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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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Yes, Jim Crow used to live here: The
Coon Chicken Inn on the road to Bothell

(Front door)
      That's right, boys and girls, cats and kitties, you walked in the front door of the Coon Chicken Inn and Cotton Club through the "Negro's" teeth. And the "coast to coast" was a bit of a stretch, unless you count the east coast as being on the shore of the Great Salt Lake, which it may have been eons ago. Photo courtesy of this very informative website. The editor's dear friend Bernie Leaf, who is barely old enough to remember, recalls the Coon Chicken Inn well, when her family drove by it on the way from Seattle to Bothell on the highway north of Lake Washington.

(Stapp 1990)
Stan Stapp, 1998

Courtesy of the late Stan Stapp, loaned to the Journal in 1999
      Bothell, in the olden days, was noted for the number of roadhouses and night clubs spread along its route. They offered the three Ds of entertainment: Dining, Dancing, and Drinking, plus, in some cases, gambling and prostitution. Some were known as steak or chicken houses, others as just plain restaurants. There were two reasons for their location on the outskirts of the city: The introduction of the automobile, which extended the ability of city-dwellers to widen their horizon; and to the county's more relaxed attitude towards vice than that of the city.
      At that time Bothell Way extended from NE 75th to the town of Bothell, well beyond the northeast city limits at NE 65th. In Greenwood the city limits were at N 85th. In 1954 both were extended to 145th.
      Nowadays part of the old Bothell Way has been renamed Lake City Way NE, running from NE 75th to NE 145th; and Bothell Way has kept its original name the rest of the route through Kenmore to Bothell. It used to be Bothell Way all the way. In addition, at times it was also known as the Pacific or Victory Highway.
      As a kid I recall witnessing adults playing slot machines in a Greenwood area establishment, legally, because it was on the NORTH side of N 85th. The SOUTH side would have been illegal. When prohibition ended in [Dec. 5,] 1933, and the liquor laws slowly became more tolerant, the necessity of locating drinking establishments outside the city was no longer an important factor..
      "I know because I was there." Take your pick.
      I recall a late evening of dancing at the Jolly Roger in about 1938 with another young couple. "Strangers in the night" we were, having met only minutes before at a dance in the Women's Gym on the UW campus. I'd been a regular at these Friday night dances, a high school grad who could afford the price of admission — just 25 cents. Probably half the dancers, like me, were also grads who couldn't afford college; the rest were UW students who could.

(Hollywood district, Portland)
      An aerial photo of the third Coon Chicken Inn location, in the old Hollywood section of Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Mike Helton's website about the memories of that district.

      Actually, the two girls sort of "kidnapped us" at midnight, just after the band had finished playing the standard quitting number, "Goodnight, Sweetheart." They more or less "made us" take them to the Jolly Roger, which by now was more of a coffee shop/restaurant with a jukebox. We had a great time anyway, foxtrotting and jitterbugging with the big bands on 78 rpm records until 3:00 a.m.
      How lucky can you get?

(Negro logo)
The logo in an advertisement. Courtesy of the grandson of the owner of Coon Chicken Inn.

      About 50 years later, 1989 to be exact, the Jolly Roger (by then known as the Hunan Wok Restaurant) went down in flames, believed to have been set. I heard the alarm on my radio scanner and as soon as I could stopped by to witness the destruction of this historical landmark, the last intact roadhouse in Seattle.
      North of the Coon Chicken Inn and Jolly Roger, at 14540 Bothell Way, was the Plantation restaurant and nightclub which probably opened in the '20s and folded about 1948. Hal Hollstrom's brother-in-law, Shorty Clough, had a band there at one time. Shorty was a professional drummer and vocalist, and accomplished on the marimba and vibraphone.
      The Plantation later became The Manor (also known as the Theatre Club), and for several years offered family-styled dinners and dancing. Several other places later located there, including a Union 76 gas station (which I patronized), and still later (next door) the Elks Club, where my Lincoln High Class of '36 currently holds semi-annual luncheons.
      I remember, as a little kid, the first time we drove by the Plantation (at least I think it was the Plantation) I was so impressed with the large white building, that I inquired of my folks: "Is this the White House where The President lives?"
      There were, of course, many more dining and drinking places along Bothell Way, such as the Green Mill, 15316 Bothell Way, which featured a Dutch windmill, and was open during the '40s and 'SOs, and maybe a little longer.
      And then there was the Christie Coffee Pot, Eastwood Doc, Garden Inn, Jim's Cafe and Tavern, Jim's Chili Parlor, Joe's Cafe, Red Wing Barbecue, Coffee Cup, Coffee Pot, Cornwell's Cafe, Cove Restaurant, Hasty Tasty, Lake City Grill, Meves Cafe, Sally's Cafe, Thom-Wal's Cafe, Town Hall Fish and Chips, Village Cafe, and more. And, if you liked "Fine Italian Food" there was The Leaning Tower of Pizza, 7521 Bothell Way — which didn't last very long. Could it maybe have leaned a little too far?

Stan Stapp explained:
      A few days ago, after turning out 325 columns for the Seattle Press, I wrote my final one. For after 12 years of struggling, Press publisher Terry Denton decided to call it quits. He must be smarter than I, for it took me 52 years to figure out that my paper, the old Outlook [newspaper], wasn't a big moneymaker.
      When I first started writing for the Press (formerly the Fremont Forum its editor (my very First Boss) was Clayton Park. Now, I've been hired at low pay — well, actually no pay (plus seven subscriptions to relatives) to write a column for the Jet City Maven. And, I'm trying not to panic since discovering my New Boss, Susan Park, is the Wife of my First Boss.
      She and Clayton are the co-publishers, but Susan is doing 99 percent of the work. Hubby has a role, though, holding down a good job with the Eastside Journal and, as the Park's "cash cow," providing the family with essential items — like food.

(Coon Coaster)
A coaster from the Coon Chicken Inn. Courtesy of Shaun's Coon Chicken Inn website, with many collectibles.

      Inasmuch as the Maven circulates a lot of papers around Lake City, Susan inquired of me: "Do you have any familiarity with the area?" "Quite a bit," I let her know. "My wife, Dorothy and I live nearby in Wedgwood and frequently eat or shop in Lake City. And if you want history, try me. I probably won't have to waste time finding some old duffer to interview — if it happened in the last 65 years I probably was there."
      For example, I recall in the olden days how 125th and Bothell Way (now Lake City Way) had one blinking light, a gas station, and nothing else. It was really out in the sticks, a spot in the road one had to drive through to get around the north end of Lake Washington and through Fall City to reach Snoqualmie Pass. This was before the lake was bridged.
      We used to shop Lake City, particularly the Elks corner at 145th where there was the Suburban IGA, a restaurant, and a gas station. On occasional Sunday mornings the gas man would drive to our house at about 7 a.m., pick up our Sunday paper from the roadside box, knock on our bedroom window, exchange it for our car keys, and drive it to the station for a lube job. Another store we patronized was Dahl's Shoes, where every 13th pair was free. Having three kids, this was more than once.
      In the '60s Lake City's paper was The Star, published by Lucille Glen and her husband (whose first name escapes me). But what a nice guy. My daughter, Diane, worked there as a "Girl Friday." (It was all right to say that in those days.) After he died Lucille worked for me at the Outlook.
      Or I could relate the story of the three night spots clustered at N 85th and Bothell Way: the Coon Chicken Inn, the Club Cotton, and the Jolly Roger — the latter known as a speakeasy and den of prostitution. My family ate at the Coon Chicken several Sundays when I was a kid. Coming from the lily-white North End I was very interested in the waiters, all of them Negroes (as they were called then.)
      In the late '30s I used to attend the Friday night dances held at the Women's Gym on the UW campus. One midnight, when the dance had ended, two girls "kidnapped" another fellow and me, and made us take them to the Jolly Roger, where we danced to the jukebox until 3 a.m.
      The Club Cotton originally had live dance music, too. But in 1942 it was just jukebox. At that time I had a girlfriend who was a dance teacher with the Hollywood Studios in the U District. One night she and I and several teachers danced there — but it lacked the beat of live music.
      In October 1989, the former Jolly Roger (then the Hunan Wok Restaurant) burned to the ground. I was there, hoping to find evidence of the "secret tunnel" under Bothell Way, between the Coon Chicken Inn and the Jolly Roger — "designed as an escape route for Jolly Roger patrons to slip over to the Coon Chicken Inn should the cops show up." Out of space. See you next time!

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos of Coon Chicken Inn memorabilia:
(Coon-Club coaster)
(Ceramic Negro)
Far left: Coon Chicken Inn/Cotton Club coaster. Center: Ceramic Negro kitsch. Right: Coon Chicken ashtray.

Bothell Highway then a "red brick road"
      Hal Hollstrom, a Lincoln High '36 classmate of mine, recalls how the old Bothell Highway was "a red brick road," the main route to Everett if you veered left and to Bothell if you veered right. This was before the Aurora Bridge was completed in 1932, and Aurora Ave. became U. S. 99, the main route to Everett and beyond.
      Hal, who has an original menu from the Coon Chicken Inn, made a copy for me, the cover of which is printed here. The top dinner item featured a double portion of Coon Chicken or Coon Fried Steak, fruit or shrimp cocktail, chicken consomee, lettuce and tomato or fruit salad, French fries, vegetable, hot rolls, cranberry sherbet, olive and 'pickle, choice of chocolate nut fudge cake, ice cream, or sherbet, and coffee, tea, or milk. All for $1.25.
      A smaller version was offered at lunchtime for 60 cents. In about 1942, when I was about 24, several friends and I decided to stop by the Club Cotton one evening. We were all associated with the Hollywood Dance Studios on University Way, several as teachers, and I as a student and boyfriend of one of the teachers, Josephine Klingler.

(The menu)
The menu. Courtesy of Stan Stapp

      To our surprise, however, no one else was at the Club Cotton, and there was no band. Just a jukebox. The glamour and crowds of the past were history. We danced several dances, then left. Coon Chicken Inn was founded by Maxon Lester Graham and his wife, Adelaide. They also owned two other Coon Chicken Inns, one in Salt Lake City, the other in Portland. The Seattle and Salt Lake restaurants had cabarets and orchestras. Shortly after starting the Lake City operation they moved here, making their home in northeast Seattle.
      While prowling the Internet I came across some information about the Coon Chicken Inn, written by a grandson of the founders. Included was a rep1ica of the menu cover, featuring a colorful head logo of a black waiter with a big grin displaying the lettering: COON CHICKEN INN on his teeth. 'The head logo also appeared at the entrance of each inn," said the grandson, "and on every dish, silverware item, and paper product. The artifacts are very popular in the Black Memorabilia market."
      In accompanying copy, the grandson (who did not give his name) added:
      'I do not condone the 'Jim Crow' attitudes of those days. I and ALL of my siblings believe in full equality for all races, creeds, and skin colors. he legacy that was left by my grandparents was one that seemed to be a normal business practice that has since seen its day and I for one am grateful for it."
      Today, the original Lake City building is long gone, replaced by Ying' s Drive-in, which features a large Chinese menu and a few American items prawns, hamburgers, and chips) to dine in or to go out. When I stopped by the other day owner George Ying was not in, but Patty Wang told me:
      "Customers will tell you Ying's has been here forever!" On second thought she added: "Well, maybe for 35 years.
      Across the street from the Coon Chicken Inn was another restaurant and nightclub, the Jolly Roger, 8721 Bothell Way, which was built in 1929 and known as the China Castle. In 1935 it changed owners and became the Jolly Roger.
      Originally the Jolly Roger was a speakeasy and den of prostitution. The basement was filled with cubicle rooms for the prostitutes and their customers, and there was a lookout tower, which it was said "was to watch for the authorities," and if they showed up, "a secret escape tunnel under the highway" to the Coon Chicken Inn.
      Today, the original Lake City building is long gone, replaced by Ying' s Drive-In, which features a large Chinese menu and a few American items (prawns, hamburgers, and chips) to dine in or to go out. When I stopped by the other day, owner George Ying was not in, but Patty Wang told me:
      "Customers will tell you Ying's has been here forever!" On second thought she added: "Well, maybe for 35 years."
      Across the street from the Coon Chicken Inn was another restaurant and nightclub, the Jolly Roger, 8721 Bothell Way, which was built in 1929 and known as the China Castle. In 1935 it changed owners and became the Jolly Roger.
      Originally the Jolly Roger was a speakeasy and den of prostitution. The basement was filled with cubicle rooms for the prostitutes and their customers, and there was a lookout tower, which it was said "was to watch for the authorities," and if they showed up, "a secret escape tunnel under the highway" to the Coon Chicken Inn.
      "I've talked to many people who "knew about the tunnel," including Jim Doi, who in the '30s operated a vegetable market just north of the Coon Chicken Inn. He believed there MIGHT have been a tunnel there but — like the others — had never actually been in it. And there was a former Jolly Roger busboy and waiter, Bill Dudley, who shortly after the fire, said "I can testify there was no tunnel." And Violet Wikstrom, who said there was:

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Story posted on April 18, 2009 . . . Please report any broken links so we can update them
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