We’ve thrown around the word “unprecedented” plenty in the past few years. It’s a half shrug, half gulp that things will never be quite the same. But five decades ago, the world was in a similar state of tumult: terrorist attacks, Watergate, a controversial war.

The year 1972 was epoch-making in Seattle—one of eager upstarts, broken promises, revamped plans, and determined activism. A group of protesters occupied an abandoned Beacon Hill elementary school to publicize their plight. Voters squashed highways and committed to bus systems. Four University of Washington students created a scrappy radio station that would become a global tastemaker. An old military post secured its future as a premier city park. Mudballs and insults flew outside the planned Kingdome. 

Those actions, and outcomes, still surround us today. Looking back, 1972 sure was a heck of a year. 


A peaceful takeover of a vacant schoolhouse once rocked the city—and inspired future racial justice fights. By Angela Cabotaje


The Results Are In

Nixon’s successful bid for a second presidential term wasn’t the only noteworthy election news of 1972. Local electorates kiboshed infrastructure, favored familiar faces, and narrowly manifested their progressive leanings. By Angela Cabotaje


A plan to create a public park on a former military site ended decades of discord on Magnolia Bluff. By Benjamin Cassidy


Why KEXP Is Still Seattle's Indie Radio Station

Fifty years after its inception, KEXP can afford to stay weird. By Sophie Grossman


A Year of Firsts, Fights, and Beef Salad

By Angela Cabotaje

1972

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center spins off from the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation, incorporating as an independent institution.

January 25

➽ Truck, railroad, and equipment manufacturer Pacific Car and Foundry Company changes its name to PACCAR Inc, today a Bellevue-based Fortune 500 company.

Late February

➽ A group of masochistic cyclists organizes the first Chilly Hilly, a slope-laden winter ride around Bainbridge.

By 1982, Chilly Hilly bicyclists disembark the Bainbridge Island ferry like straight ballers.

Early Spring

➽ John Pringle plants 280 acres of grapevines just north of Pasco. Sagemoor becomes the state’s first commercial-scale vineyard, feeding raw material to wineries like Chateau Ste. Michelle

April 15

➽ The first “Speak Out” on rape at UW leads to the creation of Seattle Rape Relief, one of the first rape crisis centers in the country. 

May 26–29

➽ Northwest Folklife Festival debuts with 123,000 in the crowd and some 300 performers.

Keeping priorities straight at the Folklife Festival in 1978.

July 4

➽ An errant firework at Seattle Center lands among spectators at the International Fountain, injuring 18. It’s the last Fourth of July fireworks show held there.

September 2

➽ Three ribbon-cutting ceremonies in Winthrop, Newhalem, and Sedro-Woolley mark the completion of the North Cascades Highway.

September 6

➽ Seattle School District begins mandatory busing of middle school students to promote integration. The effort is later dubbed a “well-intentioned failure.”

Black students arriving at Wilson Middle School during the desegregation busing efforts.

October 21

➽ Food legend James Beard visits Seattle for a beef salad cooking demonstration at the Frederick and Nelson department store.

What does one cook at a Frederick and Nelson department store? Beef salad, apparently.

November 2

➽ Asian activists, protesting the Kingdome’s displacement of senior and low-income housing in the Chinatown–International District, throw mudballs at officials during a groundbreaking ceremony.

Asian activists disrupt the Kingdome groundbreaking ceremony with insults and mudballs.

December 13

➽ Intiman Theatre debuts as a 65-seat venue in Kirkland with a production of Rosmersholm. 

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