This Week in Queen Anne History

The February 6, 1916, Seattle Sunday Times announced that ski jumping and speed skiing today will be introduced to the Seattle public. The headline read:

Men From North Jump With Skiis: Norwegian Residents of Seattle to Take Part in Winter Sport on Slide Down Queen Anne Hill [1]

The city had been digging out from under several feet of snow that began falling heavily on January 31st and continued for 48 hours, dropping 38 inches of on top of the two feet that had accumulated over an unusually cold January.

Electric streetcars in lower Queen Anne at 1st N. and Harrison Street after the Big Snow of 1916.

While the city dealt with the many setbacks imposed by the storm, a group of Norwegian-born Seattle businessmen saw opportunity in the piles of white to promote their beloved sport of ski jumping.  Ski experts L. Orvald, John Olsen and John Sagdahl organized the event and chose Queen Anne’s steepest street, Fourth Avenue North between Halladay and Nickerson streets, to build the jumping venue.  The men worked late into the night before the exhibition preparing the jump and landing slope.

September 1916 image of jump site on Fourth Avenue North with Fremont Bridge construction in foreground.

Sagdahl explained to the Times, “The contest Sunday is in the nature of an experiment.  For many years a number of ski jumpers from Norway who are now businessmen here have been attempting to create interest in the sport without success.  We believe that skiing is one of the most thrilling sports in existence, both from the skier’s and spectator’s viewpoint.”

The timing of the experiment was just right to capture the public’s attention.  After days of being snowbound, streetcar service had been restored and Seattleites were eager for some entertainment.  The announcement in the Times promised excitement the likes of which most readers had never seen:

The ski jumpers will travel for nearly three blocks on an incline of greater than 45 degrees in          attaining speed for the leap.  Reaching the bottom of the slope the jumpers will hurl themselves in the air, landing many feet beyond.  More than a dozen experts have been entered into the event, many of whom hold records of various kinds for former jumps.

Event organizer John Olsen, who held a record jump of 110 feet, cautioned that he did not expect to jump more than half that distance because temperatures warming into the high 30s would make the snow adhesive and prevent the skis from attaining full speed.  He predicted that the best jump of the day would be between 50 and 75 feet.

The announcement advised that the scene of the exhibition could be reached by any Westlake Avenue car running to the Stone Avenue Bridge.[2]  From the stop at the south end of the bridge, spectators walked three blocks west along Westlake Avenue, passing the Fremont Bridge construction site, to arrive at the foot of Fourth Avenue North.

A Westlake streetcar approaching the stop at the south end of the Stone Avenue Bridge.

Despite the rising temperatures and lowered performance expectations of the ski jumpers, a large crowd of curious Seattleites gathered under a light drizzle of rain to take in the daring display.  Olsen’s prediction proved slightly ambitious, with no jumpers reaching 50 feet.  First place went to R. Gjolme, whose longest jump of the day was 43 feet.  Second place went to event organizer, L. Orvald with a jump of 38 feet. Three jumpers tied for third place,  J. Sather, O. Peterson and A. Falkstad each jumped 34 feet.

L. Orvald leaving the takeoff. Image source: Seattle Times

The success of the event was reflected in a steady increase of interest in skiing and ski jumping throughout the region.  Between 1917 and 1924, Norwegian ski jumping tournaments were held over the 4th of July holiday at Mount Rainier’s Paradise Valley.  From 1924 to 1933, the Cle Elum Ski Club held ski jumping tournaments that drew crowds of 3,000 to 5,000 spectators. A circuit of competitions thrived in the Pacific Northwest, including National Championships in Leavenworth, until the sport began to decline in the 1960s.  The last Leavenworth tournament, a National Championship, took place in 1978. [3]

Left: Flakstad making 34-foot jump. Right: Gjolme making the first-place 43-foot jump.

According to author and ski historian John Lundin, ski jumping was the most popular winter sport in the Pacific Northwest from the teens to the 1940’s, thanks to the region’s large population of Nordic immigrants.  And Washington’s first jumping event was the one staged right here on Queen Anne Hill on February 6th, 1916.[4]

[1] “Men from North Jump with Skiis [sic],” The Seattle Sunday Times, 6 February, 1916, p 21.

[2] The Stone Avenue Bridge was a temporary trestle bridge with a center opening for watercraft that carried vehicular, pedestrian and streetcar traffic across Lake Union.  The bridge, which stood from 1911-1917, was built to serve communities north of Seattle during construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and Fremont Bridge.

[3] John Lundin, “When the Northwest Was a Center of Ski Jumping in the US.” Nordic Kultur (2020) p 26.

[4] Ibid, p 26.

Watch: Growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright House

If you were unable to attend our live presentation with Kim Bixler, author of Growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright House, you can access a recording of Kim’s presentation here, for a limited time.  Learn about the ups and downs of renovations and other fascinating stories through Kim’s multimedia presentation about her experience growing up in the 1908 Boynton House, located in Rochester, New York.  This link will remain active until February 26, 2022.

Kim Bixler is a graduate of Cornell University. She has traveled the country giving lectures at numerous Frank Lloyd Wright sites and can be seen in the PBS documentary, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Boynton House: The Next Hundred Years




This Week in Queen Anne History

On the afternoon of Sunday December 7, 1941, as the country reeled from the attack on Pearl Harbor, Queen Anne residents wondered about what must be going through the mind of their neighbor at 1025 1st Avenue W., home of the Consul of the Empire of Japan in Seattle, Yuki Sato.

Police and FBI agents were sent to guard the home immediately after the attack, for the protection of the consul and his family, and to question and search anyone coming or going from the residence.  No casual visitors were allowed and only one reporter out of the gaggle that had gathered was given permission by the FBI to approach the home.  He was the only one who managed to get a statement from Sato that day, which was, “I am very sorry. I have no statement to make this time.”

Police officer stationed outside of the Queen Anne residence of the Consul of Japan. Photo courtesy The Seattle Times

Reporters then turned their attention to a much smaller-scale drama playing out outside of the home.  A delegation of neighborhood youngsters, as The Seattle Times described them, arrived at the consul’s home to pay their respects to their friends, the Sato children.  Per their orders, the agents refused to admit them to the property.  But one of those children would not be deterred.

8-year-old Gordon Lewis, resident of 411 Prospect St. and West Queen Anne School third-grader was determined to deliver a Christmas gift to his buddy, Syuki Sato, also 8.  Lewis somehow talked his way to an entrance and was able to hand off his gift to a maid.  The Sato children leaned out of upstairs windows to speak to their turned-away friends on the street below.  One of them shouted, “We can’t come out and play now.  Those policemen won’t let us.”

The newspaper’s take on the story was indicative of the anger, shock and creeping mistrust of the moment, and unfortunately missed the more salient takeaway.  The title of the Times article was “Ironic Drama Marks Gift to Consul’s Son.”  This angle was chosen because among the dime-store items Gordon had selected for Syuki’s gift was a toy bomber.

Perhaps they thought that their readers were too outraged to want to read a story about an act of kindness toward a friend and neighbor who had suddenly become the target of suspicion and hostility for events outside of their control.  Perhaps they were too outraged to see it themselves at the time.  The kindness of the children’s expression of support and of Gordon’s determination to deliver his gift was even more profound when one considers a fact that the article mentioned only in passing.  Gordon was brought to deliver the gift by his father, a United States Navy lieutenant-commander.

Two months later, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which initiated the forced relocation of 120,000 West Coast Japanese American citizens on February 19, 1942.  Sato and his family were forced to leave Seattle a little earlier; they departed for an internment camp for Japanese consular officials in Hot Springs, Virginia on December 30, 1941.

Consul Sato dashes to a waiting bus to depart Seattle. Photo courtesy The Seattlel Post-Intelligencer

There is plenty to be collectively ashamed of as we look back on how American citizens of Japanese descent were treated by the United States government.  Sadly, the knee-jerk reaction to mistrust and suspect our fellow citizens in times of political strife and conflict seems to transcend the hard-earned lessons of such tragic actions as Executive Order 9066.  But we can look back on the day that has lived in infamy for 80 years and take a small bit of pride remembering how a delegation of Queen Anne children represented the best in all of us.