8 Stories from 1976 that won't go away

PAUL SCHELL RUNS FOR MAYOR: He's almost unrecognizable on the December 15, 1976, cover, with a sweep of dark hair and the soulful expression of a Romantic poet. But that's him all right, as revealed by the headline, "The Schell Game: A civic activist turned planning czar wants to be your mayor." He still does, of course, and is up for re-election this year. And one gets the sense with Schell that he still feels the need to vindicate himself from the bruising loss he eventually suffered in '76. However, the Weekly's take on Schell has certainly changed. While the paper has not exactly described Hizzoner in glowing terms of late, in our founding year we portrayed the city's then top planner as a wonder boy who "has a way of succeeding far beyond others' expectations."

RISING REAL ESTATE COSTS: "Our amazing real estate boom: Have you missed your chance to own a home?" That cover line, which graced the second issue of the Weekly, captured a sentiment that's been repeated nearly every year since, especially during the go-go '90s. In '76, the boom was a surprising and not entirely unwelcome phenomenon. The cataclysmic Boeing bust of the early '70s was an all-too-fresh memory; the real estate boom was a sign that Seattle had miraculously climbed out of its economic morass. Despite various economic ups and downs since then, prosperity stuck to Seattle, and so did a vibrant real estate market. Everything's relative, of course. The outrageous home price depicted on the 1976 cover: $79,500.

NATURAL CHILDBIRTH ZEALOTS: "Natural childbirth has become a hurdle that one must clear or explain why not . . . I have heard too many women apologize for their cowardice because they finally requested an anesthetic." This excerpt from a 1976 story could have blended perfectly into our 1998 story on "the birth cult." Without rereading our own pages, we never would have known that what seemed like a recent New Agey phenomenon was going strong as much as two and a half decades ago.

THE FALTERING ATTEMPT TO INTEGRATE SCHOOLS: It already seemed like the city had tried everything—first a "voluntary transfer program," then mandatory busing, or at least a limited form of it. (Seattle was the first city in the country to start busing without a court order.) Nothing was working. All-out mandatory busing loomed as the federal Office of Civil Rights announced an investigation of desegregation practices in Seattle, making the Weekly worry about a white flight that would only make segregation worse. Twenty-five years later, busing is no longer on the table, having proved unpopular among blacks as well as whites. And, while desegregation looks at the moment like an impossible dream, folks are still bickering over tiny attempts to help, like the school district's use of race as a tiebreaker for enrollment in popular schools.

THE SALMON WARS: In 1976, Washington state was grappling with how to deal with the hugely controversial federal Boldt decision, reserving for Native Americans half of the salmon caught in this state. The principles and ramifications of Boldt are still being debated 25 years after our cover story "The showdown over salmon." Over the last few years, Native Americans have used Boldt to argue for rights to shellfish as well as salmon. Recognition of new tribes has become a fighting matter among Native Americans because of the share of salmon involved. And Boldt defined the tribes' hostile relationship with Slade Gorton, who vehemently argued against Native American fishing rights as state attorney general and went on to attack tribal sovereignty as a U.S. senator, a story that graced our covers as recently as 1997.

SKATEBOARD OUTLAWS: "Skateboards are back," announced a Weekly cover story that summer of '76. "And you might as well face it," we added, with ominous foresight, "This time they're not going to go away." This early analysis of skateboard mechanics and the culture of "noisy, ride-cadging ratpacks," could have been torn right from today's headlines. "Danger is part of skateboarding," we noted, "even an essential part of it."

FIXED SENTENCING: It was a new idea at the time—and one that appealed to some liberals as well as conservatives. Fixed sentencing is actually more humane to prisoners, argued a very young-looking Chris Bayley, then county prosecutor. At least prisoners wouldn't be subject to the arbitrary whims of overworked prosecutors and judges. The idea held sway in our judicial system both locally and nationally, resulting, here, in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1981. Yet, it has been the subject of nonstop debate—particularly as judges were forced to hand down outrageously long sentences for minor drug charges, overburdening already overcrowded jails and locking up a shocking percentage of the African- American population. This year, the current county prosecutor, Norm Maleng, joined a host of others around the county in calling for a return to flexibility on drug sentencing—flexible enough, at least, to allow for treatment as well as punishment.

WESTLAKE MALL: "Seattle, they say, once was a city where one had a good idea for a project, rounded up support via a few well-placed phone calls, and then did it." We were nostalgic for those days because, in 1976, the plan to build a park at Westlake Mall had already been on the table for 15 years. Ironically, it would take another 12 before we built the thing. And, still, the conversation continued about how best to use that space. Merchants like Nordstrom successfully lobbied for Pine Street to be opened up to cars in the mid-'90s. Others argued that the Westlake complex didn't meet the demand for a downtown park, giving rise to the doomed Seattle Commons effort. The debate over the adequacy of Westlake as a public space—and the wisdom of what we did there—continues today.

 
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