the past 10 to 15 years have limited knowledge of what the real town is all about -- other than its scenery, moderate weather and access to the San Juans and Vancouver Island. They love it beginning with the time frame in which they settled here.

With a population of some 6,000-plus at the dawn of 1950 (a loss of residents since the 1920s, one of the most upscale periods in the city's history) and facing the old demons -- joblessness, low tax base, curtailed infrastructure, schools in deplorable condition and on and on -- Anacortes was a town that had some serious issues to face. Not that it hadn't in the past, but limited resources from government to business, to individuals, to industries, etc., were creating internecine problems quicker than they could be addressed. Community leaders had to get to the drawing boards and come up with some answers fast.

By the 1950s, traditional industries -- mills, salmon canning plants, cod fisheries, etc., the backbone of the local economy -- were a diminishing "species." Thus, the jobs that supported mainly hometown-owned and operated business were victims of industrial decline. Many of the stores that provided clothing, shoes and other basic needs of the community locked their doors, never to reopen as families who had established themselves comfortably for many years on the Anacortes main street. The town had the unattractive look of a beer hall brawler who lost alternate teeth in a losing skirmish.

Ideas to get the faltering industrial and business "flivver" off the blocks and running at revitalized levels of productivity and prosperity posed a challenge. It was never destined to become the New York of the West that had been visualized by the town founders in the 1890s. But faith abounded that it did have a future. Somebody -- many somebodies -- had to put their ingenuity and shoulders to the wheel to make it happen.

Other than indulging in the New Year's revelries with the usual toasts to health, wealth and happiness, the city entered the new decade feeling a definite economic pinch caused by the unlamented end of World War II and the resultant closure of many war-related industries, which at the peak of World War II had created hundreds of "duration" jobs that were terminating as the 1940s rang itself out, foreboding a mid-century decade which did not look promising for the foreseeable future.

Many who formed the core of town leadership a that time -- elected, appointed, volunteer, civic and fraternal -- had made it through the Great Depression and experienced degrees of recovery during the 1940s. But there was not unjustified anxiety that Anacortes was confronting new problems and that without serious action would find the city in another of its periodic slumps which had plagued the town since its founding.

The municipal infrastructure was deepest into it with streets, water, storm drainage, sewer systems and new fire hall demanding attention as they confronted a severe budget crunch. Some were problems that dated back to the town's earliest days after incorporation in 1891.

All of this was the subject over coffee in cafes up and down main street, in urgent meetings of the Chamber of Commerce, around the school houses, in City Hall, at the Carnegie library and Anacortes hospital, and a topic considered by almost anyone who drove the mainly unpaved, pot-holed streets that added up to some 52 miles inside the city limits.

The town was a-livening to the challenge, eager to take part in a campaign of rehabilitation that would impact the community for the remainder of the century. Ideas were surfacing like bubbles from freshly uncorked champagne. The question was how to get the message out, how to rally a broadly representative assembly, establish priorities and put the best of plans into action.

It was the late Amelia Heilman, respected Pass Lake resident, who came forth, with a BIG idea in the form of a book by Dr. Richard Poston, titled "Democracy is You." It was a spare publication with a strong, simple message. If you want to get something of importance done in your community, do it yourself.

The timing couldn't have been better because Dr. Poston was at the University of Washington where he founded and operated out of the UW's Community Development department. Scores of small towns ranging from Illinois, where Poston got his start, into Montana, then Washington, were banging on his doors for help. He offered what they needed. Educated, but simple help. Poston had the ideas. All that was required for success was a community willing to implement them.

Except in this case, Anacortes has made its move seemingly too late. Eleven other Washington communities had lined up early for the program offered by Poston, working with a university staff that was dispatched where needed to provide essential guidance. Anacortes did not give up easily despite Poston's forecast of an up-to-one year delay because of a small staff and the already large number of communities who were on his "help" list.

Unwilling to suffer the heartbreak of a prolonged wait, a three-person advance party visited Poston on the UW campus. It was their thesis that "the blood of our city" would be on his hands if he didn't react more promptly to the town's urgent, pressing needs with his personal immediate attention. Confessing he hated the sight of blood, no matter whose it was, Poston revised his schedule and Anacortes moved to the head of the class.

Shortly thereafter he was launching a complex, multi-committeed program here which at one time or other during its 17-weeks of study, action and evaluation, included more than 1,200 dedicated citizens. Every facet of the community came under scrutiny -- schools, churches, businesses, youth activity, civic and fraternal organizations -- a complete census on the part of one particular committee whose members knocked on every door, peered under every stone for an accurate count.

Gravest concerns were those of Anacortes' industrial decline and where to go, what to do to restore the town's employment levels. Statistics from the offices of the then-U.S. Secretary of Commerce supported that Anacortes was among the highest of Northwest communities on the department's "chronically depressed" list. In short, the number of jobless here was an alarming statistic. In Anacortes it was more than a statistic. It was a grave reality.

Down came the Morrison and Walton lumber mills in the 1950s. Both had been major employers and their disappearance from the scene was another painful industrial set back. Then there was the shingle industry, which at one time numbered some eight plants (primarily located along the shores of Fidalgo Bay, later to become the city-engineered urban renewal area.) That was in the 1960s. Anacortes Lumber and Box was an earlier causality of separate fires, one in 1941 and the other in the early 1950s. The expanding Port of Anacortes purchased those vacated properties in the 1950-60 time frame.

During the same period and into the 1960s, the salmon industry was in a "dive," and names like Seabastian-Stewart and others suspended operations. Anacortes Pulp Co. (south of Morrison Mill) sold to Coos Bay Pulp in the 1940s and to Scott Paper in the 1950s. Scott consolidated its operation with the company's main plant in Everett as the century continued on.

The story of the community development program stands apart even to this day as a triumph of soul-searching followed by successful actions, sometimes hotly contested, but with many positive results that identify the town today.

As the Poston study continued into 1953 right into the middle of all that there were rumors throughout the town "that something big is going to happen," but it was one of the most tightly guarded secrets, ever, here.

The carrot of a "scoop" was dangled before the newspaper by a local realtor deeply involved in what was going on if it kept its Linotype "shut." There was to be no trying on a reporter's part to snoop a scoop or the whole deal might be in great jeopardy. All lips were zipped. Even those involved in land transactions at the mystery location. The day of the announcement came and "big" for Anacortes was more than that. A group of top echelon, suit, tie, overcoat and snap-brim hat-wearing executives congregated at the office of William McCallum. He was the organization's real estate contact here who retained his "vow of secrecy."

Once the word could be let out, theAmerican shouted the news in type that covered the front page of the American Bulletin with just four words: SHELL PICKS LOCAL SITE. You had to turn the page for the story.

A number of future achievements could be attributed to the Poston study. Not everything under the sun of course, but it resulted in a program and a spirit that did move city mountains. The arrival of the Shell (in 1953) and Texaco (in 1957) refineries were highlights of the century. Many of the refineries' staff members and employees adapted to Anacortes quickly, and before long were assuming energetic, creative roles in town affairs throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The trials of these decades became very much a part of "The Anacortes Story," submitted to the National Municipal League and Look magazine with hopes that the story would win for the city nationwide recognition. It did that. What was it that brought Anacortes from the doldrums at the outset of 1950 to become that winner in 1962 of the prestigious All-America City Award, sponsored by the Municipal League and Look? The award was presented in recognition of the outstanding community improvement record scored by town citizens during the prior eight years.

The emergence on the scene of Shell, Texaco, the Skyline development, expansion of Cap Sante marina and increased traffic at the Port of Anacortes, the entering of Anacortes Veneer, Inc. into hardboard manufacture, all took place in the 1950s. Even though other positive developments were taking place along the Guemes Channel and Fidalgo Bay waterfronts, the population remained relatively static into the 1960s.

During the decade of the 1950s, Anacortes' school system underwent a major physical overhaul, with construction of the Mount Erie, Island View and Fidalgo schools, all new, as well as the razing of the long-serving Whitney grade school at 12th and M, and the dismantling of the southside's Nelson school, a wood structure that had been in service since 1902.

One and two-room school buildings at Dewey, Guemes, Lake Campbell, Oakes, Cap Sante and Dobers were either razed or moved to new locations to serve other purposes. Preserved for historic purposes is the Rosario school, now under the care and management of the Skagit County Historical Museum.

The 1890 combination of the two-story brick city hall, fire and police departments were demolished in the early 1950s. Fire and police facilities relocated in then new quarters at 12th, a half-block west of Commercial.

Many other changes took place in Anacortes during the '50s and '60s, not all related to work.

- Although the Marineer's Pageant finally faltered after 1957, the community found a new festival to take its place.

In 1961, Jack Papritz threw out the possibility of an arts and crafts festival on the streets between Eighth and Fourth. It caught on and now in its 38th year, it ranks as one of the foremost annual arts events in the region. Crowds estimated as large as 80,000 have made the trip to the downtown scene, and there are even grandchildren of earliest festival organizers whose names are associated with the festival now displaying their own art or serving as volunteers as their elders did.

- There was the birth in 1962 of Anacortes Community Theatre, an idea contrived around a dining table at Skyline's restaurant then run by Bob and Marty Perry.

- A decade of community pride and excitement was generated by the Anacortes High School basketball team coached by UW graduate Bill Taylor. During his 11-year run directing the Seahawk varsity, he and his teams compiled one of the finest small-town records in the state at 212 wins and 56 losses.

Take out a couple mediocre years and the Anacortes' record statewide was as a powerhouse. The Seahawks won their first district title under Taylor in 1951, winning three games by a total of four points.

Taylor didn't invent interest in basketball here. He has to share some of the glory with coaches (from the '20s to the '70s) Harold "Pop" Keeney, Chester Rhodes, Boots Wooten, Tom Flynn and Loren Anderson. However, his winning teams and come-back victories established him at such a level he was named to the state High School Basketball Hall of Fame before resigning to accept an administrative position at the high school.

Two of the highlights of Taylor's coaching career were back-to-back appearances in the state finals against Lincoln of Seattle. The final meeting of the two schools paired teams reaching the championship match with unbeaten records, Anacortes 26-0 and Lincoln 17-0. The game was watched by the largest crowd in the history of Hec Edmundson Pavilion -- 13,241, with some 3,000 more were left outside an hour before the match began. Anacortes lost both games, the last in the final minutes, 59-54, but they returned home that year to a packed house of more than 2,500 local fans who turned out to welcome them home.The 1950s also saw the Anacortes football team create some recognition by compiling only the second undefeated season in the sport's history here. It was under the tutelage of Coach Bill Peterson, the mark was 9-0-0 and team finished fourth in the Associated Press prep grid poll of 1956. The Seahawks, coached by Keeney in the late 20s, were designated mythical state titlists on the basis of their similar record, 9-0-0. Mythical or not, it was an acknowledgment well deserved.


Chronology

1950

Anacortes Veneer, Inc.'s stockholders hope to build a $1 million hardboard (plywood) plant by the spring of 1951.

Both the Marineer's Pageant and Civic Concerts are suspended.

1951

A road is built to the summit of Mount Erie.

The BPA lays a submarine power cable from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands.

Bobo the Gorilla arrives at the Lowman home.

1952

Lumber is the city's biggest employer, providing 20 percent of the jobs in the city. The commercial fishing industry and canneries following in second.

The Wawona, the three-masted sailing schooner that was a familiar sight in Anacortes between 1914 and 1948 when it brought cod to Anacortes canneries, has been sold and will now take tourists to Hawaii.

Ferd Brady, who for 26 years photographed much of Anacortes and its residents, retires.

Voters reject the first attempt to change to a council-manager form of government.

1953

Four words: SHELL PICKS LOCAL SITE, that headline fills an entire front page of the daily Anacortes Bulletin for June 2.  The $75 million plant will employ 600 on 800 acres of March Point.

Bobo leaves for his new home at Woodland Park Zoo.

1954

Shell begins construction and starts operation.

Voters approve $500,000 in school improvements.

A record salmon harvest is brought in.

1955

A study by the Skagit County PUD predicts Anacortes' population will be 12,800 by 1990. It currently is 8,500.

Construction of Mount Erie School, designed by Don McKee, begins in May.

At Shell's peak of construction a total of 3,115 are working at the site.

1956

Texaco is negotiating with landowners on March Point.

The Anacortes Seahawks basketball team, coached by Bill Taylor, take second place in the Class A state tournament, losing to Lincoln, 68-56.

Mike Demopolis donates $80,000 worth of property near Cap Sante to the Port of Anacortes. And a federal grant is secured to dredge the waterway for the marina.

Shell's employment reaches 600 employs and a total annual payroll of $3 million.

1957

 Texaco starts construction on March Point.

A new school, Fidalgo, will be built on Gibralter. The Seahawks face Lincoln again for the state Class A title, and come away with second place again, after a 59-54 game.

The 57-year-old Pioneer Shingle Mill is the last shingle mill in town.

Farwest Fishermen's cannery burns to the ground.

Voters approve a council-manager government after a second trip to the polls to address the issue, following defeat in 1953.

The Anacortes Museum of History is authorized and its board is established by Mayor Anthony "Tony" Mustachich.

1958

Archie French is hired as the city's first manager.

Farwest Fishermen rebuilds its cannery.

Texaco's refinery starts operation.

1959

Anacortes participates in a mock attack of the city by enemy bombers.

A new 35-bed hospital is recommended by consultants.

The Pioneer Shingle Mill burns to the ground and will not be rebuilt.

1960

Washington State Ferries moves its terminal from downtown Anacortes to its new Ship Harbor location. Gov. Albert Rosellini's wife opens the new terminal; a total of four trips are made daily to Sidney, B.C.

Local residents pass a $800,000 bond to build a new hospital at 26th Street and M Avenue.

1961

Ronald Tivey, 25, is sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree rape and murder of Lena Mae Hamilton, 23.

Volunteers help clear brush at the Mount Erie summit to make way for sight-seeing platforms and steps. The Air Force has removed its radar tower there, but in its place will go a repeater for the county sheriff's radios and a TV transmitter.

1962

Anacortes is awarded status as an All-America City by the National Municipal League and Look magazine. After a lengthy campaign, Anacortes is honored for its major improvements in schools, streets, hospital and port.

The First Anacortes Arts and Crafts Festival opens on Commercial Avenue with an estimated 15,000 visitors.

City manager Archie French resigns and City Clerk Diane Erholm is elected manager pro-tem by a 4-3 majority.

1963

Shell expands and renovates with a $550,000 improvement project.

Scott Paper Co. also spends $68,000 in upgrades.

A new highway is built connecting Sharpe's Corner with the Swinomish channel bridge.

1964

Jack Papritz, heading a Chamber of Commerce committee proposes improvements along the shoreline of Cap Sante that would include a walking path and picnic tables.

Central Grade School is renamed Anacortes Junior High School and will house the district's 7th, 8th and 9th graders. Grade schoolers will be moved to an expanded Island View.

A heavy windstorm with gusts around 93 miles per hour damages the Robinson marina on Guemes Channel. Fifteen boats are sunk.

Partners John Webber and Wallie Funk, publishers since 1950, sell their shares of the Anacortes American to the Skagit Valley Publishing Co. as the two papers consolidate.

1965

The Anacortes Key Club hosts the state convention and 600 attend.

The American celebrates its 75th birthday.

Tommy Thompson proposes a narrow-gauge railway between the state ferry terminal and Sunset Beach at Washington Park.

With the 75-year-old Columbian School to be torn down, its cornerstone is opened to reveal copies of the Daily Progress and the Anacortes American from October of 1891.

1966

The three-masted schooner LaMercedarrives in Anacortes to be scuttled and used a a breakwater at the Sea Craft Marina on Guemes Channel.

Head Start gets its start in Anacortes.

The Northwest Aluminum Corp. announces its plans to build a $100 million plant on Guemes Island that would employ 2,000. Opposition mounts quickly, but the county approves a necessary rezone.

1967

Months after its announcement, Northwest Aluminum says it will not build on Guemes.

City accepts a bid of $53,000 to convert the old hospital into a new public library.

Harry Davidson announces his plans to develop 425 acres in Skyline with homes and a marina.

1968

The collision of a Shell Oil Co. tanker truck and a train on March Point results in a huge fire that destroys a structure built by Leon Munks grandfather that served as the county's first trading post.

The Anacortes Museum of History moves into the old Carnegie Library building.

Sen. Warren Magunson announces a $25,000 grant for Anacortes to develop a park between 29th and 32nd streets, west of Commercial.

1969

Western Washington State College buys 47 acres at Shannon Point for development of a marine sciences campus.

Snohomish County PUD announces its plans to build a $200 million nuclear plant on tiny Kiket Island, just south of Fidalgo Island. Even the Samish Island Council of the Camp Fire Girls promise to fight the nuke plant.

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