Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Karen Dereszynski and Patricia Graf-Hoke some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Seattle's notorious Donut Shop: Runaway haven or sweet-tinged trap?

A Dickensian tale of life at the corner of First & Pike, where street kids once found coffee, donuts, drugs and danger.
Guenter Mannhalt behind the counter of his downtown doughnut shop in 1981.

Guenter Mannhalt behind the counter of his downtown doughnut shop in 1981. Credit: Natalie Fobes/The Seattle Times

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Seattle's infamous Donut House. Was this one-time ground zero for the city's street kids a safe harbor or exploitation central?

In his book Seattle Vice, legendary streetwise columnist Rick Anderson describes the scene at First Ave. and Pike St. back in the day: "For decades, street crazies and druggies occupied the four corners, along with prostitutes, players and partyers." Anderson introduces readers to a guy named Andy Brodie, who perfectly captures the corner that was for decades Skid Road's ground zero: "[H]e saw a buddy in a crowd cross the intersection and he shouted 'Hey asshole,'" says Brody, "everyone in the street turned around."

The Pike scene has deep roots in Seattle crime and vice. The young city was built on the backs of prostitutes who labored away in districts South of Yesler Way or Jackson Street referred to as the Tenderloin, Whitechapel and Blackchapel. These neighborhoods were home to marginal, transient populations, as well as those looking for frontier recreation of the kind you could find in Deadwood, or along San Francisco's Barbary Coast. Business was so good that containing prostitution proved difficult, as enterprising pimps (men and women) were always looking for fresh opportunity.

In 1905, not long before the Pike Place Market opened, The Seattle Times profiled the area around First & Pike. Saloon and club operators had broken out of the southern vice districts and moved uptown. "Dens of Iniquity on Upper First Avenue Far Worse Than Holes in District Set Apart for City's Tenderloin," exclaimed one Times' headline.

"In more than half the saloons north of Pike Street drunken men and women gather every night and engage in conduct that would not be permitted below Jackson Street," the paper huffed. "Minors, both boys and girls, go into the saloons and drink with broken-down, hardened men and woman. Girls, mere children, have been standing at the bar partaking of the intoxicating beverages. ... Girls are lured into the curtained boxes to be taught the ways that lead to certain destruction. Beardless youths congregate and mix in the society of painted faced women ..."

Such scenes recall some troubled parts of downtown today, from Pioneer Square to Westlake Park, Pine and Pike to Belltown. The seedy elements of the Market neighborhood — seen by tourists and nostalgists as authentic local "color" — sometimes match the mood of the pre-gentrified 1960s, '70s and '80s when Anderson walked the beat for Seattle dailies, documenting the cast of characters who frequented one of the city's most Dickensian of 'hoods, a world of pawn shops, strip joints, peep shows, billiard rooms and onetime sailor bars that served 10-cent beers in tiny juice glasses for the desperate, broke and thirsty. It was urban edge as recorded by artists like Mark Tobey and stream-of-consciousness beat bards Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg.

As befits any Dickensian scene, one business at First & Pike emerged as the hub for Seattle's street kids and runaways. From the mid-'70s to the early 1980s, a time before there was a Starbucks on every corner, the neighborhood hangout, especially for those too young to inhabit the dive bars, was the International Donut House on the southeast corner of First & Pike. The Donut Shop.

The site is occupied today by the Seattle Shirt Company (left). But back in the Donut House heyday, young girls and boys sat for hours in this malt shop of the damned, its big windows perennially fogged. It was a hangout for scared and scary kids, and some even scarier adults.

Jim Theofelis remembers it well. Theofelis is now the executive director of The Mockingbird Society, a non-profit that advocates for foster kids. He has worked with homeless youth for various organizations in Seattle since the '70s when, he says, on any given night you could find 200 or 300 kids hanging around First & Pike. Many were foster kids who had escapes their assigned homes. There were few services or shelters for them. Runaways couldn't be arrested for just running away. Most were on the streets and on their own.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 6:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Excellent! Thanks!

Honario

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Great work, and important in understanding the history and transition of the Market area today.

Hope Crosscut keeps up with this, looking back at earlier stories and re-reporting them, since, typically, the first drafts of history come up short.

Rosen

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm an eastern WA resident but in 1965-66 I was from a small eastern Wa. town and lived (off and on) on the streets of Seattle. Remember the donut shop well in that time period. A safe (always interesting) place to spend a rainy night. There was another all night coffee and donut shop on a corner in the U dist. also that I remember, but can't think of the name of it, anybody remember?

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Should have added that as a whole Seattle was fairly safe, somewhat innocent IMHO and a lot of fun in those days, the stories I could tell, good times, good memories, Thanks, Crosscut, wish I was a little younger and closer would love to sit down with you and tell you about them.

Posted Wed, Mar 19, 8:14 p.m. Inappropriate

I never pine for the old Seattle. It was boring; the coffee weak. When you could walk from downtown to the Center and not meet a soul. The Donut Shop, where when they asked you what you wanted and you told them "a donut" they eyed you with suspicion. The good food, good times, and long stares in the Guadalajara -- proof that Seattle was turning! -- until one day, a raid, and poof it was gone, never to be heard from again. Dark times made for some good art, like Cinderella Liberty. But to the newcomers, don't think you were missing anything.

Posted Fri, Mar 21, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Having lived, worked or hung out in the market for over 40 years I can tell you that the statement that there were 300-400 runaway kids hanging out at 1st and Pike is ridiculous. One thing is certain though abd that one of the largest open air drug markets in Seattle today is at 1st and Pike near Starbucks. Open 24/7/365. this is for those without cellphones. With a cellphone you contact your dealer who meets you for the cash then has a runner deliver the goods often in the back hallways of the Pike Place Market.

chapala21

Posted Wed, Apr 16, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

There were several hundred of us I know that for a fact. We may have not all been on 1st and Pike at the same time but we were there. We hung out in different places around downtown. 300-400 runaways is probably close to accurate. I have a group of us on Facebook and there are over 150 of us so far that I have found. So ridiculous I think not. There was not much help for us back then and the street was a better place for us then home.

KellyVick

Posted Fri, Mar 21, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the link to the movie. I watched it for the first time tonite. Hope it can be remastered. I lived in DC for 15 years and both knew a lot of people working with youth, families, and the foster care system; and folks in homelessness, especially after Reagan's actions. Although the realities of life on the street was profound and we had a lot to act on in DC, I never saw CHILDREN diving into restaurant dumpsters for food until I was back in Seattle and remembered how it was around Pike back in the 70s. It's our job here and now still to take care of our children.

Posted Sun, Mar 23, 8:22 p.m. Inappropriate

It amazes me how close I came to being one of these young people. As a teen in the 1970's who grew up on the Eastside and used to "sneak" over to Seattle to hang out I was fortunate that I did not get caught up in the scene. Ironic that 20 years later I end up in the industry being a co-founder of Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets (PSKS)- an homeless youth advocacy center.

Endurance

1990's Documentary of Seattle's Homeless Youth and Young Adults!
We are coming up on our 10th year since this premier. We should see about having this be shown in Seattle and bring in some of the folks still around to do a ten years later?

http://www.mccallumtarry.com/endurance/

esimons

Posted Wed, Apr 16, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I was one of those "street kids" I left home in the later part of 79 and stayed downtown until 84. People may think Guenter was a bad person but he was not. He helped many of us back then and gave us a warm place to hang out and a place to sleep for some of us. Chapala21 I can tell you over the years that I was down there I met several hundred people and became friends with them. 3-400 street kids hanging out on 1st and Pike is not ridiculous. We may have not been all down there at the same time but there were several hundred of us.

I left in 1984 because I did not want to be in the documentary "Streetwise" I had been exploited enough as a child. I think what Martian Bell and Mary Ellen Mark did was extraordinary, however the documentary only showed maybe 10% of what we went through on a daily basis.

I loved The Monastery! It was another place for all of us to hang out.

The streets were my life growing up and it was difficult. I had a "family" down there on 1st and Pike. It was better then being at home. I don't regret being a "street kid" because it made me who I am today. The good the bad and the ugly. Would I change my life as a runaway teen? No. I really thought I had no other choices at the time I was only 13 years old.

"My Family" is doing a reunion this summer. Some of us have not seen each other in 30+ years. My family from "Streetwise" and the rest of my family from the streets, I love you all!

KellyVick

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

What say you people exhibit the common sense to print the Donut Shop photo correctly instead of the crappy way you represented it here?

How difficult could that really BE for something which considers itself a news outlet?

Posted Tue, May 6, 11:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Grrrrr DecentGuy get em! I read your other post and your right if you ever were to have problems downtown Gunter would have been there to help you that is the kind of guy he was. It's just like writers to print some facts (court records) etc. but not print the whole story about a person only the bad. This man took care of us when we were kids. WE ALL LOVE HIM STILL TO THIS DAY!

KellyVick

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »