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CHS Re:Take | Home is where the park is (Summit Line part 2)

They are dead and gone, their presence forgotten here.

Instead, Summit Slope Park clings at Olive Way and East John Street to the south edge of the Summit neighborhood.

It once was the home of Bella and LN Rosenbaum. If you’ve watched enough CSI, maybe you can fancifully imagine that the park contains the forensic evidence of their life here: hair follicles, dander, sweat. Perhaps some of their spirit remains in the pea patch, but there is little else.


Last time, in Love letters shaped our city, Bella Weretnikow and LN Rosenbaum traded Cupid’s correspondence, culminating in his pilgrimage to the Puget Sound. Last time was love, this time is family. The rebirth of Summit comes later.

Rosenbaum, Patents and Trademarks ProcuredAd in Out West Magazine, 1904 (Archive.org)

After graduating from the first cohort of UW’s law school, Bella went into private practice. In her autobiography she says,

I kept on with my law practice. I never did any trial work or anything spectacular, but I did acquire a practice in making contracts, drawing wills, and examining abstracts of title to properties, etc. Besides my practice, I looked after property belonging to my mother, improving it with buildings and apartments. — My Life, page 48

So besides her study of ownership post-divorce in graduate school, Bella also had expertise in general real estate law. Keep that in mind.

LN moved to Seattle the year after she graduated. Fishing for clients, he advertised in a variety of magazines as well as the local papers. These ads show that his practice revolved around corporate law: patents, copyrights, trademarks, pensions, and the formation of new corporations.

Their legal practices were quite unique and complimentary.

First My Family
LN continued to court Bella, while gradually moving his sisters, brothers and mother from Manhattan to the opportunity and beauty that he had found in Seattle.

Several times in her biography of LN, Bella reinforces how important family was to him, in particular his mother Fani Rosenbaum. LN was determined to bring his family up as high out of his impoverished childhood as he could. Bella says,

Fani Rosenbaum Memorial Chapel, Herzl Memorial ParkFani Rosenbaum Chapel, Shoreline (photo by author)

L. N. was devoted to his mother who seemingly was the only one in the family with any intellectual or artistic tastes; she was able to read and write in an age when most foreign women were illiterate. Also she spoke several languages and was fond of reading. She was a good woman who tried to keep her brood together but, when her husband disappeared and left for parts unknown, she had no alternative but to send her children to work as soon as they were able to earn money. — LN biography

Bella briefly describes their arrival in Seattle, saying, “[by] 1905, my husband brought his mother and several other members of his family to Seattle.” So now with his whole family in place, he just needed to woo the woman of his dreams, right?

As we all sit on the edges of our seats, with Kleenex at the ready, cue the narration of Bella. She sits writing on a Caribbean island, looking back across the decades. Here is how Bella remembered the moment that she said “I Do“,

[I]n due time, the career somehow lost most of its glamour and I finally decided to give it all up and get married, just like other girls did. — My Life, page 48

After you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, remember: this was pre-Women’s Suffrage, pre-Women’s Lib, pre-feminism, pre-all of that. After their marriage in March of 1905, Bella counted her five children as her greatest accomplishment.

But Don’t be Fooled!
LN’s law practice suddenly changed in 1905. An August ad lists among his specialties “laws of husband and wife”, which Bella wrote her thesis on and LN had never advertised before. He also got deeply involved in real estate. Real estate would become one of the pillars of his life’s financial work.

Whether she was directly handling clients or just taught him what she knew, Bella was clearly involved in the family business. Strangely she doesn’t mention this in her autobiography, and simply skips over their first decade in Seattle.

Their home, 1937. King County Records 6848200586

They were wed in early 1905. Then they bought a property and built a home at 202 Summit Ave East near John, moving in June of 1906. LN saw something special in this neighborhood. But we’ll find out more about that next time.

A Family Affair
The real estate end of LN’s work became so immense that he hired his siblings and within a year spun off Rosenbaum Brothers realty and Seattle Investment Company. He handed the reins to his brothers James, William and Charles. Ads showed a deep investment in Beacon Hill, Maple Leaf, West Seattle’s Youngstown neighborhood, and the Summit area of Capitol Hill.

What could go wrong, mixing family and business?

First came the 1907 Seattle Star headline, “James N. Rosenbaum sought as swindler.” It described claims that LN’s brother had been doing bad real estate deals for several months and writing bad checks before skipping town. Supposedly their brother William had been missing for some time as well. In 1908 another headline read “Robs brother to play the ponies”, describing Charles’ use of a number of blank business checks to gamble at the Meadows race track.

It must have hurt, because Bella didn’t mention any of it at all. They persevered. She focused on their five children, and LN continued to evolve his practice.

Moving On
LN’s business gradually shifted from simple realty to coordinating large sums of investment for massive purchases. He orchestrated municipal bond sales, and helped pull together funding for private ventures as well. Often he would travel to New York to reach into deep pockets. Finally in 1914 LN, Bella and the kids moved to New York to run his business from there.

They always loved Seattle, and moved back a decade later. One of his biggest deals during their second stay in Seattle was right near their old home.
In 1928 the Paramount Theatre opened, after LN found all of the financing, including Paramount Pictures. Today the theater’s library is dedicated to him. (Find out more in this NPR audio blog.)

During the Great Depression they moved back to New York again since no money was moving in Seattle. There he would become known as a financial doctor, saving companies from collapse by finding efficiencies, selling off dead assets and trimming fat. He even gave personal financial advice on occasion to FDR. In the midst of all of this he reached back to Seattle one last time. Near his mother’s grave at the Temple di HirschHerzl Ner-Tamid cemetery in Shoreline, he built a memorial chapel dedicated to her. It stands there today, with the plaque above the entrance reminding us of LN’s love for his mother.

Next Time On the Summit Line

We’ve skipped right through to the 1930s and barely touched upon an important chapter of their life. It was way back when they moved to the Summit neighborhood and helped to transform it.

There is no mention of their time on Capitol Hill in Bella’s autobiography or in her biography of her husband. In contrast, articles in the Seattle Times archives quote LN repeatedly during the real estate bubble that inflated here in 1906 and 1907.

The bubble, LN’s role as an early Seattle property flipper, and the streetcar that made it all possible in the next installment of CHS Re:Take.

Summit Slope Park

(Photo by author — their property now)

Credit
Continued thanks to Bella and LN’s granddaughter Judith Rosenthal. Besides answering questions in correspondence, she shared Bella’s privately published autobiography My Life, and her unpublished biography of LN.

Upcoming
Rob will be discussing Capitol Hill’s streetcar history and future with Seattle Transit Blog’s Martin Duke at the August 16 History Cafe, 7pm at Roy Street Coffee & Tea.

Also, Rob will speak about early Capitol Hill history on October 25th at the Capitol Hill Library, 6:30-7:30pm.

In case you missed them, here are the last few Re:Takes on CHS:

Local history expert Rob Ketcherside shares his vision of the past and present with his Re:Take series of works on CHS and other Seattle sites.

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2 thoughts on “CHS Re:Take | Home is where the park is (Summit Line part 2)” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. It’s interesting how there has always been a connection between people traveling back and forth between Seattle and New York. Even today, a lot of my friends who are artists and actors move back and forth, loving the beauty of here but wanting the financial and cultural opportunities of there. I look forward to hearing more Hill History.