CHS Re:Take | Bribes, bootlegging, indictments and the second Mayor of Capitol Hill

John Francis Dore’s life deserves a book. And you deserve to read it. There isn’t one, though, so you’ll have to make do with this rather alarming selection of stories about the second mayoral resident of Capitol Hill.

Dore Home in 1937 (Washington State Archives) and in 2015 (Rob Ketcherside)

Dore Home at 1135 21st Ave E in 1937 just before his death (Washington State Archives) and 2015 (Rob Ketcherside)

So far, four mayors have lived on Capitol Hill when they were elected. Mayor Ed Murray is here currently, and previously we had Edwin Brown in 1922 at 14th and Thomas; John Dore in 1932 and 1936 at 21st and Highland; and Floyd Miller in 1969 from his Belmont and Republican apartment. Miller served for just six months as he completed James Braman’s term after he joined the Nixon administration. This article focuses on Dore.

Homes of pre-2000 mayors on Capitol Hill. From my interactive map.

Homes of pre-2000 mayors on Capitol Hill. From my interactive map.

Mayor Dore arrived in Seattle under inauspicious circumstances.

His father, John Fairfield Dore, was a successful lawyer in Boston. That ended in February 1889 when he was arrested for forgery, accused of forging a note by a client in order to withdraw cash from his account. John Fairfield Dore (I mean, seriously? I could just call him “Senior” if they had the same name, or by initials if the middle initial were different.) posted bail and promptly skipped town. He headed north to Montreal and worked at a friend’s coffee shop for two weeks, then headed to Montana and finally to Seattle. Incidentally, the timeline printed in the papers later wasn’t precise and it’s not clear if he arrived before the Great Fire. Maybe it was as late as 1890. In Seattle he dropped his last name and went by the alias John Fairfield. That was how he appeared in the city directory from 1890 to 1894, that was the name he was accepted to the bar under, and it was the name he entered a law partnership under with David Cross as Fairfield & Cross. Fairfield (as he shall hereafter be called) became one of the most well-respected lawyers in Seattle and in the region.

If you happen to look him up in the state archives you’ll see something very peculiar that inspires odd thoughts. In 1890 Fairfield was simply listed as a lawyer living at the southeast corner of 6th and Seneca. In 1891, though, he was sharing his home with a Flora E. Fairfield, widow of Francis.  Then in 1892, a Frances Fairfield, stenographer at his law firm, was also living with him. But Fairfield was his alias, how could there be all these single women living with him with the same name? You can be excused for wanting to heap scandal upon scandal. The true explanation is probably that Flora was his cousin’s widow, and the cover of her half-empty home was what drew him to Seattle. Frances was her daughter.

Notably missing were John Fairfield’s real family, the Dores, who were living in the open in Charlestown, Mass. His wife was an “invalid” and his children were still in school, so they managed to escape his financial punishment.

In 1894 the Boston police sent a real physical letter and chemically processed photograph — as was their wont in the pre-digital era — to SPD. They took one look and knew exactly who he was. Fairfield was exposed as JFaD (he’s no longer Fairfield, so let’s go with this), and extradited to Boston to face a mounting pile of indictments of forgery. Various papers misprinted the total amount he was accused of withdrawing as somewhere between $2,000 and $250,000.

Luckily JFaD knew a good criminal defense lawyer (himself), so even though they’d disbarred him in Boston in 1889 he was able to assist in getting himself off the hook. He explained that they were loans, and he had been repaying them to his clients. His clients explained they didn’t remember agreeing to any loans. Half the charges came back not guilty, and the jury was hung on the rest.

JFaD was free and managed to maintain his reputation and legal practice in Seattle. Mayor Dore (I’m going to have to call him by this name, even 4 decades before he’s elected, okay?) relocated with his family to join his father in Seattle, and they all moved into Flora Fairfield’s home. It was 1895, and the Mayor was 14 years old. Can you imagine being separated from your dad from age 9 to age 14?

You might think that JFaD would stay squeaky clean after living on the lam for five years and barely dodging charges. But he was a criminal defense lawyer, and a damn good one, so his name was continuously associated with the worst of Seattle’s vice and villains. Look at this little blurb in the 1902 Washington Standard in Olympia:

John F. Dore, attorney for the gamblers in Seattle, claims that the knights of the green cloth put up $10,000 to elect Mayor Humes… Mr. D. says it was the express understanding that if Humes was elected that gambling should be tolerated as formerly, despite the State law. (Washington Standard, Mar 21, 1902 p2)

In early 1902 Mr. D (thank god, I was getting sick of JFaD) was at the center of a dispute between Seattle’s “boss gamblers” and the “Clancy brothers”. The Clancys were trying to take a 20% cut from gambling because they paid to put Humes in office. There’s a wonderful article in the April 27, 1902 Seattle Times that I can’t link to that describes efforts to reopen the four big gambling houses. Try searching for “boss gamblers” on the library database. It’s worth reading.

Mr. D died suddenly on June 15, 1903. Heart attack I think, but it was written as “fatty degeneration of the heart” in his obituary. He was reading in his chair before bed, shortly after chatting with his wife and daughters. He spent the day out on a boat on Lake Washington with friends. Not the worst way to bring it to a close. Calm.

The city was thrown into a bit of chaos though. A number of court cases had to be rescheduled because he was involved in anything that was important. For example he was the defense attorney for a case starting the next day against Chief of Police John Sullivan. Mayor Humes was an honorary pall bearer at the funeral, so city hall, the courts and a good part of the city — including Broadway — were all shut down for his funeral.

All that was mortal of John F. Dore was laid to rest today in beautiful Calvary Cemetery, following one of the largest and most impressive funerals ever seen in Seattle… The beautiful services were… at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Broadway and Madison Street. Immediately following the services at the church the body was removed to the waiting hearse, and one of the largest funeral corteges ever seen in this city wended its way north on Broadway toward Cavalry Cemetery. (Seattle Times, June 20, 1903)

Articles at the time of his death heaped praise upon him. “No lawyer in the State of Washington was better known and more appreciated for his ability and genial ways… John F. Dore was without a superior as a criminal lawyer, and but few, if any, were his equal.” (Seattle Times June 15, 1903) But the begrudging, even suspicious praise of the Seattle PI in 1899 was probably a better indicator of his true skill:

In calling attention to the remarkable record of Mr. Dore in the criminal department, the Post-Intelligencer expressly disclaims any purpose of insinuation that there is any collusive understanding between himself and [Judge Jacobs]; but it does appear that this astute attorney has discovered an easy and effective way to the court’s respectful and appreciative attention for any argument he may advance or suggestion he may make. (Seattle PI, July 21, 1899)

Maybe all of that seems like too much detail about the father of the guy we really want to talk about, but it’s necessary setup. Because Mayor Dore followed right in the footsteps of his father. Both in controversy and career.

John Francis Dore
The Mayor was finishing his sophomore year at Harvard when Mr. D died. Rather than returning to school, he stayed in Seattle and became a court reporter and covered the police beat for the Seattle Times. He later worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Star before passing the bar in 1911. While he was at the Times in 1905 he somehow skated out of his first scandal, a bribery charge. There was a man hoping to keep his personal court business out of the papers. The Mayor explained that the Times wasn’t interested in running the story, but warned him that he had better pay off his fellow reporter at the Star. The Mayor was mule for the bribery money. It all came to light and the Star reporter was fired and faced criminal charges. Mayor Dore inexplicably was never charged with anything, and the Times printed a long defense of him.

Here he is as mayor in the 1930s. (Seattle Municipal Archives 12288)

Here he is as mayor in the 1930s. (Seattle Municipal Archives 12288)

After entering legal practice in 1911, Dore quickly built association with Seattle’s most questionable elements. He already had established himself in politics, taking prominent campaign positions for U. S. Representative William Humphrey and King County Sheriff Robert Hodge. Law certification in hand, he became attorney and stump speaker for Mayor Hiram C. Gill during the campaign to reelect Gill in 1911.

Hiram Gill political cartoon from Jan 22 1911 Seattle PI, via Wikipedia.

Hiram Gill political cartoon from Jan 22 1911 Seattle PI, via Wikipedia.

Before entering politics, H. C. Gill was a lawyer as well and must have been good friends with Mr. D, as Wikipedia describes Gill as attorney for “saloonkeepers and brothel owners”. During his successful 1910 campaign for mayor he was an unabashed supporter of vice, as long as it was confined to the “lava beds” south of downtown. But in parallel with his election, Washington State women were given the right to vote. Broadway High teacher Adele Parker wrote Seattle’s recall law for the express purpose of getting Gill out of office. (You can read about her in this excerpt of my book Lost Seattle.) The change in the electorate propelled recall forward and Gill was removed in December. The election to find his successor took place in February and Dore was part of the political machine that attempted to put Gill back in office. Election day turned into an all-out war on political corruption, with Seattle Police guarding polling stations from manipulation by the county cops under Sheriff Hodge, arresting known felons who tried to vote, and stopping other attempts to stuff the ballot box. Go read the first hand accounts in the Seattle Star yourself, it’s totally worth it.

Women voters shifted Seattle’s majority voters to a progressive philosophy. Seattle was finally able to establish a municipal railway after a decade of attempts, breaking the corporate monopoly that choked the city. (I covered the earliest attempts in this CHS article.) Progressives also renewed their attack on alcohol, putting prohibition in place in Washington in 1916, three years before it became a federal mandate.

Dore took on the progressives by representing bootleggers by the dozen. His name popped up as criminal defense attorney for so many people caught up in alcohol crimes that he must have been the leading dry law lawyer in the city. Search for his name and any word related to alcohol — wine, whiskey, moonshine, liquor — and you’ll be rewarded with a bunch of fun reading on Google Books. A simple search in the Seattle Times archive brought out 300 articles with “liquor.” You may have heard of Roy Olmstead, Seattle’s ultimate rum runner and our sole contribution to Ken Burns‘ Prohibition documentary. Mayor Dore was his attorney, and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Prohibition was still in place when Dore was elected Mayor of Seattle in 1932. The Great Depression was also in full-swing three years after the stock market crash of Black Tuesday. It speaks to the complexity of Dore’s story that he campaigned on a platform of reform. In his midnight appointment ceremony his speech suddenly turned into an attack on the police department and announced that police corruption must end immediately.

Any member of the Police Department accepting money for any police favor will be summarily dismissed and an attempt will be made to institute criminal prosecution…

Any member of the Police Department taking money from any woman following prostitution as a profession will be prosecuted under the state law making a felony of such an act…

No home shall be invaded by the police in enforcing the liquor laws…

(This goes on for awhile. Seattle Times, June 6, 1932)

Really, his position was so completely different than that of Hiram Gill in 1910 that it boggles the mind. On vice in that speech he said:

Public gambling must cease.

At a time when the city itself is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the relief of unemployment it is no time for the workman to be cheated by games of chance…

I instruct you that the houses of prostitution now being openly conducted in the city of Seattle must be closed. It may be impossible to stop prostitution, but it is not impossible to close establishments devoted solely to that purpose.

This is where the story should turn to his time in office and his struggles and successes. The article should end with a paragraph about his alliance with Teamsters leader Dave Beck to get back into office. Instead, it’s probably past time to talk about the lead photo and to make Mayor Dore seem completely human.

Mayor Dore at the opening of Snoqualmie Ski Park in 1935, a short-lived city park (Seattle Municipal Archives 31180)

Mayor Dore at the opening of Snoqualmie Ski Park in 1934, a short-lived city park (Seattle Municipal Archives 31180)

When Mr. D died in 1903, the family was living on Second Hill a half block from T. T. Minor. In 1905 his widow Mary moved the family a block from Lincoln Park, which we call Cal Anderson Park today. They lived at Thomas and Boylston around 1910. After Mayor Dore wed Marion Neal in 1911 they moved to 24th and Roy and then 10th and Harrison and then 17th and Harrison and then 17th and Roy. So by 1921 Mayor Dore had lived in six or seven places on Capitol Hill in 16 years. That’s a ton of moves with a family — first his mother and siblings and then wife and kids.

Finally in 1921 he bought a stable home for Marian and their children John Jr, Mary, Margaret, and newborn Virginia. That’s what you first saw in this article. It was at 21st and Prospect in what is now remembered as “Catholic Hill,” the area of the Capitol Hill Addition north of Roy that was predominantly filled with Catholic families. The Dores fit the bill, as Mr. D was a founding member of the Celtic Sons and played a central role in the circa 1900 St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Seattle.

John Francis Dore Jr. celebrated his ninth birthday in that home in 1922, and amazingly you are part owner of Mayor Dore’s gift to his son. In the historic children’s book collection in the Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Room lies a copy of Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates. Library staffer and friend-to-me Bo Kinney stumbled upon it back in 2012 and, lucky for us, flipped it open to see the message written inside:

Sept 8 – 1922

Dear John- This is your ninth birthday. In San Francisco I have purchased for you this book. My heart’s desire for you is that when manhood’s time comes books mean as much of pleasure and development as they have to me. With love,

Your Dad

John F. Dore.

John Jr was a senior at Broadway High School when his dad was elected mayor in 1932. He was president of the student body and editor of the school’s weekly newspaper Whims. Later in life he continued the tradition of continuing the tradition. He went to Harvard and became a lawyer. He raised a large family on Capitol Hill and read to his children as a group every night. And, perhaps influenced by that book of pirates, he always loved to sail.

Every boy needs a Book of Pirates.

Every boy needs a Book of Pirates.

Mayor Dore lost his reelection bid in 1934, but voters chose him over the competition in 1936. As his second term wound down illness hampered him, and he was out of town trying to get well when he should have been campaigning, so lost the primary in April 1938. With two months left in office Mayor Dore died of a “general physical breakdown” just days later. His obituary in the Seattle Times read in many ways much like his father Mr. D’s, with deep praise for his skill as a defense attorney and his widespread admiration for the achievements of his career.

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7 thoughts on “CHS Re:Take | Bribes, bootlegging, indictments and the second Mayor of Capitol Hill

  1. If you really study the history of Seattle the municipal corruption goes from the beginning into the 1970’s. Seattle was not alone in that regard.