“Growing Up In Rat City & Beyond” Excerpt & Book Signing

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

Recently we’ve been posting excerpts from longtime Burien resident, architect, artist and now author Alexander Sasonoff’s recently-published autobiography called “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond.”

Also note that Mr. Sasonoff will be holding a book signing at the Elliott Bay Brewhouse & Pub on Saturday, Dec. 13th, from Noon to 5pm. The address is 255 SW 152nd Street in downtown Burien.

Here’s part three of “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond” which can be purchased online for just $13.04 by clicking here (makes a great gift for anyone who lives or works in this area).

Part III: White Center Businesses and Amusements

Walter Coy owned and operated the only theatre in White Center called Coy’s Center Theatre. When he first started, he operated out of a storefront space next to Olberg’s Drug Store. Later he built a nice theatre on Roxbury St. between 16th and 17th S.W. Mr. Coy always said his profit margins were better selling popcorn than what he took in through the ticket window. On Saturdays there was a continuing serial that never seemed to end. The hero or heroine was always left in a near-death situation at the end of each episode that prompted one to come the next Saturday to see what happened.

Oren Artlip had a meat market and grocery store on the N.E. corner of 16th S.W. and 98th Street. He participated in the annual celebrations called White Center Days. Oren would provide a side of beef for roasting over a fire pit, which slowly turned on a spit. Later in the evening it would be carved and served to anyone willing to pay the plate price. With no money in pocket, I was just a drooling bystander.

I attended a small church on Holden Street where Oren taught a Sunday school class. He made us memorize all the books of the Bible and various verses. After I was discharged from the Army in 1951, I enrolled at the University of Washington to study architecture on the GI Bill. I received a stipend of $75 a month for expenses. It was never enough and Oren would let me charge my groceries at his store. At the end of the month when I received my check, I promptly paid him. It was very kind of him to help me through my five years of study in the School of Architecture.

All kinds of events took place during the White Center Days celebration. A boxing ring was set up and participants were encouraged to get into the ring blindfolded, one hand tied behind their back and the other hand was fitted with a 16-ounce boxing glove. It was usually a bunch of younger guys that were coaxed into the ring. When 8 or so volunteers were put together they entered the ring. At the sound of the bell everyone started flailing about trying to knock someone down. Once down, you had to get out of the ring. The last one standing won a monetary prize of around two dollars. One such event I remember well. A kid named Royce Natole was very short and ended up in the ring with some big guys. He was a feisty redhead with a face that was covered with large red freckles. The big guys kept swinging over the top of him. It got down to Royce and one of the big Ridley brothers. Royce couldn’t knock the big guy down and Ridley kept flailing the air over his head. He finally took the thumb of his 16-ounce glove and raised his blindfold and then popped Royce with a blow knocking Royce out of the ring.

Since my friends and I were always short of money, we devised a plan to sneak into the theatre. Located behind the building was an exit near the screen where heavy curtains blocked the light that might come in whenever the door was opened. We would knock on the exit door outside and some kid would sneak over and let us in. Crawling under the seats toward the lobby, we would pop up slowly in some empty seats somewhere in the middle of the theater. This went on for weeks until one day we got caught. We were all hauled up to the lobby, ostensibly to be reprimanded. To our surprise, the big brother of one of our friends was working as the manager. He just talked to us and then let us back into the movie but from then on, we found ways to earn enough money to pay our way.

While Oren’s Market was of good size, the surrounding neighborhoods were dotted with Mom and Pop grocery stores. I can think of about eight within a six-block radius of our home. There were no big superstores like we have today so all weekday shopping was done at the store closest to home, which in our case was Martha’s Grocery store. Saturdays, however, were reserved for a trip downtown to the Pike Place Market. Years later, the biggest store I’d ever seen was built by Safeway on the corner of 16th and Roxbury. It was the talk of the town for it was the first supermarket with grocery carts and checkout stands and for all of us who only knew the Mom and Pop stores, miles of shelves filled with every food product imaginable. It was new and very special.

There were no television sets or portable phones in those days so we would listen to our favorite radio programs in the evenings. They came one after another over the span of two or three hours—Terry and the Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, The Shadow, The Green Hornet, Popeye, The Lone Ranger and many others. It was easy to be so entertained. The wonderful thing about these programs is you had to use your imagination—unlike today where everything is visual. However one program my father wouldn’t allow us to listen to was Gang Busters. He was opposed to violence of any kind.

At the gas station located just around the corner from our house, a big event to watch was the arrival of the Gilmore gas tanker. The giant truck was highly polished and elaborately decorated with all kinds of banners and flags and pictures of lions. It was like watching the circus roll into town. The driver would employ a great deal of drama as he set out to entertain the crowd of young boys that would gather to watch. He would drag out the hoses and proceed to fill the underground tanks as we kids ran up to touch the truck and marvel at all the colorful banners.

The pumps that were used to dispense gas had a glass cylinder with measurements marking the number of gallons set on top of a metal one and gas was pumped by hand up into this glass container so that one could see how much gas he was about to purchase. This had to be done by the mechanic on duty or by one of the ladies working in the grocery store. When the proper measure of fuel appeared, it then flowed by gravity through a hose inserted into your tank or container. The hose formed a loop so when it was put back into the holder, there was always some gas left in the loop of the hose. The pumps were locked up at night, with some gas always left in that loop. This excess fuel caused a near disaster, as I will explain later in my story.

You can own your very own full copy of “Growing Up in Rat City and Beyond” by clicking here and ordering online today – it’s a great read, and it makes for a great gift!

Also, if you’re a local history buff, have you considered joining the Highline Historical Society? We’re members, and we encourage all our Readers to join this great non-profit today!

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