Dancing at the Northeast Improvement Club (1930s) -- A Seattle Story by Dorothea Nordstrand

  • By Dorothea Nordstrand
  • Posted 12/16/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4269

This reminiscence of social life among young people in Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood during the early 1930s was written by Dorothea Nordstrand (1916-2011). "Dancing at the Northeast Improvement Club" originally appeared in the Seattle Sun in August 2003. In 2009 Dorothea Nordstrand was awarded AKCHO's (Association of King County Historical Organizations) Willard Jue Memorial Award for a Volunteer, in part for contributing these vivid reminiscences to various venues, including HistoryLink.org's People's History library.

Dancing at the Northeast Improvement Club

In the early 1930s, there was a place called the Northeast Improvement Club, about 18 blocks north of where we (the Pfister family) lived across the street from Green Lake. Its address was E. 91st between 5th and Latona. That was where my sister, Florence, and I went dancing on many a Saturday evening, dressed in long, swishy dresses, as we always did when dancing.

We carried our high-heeled dancing slippers in a shopping bag as we walked the long blocks up and hung the bag with our low heeled sandals in the cloak room for walking the long blocks back home after the dance. Sometimes, someone with a car would bring us home, but we never counted on it. Few young people of our acquaintance owned cars at that time.

I remember it as a big, boxy building. Gray, I think. There was a long stairway that ran diagonally up one corner of the inside wall to the door on the second floor, which was the entrance to the dance hall. Admission was 25 cents. When the music was in full swing, it was audible for blocks around.

Florence worked as a teller at Louis Lear’s Green Lake State Bank at that time. She was told about this ”great place to dance” by Eddie Shore, owner of Eddie’s Grocery, which occupied the building at 85th and 5th that later housed The Bells Restaurant for many years. In the 1930s, Eddie Shore shared it with Roy Peterson’s meat market and cold storage.

Florence was about 22 and loved to dance. I was 15. She convinced Mom and Dad that, being a neighborhood place, I could go there with her and learn to dance, too. I shall be forever grateful.

That place was so much fun! The whole upstairs was dance floor, except for a small stage for the “hometown style” musicians, usually a piano player, accordion, fiddler, with sometimes a clarinet or drummer. It varied, but was always beat-driven and danceable.

On the whole, it was a pretty wholesome place to go, although I do remember there were usually a few who would ask for a stamp on their hand so they could get back in without paying a second time. When they returned, it was obvious they had something more than lemonade stashed somewhere. Being a rather strait-laced young lady, I soon learned there were some people it was better to avoid.

Florence was very popular. She was attractive and friendly. Working at the bank, she knew most of the folks who attended. She loved to dance and was never without a partner. As her sister, some of that popularity rubbed off on me. I soon knew most of them too.

Whole families came. Grandmas and grandpas and every age of children. Often babies slept on the chairs that lined the sides of the dance floor, while their parents danced schottisches, polkas, fox trots, varsouviannas, and several varieties of waltzes. My favorites were the Swedish and Spanish kind, while the swish and flow of a Viennese like “Blue Danube” filled the floor with flying couples.

One of the more unusual dances was the Scandinavian Hambo, a tricky number which incorporated a two-beat dip which gave it its particular character. I remember a Mr. Bradshaw (I think he was a real estate man) who danced it perfectly. His wife either didn’t like to do it, or didn’t know how, because this “older” man (probably in his forties) usually chose one of us younger ladies as his partner. We would wait, hoping, until he chose his partner, before dancing it with someone else. All the other partners were second choice after Mr. Bradshaw.

There was a “mixer” called the broom dance where someone started dancing with a broom for a partner, then cut into a dancing couple, exchanging the broom for a live partner. There were two or three of these during the evening. Sometimes the broom’s starting partner was a male, sometimes female. It was a wonderful way to mix the crowd ... and to introduce yourself to that interesting, new person on the dance floor. Nobody danced very long with that broom!

In 1934, when I was 17, I joined my sister working at Green Lake State Bank, where many of the people who were regulars at Northeast Improvement Club did their banking. Living in a neighborhood, working at the neighborhood bank, and dancing at a neighborhood dance hall was like being surrounded by family all the time.

Ernie Schuldt was one of my favorite partners. His family lived on a small farm near 8th and 89th. His Mom, Minnie, and his father, Fred, were German immigrants. I remember their place especially as there was a tall windmill there that supplied house and garden with water from their well.

Ed and Chet Cole lived close by and came often. A girl named Mittie and her friend, Katy, came almost as often as Florence and I did.

One of the young men I met and danced with at the club is Charley King. We always looked for each other when the band played a schottische. We are both 87 years old, now. He usually calls to wish me a Happy Birthday, (It’s easy for him to remember my birthday, as it is the same day as one of his daughters) and he invariably mentions the schottisches, the Northeast Improvement Club and the special place it filled at that time in our lives.

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