The house at 7756 30th Ave NE was designed and built in 1941 by an artist who drew cartoons and portraits for the Seattle Times newspaper.
The next owner of the house was a man who resolved to discover the secret of success in the game of golf, spending many years analyzing the mechanics of the golf swing and writing a book about it.
An artist designs a cottage
In 1940 Jack Winter, age 32, was well established in a career as an artist/cartoonist for the Seattle Times newspaper. He drew cartoons and sketches of athletes to accompany profile articles in the sports section of the newspaper. Later in the 1940s and 1950s Winter drew formal portraits of Seattle pioneers to accompany a Seattle Times column by Virginia Boren called Pioneer Portraits.
Jack Winter was born in Spokane, WA in 1908 and by 1930 he had also lived in Portland, Oregon, and then Seattle, WA. His father William Delancy Winter had worked for lumber companies and then became a construction manager in Seattle. Perhaps it was through his father’s work that Jack Winter developed a love of wood products and an interest in how houses were built. In 1940 Jack and his wife Edith bought a vacant lot in northeast Seattle where they could design and build a home of their own.
At the time that Jack & Edith Winter bought a vacant lot at 7756 30th Ave NE, there was no such thing as a “Wedgwood neighborhood.”
The lot for the Winter’s house was on the southeast corner of NE 80th Street with no houses across the street on the west side of 30th Ave NE. The hillside dropped sharply from 30th Ave NE down to a valley along 25th Ave NE. On that valley there lived one Japanese small-farmer, and there were some houses on what would later become Dahl Field between NE 77th to 80th Streets. From NE 80th to 85th Streets on 25th Ave NE, there was a twenty-acre farm site (the Picardo Farm).
North of the Winter’s house, across NE 80th Street, was a heavily wooded five-block square which had never been developed, from 30th to 35th Avenues NE, NE 80th to 85th Streets. The only structure on this forty-acre site was a log house which had belonged to a ginseng farmer and which began to be used as a Catholic chapel in 1929.
The Winters didn’t know that at the same time they were building their house in 1941, developer Albert Balch was looking to acquire the nearby wooded site, so that he could build the first Wedgwood tract of houses all on a coordinated plan. Balch’s project became so popular that eventually its name, Wedgwood, caught on as the name of the neighborhood.
Jack & Edith Winter design their house
Jack & Edith Winter got in on the (future) Wedgwood neighborhood at a time when it was still outside of the Seattle City Limits and was a quiet area, not filled up with houses. They designed their house in a cottage style with shingle siding and a low-pitched roof.
Inside the house, a light-filled living room had vaulted wood ceilings and wood beams. Wood paneling and barn-style doors continued the cottage theme in all of the rooms.
On the north side of the house the Winters built a separate structure of one bedroom, one bathroom, connected to the main house by a breezeway. Today we would call this a MIL (mother-in-law unit) to be available to guests or perhaps literally a mother-in-law. It is also possible that Jack Winter used the unit as his studio. He could not have imagined that the next owner of the house, Homer Kelley, would use the studio for the discovery and writing of his analysis of how to play a better game of golf.
Homer Kelley’s quest
Homer Kelley grew up in Minneapolis and as a young man in his twenties he came out to the Pacific Northwest to take advantage of its opportunities. However, he arrived in Washington State just as the dark days of the 1930s economic crash called the Great Depression began, and Kelley could not find a job. Finally he found a job at a billiards parlor on the waterfront in Tacoma, doing everything that needed to be done until he became assistant manager.
The owner of the Tacoma pool hall, James Cooksie, took Homer Kelley out for a game of golf in 1939 which set off Kelley’s quest of more than 25 years, to better understand the game.
The goal in golf is to get a low score (fewest number of strokes), ideally below 100. Homer Kelley wanted to know why he shot 116 the first time he played golf and 77 the second time he played golf. Ever after, he was not able to duplicate that score and he wanted to know why.
In 1940 Kelley began making notes in a diary to document his golf experiences, and he began reading golf literature on the subject of instruction. He wanted to explore the science of the golf swing, how and why a golfer should do things in a certain way. Kelley disputed that there is a “proper way” to swing a golf club, because every person is unique.
Homer Kelley was mechanical and analytical
Homer Kelley’s job experiences over the next twenty years helped him develop a framework for presenting mechanical info and the physics of motion pertaining to the golf swing.
The economic depression years of the 1930s gave way to the improved job market of the 1940s, as the USA ramped up war production.
In 1941 Homer Kelley got a job at the Boeing Airplane Company in Seattle as an electrician developing wiring for the B-17F bomber plane. He then became an instructor to the airplane test crews. Incredibly, Kelley did not have any education or training as an engineer, but he had great analytical ability and became known for methodical problem-solving.
At his next job at the Naval Air Station at Sand Point in northeast Seattle, Kelley was influenced by the Navy’s maintenance manuals, a style of technical writing which would later help him in writing about golf.
The Kelleys marry and move to Wedgwood
Homer Kelley met a woman, Rosella (Sally) at church in Seattle and they found that they got along well. In 1955 Sally was working as a bookkeeper at the downtown Seattle office of a metals manufacturing company. She alerted Homer to a job opening as a project manager at the company and when he got the job, the couple felt that they were able to marry.
Homer & Sally were in their mid-forties when they married in 1955 and each had been married before, but nonetheless they enjoyed the newlywed adventure of setting up a new home together. They bought the Jack Winter house which came partially furnished, including a baby grand piano. Homer bought a piano instruction book and would practice piano in the living room in the evenings while Sally practiced cooking skills in the kitchen.
On top of the piano was a row of books held up by bookends, including two books about golf, one each by famed golfers Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Sam Snead wrote that hitting a golf ball “is scientific and it is based on proven facts and fundamentals.” Homer Kelley read and studied both books and his reaction was, “blah, blah, blah.” He did not agree that the authors proved that their advice was scientifically based.
Whether it was the piano practice, the info in the books, Homer Kelley’s notes on his own practice golf swings or the subliminal effect of the presence of the golf books on top of the piano, after five years Homer Kelley decided to quit his job and devote his time to writing his own golf book. He made the little freestanding house unit across the breezeway into his writing studio.
In the adjacent garage at the north end of the house lot, Kelley set up a driving range which included an “automatic ball return” by using a slanted board which redirected balls into a collection area.
After years of work on his book and rejection by a publisher, Homer Kelley found a print company in downtown Seattle to self-publish his book, The Golfing Machine, in 1968. Kelley’s intention was to set up a system of instructors who would follow the guidelines of the book in helping each golfer fulfill their potential. Today the organization founded by Homer Kelley, The Golfing Machine, still exists, with the mission to “educate, train, and support professional golf instructors around the world.”
A house of creative energy
The house at 7756 30th Ave NE still retains its charm today and fits in with other houses in the Wedgwood neighborhood.
Soon after Jack Winter designed the house, the developer of Wedgwood, Albert Balch, began to build clusters of houses with a similar cottage look, in what came to be known as a Balch House in the original Wedgwood. The houses had two to three bedrooms, one bathroom, and a single-car garage. Reasons for the simplicity of construction had to do with restrictions upon building materials at that time as more and more items of every type were redirected to the war effort in the 1940s.
As we trace the story of its early owners and their pursuits, we may well wonder if the Winter-Kelley house has retained creative energy in its walls.
Gummer, Scott, Homer Kelley’s Golfing Machine: the Curious Quest that Solved Golf, 2009.
Letter to the Kelleys from Jack Winter in 1961: copy given to me by Sally Kelley in 1993.
Photos: courtesy of Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
The Golfing Machine website, Gresham, Oregon.