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Bill Phalen's Parade

RVHS Photo #93.1.64

Bill Phalen was an organizer. He was also a professional baseball player, a politician (Columbia City's mayor), and he started Columbia City's first volunteer fire company, organized a baseball team and he owned and operated one of Rainier Valley's largest stores.

Bill came to Seattle in 1903 from the mid-west and settled in Columbia City, purchasing the two-story Knights of Pythias building that had been constructed in 1892. He had experience in the grocery business in the east and established himself in the same business in Columbia City with the Reliance General Store, located in the building he purchased.

He changed the company's name to Phalen's Grocery as on the truck sign, however the sign on the building above the truck states, W. W. Phalen, your Grocer. He probably didn't have space for all those letters on the truck sign.

The upper floor was a meeting hall used by a variety of organizations for meetings, social gatherings and dances and came to be known as Phalen's Hall.

He organized and was chairman of the first Rainier Valley Fiesta in 1915. The truck in the accompanying photo was Bill's entry in the parade. He was promoting his grocery business by having his employees as passengers with a sign stating "The Bunch That Deliver the Goods."

The truck had solid rubber tires and a chain drive as transmissions were yet to be developed. A canopy, and what appears to be side curtains, covered the truck bed.

Ten of Bill's employees were riding with him in the truck. Bill Phalen, with the mustache, is seated to the right, behind the driver. Behind him are three ladies with their large fancy hats that were stylish at the time. Two of the ladies were the Curtis sisters.

For this photo the truck was headed north on Rainier Avenue standing in front of their store. The first floor of the building exists today and houses the Tropicana Restaurant. A fire in 1941 that started in a closet of the Columbia Bakery on the first floor, destroyed the second floor of the building. The dance floor was only scorched so rather than rebuild they just added a roof.

We have one of the 20 page Official Programs from the 1915 Fiesta in our archives. Hidden between all of the advertising that covered every page is a listing of the Fiesta's events. To give you a feel for what the Rainier Valley Fiesta of 1915 was all about, a description of some of the events is listed here.

The celebration started at two p.m. on a Sunday afternoon in July with one of the Rainier Valley streetcars, carrying a Calithumpian Band, traveling between downtown Seattle and Renton. They were promoting the Fiesta that was about to start in Columbia City and would continue until late into the evening.

Children's activities were from 2 to 4 p.m. featuring a Punch and Judy Show, pony riding, merry-go-round and sports competition with prizes.

Cavanaugh's Band played from 3 to 6 p.m. Following the printed announcements of these events listed in the program, a statement relevant to the performers was usually included. For this musical group the message was: "Let joyfull, weird and soothing music sounds cause all forgetfulness of care."

During the dinner hour intermission the booths were open and people were encouraged to visit them as "Mr. Gardner has arranged many attractive ones."

The Calithumpian Parade consisting of bands, floats, horses and people started at 7:30 p.m. at Edmunds Street, proceeded to Kenney Street and returned to Columbia City. ("Calithumpian" is not in the dictionary. Does anybody have a clue as to what it means?)

After the parade, there was music by the Lakewood Choral Club. At 8:45 p.m. there were selections by the Eagle Band, followed by the Tillikum Drum Corps. Then a Drill by the Eagle & Redman Drill teams.

The reception of Seattle's mayor, H. C. Gill was next. The program comment was "The Mayor is with us. Give him a goodly reception."

At 10:00 p.m. a fireworks display was presented by Columbia City's own "Hitt Brothers Fireworks Co." The comment for this announcement was "Hitt Fireworks Co., are known all over the United States. We are fortunate in having this great and original attraction. ( H. Bruskevith, provided for the excellent night display.)"

This was followed by a showing of Lantern Slides by Rev. R. D. Nichols. The program stated "Be sure and see the lantern slides. They will interest and edify your understanding." The last event on the program, at 10:45 p.m., was the Street Dancing. "Dance, and the winds of the night dance with you." And the final comment in the program was "From this time on, let all the citizens within the limits of this place, amalgamate as one."

The Columbia City Fiestas continued for two additional years and the streets were crowded with people from all over Seattle.

Unfortunately, Bill Phalen died of a heart attack in 1917 while in New York attending the baseball World Series. That year, 1917, was also the final year of the Rainier Valley Fiestas.


Days Gone By 

South District Journal 10/13/1999

By Buzz Anderson

The Rainier Valley Historical Society's office and museum are located at 3515

S. Alaska Street just West of Rainier Avenue, in the Rainier Valley Cultural Center building.  Stop by and see our displays of Rainier Valley's unique history.  


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