EXCERPT: “Growing Up In Rat City & Beyond” Part 2

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Alexander Sasonoff grew up in "Rat City" and lived to write about it.

by Scott Schaefer

Last week we posted the first excerpt from longtime Burien resident, architect, artist and now author Alexander Sasonoff’s recently-published autobiography called “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond.”

(Side note o’trivia: the office we occupy, located in Olde Burien, was designed by Mr. Sasonoff!)

Here’s part two of “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond” which can be purchased online for just $13.04 by clicking here.

Part II: A Trip To White Center

White Center straddles the county line with the business district being both in Seattle and King County. It is a composite of various commercial establishments, surrounded by single-family housing occupied by blue-collar families. It received its name in 1918 with a coin toss between a Mr. White and a Mr. Green. Had the coin flipped over one more time, I might have grown up in Green Center.

At the age of six, eye level is about three feet six inches from the ground. This gives one a different perspective of the world. Walking about in White Center, I could easily peer under the swinging tavern doors of which there were many. The raucous laughter and other sounds that emanated from within aroused my boyish curiosity. It seemed that every other store front was a tavern. The heavy smell of beer wafted out through those doors and filled the air. Whenever I smell beer today, memories of early White Center flood my mind’s eye.

Many years later, while serving in the Army, I met a guy named Fred who had been in the merchant marine. We were both stationed at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and while having a friendly conversation he asked where I was from. When I told him I hailed from White Center, he then surprised me with the following story: His ship had pulled into Seattle and he had asked his mates where was a fun place to go in the city. They told him to head for White Center. He hailed a cab and asked the cabbie where would be the best spot to have a drink. He was dropped off at the Glendale Tavern, an old well-established watering hole frequented by locals who often got into fights and did not cotton to strangers. One of them was an off-duty policeman that patrolled the area and tried to keep things somewhat orderly. The cop was about six feet six inches tall and his real name was Tommy Tucker.  Of course it wasn’t long before he was nicknamed Tiny. The owner of The Glendale was a very large, buxom woman named Ma Ritchie. (She tended bar there and many years later was to come into my life as a personal friend.) But, back to the story with Fred. He walks through the swinging doors and as soon as he is inside, someone punches him in the face. He is sent flying backwards and out into the street. He struggles to his feet and starts for the door again when, BAM! he is hit again and lands in the street again. At this point, Fred decided that he’d had enough, called for another cab and went back to the ship. That was what he remembered about White Center. I had no idea that I lived in such a famous place. In those days dislikes and disagreements were settled by your fists, not with guns as is the case all too often today.

Roxbury Street was the designated county line that separated White Center from the City of Seattle. The north half is in Seattle and the south half in King County. Roxbury runs east-west and was a graveled road from 16th Avenue to Olson Place, which leads me to the following story: Billy Campbell’s dad had an old 1934 Studebaker which was a flat charcoal color. It was built like a tank. Billy’s dad would let him use the car on occasion. A lot of us neighborhood kids would pile into it and go for joyrides. At this particular intersection, Billy took the corner too fast. The car slid sideways on the gravel and took out a row of mailboxes and just missed a power pole. The right front fender and the headlight were damaged. It was the last time Billy’s dad let him use the car. It was fortunate that there were no injuries.

Many years ago, prize fighting in Seattle was severely limited by permits, licenses and other legalities, hence a boxing ring was constructed on the county side of Roxbury Street. Prizefights were held there attracting a rough and rowdy drinking and betting crowd. The ring was built by Hiram Green and later converted to a roller-skating rink still in operation today. There were many prizefighters from this working-class area. One of them, Al Hostak, held the middleweight championship of the world. After his retirement, Al tended bar for many years at the Epicure restaurant up the street from the Glendale Tavern. This establishment was there for many years and was well attended by locals. I remember fundraisers held there for Washington’s Governor Rossellini.

Harry Kid Matthews

Harry "Kid" Matthews

Another fighter, Harry Kid Mathews, lived on the city side of White Center. The Kid went on from White Center to fight the famous Bostonian Heavy Weight Champion of the World, Rocky Marciano. Unfortunately, he was knocked out in the second round. Still Mathews career as a boxer was significant. He knocked out 43 opponents in 49 fights, fighting in three different weight divisions, including heavyweight. My former wife’s family was well acquainted with Kid Matthews and we used to party at the Angle Lake Plunge. The Plunge was a place not far from White Center where one could bring his own liquor, pay a cover charge and dance to live band music. Mixers for drinks were purchased for a nominal fee.

Another one of my neighbors was a fighter named Jackie Moore. Jackie fought in the lightweight division and gained notoriety there. His dad was a retired prizefighter and used to teach neighborhood kids the fundamentals of boxing. Jackie’s dad worked at the Frye packing plant in Seattle. He wielded a sledgehammer to put down beef cattle. It wasn’t pleasant listening to stories about his work. It was the Frye packing plant that was damaged when one of the early B29 bombers crashed into it.

Next week: part three of our continuing exclusive excerpts of “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond”!

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