Bricks of Contention

The first brick is laid at the corner of 2nd and Washington October 19th, 1912, but there was trouble ahead.

Seattle wasn’t above taking a patronizing tone with younger towns and communities over the last century, sometimes actively exerting influence over its smaller neighbors -- all in the interest of mutual prosperity, of course.

A small headline in the Seattle Times in 1912 reads “Bremerton To Have Its Streets Paved.” The short paragraph that follows describes Bremerton’s mayor Paul Mehner and a large crowd gathered for the laying of the first brick at the corner of 2nd and Washington. The project was to cover ten blocks of the young city with a mix of bricks and asphalt for the price of $60,000.00. This photo probably depicts that October 19th ceremony.

But the was story wasn’t so simple. The ongoing competition between Seattle and Tacoma soon surfaced in the bricks lining Bremerton’s streets. The bids received for the paving project were neatly typed up in the city council minutes but the winner, J.S. Kenyon, was hastily added by hand after the fact.

After some correspondence and a factory tour the Bremerton city council clearly favored bricks from the Denny Renton & Coal Company in Seattle. Kenyon opted for a more affordable product from Standard Clay of Tacoma. Property owners, including the estimable Sophia Bremer, argued in favor of the Denny Renton bricks. But Kenyon was adamant – and he had the backing of friends and business partners at City Hall.

The debate only grew. An independent testing firm (from Seattle, of course) confirmed that the Tacoma bricks were uneven in shape and below the standard required by the contract. A lawsuit temporarily halted the paving work, ironically on the street shown in this photo. The issue ping ponged back and forth between the city council, lawyers and the contractor for over a year. The Seattle Times remarked that Bremerton’s plunge into “modern municipal activities” had brought “little happiness to residents and taxpayers.”

It appears the project was quietly completed more than a year later. I'm guessing they went with the Tacoma bricks.


ps: Special thanks to Sean Hoynes for snapping the “now” image!


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