Freedom in Fremont: An Early Gas Station in Seattle

In the early 1900s nationalist fervor built up in Europe until the tensions exploded into the First World War from 1914 to 1918.  When Germany declared war on Russia, it set off power struggles within that country which ended Russia’s Romanov dynasty and led to even more political and social upheaval.  Vladimir Lenin claimed to be leading a “workers revolution,” but he seized power and became dictator of the world’s first communist country, the Soviet Union.

Lenin speaking at a rally in 1919

In Seattle after the First World War there was some economic instability and social unrest such as the Seattle General Strike in February 1919.  In this centennial year of the Seattle General Strike, the event is being re-examined as to its causes, course, and conclusion.  Some believe that the Strike was triggered in part by news of the “workers revolution” in Russia.  Unfortunately for Russia, the so-called “power to the people” movement devolved into nothing more than another oppressive regime, led by Lenin.

Despite some turmoil in Seattle in 1919, free enterprise prevailed.  One of the key factors in overcoming oppression is the freedom to make one’s own choices of work and other opportunities.  In Seattle in the 1920s immigrants could take hold of the American Dream by owning their own businesses.  One such example of immigrant success was the Fremont Tire Shop at 3526 Fremont Place North, in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.  The business was established by two Norwegian men.

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Scandinavians in Seattle

The Fremont neighborhood in Seattle is located at the northwest corner of Lake Union. Map courtesy of HistoryLink.

Although the rate of immigration had slowed, in the early 1920s Seattle was still a place favored by immigrants from Scandinavian countries.  National population numbers showed that the State of Washington had the most Scandinavians in proportion to its resident population, of any state in the USA.  Attracted by the beautiful aspect of water and mountains, Scandinavians were drawn to the Seattle area for the fishing and lumber industries and by the overall economic vitality of Seattle.

In 1924 two Norwegian immigrants, John Fogman and Olaf Pedersen, opened the Fremont Tire Shop & Service Station at 3526 Fremont Place North.  The site was on the tip of a triangular block, on a busy street with good visibility in the Fremont business district.

These two Norwegian men had each been in Seattle for ten or more years and had worked at other occupations, Fogman as a riveter at the shipyard and Pedersen as a vulcanizer at another tire shop.  A vulcanizer is someone who works on a tire-building machine using heat to mold the traction patterns onto a tire and fuse the tire’s components together.   The Fremont Tire Shop was both a gas station and a place to supply and service tires.

Undated photo of the Fremont Tire Shop in early years. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Vintage Facebook page.

 

Doric Lodge No. 92 is at 619 North 36th Street in Fremont.

Records of the Doric Lodge at 619 North 36th Street tell how the Lodge gradually acquired the lots on that triangular block in the early 1900s.  The Lodge built their own building on North 36th Street nearest to the corner of Fremont Ave North, and they built other buildings which were leased to commercial tenants.  The rental income helped support the programs of the Doric Lodge, such as aid to the unemployed.

In 1927 the Doric Lodge acquired ownership of the westernmost portion of the block (the tip of the triangle), where Fremont Tire was located, for $2500.  In 1930 the Doric Lodge accepted the offer of Fogman & Pedersen to buy their lot for $3000.  This shows that the Fremont Tire Shop was doing a good business and the two operators were able to buy their site instead of continuing to lease it.

Fremont Tire Shop in a photo taken by the King County Tax Assessor circa 1938. The writing on the photo is the legal description and address. At right is a building owned by the Doric Lodge; their meeting rooms were on the north side of this building facing North 36th Street.

The next wave of workers in Seattle

In the 1940s Seattle began to receive a new wave of “immigrants:” people who came from all over the USA to get jobs in Seattle’s wartime industries.  Earle Goodman of South Dakota got a job at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle in 1943.  After the end of World War Two, Earle Goodman and his wife Bertha became part of the vibrant business community of Fremont in Seattle.

The car culture of the 1950s

1957 Chevrolet

After World War Two ended in 1945 it took time for industries to retool from making war materiel to producing consumer goods.  By the early 1950s there was great demand for housing, home appliances, and cars.  Cars were affordable for a working person and in response to the rise in car ownership in the 1950s, many people went into car-service-related businesses.  Earle Goodman was part of the trend.  In the early 1950s he and a partner took over from the two Norwegians at the Fremont Tire Shop.  Fogman & Pedersen were aging and needed more help at the station, which was busier than ever in the 1950s.  Within a few years Fogman & Pedersen retired.

Fremont Tire Shop and Richfield gas station in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of the Seattle Vintage Facebook page.

Rosie the riveter and Bert the gas station attendant

Wartime campaign poster recruiting women to work in defense industries

Bertha Goodman did not want to stay alone at home all day while her children were in school, so she began going to work with her husband Earle to help at the gas station in Fremont.  Wearing a white blouse and navy slacks, “Bert” found that she enjoyed working as the gas station attendant.

In the days before self-service gas stations, an attendant was always on duty to pump gas so that customers did not have to get out of their car.  Bert worked at pumping gas and using a squeegee to clean windshields.  She very much enjoyed serving the customers and chatting with them.  Bert soon learned to change the oil in a car, too.

Social attitudes about women in the workplace had changed during the 1940s war years when women had taken over the industrial jobs previously done only by men, as portrayed in Rosie the Riveter posters with the slogan “We Can Do It!”  In the 1950s Bertha Goodman represented a continuation of that woman-power attitude.  By the 1960s Bert was listed as co-manager of Fremont Tire Shop with her husband Earle.

The Goodman family in 1962. Photo used by permission; do not copy.

The oil embargo and the Boeing Bust of the 1970s in Seattle

Billboard of April 1971 courtesy of the Seattle Times newspaper

Beginning in 1969 a downward economic spiral began in part because of the world’s dependence upon Mid-East oil supplies.  The USA had sided with the nation of Israel in Mid-East conflicts, and in retaliation the oil exporters then instituted an embargo, refusing to send oil to the USA.  In the USA there were gasoline shortages and the price of gasoline soared.  The cost of fuel impacted the aircraft industry, as well, most especially in Seattle where Boeing laid off enormous numbers of their workers.

Because of the problems with the gasoline supply, the depressed economy in Seattle and because they themselves had reached retirement age, Earle & Bertha Goodman decided to close their gas station in 1974.

The Fremont Tire Shop site today:  a statue to remind us of freedom  

A statue of Lenin stands on the triangular lot, former site of the Fremont Tire Shop. Photo by Valarie.

Today the former site of the Fremont Tire Shop, 3526 Fremont Pl N., is an open outdoor plaza with food shops and with a statue which reminds us that we are free from oppression by any dictatorial government control of the economy.  A statue of Lenin, a dictator who imposed the economic constraints of communism upon his people, now stands on the plaza in Fremont, a lively neighborhood built on free enterprise and freedom of expression.  Since the slogan of the Fremont neighborhood is “De Libertas Quirkas” (freedom to be peculiar) we may understand the ironic placement of a statue of Lenin in the center of Fremont.

While there are far fewer gas stations in Seattle than there used to be, and the types of stores have changed over the years, the spirit of freedom still prevails in the Fremont neighborhood in its vigorous business district.

Sources:

Lenin lighting is a December tradition in Fremont.   Photo by Valarie.

Many thanks to the Goodman family for sharing their story and photos.

“1920 Census,” Immigrant population growth slows. HistoryLink Essay #9447 by John Caldbick, 6/6/2010.

“Bertha Goodman, fixture in Fremont,” obituary by Carole Beers, The Seattle Times, February 10, 2000, page B6.

“Billboard reading “Will the Last Person Leaving Seattle – Turn Out the Lights,” HistoryLink Essay #1287 by Greg Lange, 6/8/1999.

Doric Lodge No. 92 of Fremont, 619 N. 36th Street.

The eastern portion of “Lenin Plaza” in Fremont has food shops as well as an outdoor seating area. Photo by Valarie.

The American Dream: A Cultural History, by Lawrence R. Samuel, 2012.  Seattle Public Library 973 Sa495A.  The phrase “the American Dream,” was coined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America.  Adams wrote that “it is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable…regardless of the circumstances of birth or position.”

Lenin statue in Fremont, website of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.

Oil Embargo: 1973-1974.”  Office of the Historian, US Department of State.

Passport to Ballard: the Centennial Story.  The Ballard 100 Committee, 1988.  Page 50: The year 1910 was the peak year of Scandinavian immigration to Ballard.  Pages 46-47: First and second-generation Scandinavian-Americans together accounted for 34% of the Ballard population in 1910.  Washington State in the years 1910 to 1920 had more Scandinavians in proportion to the population than any other state in the USA.

Setting the Record Straight on the 1919 Seattle General Strike,” Ron Judd, Pacific NW magazine in the Seattle Times, February 10, 2019.

“Unemployment in Seattle is 10% in 1970,” HistoryLink Essay #2447 by David Wilma, 3/22/2000.

Lenin stands on an outdoor plaza in the heart of the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle. The blue banner at the top of the photo advertises the Doric Lodge. Photo by Valarie.

 

 

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in Fremont neighborhood in Seattle, gas stations, Immigrant heritage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Freedom in Fremont: An Early Gas Station in Seattle

  1. Lisa Conner says:

    Freedom to be peculiar. I love it!

  2. Lee says:

    Seeing that old gas station style brings back memories. I remember that style. Thanks again for sharing, but not so sure about the statue.

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