Depression Era Seattle

aka “Mordor by the Sound”:

It’s kind of amazing that we went from this laissez faire capitalist hellhole punctuated with Commie violence to this sort of post-Puritan greenie town of latte sippers and bicycling enthusiasm.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)


    Access to clean drinking water and water for bathing! Yikes!

    Public sanitation! Yikes. (The smell!)

    Surface water issues – muddy floors when it rains. Yikes!

    Critters and vermin! Mold and mildew – constant allergies: coughing, sneezing, rashes, upset stomachs.

    Personal security at night – anyone could just walk into the house while the family is sleeping. No sleeping tight. Always have to keep an eye open.

    What I take for granted in my safe, warm, well-constructed, little, two-bedroom apartment in an affordable community. It ain’t the Ritz, and no one is impressed when they pull up to the front door of our post-war era garden apartment building, but it’s clean, well-constructed, and water-tight; it’s got indoor plumbing, electricity; it’s got central heating and A/C.

    Wow! Just wow!

  • Marcel

    The biggest change came from the invention of color during the war. The rich banksters wanted to patent it, but FDR ordered the federal government to make the visible spectrum freely available to all, even the poorest. Prosperity and happiness followed. A cabal of industrialists was finally able to get control of development during the Eisenhower administration, so the grande latte took another generation; it’s still not available in parts of the Midwest, but the federal Rural Caffeination Administration is making progress.

    • beccolina

      Don’t believe it! Starbucks has infiltrated even the purest of small western towns, selling their addictive substances blatantly in the supermarket, often right across from the children’s cereals. They will stop at nothing short of world domination! Refuse to comply by buying Mystic Monk coffee.,

  • ivan_the_mad

    Don’t forget all the exceedingly delicious pho shops.

  • Linda C.

    Housing looks like South Omaha back in the day (I recall homes with outhouses as recently as the ’60′s—still don’t have all streets paved or with storm sewers). I imagine many cities had sections like that.

  • euphemos

    Look! A prime example of the poor getting poorer!

    • Mark Shea

      Yes. The New Deal and the massive federal project called the Interstate never happened. It was all purely due to laissez faire capitalism, which Leo XIII gave unreserved praise. And that is why state regulation of capitalism is always evil and capitalism does not concentrate more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

      • Nate Winchester

        The New Deal lengthened the depression and made poverty worse. WW2 did more to alleviate poverty than tND ever did. (and even then only because we were blowing up competiting markets) If anything it was far worse for the poor and the country than anything from the Gilded Age (and it did more to hut the family as an institution too).

        I mean, c’mon Mark. You (rightly) criticize pro-life people for using lies to promote their (righteous and just) cause. You shouldn’t then commit the same sin in the (righteous and just) cause against corporation insanity.

  • SouthCoast

    If any of those structures are still extant, they’ve probably been reno’d on HGTV and are going for a premium for their period charm.

  • bob

    This picture always makes me cry. My father was a high school student in Seattle then. He told me he walked through this place on several occasions. He always felt quite safe, the people there were just regular people, some educated, some not, virtually all who just plain had terrible luck in the Depression. A tragedy that goes on now. Now the area I think is Port of Seattle property, lots of containers to load on freighters.

  • Blog Goliard

    Okay…yes, terrible living conditions, tremendously grateful I don’t have to live like that.

    And yet…is anyone else amazed that enough of those folks were sufficiently skilled and functional, and cooperated successfully enough, to build what you see in the picture? (I’d have my hands full even trying to pitch a tent.)

    Either the underclass of Depression-era Seattle was elsewhere, living in still more desperate circumsatnces…or the underclass has changed a whole heck of a lot in 75 years.

  • Hezekiah Garrett


    Those abilities don’t mean much and don’t get passed down when building codes and minimum sq ft requirwments make what you see impossible.

    I grew up in a house like those ( the dirt floor, which doesn’t get muddy in the rain at all if properly constructed, was replaced by black walnut in 1912 when a BW was struck by lightning and felled.)

    Just prove the point, I built one, contra codes, for a friend last year. 450sq ft, recycled pallets, poured dirt floor, salvage windows and doors. Gorgeous little place, less than 2k including plumbing and solar electric.

    The underclass ain’t dead. Soon as law changes I gots 50 welfare moms itching to learn how.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    In fact, it wasn’t American Entreupenuerism TM, nor Gross Governmental Intervention TM, and neither was it improved corporate cross country shipping. There is one real reason you don’t see such sights in most of America these days: Zoning regulations.

    They artificial inflate your property values by excluding any poor father with enough gumption to erect a shack. You want to know why the poor don’t help themselves? It isn’t the public teat, that came later. It is this, laws which preclude a hardworking man from building a modest house from the junk and garbage the wealthy discard. Once you tell him he can’t, under penalty of law, find his own solutions to the presaing problems his existence generates; that he either addresses his problems in ways useful to the wealthy, or his problems multiply, he begins to give up. Later, when robbed of this dignity by his betters, you then offer to aupport his wife and children, if only he were out of the picture, what’s anybody but a saint (or a pigheaded idiot like me) going to do?

    Quit, that’s what. It a black mark, not a source of pride, that scenes like this are here no longer.

    May God help the mam who intimates it’s the fault of.the poor themselves.

    • Blog Goliard

      You’re quite right, in that so much of the regulation that increasingly chokes our society–and zoning was an early and massive lurch in this direction–effectively tries to ensure that everyone has a safe and pleasant and orderly middle-class existence by proscribing anything less. Which is great if you can scrape together the money to make it into the middle class. If not…well, you can take your chances living as a scofflaw, or wind up on the streets.

      Or–the preferred option, from the view of our betters in the managerial governing class–you can try living as a ward of the state, in the public housing that they bulldozed perfectly functional, though poor, neighborhoods in order to build.

      • Hezekiah Garrett

        You’re preaching to the chior here,man.

        My daddy quit a GREAT job (by the world’s light) as a civil engineer for a state DOT when his wife abandoned her 16month old daughter and 4 yo son on the 4yo’s birthday, because subsistence farming back home with his family meant he was there 24/7 to be a father.

        We did that for a decade. No running water, busting 10+ acres by mule, with a couple of pigs in a pen. Now this was during the Reagan administration. He taught me to never buy nothing brand new and let the rich man take that depreciation hit (I only buy my socks and underwear brand new.) How to keep a furrow straight with nothing more than “GEE!” and “HAW!” How to put up jars and jars of all kinds of food and how to smoke hams, and where to find all kinds of food growing wild, both animal and vegetable.

        But right before I turned 15, the county and state said “If you don’t have an indoor toilet, you ain’t shit, Mr. Garrett. We will take the only two things you value and tell the world what a rotten excuse for a man you are. Where’d I spend the rest of my adolescence? In a housing project in town, buying garbage from the Hoggly Woggly on food stamps, getting treated like I didn’t know how to work or value anything.

        I’m convinced Jesus is gonna make all of it known at the eschaton, and I really think most people are gonna feel real bad about it then and say “If only I had known.” Maybe it’s my job to try to save Jesus a little time, ’cause if everybody else is anything like me, He’s gonna have a full docket. But I am tired and worn out trying to fight these laws. I am in despair that they will never change.

        I don’t hate the rich, no sir!, and I don’t want to punish them, neither. I just wish we lived in a place where I could ignore them, go on about my life, and leave them to enjoy their empty rat race. But that’s not the world we live in. And I admit I get frustrated with you on a personal level because sometimes you argue, it seems to me at least, for the very things we’re sitting here talking agin’. I’d love to be a community organiser, if the wealthy and the law would get out of our way and let us fix our own sorry lives.

        But cutting off the teat once the poor are addicted to it ain’t no Christian way to go about it.

  • Hezekiah Garrett


    Talking to Blog spurred me to actually open that picture full size, enlarge it and really examine it. A few disjointed points that may not matter to anyone now follow…

    Find the gentleman in the fedora and white shirt, just down and to the viewr’s left from center. All these comments will use him as a reference.

    1st the general stuff. What a wide variety of architectural styles are on display! And all the resources stacked around, ready for use, salvaged most likely from those monstrous signs of capitalism writ large in the background.

    Now move down 2 houses behind our gentleman. They have an addition! Apparently its a kitchen, judging from the stovepipe. And they are gonna have a wood floor soon, judging from the stack of lumber beside the house. A few more boards and it’ll be no more dirt for that family. I bet the children who live there dragged those home one or two at a time while daddy’s off working or begging (it was the depression afterall) and mama’s slaving over that wood or coal stove. But their still holding the roof on with big stones instead of nails. But that roof probably doesn’t leak a bit.

    2 and 3 forwards from him though, there’s a shack that’s fell in, and then another being built right next to it. Maybe to replace what’s fallen?

    And over to his right, see that thing that looks like just a roof with a stove pipe? I’d be willing to wager that’s a dugout, probably 2-4 feet deep, though it might be a couple of bachelors in a cramped A-frame. with ya’lls weather dugouts don’t seem sensical.

    And just above the dugout/bachelor pad is a pallet house! You can tell that’s from shipping pallets by the length of the boards! I honestly had no idea people were already using pallets to build houses back then! and look at the fellow standing outside it. Longshoreman’s hat, but still in a suit coat.

    And all the garbage strewn about? Well, there isn’t any. Those are tiny hardware stores and wood lots, where people are storing building materials and burnable wood for use later. it isn’t just thrown and strewn although it looks disorderly to the American eye today. Those are neatly sorted and stacked piles.

    I think it’s shameful that such a sight is so foreign that comfortable people don’t even recognise anything in it. It disorients y’all. Not a shame on y’all, just generally shameful.

    Bring back Mordor!!! is what I say.