WHITE CENTER JUBILEE DAYS HISTORY
We'll add more festival history soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy the excerpt from the 1987 definitive history of West Seattle from Robinson Newspapers' West Side Story book below.
Also, we would love to start collecting and archiving your stories and photos from the history of Jubilee Days. We will create a submission form soon!
WHITE CENTER FESTIVAL HISTORY 1923-1987
From West Side Story [West Seattle Herald/White Center News], Copyright July 1, 1987, Robinson Newspapers, used by permission
Italicized portions are paraphrased from original publication.
Festivals on the West Side over the past 100 years have ridden a roller coaster ride themselves, from euphoric highs to to sleepy lows and back again, all while boosting the virtues of the Duwamish peninsula.
Starting with band concerts in 1890 and evolving over the next 30-odd years, the gatherings that eventually inspired such now-familiar events as as West Seattle’s Hi-Yu and White Center’s July Jubilee Days burst on the scene in 1923.
West Seattle started with the Great Marine Mardi Gras, from July 9-17, 1923, which included re-enactment of Northwest pioneers landing at Alki Point, settlers arriving by ox cart, and the arrival of current tourists by airplane. Also included were boat races, a carnival, a concert, and an auto tour of the “new paved marine drive around the Sound to Lincoln Park”.
Perhaps envious of Mardi Gras, White Center staged its own Great Fair August 1-4 the same summer. “Big Time, All the Time, One Dime” was its slogan. Events were to include a carnival, a side show, “a wonderful sermon against capital punishment”, and Big Baby and Popular Lady contests, reported the Southwest Herald.
The latter competition offered a “handsome diamond ring” as top prize and was open to females 15 to 25 from Highland Park, Dumar (now Riverview), White Center, Burien City, Oak Park, Seahurst, “and any other sections on the (Lake Burien streetcar) line”.
Fair organizers sought a turnout of 10.000. “Remember, the committee assures everybody this fair will be Graftless.” the Southwest Seattle Herald said. “No fakes of any kind allowed.” By July 27, 1923, eight had entered the Popular Lady contest, and 15 Big Babies were in the fray as well. There is no newspaper account of the fair, however, and no Mardi Gras or Great Fair was held in 1924 or 1925, and focus throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s remained on the West Seattle Mardi Gras and annual picnic events.
Big community festivals were not the rule in White Center during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The one exception came August 20, 1938, when residents put on a Progress Celebration to honor “the finishing of the county sidewalk that means so much to the people of this district.” The sidewalk, along 16th Avenue and Roxbury Street, “does away with a terrific hazard to Mount View and the Holy Family school children who were forced to walk on the crowded highways of the district,” said the News.
The bash had many typical events, including a street dance, speakers, and two free movie shows for the kids at Coy’s Theatre, but the highlight was the what may have been the first big parade through the streets of White Center. Filled with floats, the parade drew thousands of local residents, the News reported.
The Korean War forced a scarcity of product in 1950 that kept merchants from participating in another Mardi Gras [which had continued in West Seattle on the ongoing years, as well as the annual picnic at Lincoln Park], the News reported. But controversy over a liquor club and gambling at a guonset hut involving the White Center Lions and the White Center Boys Club actually scuttled the fair, recalls then Boys Club co-director Mel Olson.
White Center’s summer festival scene lay dormant through 1954. That was hardly the case in West Seattle, however. Picnic organizers were determined to take their event to new heights. Perhaps spurred by the revival of the citywide Potlatch with a new name (Seafair) in April 1950, the West Seattle Commercial Club announced a contest to come up with a “more suitable” name for its own West Side picnic and eventually the West Seattle Hi-Yu was selected.
Watching the firestorm of Hi-Yu activities in the 1950s were civic leaders in White Center. One of them, Jerry Robinson, who had taken over just seven months earlier as the publisher of the White Center News, said in his August 1, 1952, Border Lines column that White Center was missing the boat in lacking representation in Seafair activities. “This district’s Mardi Gras celebration was truly a big deal at one time. It would be to everyone’s benefit if something similar were started again in White Center,” he wrote.
“While not of measurable value, community celebrations, properly handled, help to knit a district together and, of course, attract attention and create an atmosphere of bustling liveliness. Besides, they are good escape valves once a year.
Though we can’t be sure, we’d venture a guess that Mardi Gras did more to encourage the growth of this district than any one thing, other than the recent war, of course. Naturally, we’ve heard many stories about why the Mardi Gras died on the vine. There are many conflicting tales, and we won’t go into them here. Regardless of the reasons, though, we’d like to see some organization get behind an annual celebration here once again.”
It took three more years, but Robinson’s plea was heeded. In 1955, White Center business leaders launched a Miss Southwest Seattle contest and built a float, both of which tied in with Seafair.
The News trumpeted the effort, splashing large cheesecake photos of the 12 pageant entrants on the front page of each issue for six weeks. The White Center float, which carried a huge replica of a red Seafair Skipper pin, had the theme: “Seattle’s Southgate - A Great Part of Greater Seattle.” Its appearances included the downtown Seafair parade and the Eagles-sponsored parade in White Center, which drew 10,000 onlookers.
White Center’s summer celebration grew in 1956. Buccaneer Days was the name of the eight-day event, merchants organized a Buccaneer Bucks promotion, and the Lions Club provided the Bad Band of Buccaneers, who raised money for the festival by “raiding” businesses and staging a mock invasion of Vashon Island to reclaim a “stolen” Miss Southwest Seattle and her court.
The buccaneers proudly pillaged in White Center the next four summers as well, a renegade version of the Seafair Pirates. Gene Falk, who tended bar at the Epicure restaurant and headed the briny bunch, recalls that the troupe was well-received, at least locally.
“One year, we had $2,100 to make up, so we hit every bar. We were going for $1 booster buttons, but a lot of ‘em gave more than $1. Some ladies offered us $10 if we would dance with them. People were really generous because they liked what we were doing. You know, but the end, we had so much money, we cleared the whole thing, “ Falk says. “We wanted to incorporate with the Seafair Pirates, but the told us they thought we were a bunch of outlaws, being we were from White Center. Well, we showed ‘em.”
In 1957, the theme for White Center’s celebration switched to Futurama Days, a Mechanical Brain and an eight-foot-tall Walking Robot were displayed, and the buccaneers temporarily became the Bad Band of Space Bandits. But the event was essentially the same, with the addition of an art show and Kiddies Storybook Parade. Fireworks at Lake Hicks capped off the bash.
The pride of the 1958 festival was the White Center festival was a 3,000-pound “Fantasy of the Sun” float, which took the grand sweepstakes at the downtown Seafair parade. “White Center’s brilliant baby is the first Seattle district float to ever capture the biggest trophy of them all,“ the News stated.
Floats, queens, and other merriment spiced up the 1959 and 1960 White Center festivals, (the the Gay ‘90s the 1960 theme) but the area repeated its pattern of the early 1950s and slipped into hibernation from 1961 through 1964. The only bursts of life came during 1962, when the White Center Chamber of Commerce (formerly the Commercial Club) summarily picked a “Miss Hospitality” to represent the area for the Seattle World’s Fair, and during 1963, when the Jaycees sponsored a three-day carnival and pirates invasion.
...White Center reawakened from its festival sleep in 1965. The camber put on a four-day celebration with a Miss White Center pageant, a street dance, kiddies and adult parades, ad an old-timers’ breakfast - all under the name of July Jubilee, which survived through 1986. Winning the first Miss White Center crown over 15 other entrants was Mary Varner (now Mary Quande, the manager of Westwood Village Mall). ...organizers expanded the 1966 July Jubilee slate by including a carnival and a Miss Teen White Center contest, open to girls 14 to 17...
In June 1967, the 1966 Miss White Center, Lynda Jean Klip, won the Miss Washington Contest over 26 other entrants. The Evergreen High School graduate, then 19, wowed the pageant audience with her singing and brought new fame to White Center, “an area fee persons (at the pageant) were familiar with,” the News reported. Ms. Klip went on to compete in the 1967 Miss America pageant.
July Jubilee chugged along in 1968, but began to falter in 1969 and 1970. And the next decade, while bearing its share of high points, was a time of gradual decline for the festivals in both West Seattle and White Center.
While the July Jubilee enjoyed a revival in 1971, the Miss White Center contest drew only seven entrants, the old-timers’ breakfast was postponed to October, and a Jaycees-sponsored carnival took heat for not toning down its amplified music past midnight. The rest of the Jubilees in the 1970s limped along, with only an Eagles parade and breakfast, a bare-bones Miss White Center contest, a golf tourney, and an old-timers’ gathering as mainstays. A re-enactment of the legendary coin flip that named White Center livened the 1976 U.S. bicentennial-flavored Jubilee.
White Center’s Eagles parade was gone by 1979. Civic leaders tried organizing a festival of food and crafts booths to go with the Miss White Center pageant from 1983 to 1985, but attendance was poor and the idea was passed by in 1986. The old-timers’ breakfast had good turnouts from 1983 through 1985, but it, too, was dropped a year later.
Bright spots persisted, however. Despite little more than a handful of contestants, the Miss White Center contest began offering a scholarship to winners in 1983. ...July Jubilee organizers shed that name in early 1987, planning a summertime White Center Community Fair with a slate of events emphasizing local flavor.