History of Seattle 1900–1940 - Seattle Between The Wars

Seattle Between The Wars

When the war ended, so did Seattle's prosperity. Economic output crashed as the government stopped buying boats, and there were no new industries to pick up the slack. Seattle stopped being a place of explosive growth and opportunity. Western Washington was a center of radical labor agitation. Most dramatically, a general strike occurred in 1919, the first in the United States. The Industrial Workers of the World played a prominent role in the strike. After surviving the general strike, Seattle mayor Ole Hanson became a prominent figure in the First Red Scare, and made an unsuccessful attempt to ride that backlash to the White House in an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for the presidential election of 1920.

Things picked up in the late 1920s, but then came the Great Depression. Times were rough all over the country, but Seattle was hit particularly hard because the manufacturing industries had been crowded out by the war. For example, Seattle issued 2,538 permits for housing construction in 1930, but only 361 in 1932.

Seattle saw some of the country's harshest labor strife of the Depression. During the Maritime Strike of 1934, striking longshoremen faced off with police and strikebreakers in a series of daily skirmishes that became known as "The Battle of Smith Cove". As a result of the violence of the strike, Seattle lost much of its maritime traffic to the Port of Los Angeles. This was followed by the temporary ascendancy of the New Order of Cincinnatus, a "conservative and moralistic reform group" that challenged both the Democratic and Republican parties, and was widely accused of "fascist" or "proto-fascist" tendencies.

Despite this, and despite enormous police corruption, Roger Sale argues that the Seattle between the wars was a pretty nice place to live, especially to grow up in. The city was still full of single-family wood houses and parks from the Olmstead development, but because of the crash they were affordable—at least to those who still had jobs. Seattle between the wars, writes Sale "is what suburbs try to be, but never achieve because they cannot stand things so jammed together, all for a family whose income could be well under two thousand dollars a year." Seattle settled down into a kind of stasis between the wars, as growth subsided while those who lived in the city stayed.

Although no longer the economic powerhouse it had been around the start of the 20th century, it was in the 1920s that Seattle first began seriously to be an arts center. The Frye and Henry families put on public display the collections that would become the core of the Frye Art Museum and Henry Art Gallery, respectively. Nellie Cornish had established the Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts) in 1914. Australian painter Ambrose Patterson arrived in 1919; over the next few decades Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, Guy Irving Anderson, and Paul Horiuchi would establish themselves as nationally and internationally known artists. Bandleader Vic Meyers and others kept the speakeasies jumping through the Prohibition era, and by mid-century the thriving jazz scene in the city's Skid Road district would launch the careers of such luminaries as Ray Charles and Quincy Jones.

Read more about this topic:  History Of Seattle 1900–1940

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