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Columbia City's First Pool Hall



RVHS photo 1993.001.0032


There is a question as to the date this photograph was taken. Written on the back  of this original photo we have in our files are the dates, “1907 to 1908.” Then below that is written  “May 8 – 1907.” Regardless of the date we do know that the description written on the back and referring to Columbia City was right, “Our First Barbershop and Pool Hall.”


One of the early pioneers, and an active member of the Pioneers of Columbia City during his lifetime, donated this photo from his private collection years ago. He was a donor of many of the photos we have and as he was accustomed to doing, he stamped his name on the back of his photos with a rubber stamp. The reason was probably his concern about getting them returned to him after being on display at the Pioneer’s annual April meetings. Fortunately he always added, on the back, the descriptive information and dates pertaining to the photos. The rubber stamp on the back of this photo read “Menzo C. Laporte.”


 Menzo was born January 11th, 1891, just three months before the first lots were sold in Columbia. He spent his lifetime as Columbia City’s favorite barber. One might say he actually grew up “with” Columbia City and that may explain his interest in Columbia’s history and his active membership in the Pioneers of Columbia City, our predecessor organization. Everybody knew Menzo. Also, there was a good reason why Menzo should have had much more than a casual interest in this particular photograph. We will get to that.


The location of this first pool hall and barber shop, depicted in the photo, was 4915 Rainier Ave. That site is on the west side of Rainier Ave. adjacent to the alley between Ferdinand and Hudson Streets. 


Over the years the building has seen a variety of business tenants. In our book, “The Centennial History of Columbia City”, written by our former historian, Carey Summers, and published in 1992, there is a listing of the early day tenants at each address in Columbia. It shows six businesses at this site. We also know that there were several that were not listed. For instance the “First Barbershop and Pool Hall” photo accompanying this article was one of those not listed.  The businesses that were listed at 4915 Rainier Ave. were:  Jack Monahan’s “The Boar’s Nest,”  North’s Rainier Valley Transfer,  Thurlow’s Garage (1915),  George Hurd’s Barber Shop (1920,s) and Universal High Power Telephone Co.     


The back of this photograph does not mention the name of the barbershop. Nor does it mention the name of the man in the white shirt and bow tie standing next to the pool table. There is a clue however and again we refer to Carey’s book that gives us descriptions of the pioneer’s photographs.   For this particular photo there was one sentence that I had overlooked many times until I started doing research for this article. It referred to the little girl in the photo as “the future Mrs. Menzo Laporte.”


It turned out that Menzo started his barbering career as a young man when he went to work for Columbia City barber, Mr. Lee Gardner. The job had an unforeseen outcome. Menzo married Lee Gardner’s daughter, Ruth.  If this photo was taken in 1907, Ruth would have been six years old and Menzo would have been 16. 


As a teenager Menzo had a reputation for being a pretty wild kid around the town of Columbia. The town Constable at that time was Fremont (Free) Parker. Free’s son John and I have been good friends for many years and I have had several interviews with him about Columbia’s early days. John has a fantastic memory and one incident he described to me involved a situation between his dad, the constable, and Menzo.


 “Free” had impounded a cow that had been allowed to roam the streets of Columbia and the cow belonged to a friend of Menzo. Well, Menzo was handsome, big, a brawler and frequently drunk and on this occasion he accosted the Constable in an effort to get the cow back.  Parker was not a large man by any means, and Menzo demanded the cow be released.  Menzo was drunk so Parker put him in a cell for which Menzo threatened to get even.


One night Parker fell asleep in his chair in front of the jailhouse stove. Menzo came in, handcuffed the sleeping constable and locked him in a cell for the night. The difference in their sizes was such that Parker avoided any future contact with Menzo to the extent that he would cross the street or go around the block rather than pass him on the sidewalk.  


Getting back to the photograph, I think we have good reason to assume the man Ruth was standing next to in the photo was her dad and he was, based on his attire, probably the barber in the pool-room. The barber chair can be seen in front of the left window.


The future Ruth Gardner Laporte was born in 1901. She and Menzo had one son, Clinton, (Bud) Laporte. Ruth was a wonderful person and I’m sure it was her influence that helped Menzo change his ways. He became an upstanding businessman in the community and also was an active church member.


 Menzo and Ruth were close friends of my family and we were all very active in the Columbia Congregational Church at 39th and Ferdinand St., Columbia’s first church . Ruth had a marvelous singing voice and was the soloist with the church choir. She also started a part time job at Grayson & Brown Hdwe and Furn Co. in Columbia City on June 30th, 1943, at that time a partnership between Henry Peterson and my dad, Art Anderson.  Ruth worked at the store part-time for the next 30 years.


She started working during the World War II years, a time when employees for small businesses were hard to find as most of them had been drafted into the armed forces. My dad employed several older retired men and housewives from the surrounding area. Ruth was one of them and she could sell nails, fencing and paint from the hardware department as well as anyone. With her friendly outgoing personality she was very adept at selling giftware and she had a knack for suggesting just the right item for our customers.


When it came to gift wrapping however, she didn’t have the patience that it takes to fold the paper evenly, wrap the ribbon around the package and tie the bow just so. We had a reputation for beautiful, free gift-wrapping and she didn’t make the grade for the beautiful part of that reputation. On holidays when we had lines of customers waiting for  gift wrapping, my dad would persuade her to stay away from the wrapping counter and do what she did best, sell, and let the school girl he temporarily hired do the wrapping.


Whenever I needed a haircut of course I went to Menzo’s shop. He was located at 4910 Rainier Ave., across the street from the “Barber Shop and Pool Room” shown in the photo. He was there from 1929 until he retired. He was a successful businessman in Columbia. He had another barber, Bob Murphy, in the shop with him and a shoe shine stand with a black attendant I think was named Stark. He also added a beauty salon in the back room of his shop for the local ladies. The entry door for the ladies was in the alley.


Previous to that he had been at 5 different locations in Columbia City.  His first shop was a partnership with Lee Gardner at 4866 Rainier Ave. and they moved to 4870 in 1917. Then he opened his own shop at 4906 in the early ‘20s, moved to 4904 in 1922 and then his final location at 4910 Rainier Ave., across the alley from the Columbia Café. 


He gave haircuts to my great grandfather, D.C. Brown and my grandfather, “Will” Brown. My dad, Arthur Anderson went to him as I did and we have movies of Menzo giving my two boys their first hair cut. I’m sure this scenario was repeated with many of the local pioneer families. 

I have a very vivid memory of one incident that I shall never forget. It occurred as I was sitting in Menzo’s barber chair. He had the radio on as he usually did and a startling announcement came over the airwaves. President John Kennedy had been assassinated. 


 Like everyone else on that infamous occasion, I was shocked at the news and all my life since then, every time I climb into a barber’s chair I am reminded of that tragic day, the little shop next to the alley and my friend, Menzo Laporte.  It isn’t very often that I get a haircut anymore as I inherited the family baldness trait. I still think I should qualify for a discounted rate.


Most poolrooms existing today are in conjunction with a tavern and you can have a beer if you want to. It was not so in Columbia City in those days. It was dry town from the time they incorporated as a town of the fourth class in the state of Washington in 1893, until the area was annexed by the City of Seattle in 1907. The founding fathers, in one of their first city ordinances, banned “saloons” in Columbia. In was in effect for fourteen years.


My grandmother was an advocate of the dry town ordinance. I never discussed it with her but I have always wondered how my grandfather,  “ Will” Brown, ever convinced her to allow him to purchase a tavern, particular the one at 4915 Rainier Ave. That’s right, the building in the above photo.  I am not sure when he bought it because the subject didn’t come up very often. She gave him a strict mandate that no one was to know they owned such a place.  When they died in their 90s, the building passed on to my parents and then on to my sister and myself. We had to spend about $7000 to repair the rotting foundation when the tavern operator complained about the sloping pool tables. For the benefit of my departed grandmother I want to point out one thing, our family never operated the tavern, we just collected the rent when we could get it. 

The tavern now is called “Angies” and is a well run family oriented business with the bad reputation of past years long gone.


If you lived in the “Valley” a few decades ago, you will undoubtedly remember the tavern when it was called the “Pink Poodle” with a big pink sign over the entrance. It is amazing to me the building is intact pretty much as it was almost a century ago. Thanks to Columbia City’s Landmark status, that one piece of local history will be around for generations to come.



 

Days Gone By 

South District Journal 10/9/2002

By Buzz Anderson


Preserving historical information such as this for the benefit of future generations is one of the objectives of the Rainier Valley Historical Society. You can help us by becoming a member. Dues are $20 a year & you receive our quarterly newsletter.  You can also donate to our endowment fund that is providing us with income for a part-time director.     

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