August 25, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 34
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Tuesday, Jul 14, 2020



Seattle History - Part III: Historic First Avenue (1930 - 1970) Sex and Automobile Mania
Seattle History - Part III: Historic First Avenue (1930 - 1970) Sex and Automobile Mania
by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer

"Seattle is a wonderful place, so full of sin, but good god there's never enough." - Quentin Crisp

Jimmy Kelly remembers: "I chased leg all the time, especially during World War Two. Servicemen were on their way to battle and they wanted sexual relief, maybe for the last time. Gays cruised the streets a lot [back] then, like me, some never stayed home. I'd sleep 12 to 15 hours, then stay up and cruise for the next 24 to 30 hours, but I never tricked with 'Kai Kai Queens' (Gay men who only tricked with other Gay men). That would be like having sex with your sister.

"I knew how to talk to straight men. I'd take them home, scrub them up and 'Gomoralize' them - I didn't even have to get them drunk first. I was proud of my size and stamina and those straight boys always came back for more."

These were the 'dark days' of Seattle, the days of incandescent street lighting, before the high intensity lighting of today. The old light bulbs gave a low, mellow light that one could get lost in it's shadows, a shadow world ready made for a shadow Gay community. When Gays met on First Avenue and couldn't afford a hotel room or lived at home or with a roommate, "they often went down to the waterfront," according to Jimmy Kelly. "Belnap Glass Co. usually had lots of old crates around so we'd use them for cover and sometimes we'd have sex just inside the entrance of the Railroad tunnel. Once, a train tooted it's whistle at us - or for us. So the story goes, a Gay man got run over. Usually it's an alcoholic passed out on the tracks.

"Other sex destinations were the peep shows, public toilets, all night theater balconies, dark alleys and park bushes. They were the 'back rooms' of yesterday. Heavy but careful cruising also went on in various downtown hotels, libraries, Pike Street Market, YMCA, railroad and bus stations, restaurants, department stores, the university and downtown office buildings, such as the toilet on the top floor of the Dexter Horton Building - the things that went on under those partitions!"

Toilets were seldom locked in those days and some had glory holes of which 30 have been identified at that time. According to J.R., "Downtown glory holes were a respectable 3 inches but the more isolated holes could be 12 inches in diameter. The bigger they got the more graphic they became, especially if the walls were covered with sexual grafetto. But the isolated glory holes could be very dangerous: the vice squad for one and fag bashers for two. In the meantime it is amazing what a person can bore through a scratch at a time, even through marble. Men would bore through lead for booty call. The more bold Gays even brought cutting tools with them. One guy was bummed out because his appendage was too fat to fit. Another urban legend was a son who offered his hustler/trick to his mother after he's finished with him."

Jimmy continues: "Back in the 1940s and 1950 I'd have so much sex some nights I could hardly walk back up the steps from the waterfront to First Avenue. Then, came my days of automobile ownership." A very popular automobile cruising venue was the 'Penny's Block' where cars would circle the block from First avenue and Pike street, to Second Avenue where the old Penny's store was, down Second to Union street, down Union to First and back up to First and Pike street. Hustlers and Gays looking for sex would hang out on the 'Penny's Block' and wait for men in cars to pick them up. For the more elite Gay crowd the area around (Nordstrom) was their 'Penny's Block.' A typical pick up line was to ask the person on the street if they wanted a ride.

"The 'Penny's Block' could be a blessing or a curse. Potential tricks on both sides of the car door could be a weirdo, thief, fag basher, cop or a killer. Occasionally, a Gay guy would be found dead and the police would call it a mysterious death but the Gay crowd would suspect 'rough trade.' The vice squad and 'entrapment' was greatly feared. The police would set up a cute decoy and - when the fisherman bit - the arrest was made. One night an officer arrested twenty nine cruisers and bragged about it."

On the other hand, D.G. remembers, "I was never one to pick up strangers on the street but I saw this cute blond guy on the 'Penny's Block' and it was instant attraction. Even though I couldn't see him well, I knew we were meant for each other. He was my golden surfer boy from California, someone I always dreamed of. He was twenty and I was thirty. I looked at him and pointed, 'Do you want a ride?' He came over to my car and got in. When it was clear he didn't want a ride, I asked, 'Do you want to come to my place for a cup of coffee?' As it turned out he was straight but flexible and searching for a stable life, a brother and he loved to hug! We were an item for fifteen years. He slept with a number of women and that was okay, it took some pressure off of me. Finally, he met a woman that he married. We are still close after 40 years and we still get it on - with his wife's approval. Sometimes we have a menage a'trois.

Automobile 'Road trips' was another Gay pastime after the war. New cars were more popular than Jesus. Before the Battery Street Tunnel was put in, Aurora Avenue ended at Seventh and Mercer. This was the way north out of town and Second Avenue at Jackson Street was the way south. Both places were pick~up places for hitch hikers, hustlers and Gays looking for sex. First Avenue and Western Avenue were pick up places for sailors on their way back to the Pier 91 Naval base. It was called the 'Meat Run.' Gays would also pick up sailors at the Rivoli Burlesque Theater and patrol Pioneer Square to pick up revelers from the Gay bars and Madame Peabody's dance hall.

After the deprivation of the War years, people went crazy over the new, colorful, chrome laden dream boats - they became a national obsession, a symbol of freedom, progress, adventure and personal fetish. With the new freeways of the 1950s, all hell broke loose. You could speed from Seattle to Los Angeles or New York without stopping! It was the golden age of the automobile before full awareness of the ambivalent stranglehold the industry has on people's lives.

Kelly continues: "After the War, there was a shortage of cars, so, I almost bought a bus so I could haul tons of Gays around as a party bus. Not many Gays had cars in the 1950s and - if they did - they were usually older models. When anyone got a new car, it was cause for a celebration, especially, if it was a convertible. We'd pile friends in the car and cruise First Avenue and Broadway making sure everyone saw us. We'd dance the night away at the Garden of Allah or Madame Peabody's, then drive to Vancover B.C., catch a couple hours sleep before going to the Gay bars that night. Usually, the next day we'd get invited to a Gay brunch or cocktail party, then, drive back to Seattle. I don't know how many times we'd drive to San Francisco for the weekend.

"For awhile I worked in western Montana for the railroad but maintained a house in Seattle. On weekends I'd leave early Friday morning, drive to Seattle to pick up my mail, drive to Portland Oregon to see my boyfriend and drive back to Montana in time for work - all because you've got to take care of your heart and that thing down there and keep them happy."

D.G.: "In 1963, my boyfriend and I drove to Dick's Drive In on Broadway, parked in front and secretly masterbated. We weren't exhibitionists, just young and impish. A guy spotted us once and laughed, which made our day but we never did it again. Well, only once again."

Skippy LaRue who owned Skippy's Chili Joint on First Avenue would get together with friends and drive around and pick up servicemen and show them the city. There was no sex involved, they were helping the "war effort." Once a policeman pulled them over, saw too many people in the car and asked, "Don't you know the capacity of this car?" Skippy answered, "Yes sir, ten and counting."

Volunteer Park was another car destination. Bobby recalls: "Once a group of us Gay guys were standing in front of the black tire sculpture camping it up and having fun when a carload of teenagers drove by and one of them mooned us. We all laughed and Ricky said, "Is it summer? I just saw a rosebud go by."

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