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Segregated Seattle

Innis Arden Covenant

A Restricted Residential Community

William and Bertha Boeing subdivided land just north of Seattle in 1940, named it Innis Arden, and hired Hugh Russell as sales agent for what was intended to be an expensive and "restricted community" with extraordinary views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. The founder of Boeing Aircraft had previously subdivided Blue Ridge, Richmond Beach, Richmond Heights and other prime areas on the ridges overlooking the Sound. In each case, the Boeings recorded restrictive covenants designed to prevent anyone who was not white from living in these neighborhoods. For Innis Arden, which would be governed by a homeowners association, a set of restrictive covenants were registered on August 28, 1941.

Below is the brochure that the Hugh Russell Realty company used in marketing property in the new "Restricted Residential Community" in the 1940s. The brochure proudly displayed the "Protective Restrictions" that would govern the community, including number 14, the racial restriction, which reads in part:

"No property in said addition shall at any time be sold, conveyed, rented, or leased in whole or in part to any person or persons not of the White or Caucasian race. No person other than one of the White or Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy any property in said addition or portion thereof or building thereon except a domestic servant actually employed by a person of the White or Caucasian race where the latter is an occupant of such property. "

Changing state law

Innis Arden's racial restriction figured prominently in recent changes to Washington State law. Indeed, the restriction has its own fascinating history. In 1968 and 1969, federal and state laws finally made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, thus voiding the homeowners association's racial restriction. Nevertheless, the offensive Innis Arden by-law remained for many years on the list of restrictions that owners signed when they purchased property in the community. Later the Innis Arden Community Association added the label "invalidated item." Some residents found this appalling and requested that the association change its by-laws to completely remove the racial restriction. To change the by-laws required notarized signatures by two-thirds of the 360 homeowners in Innis Arden. Most would not sign. As of 2005, only 122, roughly one third, had signed. Here is the list of restrictions as displayed on the Association website in 2005. The racial restriction was by then number 15.

In 2005, the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project published its initial database of hundreds of King County racial restrictive covenants. An Innis Arden resident heard about the project and alerted us to the neighborhood's troubled history, donating the digital copies of the 1940s-era brochure featured here. We added this page (an earlier version), setting off a chain of publicity and activism that resulted in an important change in state law. First the Seattle Times picked up the story (“Homeowners find records still hold blot of racism” by Lornet Turnbull, June 3, 2005). The Times followed with an editorial asking the legislature to “authorize the courts to expunge racial covenants from all properties covered by homeowner associations.” (“An ugly stain of racism exposed”, June 6, 2005)

In early 2006, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced and the legislature passed a law urging homeowners associations to expunge racist restrictions. SESB 6169 declared that

"The continued existence of these discriminatory covenants, conditions, or restrictions is contrary to public policy and repugnant to many property owners. It is the intent of this act to allow homeowners' associations to remove all remnants of discrimination from their governing documents."

The law lowered the threshold for approving by-law changes involving such provisions, empowering the Board of Directors to make the changes and requiring the Board to act. "Upon the board's receipt of a written request by a member of the association ... the board must, within a reasonable time, amend the governing documents, as provided under this section."

Innis Arden responds

On October 11, 2006, Innis Arden Club president Michael Jacobs filed with the Washington State Recorders Office a document deleting the offensive paragraphs from the Restrictive Mutual Easements of Innis Arden. The document stated that

"These provisions have previously been invalidated by operation of law and judicial decisions. Further, they are not enforced by the Club and are repugnant to the Innis Arden community. To further emphasize this fact, and in light of the Legislature's recent grant of authority to homeowners' associations pursuant to R.C.W. 64.38.028 to follow a streamlined procedure for reconfirming that such abhorrent provisions have no effect, the Club Board is adopting this amendment for each division of Innis Arden striking from these covenants, conditions, and restrictions those provisions that are void under R.C.W. 49.60.224."

Today, the Innis Arden Club says little about this history on its community website, but on the page labeled "Covenants" it notes the 2006 removal of the racial restriction and provides a copy of the amending document.

Below is the brochure with "protective restrictions" circulated by the Hugh Russell Realty Company in the 1940s, courtesy of Bill Schnall.