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11. White Building, 1893

Color Plate 11: White Building Photographed by Otto Greule ©2011. (See Otto’s Notes Below)

There is promise of quite a building boom in this city this season. So far it is principally in the residence line. Mr. White, the architect, alone having made plans and specifications for quite a number of residences to cost from $2,590 to $5,006. The Eye, May 30, 1891

Councilman-at-Large White came next. He lives in Claytown and carries a lantern. The Eye, January 23, 1892.

White’s corner lot next to the palace saloon is being graded for a shooting gallery. The Eye, December 22, 1892.

“Corner lot next to the palace saloon” is not much to go on. We were in the dark until we read: “A scow load of stone for the foundation of J. S. White’s building at First street and Avenue A has arrived from the Chuckanut quarry,” in the April 27, 1893, issue. Looking back to 1888, we found the mention of White’s purchase of First Street footage from Ferguson. Four years later, a load of Chuckanut sandstone has made the long, slow journey from Fairhaven to enclose the first shooting gallery that we’ve ever read about in Snohomish.

The first floor of the White building is a restaurant these days, and the lone morning kitchen worker let us in to check out the basement. It is a full basement, with at least nine feet head clearance, a dirt floor, but it was graded and level. No sign of old targets, and it was too dark to look for bullet holes, but we returned to the surface convinced that we had discovered the White Building.

js white story imageWhite Building, 1973. The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places, describing the inventory of our Historic District application, listed the building as “Number 5. This building was built as the Princess Theatre in the early 1900’s. The theatre was on the first floor and there were apartments on the second floor.” It was an antique store when the nomination was submitted. There were so many antique stores on 1st Street at the time that this one adopted the meta name of “Another Antique Store”– no evidence of a theater remained.

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The structure was referred to as the Princess Theater building, circa 1900, in all historical accounts of Snohomish because of this small, blurry photograph published in the Snohomish Historical Society’s “River Reflections, Part One” in 1976, with no source listed.

“Attorney Hart appeared on behalf of J.S. White, stating that the Palace saloon was four inches on his lot at First street and Avenue A, and asking the city to remove the same. The council were not convinced of their duty to do so and instructed Mr. Carothers to survey First street from D to A and fix the corners.” The Eye, May 4, 1892

White was not re-elected to the city council in 1891; but served again in 1892, which was a troubled time for the city — and, reading between the lines of the news reports, as the one quoted in full above, a confusing time for White.

The City of Snohomish was broke. The vendor would no longer feed the city’s prisoners without payment “in coin, warrants would buy neither grub or coal,” reported The Eye on January 23, 1892. It took several meetings to set the salaries of city officials, only to have the salary ordinance vetoed by Mayor Ferguson at the next meeting. Changing the topic, Councilmen White and Buck tried to get a discussion going about the cow ordinance after it failed to pass — it was “against milch cows running at large […] and Ferguson declined to listen to them,” wrote The Eye on February 3, under the subhead: “Councilmen Chew the Rag and Do Nothing.” (Readers should know that White’s family had a “milch” cow.)

The subhead on Saturday, March 26, 1892, suggested further disfunction: “Unparliamentary Language by the Councilman.” It seems White set the scene in motion by taking his time to stand when Ferguson asked for the “ayes” to rise. “Councilman White, who is sometimes absent-minded, got on his feet,” said the report, and Ferguson thought White was against the motion. Then, as White was taken to be opposed, Bowen stood to be counted. Ferguson, catching the mix-up, told Bowen to sit down. He refused, the mayor asked for order, and Bowen demanded his rights. Then the mayor said, “(with asperity)–I don’t want any of this kind of work.” Bowen reportedly replied, “(coolly)–I don’t care a damn what you want.”

Ferguson returned the focus to the committee’s report, which favored a dam that a private citizen wanted to build if the city furnished the materials. The project was accepted. Councilman White left , concluded the news article, picking up his lantern, we imagine, for the long, dark walk home.

The summer brought the “great smallpox scourge” of 1892, to use William Whitfield’s description. According to his account, the railroad camps were blamed for bringing the plague into the county, as there was no way of enforcing a quarantine — the common treatment at the time. Pest houses were established in the city for the stricken, and one was burned to the ground by fearful neighbors. The city was in full panic mode within a month of the first recorded case, on June 4. Schools were closed, public meetings were forbidden, even church services were postponed. On June 30, The Eye had this observation describing the unhealthy practice of dumping human and animal waste into the river: “We do not need to mention the state of the north bank of the river, except to say that the filth it shows would nauseate an Indian going down the river in his canoe on the tide.”

Meanwhile, White’s peculiar claim of a four-inch encroachment on his lot was back in the council chambers with the results of City Engineer Carothers’ survey of First Street. As expected, the “City Fathers,” as the paper refers to the councilmen in its August 10, 1893, report, took no action except to order the city attorney to draw up an ordinance according to the facts — each block is 336 feet long and some odd change. Certainly, the Palace Saloon was not ordered moved.

But the same issue had good news for White: “The City of Paris moved into White’s new building Saturday night.” Further, we read about the “arrangement of the rooms in the second floor,” especially the large one in the back with “two bathrooms, a kitchen with a place for a range, a dining room, ample closets, all necessary accommodations for housekeeping on a large scale.” White gave the Eye-man the inside story that a city physician wanted to occupy it as a hospital but then changed his mind, so “any responsible party who wants to rent a hospital is invited to call and inspect the premises,” White reportedly said.

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Today, this large, second-floor space is an artist work/live loft. At some time over the years, a bedroom was added within the large studio space, together with a spiral staircase to the roof. The remaining layout is original.

A solution to White’s dilemma of this plus-size space was found in the disastrous turn of events for his city council colleague, Charles Bakeman, when his three-story furniture building burned to the ground. This event was reported under the headline: “Bakeman Burned Out. A Fire of Unknown Origin Destroys the Furniture Store,” in the September 18, 1893, issue of The Eye. Three days later, the headline is straightforward: “The City Council Meets in the White Building.” It was before the age of the tabloid when today it might read: “City Councilmen Admitted to White’s Empty Hospital.”

As we come to learn, city council had been meeting the city clerk’s office in Bakeman’s building, and their first meeting on the second floor of the White Building on September 21, had a full agenda: “A Whole Lot of Work Cut Out for Street Committee,” read the subhead in part. “Minutes of the previous meeting were read out of the record book, which bore evidence of having been through fire and flood,” continued the account. A motion was approved to pay rent for $15 per month for two rooms in the White Building, and the clerk was authorized to replace the damaged record books.

On October 21, 1893, The Eye provided this graphic glimpse of the damage suffered by City Attorney Coon: “His hundred dollar type-writer is a bunch of twisted wire and broken iron.” Note the eye-popping cost of a “type-writer” in the 1890s.

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Aftermath of the Bakeman Furniture Building fire, 1893. Pictured across First Street, to the left, is the two-story Penobscot Hotel, built in 1888 and destroyed by fire in 1911. The Rockefeller people investing in the new town of Everett stayed here, as it was the only first-class hotel in the area, the first notes of Snohomish playing second fiddle to a town named after a kid.

It was not until March 1, 1894, that we come across White’s name in the paper again, and curiously enough it’s for a job connected with the Bakeman fire. The Bruhn & Henry firm, a grocery store operation that came to town catering the railroad workers, purchased the Bakeman lot at First and Avenue B with the reported promise to erect “as fine a building as the one which was burned.” Twenty-eight days later, The Eye reported: “Contractor White and a force of workmen are rapidly raising the Bruhn & Henry building.”

White’s eldest daughter, Linnie, still in high school, was mentioned in The Eye in the March 10 issue as taking a temporary job in the post office “during the absence of Postmaster Ames on matrimonial business.”

js white story image“Bruhn & Henry have removed to their new quarters.” The Eye, May 3, 1894.

It must have been bad news for White to learn that his anchor tenant, the City of Paris, would consolidate its Snohomish business with its Tacoma operation on August 1. “The entire stock here will be sold at auction, commencing Saturday,” reported The Eye, July 5, 1894. Taking advantage of the empty store front, the ladies’ organization at White’s Methodist Church held a fundraising “crazy dinner” on Tuesday, September 18, from 5 to 8 p.m. — for only 25 cents. There was a follow-up mention after the event on September 20, but no description of what made it “crazy.”

White was elected to the city council in 1895 and again in 1896. Newspaper coverage was sparse, perhaps fortunately so, given his rocky term in 1892. According to our historian, William Whitfield, with the back-and-forth news of elections created by Everett’s petition to wrest the county seat from Snohomish, “there was not a great deal to chronicle as to other events,” he writes on page 252.

Our old friend O. E. Crossman’s name resurfaces in the news with his intention to move his store into the “White brick block,” as it’s referred to in The Eye. On January 31, 1895: “O.E. Crossman has moved his store into new commodious quarters in the White building, where he is opening up a fine new stock of dry and dress goods.”

Later that year, on October 21, The Eye reported, “J.S. White, chairman of the board of school directors for this district, has resigned….” As we didn’t catch the announcement of his appointment, we have no idea how long he served. In 25 years, the number of school children in the county had grown from 22 to 602. White’s daughter, Linnie, was in the high school class of 1896, with three other students. The class motto read: “Launched but Whither Bound.”

As a city council member, White played a part in the story of Snohomish’s first reported gunfight: “Shot in Cold Blood,” shouted The Eye’s headline on October 31, 1895. The report went on for three columns about a midnight shooting outside the Gold Leaf Saloon, on the east end of town, where the owner, called “Omaha Bill,” killed a patron known as “Texas Jack.”

Councilmember White, along with his colleagues, became involved when 677 citizens petitioned them to revoke the license of the notorious Gold Leaf Saloon, which was “a sign of the new era in public morals,” according to Whitfield. The matter was referred to a committee headed by White, which at the next meeting recommended revoking the saloon’s to the full council. The recommendation was tabled, and then rejected at the next meeting. This action was met with vocal indignation by an active group of citizens lead by the pastors in town, raising fear among council members of a lawsuit. That didn’t come to pass, and an editorial published in The Eye on February 25 put it this way: “The council will probably not reconsider their action of the 18th, and the matter will become a part of history.” Indeed, J.S. White’s marginal participation brought his name at least 15 words of fame in the history pages.

The year 1896 began with the Snohomish River on a rampage, reported The Eye, January 1. But it brought good news later in the month, noting that White was “putting the finishing touches on a handsome new home” for E.D. Sutton on Avenue D. An extensive description of the home in the January 28 issue ends with a tribute to J.S. White, the architect and contractor, who “takes as much pleasure in the building of the house as Mr. Sutton will take comfort in living in it, and shares with him the credit for putting up so handsome and creditable a residence.”

Downtown Snohomish, on the other hand, was looking a little worse for wear, according to the diaries of Philip Clayton Van Buskirk, a United States Navy career man. Arriving in Snohomish in 1896 with the intention of retiring in the area, he found the place had changed dramatically since his last visit six years earlier.

“Walk along First Street to its west end. This is the main business street of Snohomish; save here and there a group of vicious looking youngsters, very few people are in the streets. The west end is a picture of wreck and ruin. Cathcart’s Hotel–the Snohomish Exchange–is windowless and boarded up [….] Wilbur’s Drug Store, a fine brick building, appears alone to have held its own in the general dilapidation and decay which marks the Business quarter of Snohomish, altogether a woebegone, run down town.”

Van Buskirk goes on to give the “Residence Quarter” a better review, mentioning the many fine homes and well-kept yards; two very fine, large and elegant school buildings; and “quite a sprinkling also of very presentable churches….” From his diary, we learn that the cost of the largest, front room in the Penobscot Hotel was 75 cents. And a full dinner at the hotel costs a third of that.

The new year of 1897 began with four inches of snow that was gone in two days, thanks to a warm chinook wind from the south. And from the southwest, under cover of darkness, 37 horse-drawn wagons arrived to carry away the county records from Snohomish’s ten-year old courthouse to an up-to-date Romanesque-style brick structure in Everett. The Eye published the obituary on January 28 under the head: “Good Bye County Seat.”

“The undue haste in making the transfer,” the account theorized, “arose from the fear that Snohomish ‘conspirators’ were hatching another plot to frustrate a removal.” It had been a bitter, three-year contest of civic wills fought in smoky backrooms, voting booths, and the state’s Supreme Court. The Eye-man penned the iconic analogy of the wagons pulling out of town as “a huge funeral train laden with their dead hopes and blasted ambitions….” In Everett, the caravan was “hailed with the same degree of delight and quality of joy as the ancient Romans were wont to exhibit on the triumphal return of conquering heroes laden with the spoils of foreign conquest.”

Following years of discussions, a group of Snohomish residents finally filed a petition with the city council for reducing the city’s boundaries. Attorney W.P. Bell provided the small audience with the details of the reduction, as reported in The Eye, January 14, and noted that most businessmen of the city were in favor of the proposition, which would shrink the city to exclude the expensive bridges. “The Tribune has raised its voice from the beginning in favor of this change,” boasted the second voice in town on December 8, unable to dampen its mocking tone when observing that in 1890 “the town was looked upon as a future Chicago….”

On March 31, John S. White and his wife, Delia, signed a warranty deed selling the White Building at 924 First Street to the First National Bank of Snohomish for one dollar. And a bill of sale signed by John S. White enumerated the contents: “All of the counters shelving and other store furniture and fixtures connected with and containing in what is known as the ‘J.S. White Building,’” also for the amount of one dollar. A search of newspapers and court records revealed no details.

In the July 14, 1899, issue of the Tribune, Linnie and Elsie White were listed among the 250 bicycle riders in Snohomish who paid a dollar for their bicycle tags.

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NOTES: “Field Guide to American Houses,” Virginia and Lee McAlester, p263

Edited by Susan Geib

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A key consideration in photographing the J.S. White building at 924 First St. was to highlight the restored brickwork of the west elevation. The textural qualities of masonry can often best be expressed by oblique sunlight raking across its surface. In this case however, that approach would have been too harsh.

The primary exposure was made just before sunset, as the sun dipped behind low lying clouds. This softened the light but maintained its directional quality, lending some modeling to the upper and middle friezes, and helped to define the recessed windows.

Supplemental tungsten lighting was added to the interiors of each upper story room, the windows of which were composited into the primary exposure from a file made approximately 35 minutes after sunset.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5,
Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/2 second @ ƒ11, iso 50.

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