Combating Anti-Semitism at the Laurelhurst Beach Club

By Anne Levine

         

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (ADL) was established in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism throughout the United States. The national chapter was set up to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all” by campaigning to stop all cases of discrimination, especially against Jews.[1] Over the course of almost a century, the ADL has played a major role in reducing anti-Semitism. Its accomplishments include ending discriminatory collegiate admissions practices, combating housing and employment discrimination, and educating the public on the status of Israel.[2]  The ADL has been active in Seattle as a voluntary organization since the 1910s. In the 1940s, the organization opened a regional office in Seattle to serve the four states of the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

Throughout its history, Seattle ADL has fought against the defamation of the Jewish community, changing public policy and the social outlook of the majority. One instance where the ADL made a significant impact in the fight for social and religious equality in Seattle was their work on the Laurelhurst Beach Club (LBC) case in the 1940s and 1950s.

            Laurelhurst is a wealthy neighborhood in north Seattle, located two miles east of the University of Washington campus. The LBC is a non-profit club providing beachside access to Lake Washington in the neighborhood. Residents of Laurelhurst are granted exclusive membership, making property ownership in Laurelhurst particularly enticing, especially for families with young children. Access to the LBC is supposed to be restrictive, and admission is halted if the club membership exceeds 800 families; however, the LBC has historically accepted new members as the neighborhood expanded.[3]

 Discrimination and the Laurelhurst Beach Club

When the LBC was first chartered on March 21, 1923, there were no bylaws restricting membership to any race or religion, and membership was supposedly open to all families living in the Laurelhurst district. The handful of Jewish residents joined the club and seem to have enjoyed full membership privileges. Then in the late 1920s and 1930s racial and religious boundaries hardened throughout Seattle. After 1928, much of Laurelhurst was covered by restrictive covenants that prevented “person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage, or extraction” from owning or renting property.[4] Some other neighborhoods also banned the sale of property to Jews, but in Laurelhurst,  anti-semitic restrictions centered on access to the Beach Club.   On June 17, 1939, a “new, greatly improved physical structure was opened” and from this point on, all Jewish residents of Laurelhurst were rejected from Beach Club membership.[5] Although Jewish members from pre-1939 were allowed to continue using Club facilities, all new Jewish applicants were rejected. An article published in the progressive weekly newspaper the Washington New Dealer in 1939 affirmed that it was now the policy of the LBC to refrain from admitting Jews under all circumstances.[6] Some Jewish residents protested and the ADL began to receive complaints, particularly concerning the “harm done to the Jewish as well as to the non-Jewish children, both of whom were affected by the policy, as these children played together nine months of the school year, but during the summer were separated because of the discriminatory practices of the LBC.”[7]  The ADL tried gentle forms of persuasion, but otherwise was not able to do anything to block the restrictions.

Anti-Defamation League Investigation

By 1955, the restrictions had been in place for sixteen years and the ADL was ready to act. The organization had become closely involved in civil rights activism, fighting both anti-Semitism and the racism experienced by people of color.  Well informed of the discriminatory practices of the LBC, the ADL feared that the exclusion of Jewish children from the Beach Club could foster a new generation of anti-Semitism. To prevent children from viewing their Jewish neighbors as inferior, the ADL believed they had to intervene, knowing that it would also send a signal to other neighborhoods where Jews faced discrimination.

Sam Tarshis, Chairman of the Regional Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, began the ADL’s investigation of the LBC with a letter addressed to the LBC’s president, Mr. Merville McInnis, explaining the mission of the ADL and their general concern over the Beach Club’s exclusion of Jews. The letter said, “although we do not wish to single your group out, it is our feeling that since discrimination by the Beach Club adversely affects not only adults, but innocent children, it is an unusually flagrant case demanding our consideration.”[8] McInnis never responded to the letter. Months later, after many unsuccessful attempts by the ADL to reach him, McInnis finally had his director call the ADL regional office, stating that he “had no intention of meeting with the ADL representatives, no intention to discuss the Club’s policy with anyone, and further, he indicated that the Club would continue its discriminatory policy.”[9] Although the ADL continued to ask McInnis to open a dialogue about the issue, he remained firm in his anti-Semitic stance.

            Realizing that they needed to take further action, the ADL began interviewing Jewish landowners in Laurelhurst to gather personal stories of rejection from Beach Club membership. The ADL was specifically interested in finding out what reasons, if any, were given to the Jewish community regarding the status of their denial. Many Jews were never told why their applications were rejected; however when some looked into the matter, they quickly discovered that their religion was the only determining factor. Raymond Danz, father of two young children, was not rejected until eight months after he applied because he did not list any religious affiliation. The LBC called his office secretary, and he was immediately denied after his secretary told the Beach Club Mr. Danz was a Jew.[10] Those who did list themselves as “Jewish” on their Beach Club applications, such as Ted Wolfheim, were rejected within three weeks of submission. Like many Jewish families in the Laurelhurst district, Danz and Wolfheim took their rejection with much disappointment but had felt helpless to change LBC policy.

From the start of the exclusion in 1939, a few Jewish residents protested and tried to change the policy. After Charles Koppel was rejected, he made a few phone calls to the LBC and quickly discovered that his religious affiliation was the only reason for his dismissal. After calling the Beach Club to inquire as to why Jews were not longer admitted, he was told, “one of the Jewish members of the club invited his uncles, aunts and cousins to be his guests on the beach, so that pretty soon the gentiles would be crowded out.”[11] When Koppel asked what would happen if a Catholic had acted in a similar fashion, the LBC representative neglected to answer.

Koppel also wrote to the ADL to ask for assistance in writing a letter of appeal to Clinton Harley, director of the LBC, detailing how the deep-seated discrimination was affecting his family. The suggested letter drafted by the ADL appealed to Harley’s sense of family values and moral decency, explaining that Koppel’s “two daughters were born here, and he had lived in Laurelhurst for five years…what should he tell his four-year-old?” The letter went on to explain that when Koppel asked the LBC what he should tell his family, he was advised “to move out of the neighborhood” to avoid any further embarrassment.[12] The ADL hoped that Harley would help lobby for change within the LBC after reading Koppel’s plea; however, shortly after, McInnis was quoted in the Washington New Dealer, saying, “we have about half a dozen Jewish families now, and they’re very nice people,  but don’t worry, we’re not taking any more.”[13] Polite requests from Laurelhurst property owners and the regional ADL did nothing to change McInnis’ policy.

Despite McInnis’ bigotry, the ADL had no intention of giving him the final word. Rather, they planned to fight the LBC until Jewish residents of Laurelhurst were happy members of the Beach Club. The ADL had Jewish neighbors share their stories of rejection, until almost all of Laurelhurst’s Jews were willing to sit down and combat the discrimination together. On July 19, 1955, Jewish residents sat down in the Tarshis home, ready to fight the LBC. Some were hesitant, fearing that protest would expose them to more hostility in the neighborhood, but a larger number believed that “if non-Jewish friends are really friends, nothing will be lost in an effort to eliminate the discrimination.”[14]

The Anti-Defamation League Takes Legal Action

As “years of educational efforts had failed to change the situation,”[15] Tarshis and local residents decided it was time to unite all Jewish residents, and then inform non-Jewish neighbors of the LBC’s discrimination. As residents of Laurelhurst began to educate other property owners about the LBC’s long-standing discrimination, the ADL drafted a letter to the Honorable Don Eastvold, Attorney General of the State of Washington, detailing what they believed were legal infractions committed by the Beach Club.

The ADL’s legal representatives alleged that the LBC’s discriminatory policy was in violation of several clauses of the Revised Code of Washington State. Because the LBC never disclosed its bylaws, the ADL had reason to believe that the Beach Club had no legal grounds for its discriminatory policy. The LBC had thus conspired to “cheat or defraud another out of any property by unlawful or fraudulent means,” in violation of provision 4 of R.C.W. 9.22.010.[16] Furthermore, their discrimination was “injurious to public health, public morals (provision 6 of R.C.W. 9.22,010)” and accomplished a “criminal or unlawful purpose, or to accomplish a purpose, not in itself criminal or unlawful, by criminal or unlawful means” (provision 7 of R.C.W. 9.22,101).[17]

Legal representatives from the ADL felt that the Beach Club’s admission policy not only violated Washington law, but US Supreme Court legislation “prohibiting the asking of discriminatory questions on employment or application forms” (R.C.W. 43.01.100) and “prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodations and establishing criminal penalties therefore (R.C.W. 9,91.010).”[18] The ADL’s petition to the Attorney General ended with alleged violations of the United States Constitution, specifically Article I, section 3, by depriving Jewish residents of “liberty and property” without due process of law, arguing that continued discrimination by the LBC violated the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution that guaranteed “equal protection of the laws” to all.[19]

 The Laurelhurst Beach Club Acts

The campaign by the ADL to allow the admission of Jewish residents to the LBC had become too big for the LBC to ignore. As more non-Jewish community members learned of the LBC’s discriminatory practices, they felt compelled to join the cause. Some community members showed their solidarity by going to the ADL’s community meetings, while others wrote letters to the Beach Club and local newspapers. One woman wrote in support to the ADL’s regional office, “Mr. McInnis is an anti-Semitic of the most insidious nature…he doesn’t want Jews in the Beach Club…we all think he will do all in his power to keep people of the Jewish faith out of the Beach Club. It should be known to everyone his intentions.”[20]

By 1956, the LBC’s anti-Semitic policy was well known, and community members were committed to changing it. Over 500 Club members attended the Laurelhurst Beach Club Annual Meeting on May 28, 1956, making it the largest meeting to date. It was “determined that the present laws do not in any way provide for or allow discrimination,”[21] yet the board added a clause to the LBC’s bylaws to make the non-discriminatory policy of the LBC clear to all, and ensure that no discriminatin would continue in the future. Members of the board unanimously:

RESOLVED, that Article 5 of the laws of the Club be amended by adding the following paragraph at the end thereof:

 

Nondiscrimination. Members in the Laurelhurst Beach Club, Inc. shall be non discriminatory, and no prospective member otherwise approved by the Board of Trustees shall be barred from membership because of race, religion, creed or color.[22]

 

Almost immediately after the meeting, Jewish members began to reapply, and many were admitted without hassle to the LBC. Word of the ADL’s victory spread quickly throughout both the greater Jewish community and Seattle area, with citizens and local newspapers commending the new LBC policy. The regional ADL was similarly applauded by the national Jewish community, with the National Jewish Post publishing an article on March 8, 1957 proclaiming that “the first Jewish family was admitted to the Laurelhurst Beach Club in June, with others following soon after” and praising the ADL’s efficiency in effecting local change.

Months after the Jewish families were admitted to the LBC, the ADL sent out a follow-up questionnaire to Jewish residents. Questions detailed residents’ application and acceptance status, and their experiences within the Club. Responses to the questionnaire came back overwhelmingly positive. Most people were quickly admitted, and although some Jews still appeared to be rejected, it did not look as though the status of their applications had anything to do with their religion. For all those who were admitted, however, not a single person experienced any discrimination within the walls of the Beach Club. Mrs. Tall wrote on her questionnaire that she had “been treated beautifully.”[23]

The ADL’s efforts to change the LBC’s admission policy were successful, and the LBC’s thirteen-year discriminatory record was reversed. Most importantly, the ADL had achieved their goal of letting Jewish and non-Jewish children play together all twelve months of the year. The ADL continued to stop discrimination against local Jews and other minority groups, using their success with the LBC to show that non-discriminatory policies were possible to achieve in both the public and private sector, and that the victory at the LBC was one solid step toward a defamation-free Northwest.

Copyright (c) 2008 Anne Levine
HSTAA 353 Spring 2008


 

[1] Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, “About ADL,” Our Mission, http://www.adl.org/main_about_adl.asp.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Fact sheet for Laurelhurst Beach Club (LBC), n.d, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-56.

[4] “Racial Restrictive Covenants Database,” Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project < http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/database.htm >

[5]  Fact sheet for Laurelhurst Beach Club

[6] “Seattle Beach Club Adopts Jewish Ban.” New Dealer, June 22, 1939, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-56.

[7] Laurelhurst Beach Club Fact Sheet, n.d.

[8] August 15 1955 letter from Sam Tarshis to Merville McInnis, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-56.

[9] City of Seattle, n.d, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-56.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Suggested Letter from Charles Koppel to Clinton Harley, director of the LBC, Aug 25, 1939, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-58

[12] Suggested Letter from Charles Koppel to Clinton Harley, Aug 25, 1939.

[13] “Seattle Beach Club Adopts a Jewish Ban.” New Dealer, June 22, 1939.

[14] Minutes of Meeting of Jewish Residents of Laurelhurst District July 13, 1955, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-58.

[15] Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Purpose and explanation of ADL’s actions concerning the Laurelhurst Beach Club, n.d, Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-56.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Letter from “a non-Jew” to the ADL’s Seattle Office, Jul 13, 1956, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-58.

[21] Report to: Members of KCIRC from Paul Green, Chairman, June 22, 1956, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-56.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Confidential Questionnaire from Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, May 22, 1958, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collection Division, Box 9, Folder Laurelhurst Beach Club 1955-58.

 

An aerial view of Laurelhurst, circa 1938. Photo courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry and UW Digitial Collections

(Click on images to view)

The B'nai B'rith building in Seattle, home of the Anti-Defamation League, 1942. Courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry and UW Digital Collections

Click the image above to read the ADL's fact sheet on anti-Jewish discrimination at the Laurelhurst Beach Club. (All documents courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Collection, University of Washington Special Collections)

 

A July 17, 1939 letter to Charles Koppel, a Jewish resident of Laurelhurst, from the Beach Club, refusing him admission. Koppel contacted the ADL office and his case began the investigation into the issue.

 

The ADL's plan of action around Laurelhurst Beach Club discrimination.

 

A letter from "a Non-Jewish" resident of Laurelhurst sent to the ADL, describing the anti-Semitism of the Beach Club president, Melville McInnis, and expressing support for the ADL's fight against discrimination.. (July 13, 1956)

 

Read the report from the Beach Club's May 28, 1956 annual meeting, where the issue of anti-Jewish segregation is finally acted upon.

 

A June 26, 1956 letter to Jewish resident George Tall from the Laurelhurst Beach Club, admitting his family into the Beach Club after the Club changed its policies.

 

A follow-up survey from the ADL after the Beach Club changes its policies, in which the Jewish Mrs. Tall reports having been "treated beautifully." (May 22, 1958)


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