Seattle history
11:00 am
Mon March 5, 2012

Deal expected to preserve Seattle P-I globe

An agreement among Hearst Corp., the city of Seattle and the Museum of History and Industry is expected to preserve the Seattle P-I globe, an icon of the city for more than 60 years.

The fate of the 18-ton, neon-lit orb has been uncertain since the Hearst-owned Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased printing and became seattlepi.com in 2009. The website reports that three city council members who are all former reporters — Jean Godden, Tim Burgess and Sally Clark — are expected to announce an agreement to preserve the globe on Wednesday.

The globe is expected to remain indefinitely atop the old Seattle P-I building on the waterfront. But if it ever has to move, the city would provide staff time and community outreach to help find a new location.

Seattle’s Landmark Preservation Board will hold a hearing Wednesday on preserving the globe.

(Video: Author Tom Robbins talks about life at the Seattle P-I newspaper in the 1960s ... caution, some references made to drug use under the P-I globe.)

The sign for the newspaper has been a fixture along the Puget Sound waterfront since 1986, its current location at 101 Elliott Avenue West. The globe originated from a 1947 readers' contest to determine a new symbol for the paper. The globe was set atop the paper's then-new headquarters building at 6th Avenue and Wall Street in 1948.

From the nominating document:

The Globe has been considered a Seattle icon since it was originally installed on the Post-Intelligencer building in 1948, the nominating document says.

Its installation in 1986 on the newspaper’s rented quarters on the Seattle waterfront increased its visibility, as it is one of the most prominent objects seen on the waterfront as people approach by ferry. The image of the Globe also served as the logo for the newspaper, appearing on its masthead and on each section of the paper.

On the day before publication of the last print edition of the P-I, the New York Times described the globe and the role of the newspaper in the city:

“In Seattle, everyone knows what you mean when you say the Globe. For years, it has announced to the Pacific Northwest that in a newsroom below, people are preparing to present on broad sheets of paper an account and analysis of the day’s events … For some, the P-I Globe is the finest landmark in Seattle, surpassing even the Space Needle. When aglow at night, it seems to float upon the cityscape, the continents highlighted in green against the dark blue, the motto — “It’s in the P-I” — rotating in red letters five and eight feet high. A continuance is conveyed.”

History of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The Post-Intelligencer was formed in 1881 through the merger of the Seattle Post and the Weekly Intelligencer. The Weekly Intelligencer was a successor to The Seattle Gazette, the city’s first newspaper, established in 1863. After several changes in ownership, the paper was purchased in 1867 by Samuel L. Maxwell, who re-named it the Weekly Intelligencer and began publication on August 5, 1867. A legend holds that the type was in poor condition and Maxwell picked the name “Intelligencer” as the best he could do with the large letters he had available.

In 1870 a second newspaper, the Puget Sound Dispatch, appeared; it became the town’s first daily paper in 1872. In 1876 a new owner, David Higgins, expanded the Intelligencer to daily publication, re-naming it the Daily Intelligencer. In 1878-79 Thaddeus Hanford acquired the Intelligencer, and subsequently acquired the Dispatch and the Pacific Tribune, both of which he folded into the Intelligencer. During the same period, another newspaper appeared, The Post, backed by John Leary, a prominent lawyer and investor.

Despite Leary’s resources, the paper was constantly in debt and in 1881 it also merged with the Intelligencer. The new Post-Intelligencer began publication on October 1, 1881.

The merged publication’s tumultuous ownership history continued for several decades. It had numerous stockholders, including Thomas W. Prosch, who became a noted historian. In 1886, following a series of anti-Chinese riots, a group of civic leaders, bought the P-I for use in their campaign for law and order; they appointed Clarence B. Bagley, also a noted historian, as manager.

After a short period, the group sold the paper to Leigh S. J. Hunt. Hunt was a partner of Peter Kirk in the Kirkland Land and Improvement Company, which built a steel mill and developed the original town of Kirkland. Hunt had enough financial backing to buy new printing equipment and to hire experienced reporters from The Oregonian.

The paper became more metropolitan and was actively involved in influencing state policies and in campaigning for improvements such as parks. It was sold following the 1893 depression and had several more owners until 1921. The last of these was Clark Nettleton, a civic leader, who sold the paper to John H. Perry in October 1921. It was later revealed that Perry had purchased the paper as an agent for the Hearst Corporation.

The major event of the early Hearst years was a three-month strike from August 19 to November 29, 1936. Half of the 70 news staff employees, members of the new American Newspaper Guild, went on strike in protest of efficiency moves such as arbitrary dismissals and assignment changes. With the support of other unions and Teamsters leader Dave Beck, the strikers were victorious. It is considered one of the first significant and successful strikes by white-collar workers in the United States.

The paper achieved another measure of national fame after the strike, when Hearst appointed John Boettiger as publisher. Boettiger’s wife, Anna, was the daughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; she became editor of the women’s page. Since Hearst had actively opposed Roosevelt in the 1936 election, it has been speculated that he made this appointment to help the paper re-gain circulation after the strike. The president himself visited Seattle during his tenure and Eleanor Roosevelt came a number of times. In 1943 Boettiger entered the Army and his family soon moved back to Washington, D. C.

After Hearst’s death in 1951, the Hearst Corporation allowed more local control of the paper. As other local dailies closed, the P-I became an even more integral part of Seattle. It competed fiercely with the other remaining paper, The Seattle Times. The Times was considered the more staid of the two, and the P-I prided itself on informality and inventiveness. Several of its “misfits” became noted authors in later years, including Tom Robbins, Frank Herbert and Tim Egan.

The paper lost money, however, and in 1983 the P-I entered into a joint operating agreement (JOA) with the Times. The JOA provided that the Times would take over the production, advertising, marketing and circulation functions for both papers, in exchange for a payment from Hearst. It was this agreement that instigated the P-I’s move from its own building. With only editorial and news employees, it no longer had a need for a large building with printing presses. However, the JOA did not enable the paper's long-term survival.

The Hearst Corporation ceased publication of the P-I as a printed newspaper on March 17, 2009. A version of the publication remains today on the internet.

On the Web: