September 9, 1967: “Hippie Hill” Prevails

Parrington Lawn at night

As the 1960s counterculture first began to fully bloom in Seattle, some local reactionaries decided our local flower children needed weeding out. Some sought to do so directly, staging “hippie-bashings” in the University District and elsewhere, while others worked more politically — among them a local letter-writer who sought to pressure the University of Washington to rid its campus of its growing counterculture population.

The reactionary in question was one Charles E. Divoky, a 43-year-old North Seattle resident then employed by a U District insurance firm. On September 6, 1967, Divoky wrote to UW President Charles Odegaard to express his disgust at how the UW campus had recently become, in Divoky’s words, a “retreat and haven for hippie malcontents.” He specifically referred to “Hippie Hill,” the stretch of lawn on the western edge of the campus between 15th Avenue Northeast and Denny Hall, near University Way (a k a “The Ave”), which was then becoming a West Coast counterculture magnet rivaled only by San Francisco’s fabled Haight-Ashbury district.

Indeed, at the time, Hippie Hill was generally considered Ground Zero for Seattle’s fast-growing counterculture scene, benefiting in part from Odegaard’s outstandingly tolerant attitude toward the hippie element on and near his jurisdiction’s campus, as well as his ongoing refusal to allow Seattle city police onto UW property (mainly due to the UW’s status as state property). Divoky, in fittingly dramatic reactionary fashion, accused the regular denizens of Hippie Hill of “using public property as a marketplace for drug sales and sexual orgies.” As a solution to the scandals of his imagination, Divoky suggested “a few night sticks appropriately used by campus or city police” might “make the right impression.”

To which Odegaard, in a letter sent not only to Divoky but also to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the mayor, the governor, and the UW Board of Regents, publicly replied on the date in focus here:

“It is unthinkable to close the campus to someone who chooses not to conform to modes of dress and personal behavior common to a particular period in our society…. To lump any group together for treatment with ‘night sticks’ smacks of a type of society which the people of this country have labored arduously to eliminate, rather than to instigate.”

The understandably student-popular Odegaard’s attitude was rare back then among local authority figures; the Seattle city police, for their part, would later be discovered to have been covertly part and parcel of the aforementioned local hippie-bashing. Today, the erstwhile Hippie Hill is merely a nondescript stretch of lawn facing 15th Avenue Northeast, known officially as Parrington Lawn.

The Ave, of course, remains as wild and wooly as ever.

Sources: Maribeth Morris, “UW Won’t Put Ban on Hippies,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 10, 1967, p. 1; Ray Hallinan, “Rookie Takes In Hippie Hill,” University of Washington Daily, September 26, 1967, p. 1; Bruce Edmonson, “BOC Sends Approval To Odegaard,” University of Washington Daily, September 29, 1967, p. 1; Jack Hart, “Odegaard Speaks Out,” University of Washington Daily, September 29, 1967, p. 5; Walt Crowley, “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (University of Washington Press, 1995).