Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Interview with John Boitano

  • By Richard Piscitello
  • Posted 9/23/2004
  • Essay 5770

John Boitano (b. 1922) is a first generation Italian American from Ballard interviewed on August 4, 2000. In this Nordic Heritage Museum Vanishing Generation Oral History Project Interview by Richard Piscitello, he describes day-to-day life in the multi-ethnic Ballard community of the 1920s through the 1940s. Whether working in the Arctic Vodle Cannery, the Ballard Ice House or in one of the 23 shingle mills in the area, he illuminates how the Italians, Greeks, Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans lived and labored together through the Depression, Prohibition and World War II.

This is an interview for the Vanishing Generation Oral History Project about Ballard. Today is the 4th of August in the year 2000. And I'll be interviewing John Boitano. We're at the home of John Boitano in the Blue Ridge neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, just north of Ballard. My name is Richard Piscitello.

Okay, John, this is your chance to tell us what --

Can I talk from here, huh?

You can talk from here; the microphone picks up very well.

Richard, I want to talk about the area where I was brought up. It includes the area from the Ballard Beach to Fremont, from Market Street to the Canal, that area there that a lot of immigrants settled, Ballard Beach to Fremont, from Market Street to the Canal. Now, when I say a lot of immigrants, my dad came and my mother, Italian heritage. Within -- with that area there were Greeks, one black family, one Japanese family, Irish, predominantly Swedes and Norwegians. My wife is English and Norwegian, and they came from the old country. Irish and Germans, and everything under the sun. The main reason that they came there was to work in the mills, and fishing was the big industry, fishing and cedar mills. The cedar mill, Seattle Cedar, was the largest cedar mill in the world at the time; made shakes, made lumber siding. The Locks were the second biggest locks in the world, and we were proud of the fact that we were raised in this area.

I had a fun youth, and I lived two blocks from the Ballard/Seattle Swedish Hospital, which was our grade school. It used to be the old Ballard High School, that was the old Ballard High School. Then it changed to a grade school from K to eight, and then from K to six. I went there when it was K to six, and shortly afterwards it was closed because of lack of students.

And I want you to interject anything I have to say, I think, ‘cause I'll ramble a little bit here.

Like I said, I enjoyed my youth and I enjoyed the neighborhood. The neighborhood was unique in that the mills, fishing predominantly, were the industries of this area. Seattle Cedar had a unique thing in that they’d start at different times; one at 7:30, one at eight o'clock, and with that came whistles. At noon it had a whistle for lunch, and then at 4:30 and five o'clock they had another whistle. We had whistles from the boats that went through, the trains that went through Ballard, and even the streetcars had a whistle, and that was a unique thing because we do not have that any more.

My dad worked in Ballard as a garbage man. He came there and worked as a garbage man. He had a team of horses, two Belgian horses, which were expensive at the time, and he collected the garbage in Ballard and dumped the garbage in various empty lots in the lower part of Ballard.

We had other things that were of interest to me and to the people of Ballard in that we got along real well. We lived -- came through the Depression. The Depression was real tough, tough on all of us and tough on people elsewhere. We were fortunate that my dad had a job and that -- we came from a family of nine, there were nine of us in the family. We were all hard workers. And there were a lot of hand-me-downs, a lot of tough times. But like I said, a lot of people had tough times, so we were not unique in that respect.

A lot of hand-me-downs in the Depression. The Depression made for hardcore people, and this was shown when the war broke out. When the war broke out, 95 percent of the people in lower Ballard, this area that I'm talking about, went into the service. A lot of them came back and a lot of them didn't come back. I had a brother that came back, and he didn't live very long. He picked some metallurgy up. I had another brother killed in the Battle of the Bulge on Christmas day of '44.

Now, being killed in a battle is a good honor, but it sure devastated our family. My mother went crazy over the fact that he got killed. But there were others that got killed. And we say that -- I said 95 percent of the kids went into the service, and they were hardcore, raised through the Depression. The Depression had a lot of effect on them going into the service.

I worked in a cannery down there by the Ballard Bridge. I worked at the ice plant. The ice plant was the best job I ever had. And the cold storage building is still standing, but the icehouse is torn down. And I drove a truck when I was going to college. Truck old number 5 is a little bigger than a modern day pick-up truck. It carried two tons of ice, and we delivered ice to different houses, to taverns, to grocery stores. And the houses, we had little signs you put in the window; 25 for 25 pounds, 50 cents for 50 pounds, and then you turn the card over for 75 and 100 pounds.

Now, Dick, if you have any questions as I go along, feel free to interject because I might be slipping around.

Well, yeah, you could stay with that ice thing for awhile. What was it like, you know, before refrigeration in Ballard where you delivered ice to stores?

Before refrigeration, we had the icebox. They made the -- my brother was an ice puller. Ice puller is the guy that made ice all year long. And they stored it in the icehouse, and in the summer they’d run it through a scoring machine, scored it in 25, 50, and 100 pound. Then they would put it on a truck and haul it to different places. He made the ice, 400-pound cakes. Four hundred-pound cakes is about five foot high and two foot wide, and -- and my -- all the Boitanos worked at the ice plant, a great, great place to work.

Most of the people down there worked in the mills; from the Locks to Lake Union there were 23 shingle mills. Not one today, not one today. And they were taken over by other lumberyards. The shingle mill that I'm referring to, Seattle Cedar, when they got off work, it was like a big black cloud going home. Now, when I say home, they went and lived in boarding houses in Ballard, or in houses if they lived in Ballard. Guys that lived in -- worked in the Seattle Cedar, they used to work -- live in these boarding houses all week long, and then on weekends, they would go home. Home would be Everett, Issaquah, Snohomish and so forth. And the pay was minimal.

I worked at the cannery before -- before the cannery the employment was about 22 cents an hour, then they went to 45 cents an hour in the cannery, and then the icehouse paid you 75. The day I went into the service, I was getting a dollar six an hour, and that was good money, dollar six. We worked for the Bennett family. They were good to us. And a lot of the kids that went to Ballard worked in the ice plant in the cold storage. Some worked in the mills, however, but mostly older people, when they worked in the mills, they were shingle weavers. They had all different types of jobs.

But there were a lot of Greeks, like I said earlier, a lot of Greeks, a lot of Irish, a lot of Germans, a lot of -- not a lot of other Italians, but there were about three or four Italian families, one black family, Irish. Like I said, my wife's mom and dad came from the foreign country, as my dad came from Italy with my mother. He brought my mother back.

And my mother was born in Utah, but her folks got killed in the Kennecott copper mine, and she was shipped back to live in an orphanage in Italy. Been there a little while and grew up, and then my dad married her and came to the United States. This was around the turn of the century when my dad came to Ballard.

So, there’s not many of us Ballard guys left. And when I talk, I might miss a lot of things, but the thing is, I've said it before, Richard, I enjoyed my youth. I had fun playing ball there, right there where the Ballard/Swedish Hospital is. We had an interesting thing. The left field was short, so the bats were made smaller so you couldn't hit the ball over the fence into the neighbor's yard. So, that was an interesting thing. And in those days, softball was a big thing. We didn't have soccer. We didn’t -- we had a little basketball, but softball and basketball, but we didn’t -- track and field, but we didn't have wrestling, we didn't have soccer, we didn't have any pro sports of any kind.

The people down -- because they were poor, Richard, they were a little tougher, a little more on the roughneck side. My wife was born in Ballard, but the northern part of Ballard. I thought they were a little more highfalutin’, but through her brother I got to meet my -- my wife. I met her in the -- first in the theatre. They used to have two theatres in Ballard, Bagdad and the Roxy. The Bagdad on Friday nights, and the Roxy had serials with Tom Mix and Frankie Darrow. You could get in for 15 cents. In the Roxy you could get in for a dime. There was a theatre that they're renovating today, but we -- that was an entertainment thing. And then there was -- we didn't have any McDonald’s or Burger Kings or anything. We had Melrose and Sunshine Dairy; which is very similar in that you could get a malt, and for a dime you could get a milkshake and a malt for 15 cents, and that's where the kids, we gathered there in my youth.

Well, a couple of things you hit on is you went to college and you were in the service. Do you want to talk a little more about that?

Yeah, I would like that. Like I said, I was going to the University, and in the summertime I worked in the icehouse. I was 17 -- I lied my age -- I was -- when the Social Security come out, I lied my age so I could work in the cannery for 45 cents an hour. And that employed a lot of Ballard kids. And then the ice plant employed a lot of Ballard kids. And then I was with the University. I played football there and I got hurt. I think I got hurt in the service, but that's traditional with people during life, they get hurt once in awhile working or playing.

And I liked my neighbors. I don't see -- I think I could give you about six people that grew up during the time I did. The rest have all passed away.

Yeah, tell us about your neighborhood growing up in your neighborhood.

I beg your pardon.

Tell us about what it was like growing up in your neighborhood in Ballard.

Well, like I said, growing up in Ballard because of the hard times, it was kind of -- it was tough for us. Like I said, my dad was a garbage man. When we were young, we would work pouring concrete, raking leaves, cutting wood. Today, Richard, you go down the street, any street, you won't see young people working. They're in there on their computer or television, but when we were kids, we worked. We worked raking leaves, cutting wood.

And wood was a big item because we didn't have gas or oil. We used coal and wood. And coal came from different mountains, from different areas, Issaquah, Cedar Mountain. My dad and brother were in the coal business after my dad retired from the garbage company. We delivered coal and wood.

When I wasn't going to school on Saturdays, Sundays, we were going to get wood out from the mills and coal from the coal mines. My point is that our entertainment and our fun was work, and, you know, that's interesting, but that's the truth. And we played a lot of football without any equipment. We didn't have organized things, but we had sand lot football, sand lot softball. I got a couple of old pictures that I cherish very much of a team that we had in --

The grade school was called Irving. It was called Ballard at one time, and then they changed it to Washington Irving. Now hardly anybody knows that there was a school there. I'm in the hospital not so long ago for my arm, because I developed a cancer from some radiation. Whether it was in -- I was -- happened to be in Nagasaki and Hiroshima ten days after the war, and I could have picked it up there or some radiation or a blow. I asked my doctor about it, and he said, "Well, you could have had it in your system a long time, but we don't know. If I knew what the cause of cancer was, I would be a multi-millionaire." He also said, "This is a small, small step towards abolishing cancer because you don't see many guys with cancer without an arm." Well, that's my time talking about my service.

But getting back to the neighborhood, all the different nationalities; it was fun growing up with them. And we shared the same hard times. I don't mean to emphasize the hard times but it was there. It was there to confront. I know four people there now that are living, and they're Art Larson, Al Larson, Bud Pripp, and Frank Follman. That's four that lived right on our street, but the rest, Richard, have passed away or moved away.

Oh, when we were young, too, we had streetcars coming through. We didn't -- and horses and old cars. Naturally, we had the Model A or the Model T, and we -- what was I trying to say now. Transportation was limited there, but there was a uniqueness, in this area that I'm talking about, whether it is the people or the family got along real well. Man, we got along well. That's important in growing up; to get along with your neighbors and be able to --

Was there any --

(Continuing) -- get along without any problems. Yes?

Was there any sort of like -- like an example, something that happened that showed that you -- you know, that maybe a unique thing where you banded together or got along to do stuff?

I played softball and played basketball as young kids. Working in the cannery and the icehouse we had to get along. I was a wagon driver, and I taught school for 32 years. I always look back to the icehouse, all the fun we had. A lot of guys went into the service. This is what happened. During the Depression, there was a lot of unemployment. So the guys got in the National Guard. War breaks out and they're the first ones that get hauled in. A lot of them, like I said, did not come back because National Guard went to Guadalcanal just like that. And they were from lower Ballard. I can't prove it, but they say that most -- more kids got killed that went to Ballard than any other high school in Seattle. That's what they told me. The proof is not -- can't be told because they don't know the exact number, but they said because of the enrollment in the service.

You ask me now about uniqueness. I said I came from a family of nine. I loved my mom and never talked back to her.

That's unique.

I respected my dad. My dad had a hell of a time commanding the English language, but when he talked, you respected Pop, he was in charge of things.

We built a house down in Ballard, and they were going to make a monument out of it. I think you would call it a monument. It's a -- it's like in Ballard, we’ve got the old fire station, got the old library, we’ve got a couple of places where they kind of restored and kept it. Well, they were going to keep our old barn, our old house because it was nicely kept with the flowers and the stairs. And -- but some guy got in there and bought it from Pa, I called him Pa, and they restored it and made a duplex out of it, which is too bad. Otherwise there could have been a -- I’m trying to say monument, but it could have been a place to -- restoration.

There were a lot of fish in the Canal at one time. We used to catch fish. Sold them two for a nickel to people that they said they used them for fertilizer, but I think they ate them. There was crabs in the Canal. We had a circus ground down there near the Locks. Every year there was a circus. We would go down there and work in the circus, and they'd let us come in for free.

They had a park down in lower Ballard. See, we defined ourselves Ballard -- Market Street, the upper -- the upper Ballard. I said my wife came from upper Ballard, and her brother lived in a nice neighborhood. But down in there, there was, I use the word kind of like a ghetto, but it wasn’t' a ghetto, it was just a place to live and grow up. But there was a place called Gilman Park down there in lower Ballard, and it was given by Alvin Bud Pripp. His dad had a grocery store down there, and he gave it to the City of Seattle. Not many people know that, but that park was given to the City so the kids could use it. It's on about 11th and 54th -- 53rd. 55th was the Market Street, that's what they call the dividing line.

Uniqueness, I -- I --

Well, what was it like when people got together, festivals or, you know, celebrating different ethnic things? Did they do that?

Good point, good point. Now, no, we didn't have that too much. The Swedes stuck together. The Norwegians and Swedes, Scandinavians stuck together. The Italians -- there were only three or four families -- in this area now we're talking about. The Greeks had a little get-together. There were about four or five Greek families, and they would have their own function, which is a good -- pretty good point. They really stuck to themselves.

The only time I met a Swedish gal who lived across the street and down a little ways, Mrs. Walberg, came to our back yard. And I was going in the service -- all of us were going in the service -- she gives me a silver dollar, a Morgan silver dollar. She gave them to all the kids that were going in the service. And she was crying, crying like mad. But she couldn't talk English. So the -- there was a language barrier here now, see, that's why the function between the Swedes and the Norwegians and different people was not there. But I remember that vividly, that silver dollar when I was 18 years old. And my wife’s still got the silver dollar. I put it on a chain and she wears it on her neck, silver thing. I did that for my daughter-in-law, one of my daughter-in-laws. She gets a kick out of that.

They were Swedes and Swedes were pretty good and Norwegians were pretty good cooks. Norwegians, they're good and they could cook fattigmand and rullepolse and krumkake, all that Swedish food. And it was kind of a thrill to go over to their house and latch on to some of their bakery goods. But some of the kids came over and ate some of the spaghetti and ravioli that -- my mother was a good cook and made, but there wasn't any function, per se, there wasn't any get-togethers. They kind of stick with themselves. Now, see, on this block every year we have a block party. We never had that down in Ballard. We don't have a block party.

Well, I've been rambling a lot. I've talked about the whistles, the ice plant, the trains, and the workers. God, I -- like a black cloud when they got off of work and the whistle blew. They sponsored a baseball team when we were little kids.

I had a lot of hand-me-downs. My clothes were hand-me-downs.

What do you mean by the black cloud?

Well, there's so many people coming out, men coming out at five o'clock, leaving to go home, to go to the boarding house, to go to the places where they stayed. See, there were 500 people coming out, guys at that time. That was a lot of people, you know?


We used to -- I've still got a bark peeler. We used to have -- I'm lucky I'm alive because two of my friends drowned. We used to go out and peel bark off the log booms. The log booms used to come in to go to the mills. We had cedar mills, but then we had the fir mills, the Bolcolm Mill, the Phoenix Mill, the Stimson Mill, all down in lower Ballard. And we went out on the bark -- out on the log booms and peeled bark, sold the bark for two dollars a cord. You don't think much of bark, but that’d give you a lot of heat. Bark was a good fuel. We’d get that and -- two of my friends went out there, and they had a boat called a dory. They were in the dory; overloaded the dory and they went in the water and they drowned. And Ray – Ray Miller and Ray McCullough, I remember their names. Nice hard-working kids, but they were 12 years old, real young. I was in grade school with them. Anyhow, 12 years old and dying working, you know. That's the uniqueness there.

You talk a lot about work and being defined by work, so that's what Ballard was, a working community.

Yes, sir. That's a good point, Richard, a working community. That's just what it was. We didn't have a speedboat going by now. We didn't have a sailboat. We were in the city. And they sold fireworks north of the city, so you could get on a streetcar for three cents and go up about four miles and get fireworks. Three cents on a streetcar wasn't very much, but people used the streetcar a lot. They didn't have cars like they do today, but today everybody has two or -- look at my yard. I've got two in the basement, two outside, one up in Arlington where my sons are.

My sons know hard work. One's a coach and teacher, and one’s a house builder. That house that’s built right there, that’s a two million-dollar house. It was built on the lake in Lake Washington.

Yeah, working community that's -- you could say that.

And other Ballardites felt the same way. That's what -- what --

Yeah. Yes. Yes.

(Continuing) – defined them was work

The Larsons, their dad had a boarding house. Follman, his dad worked in a gas station. Bud Pripp was the guy that donated the property to the city, his dad had a grocery store. He had a little money. A little money, we say a little richer than the rest of us. The Olson family, they're all gone now, but Olsons had a little more money. He worked in a laundry down there on the foot of 8th, right by the Canal.

Interesting story about him. He went in the service. He bought an airplane after the war, and he was flying it to Alaska to sell for ten thousand dollars, and down it went. So he never came back. But an interesting thing. He pursued something to make a few bucks, you know. He bought it for -- I don't know what he paid, $8,000, but he was selling for ten up in Alaska. It was a sea – kind of a seaplane.

I've talked quite a bit. I wish you’d ask me some questions about different things, because I know I've missed a lot of things because I take -- naturally, as far as growing up, but like I said a couple times, I enjoyed my youth. I really did, but I didn't . . .

Well, you see, I wanted to refrain from asking you too many questions ‘cause it's your story. When I ask you a question, I'm putting myself into it, but I can, you know, prompt you on certain things. Like you grew up your family in Ballard, right here in Ballard, right?

Yeah. Immigrant families, there were a lot of immigrants. There were the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Greeks --

Your own personal family, your children, they grew up here and went to the school system.

Good point. Our own – talk about Ballard.

You could talk about that.

I taught at Garfield, West Seattle, but Ballard has kind of been my school for many years because I went there and I coached there for a couple years. And my old roots are in Ballard. You got the old roots, you -- when I was in the hospital getting my arm amputated, I told the nurse, I said, "I was born across the street." I says, "Where you’re standing was third base of the ball field." God, they couldn't get over that, they couldn't understand that. Time changes things drastically.

Well, how do you feel about the change? Is it for better or worse?

The what?

About the drastic change in a place like Ballard; is it better?

Dates. I'm against computers. God, I tell you, Jesus, I think it's ruining kids. Television, like I said earlier, you don't see kids working in the yard anymore, cutting wood. We were in concrete, I was in -- after I got back from the service I got in the concrete business ‘cause it was tough and I made a few bucks. I got hurt in the service, and I got a little pension from the service, but my wife came to the hospital over in Bremerton practically every day to see me. And then I got well, I went into the concrete business. Lot of -- I did a lot of work in lower -- this lower Ballard area 'cause I was pretty well known there.

My roots were in Ballard, and I'm glad you're – hear me interviewed here in the interview here, because when I go, there will be a lot of history down the drain. I’ll tell you. Not that it was good, not that it was – it was outstanding. It was just -- that area from the Sound -- from Ballard Beach to Fremont to the Canal to Market Street. And that's all built up.

My dad said to me one time, he says, "You’ve got to buy some property here in this area or the Denny Regrade." Denny Regrade was knocking it down, and I didn't have any money, so I didn't do it. But you go down to Ballard now, you can't find an empty lot. You can't find a business, a home, everything’s changing with apartments, with the (inaudible). I listened to Bill Gates talk the other day, and he says the next ten years there’ll be a lot of changes. He didn't come out specifically and say what the changes were, but he anticipates a lot of changes, whether it's in the computers or whether it’s . . .

Well, we talked about change a little bit. Is, say, the rate of change seem to be increasing --

Yeah, yeah.

(Continuing) -- so there's been a great deal more change in the last ten years in Ballard, say, than there was in the 40 years that went before that.


So, where are you with that?

You're so right, a lot of changes. There’s – there’s -- that was a funny thing. There's an apple tree down there, the best apples I've ever eaten, but they had worms in it ‘cause they didn't spray it. It was a big apple, I don't know if it was King or Gravenstein, but boy, that tree is still there. Now, this fall I'll go down there and there will be apples on the ground, and for old times sake, I'll pick one up and peel it and eat it, you know, because that was 68, 70 years ago.

You talk about apples. You know in my ethnic group, Sicilian Americans, fruit and fresh fruit was very important. What was, say, the food like in Ballard?

What was it like?

The food like in Ballard growing up, and people's attitudes towards food?

The schools?


Oh, food.


Okay. Simplicity, food was of a simple nature. And Mom, she -- we had mush in the morning and soup at night, and on the weekends she would have a roast or chicken cacciatore, ravioli. She even cooked ravioli for a lot of people. Spaghetti, pasta was three times a week. The Swedes, across the street, they ate a lot of fish, lutefisk. And I hate that lutefisk, but if it’s done well, it's edible. But people had their own -- like some of the people there that ate their own type of food that they were raised on. These are immigrants raised from different parts of Europe that came here. Like, we had our simplicity of food. We didn't have a lot of things going. When you had spaghetti, you had spaghetti; you’d had ravioli, you had ravioli. And my mom was a real good cook. She learned that from living in an orphanage or in the old country, I don't know, but the immigrants brought their own food practices and diets. Interesting.

Was there a sharing of them? Did you participate in other people's houses? Did they invite you over --

No, no.

(Continuing) -- and stuff like that?

No, we kept by ourselves. However, I went across and played with the neighbors. And I got into this Norwegian bakery goods. They -- God, they could cook that bakery goods ‘cause my mother wasn't a baker. She was a spaghetti, ravioli, soup. And we had -- an interesting thing. We had soup at night in a big container in the middle, and we went forward and put it in our dish. And there were nine of us in the family, so it was tough to feed nine. Mom did a heck of a job.

Now, you have -- my wife comes from a nice family, real nice. We've been married 54 years. She has food that was kind of Americanized. They had the pork chops, they had the salads, they had the variety of food where our family was – and other families in lower Ballard were stuck with simplicity.

So there weren't so many restaurants?

No. No. No, I tell my kids, I says, "Gees, when I was your age, I never had a bike." And I never had a bike. I never ate in a restaurant, never had a vacation, never had a girl. They said, "You didn't have a girl, Dad?" I said no. I was kind of kidding, and they would laugh like heck, because -- but I met my wife at the Bagdad Theatre. It was interesting. I was just a kid then, and I knew her for a long time.

Well, what were the courtship rites of girls, you know, from Ballard? Were they --


Courtship rites, how did you meet -- how did people meet each other for --

Well, now, that's a good point. Down there were mostly male -- males down there. Girls weren't -- in lower Ballard, girls -- didn't seem to be many girls there. Like I said, I had to go across Market Street to meet my gal. That's a good point. There wasn't many, but I'll tell you, for the second time, when war broke out, all those young guys went in the service willingly. And there wasn't any running off to Canada or going someplace; they went in the service.

I want to go back to the girls a bit. Is it -- how did -- was there dances or functions for guys and girls to meet?

Well, there were girls to meet. We went to grade school, we had girls in the grade school, but predominantly boys, predominantly boys.

Where were the girls?


Where were they?

Well, they didn't -- they didn't have girls.

They must have been there.

My sister-in-law -- my sister-in-law, she comes from a family, all boys. She's got three brothers, and her grand -- her brother's kids are all boys. They have seven grandsons. She's an aunt to seven grandsons and got three -- there's ten males to one female. It just -- sometimes that happens. But the people, girls and boys, shared the same times. We had --

But the same --

Oh, we had one family that owned the mill, the Batley Mill, the only shingle mill right underneath the Ballard Bridge. It's torn down. It had a big stack. You know what? On the other side of Ballard Bridge there was another shingle mill, then down -- they had the Bolcolm Mill, that was a fir mill. Over here they had the Stimson Mill. A lot of people --

I’ve got to mention the cannery ‘cause I was -- I think in 1935 Roosevelt come out with the Social Security. I lied my age so I could work down there. But there were a lot of young women and a lot of young gals working in the cannery, Arctic Vodle Cannery. That was down near the Ballard Bridge. And forty-five cents didn't mean much there, it didn't seem like much, but it was pretty good to make that much money at that time. We put up frozen food, strawberries, raspberries, peas, spinach, peaches. I just enjoyed working there, but I went to the ice plant to make more money. Okay, are we --

No, we're okay.


We're okay there. I was just checking we’re going to run out of tape.

All right. I've been talking a lot.

It's fun. This -- this is what it’s for.

Well, we got a little fights -- a few fights with the people above Market Street. The guys up there thought they were better, and we thought we were tougher. And I think we were tougher because of our background. I’ll tell you why we didn't associate too much, in that being foreign born, you talked your own language. The Swedes talked to only Swedes. Italians, like my dad, he never commanded the English language. My mother was good ‘cause she was born in this country. But most of the people talked -- the Greeks, they talked in Greek. You didn't think many Greeks were here, but there were a few families right down in --

We had a big lumber -- a fuel yard, McSorlee Fuel Yard (phonetic). God, he had wood piled up for two blocks long. He had a lot of guys working for him. And that was right south of our house. But he was an Irishman, McSorlee. We had -- the emphasis today, Richard, is that there were a lot of mixture of people. A lot of -- what am I trying to say? They had different nationalities, a real -- the real America, I thought, we had down there where some places you don't – you don’t have, some of the areas in California, they're all of one nationality. Back east, they're farmers, they’re all one nationality whether they’re German or Irish, or -- before we had that, we had a mixture. We had the mixture down there in lower Ballard. That's the emphasis I would like to make.

It's interesting you identified the language kept you separate.

Yes, I think so. I think so. I didn't know why it should, but --

Well, you look at --

(Continuing) -- like I said, my dad never learned the English language at all. He, God --

You’re sort of like a double minority in that the Norwegians and Swedes, although their languages, I think, are quite different, they're the majority, but they’re still a minority here. Within that group, you’re a subminority.

All right, you hit a point there. Of all the nationalities, the Swedes and Norwegian might have had a similar Scandinavian speech. So, you're right there, but the Greeks and the Italians and the Germans and the Irish, they were -- a few English there. I kind of figured they were Americans, like my dad was a great wine maker. And I was a little kid, I was five years old, the cops came, broke his barrels, dumped the wine down the sewer and fined him a hundred dollars. Boy, I ran out of the house. I was scared. But he was a good wine maker and he made wine every year. It was legal to make it, but you couldn't sell it. You could give it away, but I think Pop might have sold a little bit because someone turned him in. But that didn't bother him; he kept making it. But that's the uniqueness in our family. Dad was -- he had those horses, he was --

Excuse me a second. I'm just going to pause this tape because it's getting --

All right, the tape’s playing again. And so we don't miss anything; tell me more about that incident where your dad's making wine.

All right. My dad legally made wine, a Zinfandel wine. They used to call it dago red. It was a good wine, and no water or sugar added to it. And he’d drink a fifth of wine every day on his wagon. And like I said, the one day the cops came and broke his barrels, and down the sewer went the wine, they fined him a hundred dollars. But I said, "Pa, did they get all the wine?" I was just five years old. He says, "Nah," he says, "I had the good wine in besamenta paching (phonetic). That meant, "I had the good wine in the small basement." But I ran next door. I was scared when those guys came with picks and axes and busted up the barrels.

When did that incident -- that was in Prohibition. That was --

Yes, but you could make wine legally to two hundred gallons.

But not during Prohibition.

You could make it any time. Yeah. See, they treated that like a food, yeah. Yeah, home-made wine. But you could not sell it, and giving it away was kind of ticklish because they could turn you in. Yeah, I think a little bit illegal, yes, but he got the grapes. The grapes came in by train down at Georgetown. My dad got them, brought them up, and we had big vats of -- I'm the only one of the boys who continued to make wine. I made it up until three years ago. Two years ago I got rid of all of it. I gave it away. And then they even wanted me to know to make it this year 'cause I had a grinder and I had barrels and demijohns, but I says, no, but my dad -- you know, we get in there, honestly, with boots and crush the grapes. That's kind of a funny thing with -- with people, they think you’ve got to stomp the grapes. Well, we stomped them, but also we had to grind it.

Legally you could make two hundred gallons, even up to today. But I think, Richard, there was a little illegality there making wine during the Prohibition, but during the Prohibition there was a lot of things done that weren't kosher.

One time, too, my dad's horses – see, he had his two horses down there by the barn, down by Fred Meyer -- where Fred Meyer is built today, he had a barn down there. God, he could have bought that property for nothing. But he -- one of the horses got away, and he gave me a rock and he says, "when cabello miniqui (phonetic)," he says, "let him have it." That scared the heck out of me too, because the horses were big. The horses were –

I happen to have pictures right there. This is the horses, "Tiny" and "Moody", and there's my pop right there.

Oh, wow.

That's a nice picture, isn't it, huh?

Yeah, it is.

My dad was a handsome dude. He had a -- he was red-headed, and they called him Rosso. Rosso means red in Italian. But see those horses, strong horses. Kind of shows you the quality of life there, the horses, wagon, old clothes and Pop, old clothes and a helper.

Were there a lot of horses in Ballard then for different work?

Good point. Yeah, there was -- Charlie Rose had a wagon and horses later than anybody, and he hauled wood to different places. The Model T was coming on, and then the Model A, and the streetcars were there for transportation, but there was some horses. But this Charlie, he hauled dirt, he hauled wood. He had a couple of black horses that I didn't know what the hell they were, but these were Belgian horses. They were real expensive horses.

Yes, you talk about change. There was a drastic change right there from horses to buggies, to Model Ts.

About what time was that, what year?

Okay. That would be -- I was born in '22, and that would be 1930. I think the Depression came in '32; in 1930 we have the change. And like you said, a lot of changes. We're going to have more and more changes. That was a drastic change. You know that Harold's Club in Reno came up here a few years ago and bought every part of a Model T that they could. In my basement I've got a Model A, a '30 Model A pickup truck. It's worth some money, bucks, because in 1930 they made 5,000 of these pickup trucks. There's only 200 left. As you go out -- you go out and you can see my Model A. It's in the garage. There was a change. Yeah, that's a good point. A lot of --

Well, the American Revolution, the turn of the century, God, there were a lot of changes then, too; you know that. And that's when my dad came, in 1900. 1904 he was in Ballard. There weren't any bridges in Ballard. They had a floating bridge where you’d pull a rope and then could come across the Canal. And they built a bridge --

Was it like a barge, you mean?

Like a barge, yeah, like a barge. Yeah.

A rope. And where was that; right where the Ballard Bridge is now?

Good point. It's one block east on 14th. Ballard is on 15th, and a floating barge-like bridge was on 14th and --

Now, how did you -- tell us more about that. How did that operate?

How did it what?

Yeah, how -- you just went down there with your wagon? How did you do that?

Yeah, that's how you do it. You can -- there was no toll or there wasn’t any cost to get across. You went across with the wagon and buggies, and then your Model Ts.

Who pulled them across? You did it yourself or –

There was -- coming from Queen Anne to Ballard.

Yeah, but I mean, if say I went down with my Model A or my Model T, I’d have to pull it across by myself.

Yeah. No, you don't --

Did it just kind of float across?

You just kind of float across, the barge across --


(Continuing) -- to line it up with the thing because they were getting boats in the Canal there.

So, the rope went underwater?

No, the float was on top like a barge.


And then you went across with your wagons and your buggies, and then your Model T, and then they end up -- Aurora Bridge comes in, the iron railroad -- well, the railroad bridge was in earlier, came here and where it goes by the Canal – by the Sound here now. That was a railroad bridge, but there wasn't any Fremont Bridge, no University Bridge, no Aurora Bridge. I was around when they were building the Aurora Bridge, that came later.

So, when -- were the Locks there when you were --

Now, that's about the same time because when they opened up the Locks, then there was a freedom of flow of water through the Locks about the same time. We're talking about 1913, 19 -- that time, that's when they built the Locks. That's when they -- how we got to Ballard from downtown other than that floating barge, they probably came across Delridge Way or places where they hadn't dug out. But they didn't start digging until they put the Locks in.

The Locks, second largest locks in the world. We took pride in knowing that, for height, you know, and size. Bigger than Lake Erie Locks, second to the Panama Canal Locks. It's held up real good. During the war they wanted it for -- be sure and protect the Locks because they didn't want that bombed, you know, 'cause that would disrupt a lot of production.

I can't -- I can't be real sure about the dates because I didn't come along until '22. My brothers were born, one in '15 and one in '16, and my dad didn't go into the service because he had the kids, World War I, but my uncle went in and got decorated in France.

So, you were, like, here before the war, went to the war and come back. Was there like, what kind of change between, before and after the war?

All right. Good question. Here's the change. Our President, the greatest President we've ever had, bar none, he has a common -- even Bush last night mentioned a Democrat. He says he liked Franklin D. Roosevelt because he talked common sense. But anyway, Roosevelt said, "When our boys come home, they will have the same job that they had before they went in."

I'm going down to the ice plant because it's a summertime when I got out '46. I was going to go to the University, but it was summertime. I went down to there, and I wanted to get my old number 5 truck and restore it, all gone, all junked. There were no more iceboxes. No more refrigerated boxcars. We used to refrigerate when we went in to deliver produce. On each end of the boxcar, we’d ice them, put ice and salt, and that ice melt cooled the boxcar, and they could carry watermelon, they could carry lettuce, they could carry vegetables from one place to another, or turkeys or any meat. That was the refrigeration.

But then the real refrigeration came with the motors, came during the war and after. What great changes we had during the war. The war had some unique characteristics, and then it caused a lot of changes. It caused a lot of thinking, a lot of material things.

But Roosevelt says our boys will have it. Hell, I never -- but then he came out with the GI bill, great change. Because I got $105 a month in the service, and when I went -- before I was going, I got $50 a month on a scholarship at Washington. But when I come back, Roosevelt got us a GI Bill, as you know. We got books and we got transportation, we got, I think, about a $100 a month, Jane and I were married. She was working at the telephone company. Had a real good job, real outstanding. She was a supervisor.

Hey, good question, Richard, there was a lot of changes. And like Gates says, next ten years are going to be a lot of -- well, I've seen with the -- I didn't know anything about computers, and I argue with kids. I says that's going to ruin kids because I don't see them working anymore. They -- well, these kids are on those Goddang computers, and yeah, there's a –

There was a good change. Roosevelt today was a great President. I don't mean to get political in this, but we loved him in lower Ballard ‘cause he took care of the guys on the commissary. You know, the commissary was -- people would get a dollar and a half a week, and then they’d get some onions and whole bread and live on what Roosevelt developed. He developed a CCC, developed the NRA. He developed a lot of function, and he circumvented Congress, circumvented the Constitution so he could help the people, ‘cause we were in a depression. He knew it and he helped make us a change.

I didn't go into the CCCs, but I had some friends, I think they made 35 cents an hour going to -- going over to the Coulee Dam, working the dam.

What were you going to say?

Well, you made a comment about a commissary. Now how did that work? What was it for?

You had to qualify that you didn't have a job. You’d go up to the police department in Ballard. The police department was on lower part of Ballard. It’s -- well, how do I say it? Pretty close to the Ballard Hospital. It's right down the street there, they had that fire the other day, Bergen Square -- up by Bergen Square, south. And they went up to the commissary. My Jane, they moved seven times in one year because they couldn't pay the rent. Seven times in one year.

And this was -- what year was that?

Okay, that was -- that was during the Depression, '33.


'33, '32, ’34.

Okay. So there was a government program like a commissary or sort of like a food bank?

He got a dollar and a half a week and vegetables, and he tried to get -- he worked for a grocery store and made a few dollars, but sometimes there wasn't enough.

Women were great then. Women were great during the war. They talk about the men; the women were great during the war all before, raising families and making things, working in the shipyard. And I went to the Museum of Flight the other day. It showed a lot of airplanes, but they didn't show the planes that -- of my vintage. They had a lot of stuff there. I'm not criticizing, because they put a lot of money in that Museum of Flight.

I liked your question about change. Yes, sir, there was a lot of change, and there's still going to be change.

I came up here -- I lived -- I built two houses up on 15th, paid $2,000 a lot; 2,000. Built two houses, came down here -- they were -- this was the only lot on this street left, but it was steep and it was tough. People didn't want to tackle it. I paid 5,000 for it. I put $45,000 in the house, building it and landscaping it and preparing it, 45,000. I could get 700,000 for this. Talk about change. That's a hell of change. Big change. They wanted a change. People liked view. I wasn't -- my pop and I -- Pop built up on 87th on the -- Mary. He wanted a corner lot. He liked corner lots. There was a lot down below Market Street, was a corner lot. Big square barn, a lot of rooms because we had a big family.

I hope we don't change back to tough times. We could very easily. I don't mean to get political in this lower Ballard interview, but I was pleased that I was able to survive the Depression and serve in the war, those two things.

I went to a party not so long ago, and we talked about football. I was a football coach, and I wasn't much of a teacher, but I was a highly successful football coach. And they wanted to know about football, and they wanted know about Ballard here. And I talked a little bit about Ballard, about the whistles, about the ice plant, about the streetcars. They didn't even know we had streetcars. You know, these guys are young, they're about 50 years old today. There's a lot of change from 50 to 78. And then I told them, I says, "I got two things on you guys. I survived the Depression and I served in the service." I got their eye attention. They listened to me because they didn't know sickum about what transpired during those times.

Changes, that's a good question, Richard. We're going to have them. We're going to have them. You take an area, very similar to Ballard, and that's the Wallingford area, and maybe not in our time, but that's going to be all highrise, that's going to be like downtown. You take the cap off of permits, and it's going to be buildings, big buildings on this side of the Canal, east of Wallingford. You wait and see.

Ballard. You could tell Ballard is going to be popping out of all places that changing into apartment houses, building, because it can't get -- at one time you get that property for nothing down there. Fred Meyer got a building, that site down there, they paid a little payola to get that because the water -- the dirt was contaminated. That was a lot of swamp down there. My dad dumped a lot of garbage down there and chemicals. That wasn't the big point then, but now it's clean water. You’ve got to have clean water.

We had a lot of fish in the Canal. No fish and no crabs now or crawfish, bullheads. But I liked the Canal. We had fun peeling bark, rowing the boats out there. But I never had a boat; I borrowed a friend's boat ‘cause we were real poor as far as having a boat, but I had -- I still got the bark peeler and peeled a lot of bark.

See, that come in -- let's see, we had a lot of mills -- a lot of mills came -- a lot of logging -- log booms came through the Sound here, went through the -- through the Locks. Now, like I said, the Locks was 1913, so it was after that, but before that, came by train. Logs came by train from up in the woods there, which wasn't very far from here then. You know speaking of change, change from a wooded area to a commercial area, that was right up in Greenwood. I built four houses up there in Greenwood, and it used to be a lake 110 years ago. There used to be a lot of trees there. Go out towards -- well, go to Issaquah, go to Everett, a lot of lumber. No lumber any more. No trees any place for lumber.

This thing about -- I've heard Seattle called a boom or bust town. It's booming right now like it probably never has before, but I haven't seen the busts. You've seen the booms and the busts.

Yeah. Another good point. I've seen the bad times and the good times.

So what is the sort of the differences? What --

Okay. What starts differences on booms are on the changes. People, a lot of people coming in, a lot of technology coming in, a lot of it necessary things. The war. The war was a big, big boom as far as people living, the lives of people.

I had fun in the service, but then I was on the -- I was in the Air Corp. The last time I was in the Air Corps and then I was on an Amphib. Out of 55 guys, there's only eight of us left; three with Parkinson's disease, and me with cancer. There's only eight of us left. So we could see the change, a lot of change from then to now.

We were on the first assault to go into Japan. That was when we were real scared about assaulting Japan. We were in the Fifth Amphibious Force, and the bomb dropped and then I was at the bombsites. With our LSM we hauled in demolition guys, we hauled in supplies to the Japanese. And then that's where I think I picked up a little cancer. I'm not sure, so I can't really – and them doctors aren't sure either, but I don't know of anybody that's got cancer from -- in the arms.

But, clinically, I think the Americans did a lot for the Japanese. But I don't have a lot of respect for -- I do for the young and for the real old, but the ones my age, I don't -- whether they're Italians, whether they're Germans, whether they're Japanese, I do not have a lot of respect because they followed those leaders. I'm getting political again, but I didn't think they had to follow those Hitlers or Mussolini and the Hirohitos. No way. As they did they caused a lot of deaths. Okinawa, the last island battle that we went, 14,000 guys were killed. I was in Saipan at the time, and then we went in the war. Bombs were dropped, and we went in the service, but you won't see me with a Japanese car, a German car, Italian car, ‘cause it's still a little hatred in me because of the war.

Hey, you’re Italian. My mother was Italian even though she was born in the United States. When my brother got killed, she went crazy. She went crazy, as most mothers will. She was a -- she couldn't understand it, she couldn't understand the war. And a lot of people didn't. I couldn't understand it. Why in the hell we had to -- but a war of economics, that's what it was.


Video tape and audio cassette interview of John Boitano by Richard Piscitello, August 4, 2000, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle.

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