Brom Wikstrom wrote about racing soapbox carts as a child for 'Magnolia: Midcentury Memories.'
Brom Wikstrom wrote about racing soapbox carts as a child for 'Magnolia: Midcentury Memories.'

The Magnolia Historical Society provided a taste of its upcoming book about the neighborhood during the ‘50s and ‘60s at its annual meeting on Tuesday.

The event teased the upcoming release of “Magnolia: Midcentury Memories,” with readings from the history book by some of its authors.

“We’re remaining within our budget and moving right along,” said MHS president Dee St. George during the May 21 celebration at the Magnolia United Church of Christ.

This is the historical society’s third book in an ongoing series. “Magnolia: Memories and Milestones” is a record of the neighborhood’s early days and what shaped it, while “Magnolia: Making More Memories” narrowed the focus to the 1920s to 1940s.

“Magnolia: Midcentury Memories” received $80,000 in matching grant support from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, and the historical society’s more than 50 volunteers have so far put in roughly $40,000 in labor.

Several chapters have been written and designed.

“Also the cover,” St. George said, “but it’s a secret.”

The new book is now available for preorder for $35 — a $10 discount — at MHS is making 400 copies available for preorder out of the 1,250 hardbound books it plans to print this fall.

Before diving into excerpts during the May 21 celebration, attendees were treated to bowls of Dick’s burgers, the popular chain opening its first location in Wallingford in 1954.

Writer Whitney Mason, who served as editor on the first book, shared the history of the divisive decision by the city and school district to remove 20 homes in Magnolia to make way for a combined junior high school and community center. That school was Catherine Blaine Junior High School, which now accommodates students from kindergarten to eighth grade.

It was the first school west of the Mississippi where a school district and parks department joined together for such a model. The school opened in fall 1952, but not without a fight.

“Some embraced it and others had to be convinced,” Mason said.

The new concept caused a shakeup with the Magnolia Community Club — now the Magnolia Community Council — that resulted in its president being removed and the original nominee being replaced, Mason said. Lady Forbus became the first woman elected president of the club, and was also one of the first women elected to the state Senate several years prior.

More than 500 Magnolia families on either side of the fight packed a public hearing at Magnolia School.

The Seattle City Council voted to move ahead with plans for the joint junior high school and playfields on Dec. 12, 1949. The next day Forbus read a speech acknowledging the decision, Mason said, calling for a resolution of differences and cooperation.

While the school still exists in Magnolia, its once beloved movie theater was demolished in 1974 to make way for a Washington Mutual bank. The Magnolia Theater opened on 34th Avenue West in 1948.

Mike Musselwhite wrote about his experience working at the theater for “Midcentury Memories.”

“As I began to write, I couldn’t believe how many memories I’d forgotten that had come to mind,” Musselwhite said.

His father was a Marine who had been stationed in Guam after World War II, and was later transferred to Seattle, living in naval housing on the east end of Magnolia, he said.

The Magnolia Theater was a place for people to meet up with friends or share news with their neighbors, Musselwhite said, comparing it to a community center.

“The Magnolia Theater experience has never been equaled in the neighborhood since its departure,” he said.

For the $1.25 price of admission, theater-goers were provided with a movie, followed by a 15-minute intermission, and then a cartoon or two before another movie.

While other theaters reheated bags of popcorn, the Magnolia Theater popped its own. Twenty minutes before intermission, the process would start, Musselwhite said, and the manager could turn on fans from his office that pumped the smell into the auditorium.

Whatever didn’t sell that night was taken next door to the fire department.

“Those firefighters were just great guys,” Musselwhite said, “and they really enjoyed the popcorn we brought over there.”

Brom Wikstrom shared his fast and dangerous childhood spent racing down Magnolia’s hills in soapbox carts, which he and other children pieced together with scrap lumber from around the neighborhood.

“I preferred a stripped-down model,” he said, “usually because I was in a rush to try it out.”

He liked the hill on West Barrett Street, he said, but it resulted in many skinned knees for the youth that couldn’t navigate the turn, and sometimes a chipped tooth.

MHS member Monica Wooton, with a ball of Fruit Stripe Gum tucked in her cheek, talked briefly about the street racing that took place on Magnolia Boulevard in the sixties. Youth would paint lines on the street, she said, and flash their lights if they saw police, causing racers to turn off into one of the many make-out spots along the boulevard. Races in Magnolia were more a test for drivers before they headed out to real speedways on Saturday, she said.

Hot rods were lined up outside the Magnolia United Church of Christ for the celebration event. Eric Berge brought his 1963 Plymouth Sport Fury. He’s run the annual Magnolia Auto Show for more than a decade.

“I started going to it when someone else was running it in 2004,” he said, “and I took it over in 2008.”

His family moved to Magnolia in 1940, and his mother Diane Berge contributed to “Midcentury Memories” by writing about the old record store in Magnolia Village. She passed away in March at 83. Berge said he’s looking forward to reading the book when it comes out.

“I know the Magnolia book is a great book, because I’ve read it all,” Wooton said.

The book is slated for publication in October, and in the months after will be electronically available through the library and Kindle, St. George said.