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Seattle's creepy Donut Shop: The inside story

Despite a dark vibe, this First & Pike hangout became a kind of home to Seattle street youth, who called its proprietor "papa."
First & Pike was former Seattle police officer Ken Conder's beat.

First & Pike was former Seattle police officer Ken Conder's beat. Credit: Allyce Andrew

Editor's Note: This is the second story in a two-part series.

The streets of downtown Seattle were a dangerous place for runaways back in the 1980s. But it took a series of scandals, murders and revelations of pedophilia in high places to finally raise awareness about this urban ecosystem of youth exploitation.

The Donut House at First & Pike was in the middle of it all. Rocked by scandal in the early '80s, the infamous hangout for young street kids was closed and its owner sent off to prison for running a robbery ring that recruited youngsters to do the dirty work. In the eyes of the law, the man who had run the shop, Guenter Mannhalt, was a modern-day Fagin, an exploiter of the exploited.

Mannhalt certainly wasn't the only exploiter on Skid Road, but the Donut Shop became a legend nonetheless. The scandal came at a time when the public was becoming more aware of the plight of Seattle's street kids. Indeed, the Donut Shop goings on likely helped raise that profile.

Roberta Joseph Hayes was a former Donut House regular who appeared in the 1983 documentary “Streetwise,” a chronicle of Seattle's homeless youth. Hayes would eventually become a victim of Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, who preyed on the Northwest’s young runaway population from the early 1980s on. The plodding progress on the Green River case, and the fact that most of Ridgway's victims came from the streets, emphasized both the dangers of the street lifestyle and the seeming reluctance of law enforcement to catch a killer who targeted prostitutes and young runaways. The fact that Ridgway acted with impunity for so long and killed so many was seen as the failure of a society that preferred to look away.


Seattle's Monastery Church. Credit: georgefreeman.com

The Donut House  wasn't the only dangerous nightspot in the city. The Sanctuary (above), also known as The Monastery, was a disco on Boren Ave. near downtown, which attracted young people and met every "den of iniquity" criteria: public sex, drugs, child prostitution. Check, check and check.

Many Streetwise-era kids partied in The Monastery's parking lot. That is, if they couldn't sneak inside; the place was known for its underage patrons and gay sex.

Monastery founder, George Freeman, operated his establishment as a Universal Life Church, arguing that his club was a haven for gay kids in a homophobic society. A crackdown by law enforcement forced the disco to shut its doors and spawned the city’s restrictive Teen Dance Ordinance in 1985. Freeman saw the disco/church as "a family of dancers in primal communion." The judge whose ruling in a civil case that closed The Monastery for good, disagreed, calling the club "a dangerous nuisance and a breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse that attracted many of the weakest, most confused and disturbed children in our society."

In 1988, Seattle learned that Gary Little, a prominent city judge, had for years been molesting and manipulating young boys, including the street kids he encountered in his juvenile courtroom.

One of Little’s victims was Justin Reed Early (at left), a Donut House regular and Streetwise star. When Little's out-of-court contacts with some juveniles was first officially and quietly investigated in the early '80s, he justified his actions as necessary interventions to save the troubled boys. Right before the full nature of his predatory behavior was about to be made public by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Little killed himself.


Ken Conder, a police officer who patrolled the First & Pike beat on foot during the Donut House heyday, says that "walking police" like him tried to get their SPD superiors to do more about the problems of street kids. But back then, says Conder, addressing "the exploitation of urban youth was not a high priority."


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 5:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Just for clarification the real faith based "Universal Life Church" Universal Life Church World Headquarters was never a part or affiliated with any entity within this article. The Universal Life Church World Headquarters defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, welcomes refugees, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad. We believe the Bible is the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God. http://www.ulcnetwork.com

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Damn good job of reporting, Mr. Berger. Only one quibble: your description of homelessness as a "lifestyle" (fourth graf) makes it sound as if it were a choice, when in fact it is the only rational alternative the victims have.

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 5:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Gary Little was a King County judge, not a city judge. He committed suicide in the King County Courthouse.

Posted Thu, Mar 20, 7:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I meant "city" as in he was a judge from Seattle, not as in municipal court. Yes, he was a King County judge. He was also a juvenile court admissions officer, a Seattle School District attorney, and a high school teacher.

Posted Fri, Mar 21, 12:04 p.m. Inappropriate

The area around the donut shop deteriorated while the market prospered because Metro buses clogged 2nd Avenue cutting Pike street of from the central business district. First Penney's Dept. store at 2nd and Pike closed, then Woolworths at 3rd and Pike. The then chief of police Fitzsimmons created more problems by giving turf to different crimianl elements; Seattle center, # 7 bus, certain bars and taverns, etc. were safe havens for bad boys and wannabe's. The market was an oasis that was understood to be a no-go-zone. The street wise rules of the market was enjoy but don't run your game here. All manner of people were part of the market then and for the most part behaved. Drunks were the biggest problem. But with the advent of the cellphone in the 90's the market became part of the downtown turf, Victor Steinbrueck park a frequent meeting place, car prowlers were in abundance. Today its commonly tourists and drug dealers/users intersecting at First and Pike.

chapala21

Posted Fri, Mar 21, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

The Doughnut Shop was a sort of liminal zone between the punks and the homeless kids. I was a punk but never went into the Doughnut Shop. It was just too scary. The Bopo Boys hung out there and they were very dangerous. Some of the homeless kids thought the punks were posers. However, I do recall on several occasions, bringing street kids home from the Doughnut Shop to sleep on the floor of our communal house in the U-District. There was crossover between the two groups even it wasn't always easy.

I also enjoyed dancing at the Monastery in 1979-1980. It was just one of several all-ages venues where teenagers could hang-out. Everyone knew about ‘the backroom’ and unless you were playing tricks, you just didn’t go to that part of the club. The Showbox and Danceland were other clubs that kids went for both entertainment and community.

The point that 1st and Pike, anchored by the Doughnut Shop, was a meeting place for kids is completely accurate. Many a night my friends and I would grab the bus from the Ave and trek down to Pike Place. It wasn’t safe in the market itself, but you could walk between Belltown and Pioneer Square and always find a happening or a party or people to hang with. Then, just as now, it is challenging for teenagers, under the age of 21, to find places to meet. Homeless or not, kids need gathering places and that has always been a difficult thing to find in Seattle.

Maire

Posted Fri, Mar 21, 4:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Great article, and thanks for bringing it home to the present. Being respectful of the fact that young people who survived and coped with difficult home lives just might have their own forms of self-organization, while we all want them to be safe, is a tough one.

Posted Wed, Apr 16, 9:33 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. There were several hundred of us down there. Maybe not all at the same time. We hung out in different places around downtown and we had our own little clicks.

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 Thu, Apr 17, 7:42 a.m. Inappropriate

If you were one of the street kids from this era please contact me at spanky_kv@msn.com. We are doing a reunion and have a Facebook group. Please contact me before you join Shadae's or Beth's Streetwise group. Her group is mostly fans of the documentary not many of us on there. We have 163 members in our group and EVERYBODY is there we are planning a reunion We already have the site paid for. We are also getting money together for a headstone for Lulu. Please e-mail me and come join us! RIP our sister Lulu Couch and our brother Dewayne Pomeroy.

KellyVick

Posted Wed, Apr 16, 5:24 p.m. Inappropriate

The OFFICIAL "Streewise" facebook group is NOW open to the public .. the link is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Streetwise1984/ (click "join" to join) We have updates, pictures of the kids, stills and more. Some of the ppl who were around during filming of the doc are posting. This group is for the fans AND anyone from this documentary or those who were associated with them. We come together and learn how these street kids have come along in life, we make new friends, share stories. We have learned so much in just 2 month's time, and are having so much fun please come join us :-)

Shadae

Posted Thu, Apr 17, 6:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I was one of those street kids. Everyone always tries to make Guenter Mannhalt sound like he was some horrible person. But you are wrong I can say from personal experience that if it wasn’t for Guenter a lot more of us would have been killed or worse. And this statement is completely false “Guenter Mannhalt was a modern-day Fagin, an exploiter of the exploited.” I testified at his trial. We always went to him for help. He never ever approached not even one of us about anything illegal much less recruited youngsters to do the dirty work.

And Gary Little was a "Chickenhawk" for those of you who do not know the meaning - "Chickenhawk" also indicates a man who uses underage boys for his sexual pleasure and those boys were the ones he was hired to protect. The Donut Shop has been closed for 30 years just kind of wondering why these articles are coming out now and not then.

Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chickenhawk_%28gay_slang%29

Posted Thu, Apr 17, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

You are so right about everything! It pisses me off the way people talk about Guenter! Oh they could say they are kids of course they are going to look up to him for helping them blah blah blah. Well I can tell you I am a grown 47 year old woman now and I still feel the same way!

KellyVick

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 5:26 p.m. Inappropriate

This story is rather crazy and misleading. First of all, everybody agrees that Guenter was gone in 1981, and if the street scene was DOCUMENTED CLEARLY as was the case by 1983's "Streetwise", then how can you say or suggest that "The Donut Shop... was in the middle of it all" AND that "the public was becoming more aware of the plight of Seattle's street kids".

Mannhalt was gone in 1981... Streetwise assured that the street scene was thriving in full force in 1983, and that "the public" didn't give a (darn) at all at that point.

Now, on a much more personal note, I am in no way a "street kid", and have always been well provided-for by my parents. When first allowed to go on the bus by myself to downtown Seattle, I was age NINE, and my mother created a small booklet detailing what to do if something went wrong, or we were in trouble when alone downtown by ourselves.

As I was an occasional customer of "The Donut Shop", and as my mom and I would see Guenter Mannhalt on the Monorail when going to and from Sonics games, my mom listed "The Donut Shop" as one of the places where we could go in the event something went wrong for us when downtown by ourselves.

I remember shiny white tables, large glass windows (not foggy or steamy)... a jukebox, and the occasional "Green River" (soda) in my glass (laughs - I never made THAT connection in life until right NOW!!) while enjoying a donut as I waited for my bus to go home.

On many occasions when seeing Guenter on the Monorail before and after games, and on many more occasions there at his store, neither I nor my mother ever drew a bad vibe from the man. He went out of his way to be extra nice, and he always recognized and engaged us when seeing us on the Monorail.

Had anything ever really gone wrong while I was walking the supposedly mean streets of downtown Seattle, I'm sure I could have banked on Guenter Mannhalt to have assisted me in any way necessary to prevent a serious problem.

I'm not disputing that Guenter was guilty of whatever charges he was guilty of relating to stolen property, or the like, but as a human being, and a reliable, likable person, Guenter Mannhalt (who I've not seen {and realized it} since 1981 or before) was all I could have asked for in a central Seattle businessman.

And for the record, just 1 1/2 years ago I saw a proprietor on that very same intersection taken away in handcuffs, by Seattle Police, for his own dealings with stolen merchandise (liquor). So far I've never seen cause to look further down upon Guenter Mannhalt for whatever went on behind his scenes than I might at the certain proprietor still at 1st & Pike who was arrested in late 2011 for fencing stolen liquor.

So how about we adjust the nostalgia to properly remember Guenter Mannhalt (who is still alive in the Seattle area) in a better light, as someone who really was sincere and kind to lots of young people downtown during the 1970's???

Posted Tue, Apr 29, 5:30 p.m. Inappropriate

PS - yeah, yeah, that is "2 1/2 years ago", I know.

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