"Life in Seattle 1956 & on"

Written by Bob Bolam

in 2013

This little snippet of life in Seattle begins with moving from Idaho to Washington in 1955. My mother was seeking employment in Seattle after experiencing a downturn in her job status in Yakima. The country's economy in 1955 was in the doldrums and finding meaningful full time employment was challenging for many, many people.

We moved from McMicken Heights in South Seattle (near the Seattle Tacoma International Airport) to downtown Seattle. The Trenton Arms apartments, we were moving into, was not quite ready for our occupancy. We had to stay in a FLOP HOUSE ( a cheap rooming house) next door for a week or two while we waited. I can't remember the name of the OLD hotel, but it was located where the Plymouth Pillars Park is now - Boren Ave and Pike Street.

Plymouth Pillars Park

While we waited for our apartment, my mother and I went up to Summit Elementary and enrolled me into the 6th grade (I had attended McMicken Heights Elementary for a couple of weeks) so I was a little late getting my start at Summit Elementary. It was an interesting school and my new teacher was Mrs. Ames. She was an mature teacher, but a teacher who was interested in her kids who came from all walks of Seattle life.

Summit Elementary

After school I would go from our apartment across Pike Street to a local grocery store called Horigans. It occupied the SW corner of Boren Ave and Pike Street. I would sit on the magazine rack and look at the comic books and dream about being able to buy one some day.

One day when sitting in the lobby  of the flop house, a transient resident came up to me and said, "I have seen you sitting on the magazines at Horigans". "Would you be interested in working there?" Not knowing what he was talking about and was very nervous that this seemingly drunk man was talking to me. He said, "They are looking for delivery boys to deliver groceries to the surrounding apartments". "If you're interested, I can introduce you to the owners".

These photos are the best I could find of that corner of Boren and Pike. 

This is the back side of the building that housed the store. 

Where the arrow is pointing is the rest of the building side.

All these buildings have been replaced with new architecture. The building just behind the store was moved and has been designated an historical structure, it is the oldest wooden building still standing in Seattle.

The transient introduced me to the two owners, Arthur E. (Bob) Gardner and another gentleman whom I do not remember. They didn't seem overly impressed with my working credentials - NONE. After hanging around the store for a couple more days or weeks, they said well if your going to keep hanging around here, you might as well do something.

Horigans would deliver groceries to any local apartment for free. All a resident had to do was call, the clerks would put the order together and we delivery boys would deliver the groceries. Our pay from the owners was $.10 a delivery. During the week, we might make $.50 to a $1.00 a day plus tips. On a week end, we might make as much as $5.00 for a Saturday. Hey, that was quite a bit of money for a 6th grader.....

On the most part is was interesting to meet all the people around the neighborhood. Plus my teacher Mrs. Ames was impressed when I told her I had to learn how to make change. Because of that, she made me class treasurer. I see a BIG future for me on Wall Street any day now....

I worked at Horigans for most of 1956 without any incidents - except one. I was working late one night. Around 8:30 I had to make a delivery to an apartment I had never delivered to before. I think it was up on Minor Ave. I knocked on the apartment door. A guy answered and said to me, "put the groceries over there", it was on the other side of the room. When I turned around, he had a knife in his hand and informed me I was not going to be leaving. Assessing the situation, I realized there was no escaping the situation, so I started telling him anything and everything I could think of to convince him that his intensions were not in my best interest. After about 10 minutes or FOREVER, whichever came first, I talked him into letting me go. I don't think I have ever run so fast in the entire 12 years of my life - after all, I had just seen it go past me....

After getting back to Horigans I explained what had just happened and got my behind chewed out because my boss was late locking up the store so he could go home. Hmmm, so much for being concerned. I guess a $.10 delivery boy is expendable...

A little side note to working and going to school. In 1956, we were right smack dab in the middle of the cold war. Our school arranged for a civil defense drill. All the students were shuffled into moving vans to simulate a major evacuation. The Seattle Times came out and took a picture of the exercise. I saw the newspaper the next day, but because papers were not in our budget, we never bought one. After looking and looking on the Seattle newspaper websites, I finally found a microfiche copy of the photo and article.

see close-up of article below

I'm the left side next to the wall, third person up. It was so exciting for me to finally find the newspaper article.

My career continued to prosper. The two owners decided to expand and buy other grocery stores in the area. The owner I mentioned before, Mr. Gardner asked my mom and me if I would like to go with him to his new store and be a delivery boy there. It was located up on First Hill, at Madison and 8th Ave. The grocery store was located inside The Nettleton Apartments, which was a twin thirteen story apartment complex.

About the same time, we were informed that the apartment house we were living in was going to be demolished to make room for the NEW I-5 Freeway being constructed. I guess that helped us make a couple of decisions. First, find a new place to live and maybe even closer to my new employment opportunity.

My mother found a new place for us to live. It was on First Hill on Ninth and Spring Street. It was named The Paul Revere Apartments. It was located right across the street from my new employment opportunity. 

The arrow shows the location of the Paul Revere Apartments to The Nettleton Apartments.  In this photo, the Nettleton was still under construction.

Paul Revere Apartments

My employment with Bob Gardner lasted three more years (7th, 8th and 9th grade). I would say it was the best three years of my entire life. He was a mentor, a father figure and close friend up until his passing in 1991.

While there, I learned he served with the Coast Guard in World War II. He served on LST 202 in the South Pacific.

LST 202 Crew

My wife, while doing some family genealogy research, helped me find some other interesting information about the Gardner's. Here is Bob and Helen Gardner's marriage license.

Working at The Nettleton Grocery store proved to be much better experiences than the one at Horigans. The customers were much nicer and we had many more deliveries, so the opportunity to make more money was greater and the tips were better. During the evening lulls of customers, Bob proved to be a wonderful person. He taught me about values, morals, customer satisfaction and many life lessons that can't be bought or book learned. I will never forget the relationship and friends that were forged in those four years.

Sometime during my ninth grade year, my mother informed me that I needed to find a REAL job and encouraged me to apply for a job at her employer, Safeway Stores. Hey, I thought I had one.....

I put my white shirt and tie on and went down to the Safeway employment office on 4th street (near where the Kingdome was built). After a very scary interview, I was offered a job as BOX BOY at the Broadway Safeway Store.

Talk about stepping out of YOUR COMFORT ZONE. 

Welcome to the real world of corporate expectations. 

My employment with Safeway lasted 5 more years. The job title changed from Box Boy to Courtesy Clerk, then while in senior high school, apprentice checker and then another opportunity presented itself. One of my customers was the manager of Safeway's Data Processing Center in Bellevue, Washington. This was 1964 and I hadn't ever heard of a computer. It sounded interesting and I went out for an interview at the Safeway Division Offices in Bellevue.

The interview went very well and I was offered a position as computer operator, which sounded pretty highfalutin. At the time I was making $2.12 an hour as a grocery checker. The new position was $1.88 an hour working from 9 PM to 6 AM... wow what a change, but the opportunity seemed like it would be worth it if this computer thing ever took off.

After working the GRAVE YARD shift for two plus years, I went into my boss's office and asked, "how does a person get off this shift and on days?'. He said, "are you planning on dying any time soon!".

With that, I applied for a job a Boeing and worked there for 30 years, as a computer operator, computer programmer, systems analyst and Operations Manager for this new fangled product called Video Teleconferencing (live satellite communions between three remote sites all over the world). What a life and I feel I owe it mainly to my friend and mentor, Arthur E (Bob) Gardner who I was introduced to in 1956 by a transient. Thank you for the opportunity of a life time.

Computer operator job

Video Teleconferencing

If we are lucky in our life, we will have met at least one individual in our life like Bob Gardner. In reality, I feel I was extremely lucky to have had two. Raymond D. Sollars is my other life mentor. Ray became my manager in 1980 when I was a computer analyst. He helped mold the next twenty years of my Boeing career into a dream come true.

At the time I met Ray, I was a general office employee (what we call pay grade 2). Over the next year or so, he promoted me to senior computer analyst (professional pay grade 6, which means you're now a salaried employee).

As Ray's Boeing career was flourishing, he asked me if I wanted to join him in a new project, organizing a Video Teleconferencing Organization within Boeing Computer Services.

Ray convinced his bosses that this guy without much college could manage a huge project. I was promoted to be a Boeing Manager (pay grade 7). This work experience was by far the most interesting job anyone could ever hope to have. Ray mentored me to become the organized person I am now and instilled confidence in me that anything is possible if you are given the right tools and provided the best path.

Thank you, Bob Gardner and Ray Sollars for showing me the right path and illuminating my mind. I will be grateful to the both of you for life.

Robert William Bolam III