Imagine the aroma coming from a Greek or Italian family kitchen in the truck farming area of south Seattle. While the truck farms have been replaced by residential neighborhoods and commercial enterprises, those aromas and the early experiences of three Greek women remain fresh in their minds. Mary (Maria) Dallas (Daldavanis) Smith, Eva (Evangelia) Pelonis Tountas and Cleo (Evangelia) Dallas (Daldavanis) Blackstone appear here with photos and names of Garlic Gulch Greeks and tell their stories about growing up in Seattle.
While several boundaries have been given, “Garlic Gulch” is the familiar name for the general area in Seattle, Washington, from Dearborn Street on the north, along Rainier Avenue South as far as the northern border of Renton. A few Greek businesses operated in the area during the early part of the 1900s; however, the majority of ethnic establishments were Italian and, to a lesser degree, Asian. One neighborhood in the “Gulch,” Columbia City, was annexed to Seattle in 1907, has always been a vibrant commercial area and is now a designated historic district.
The Columbia Confectionery was owned and operated by Nick and Catherine Vamkros. According to the Museum of History & Industry, “One of the main attractions of his store at 4867 Rainier Avenue occurred every Saturday morning. It was the day Nick made his famous peanut brittle and all the kids, and some adults with a sweet tooth, came by to watch and savor the aroma emitting from his shop. He made other kinds of candy, including chocolates, which you can see on the trays displayed on the two lower shelves in the front window.” Nick hosted the Columbia City Business Association which meets weekly to this day.
DALDAVANIS TO DALLAS
A few miles to the north, at Rainier and Genesee, Nick Daldavanis (Dallas) had a tavern for a few years. Nick was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor, in 1908. He left when the area was devastated by the Turks in 1922. He was picked up in Smyrna Bay by an Italian ship and sailed to Marseilles, France, then on to Florida as a refugee by way of Cuba. Someone asked Nick his name and he said, “Daldavanis.” The person replied, “You should change it to Dallas.” And so he did. His travels took him to relatives in Beloit, Wisconsin, and then to Seattle in 1931 where his sisters, Irene Argeris and Vasilia Castas, were already established. In 1931 he attended a Greek Orthodox event in Tacoma at St. Nicholas Church and met Evangelia Batanides there. She was one of nine children and her family came from the island of Marmara. While dancing Evangelia got Nick’s white shoes all scratched up. This did not harm their relationship and he even bought her an ice cream cone. They were married in July of 1932. A fine cook and homemaker, Evangelia died in 1963 at the young age of 47 while Nick lived on, alone, until 1990.
In the 1931 photo of AHEPA’s (American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association) annual picnic at Surprise Lake, south of Seattle, a number of Batanides family members are identified.
After his tavern experience, Nick opened a grocery store at 2916 McClellen Street in Seattle behind Sick’s Seattle Stadium (now the location of Lowe’s Home Improvement). He preferred the grocery store as a family business with which his daughters could be associated.
Nick loved sports and coached a basketball team of young Greek men. Practices were held at Franklin High School. He also took young Greek men camping every year at Maloney’s Grove, a facility on a river near North Bend, Washington, which is now a private residence. Nick also worked at Frederick and Nelson in downtown Seattle and would check the local shipping schedules to see if any Greek ships were due in port. He would then contact the ship and invite the seamen to come to his store. These activities more than made up for the fact he had no sons of his own.
Nick and Evangelia’s first daughter, Maria (Mary) Daldavanis (Dallas) was born in Seattle on May 31, 1933. She attended Hawthorne Elementary, John Muir Junior High and Franklin High Schools. From an original group of 16 Greeks at Franklin, several still see each other at school reunions. Mary received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology at the University of Washington and raised four children, Jim, Stephanie, Marcia and Angela. She has five grandchildren. She plays the organ at most weddings at her St. Demetrios Church in Seattle and has served on the parish council for six years. She was one of the contributors for A History of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and Her People, 1882-1999 in commemoration of its 75th Anniversary. Mary’s primary volunteer work has included the Crisis Clinic, Seattle Children’s Hospital, American Red Cross, Orthodox missionary work in Ghana and probation officer for the City of Redmond. Each year she conducts a seminar at Bellevue College Continuing Education which includes basic Greek language skills and travel consultation. She has also escorted travel groups to Greece. In 2008 Mary researched and wrote a book covering the 120-year history of her mother’s Tacoma family. She is currently working on a similar book covering her father’s family from Samos, Greece.
Younger sister Evangelia (Cleo) was born on March 25, 1936. Her mother had chosen the maternal grandmother’s name Hariklia, but Cleo’s nouna (godmother) Antigoni Papadakis chose the name Evangelia instead. So, in the cold waters of Puget Sound, near Redondo Beach, Cleo was baptized Evangelia. She attended the same schools as her sister and after high school worked for the Miller-McKay-Hoeck & Hartung Advertising Agency and completed her Associate of Arts Degree. When the youngest of her four sons entered the third grade, she went to work for the Lake Washington School District, then the University of Washington (UW) first in the Bio Statistics Department and later with the UW Athletic Department. In the latter position she was secretary to Don James, renowned football coach, for 16 years. Cleo is honored by having her name included in his biography. After attending her sixth Bowl Game, she decided being away from home during the holidays interfered with her growing family. She subsequently worked at the UW Medical Center and retired in 1999. She has nine grandchildren, the youngest being twin boys.
THE PELONIS NEIGHBORS
George and Stella Pelonis lived very close to the Dallas Family. George came by boat from Mavromati near Thiva on the Attiki Peninsula in Greece with other single friends in the early 1920s. While not formally educated in Greek or English, he had a working knowledge of mathematics which served him well in his business. He owned and operated the Prefontaine Barber shop in downtown Seattle for over 60 years. Stella (nee Zaravinos) was born in the village of Kiparisi (Kyparissia) in the Peloponnese area of Greece. Stella’s father was the teacher in the village so she was well educated. Stella’s journey to America was through Vancouver, British Columbia, where she stayed with her aunt. Through an arrangement made by Arthur Trembanis, another Greek from Garlic Gulch, she met and married George on March 18, 1931. Stella was known as an excellent cook, hosting a number of bachelors from the family’s villages in Greece. Little Eva loved taking the bus to town with her mother, visiting other Greek establishments and spending time in the barber shop. The shop was much like a “spa” for many Greeks. Entire wedding parties could be seen there in preparation for the wedding ceremony. George was a very particular barber and would even singe the ends of hair with a lighted candle for a special look. Eva recalls dancing with Charlie, the shoeshine man at the shop.
Mary and Cleo’s childhood friend, Evangelia Pelonis Tountas, was born on March 7, 1932. Eva remembers walking up a long hill past the Pallis, Makos and Argeris family homes. On one occasion when infant Eva became ill in the middle of the night, George ran up the hill with her in his arms to the Dallas home, so Nick could drive them to the hospital. She attended Hawthorne, John Muir and Franklin with Mary and Cleo. She also attended Seattle Community College and, while married, traveled a great deal throughout the United States as her husband was in the military. Back in Seattle, Eva worked part time in the girl’s department at the Bon Marche (now Macy’s) for 15 years. In 1953 she was selected to represent the Seattle Gas Company (now Puget Sound Energy) and enlisted two Greek friends, Katy Vellias and Kathy Barbas to join her. Eva also worked in the food service and catering department at the University of Washington for 20 years. She raised three children, Louie, Georgia and Barbara and has three grandchildren.
LIFE IN THE GULCH
The Garlic Gulch Girls met as infants when their families were neighbors. Cleo was the baby and often odd one out, tagging along with older friends and family. She believes they had guardian angels protecting them; those angels may well have been all the Greeks nearby. Everybody was a thea (aunt) or theo (uncle), nouna/nouno (godmother/godfather) or koumbara/koumbaro(maid/matron of honor/best man). The kids would walk along huge exposed sewer pipes and play in the park near Lake Washington and near the garbage dump. It was a time of freedom, but with a large extended Greek family around to protect them. Eva recalls going with her mother to pick horta (dandelion greens) in the parks and unoccupied areas of the Gulch. Mary recalls being “fired” from her father’s grocery store once when her friend Eva was caught pushing Mary around in a grocery cart laughing uncontrollably. The girls felt they were considered to be a bit less refined than their “citified” Greek friends in other parts of Seattle. Living in a racially mixed area and attending racially-mixed schools gave them an experience that their young Greek friends in other Seattle neighborhoods might not have had.
The Dallas and Pelonis families were very active in GAPA (Greek American Progressive Association). GAPA was established in the 1920s to preserve Greek culture in the United States. Mary, Cleo and Eva believe GAPA was more relaxed, less formal and more closely connected to the church than AHEPA, which focused on assimilation of Greeks into American society. Mary recalls making eye-catching posters advertising GAPA dances held at the Eagles Hall (now ACT Theater) in downtown Seattle. Following church services, Sunday gatherings in Garlic Gulch always included bachelors, service men and priests in addition to the family members.
Together, Mary, Eva and Cleo reviewed the Greek families who lived near them: Tom and Eva Argeris (the girls called Eva Jennifer Jones after the beautiful actress); Gus and Irene Argeris (grocery store); Bill (Washington State Representative) and Goldie Chatalas; the Damascus family; Bill Demetriades; Doudis “AndyDoudy” (shoemaker); Pete and Tom Economou (Smoke Shop); the George family; Effie, Mary and Pauline Haikalis; the Kaimakis family; Bill Lavaris who would sing “God Bless Boeing”; Minas and Maria Makos (Greek school held in a converted chicken coop on their property); George Mihelis (grocery store on Beacon Hill); the Chris Pallis family (made very good wine); the Peppas family; the Platis family; the Poulakis family; Routos (tavern and restaurant in Rainier Beach); Stavros (worked at George’s Café); Arthur Trembanis (barber and musician). Mary, Cleo and Eva occasionally visit the Greek section of Washelli Cemetery in north Seattle where many of the Garlic Gulch Greeks are buried including their parents. Memories of these families become vivid as they read the inscriptions and share stories of their childhood.
The Garlic Gulch Girls do not remember ever being bored. Non-Greek friends at school often envied them for always having something to do on weekends. Mary says when she was very young she really didn’t know she lived in America having been totally immersed in the culture and traditions of the old country. She is grateful for this, has always known “who she was” and thanks her solid Greek family for the values she has been able to pass on to her children. For Cleo, the best thing about being Greek was and is the food. Next was the importance of family. While the pressure to stay close to the community was restrictive at times it also provided a strong sense of belonging. Eva’s parents gave her a loving community where people watched over each other. While she didn’t fully appreciate it at the time when many ethnic minorities were attempting to shed their differences, she is now proud to be able to read, write and use the language and enjoy the culture that is uniquely hers.By John and Joann Nicon, January 2012
1 Mary, Eva and Cleo with Garlic Gulch memories, 2012
2 Catherine and Nick Vamkros in front of their Columbia Confectionery, circa 1925
3 Columbia Businessmens’ meeting, Nick Vamkros left front, May 22, 1928
4 Evangelia Batanides and Nick Dallas (Daldavanis) engagement, 1932
5 AHEPA Picnic at Surprise Lake with several of Mary’s and Cleo’s relatives, 1931
6 Dallas Grocery Store sign
7 Dallas Grocery Store
8 GAPA boys at Maloney’s Grove, (l-r) rear, George Pallis, Gus Makos, Tom Pallis, Nick Pallis, Harry George, Jerry Mulenos, front, Gus Argeris, John Argeris Manuel Challus, Chris Makos, circa 1940
9 Cleo and Mary Dallas, circa 1940
10 Mary with St Demetrios Parish Council (l-r) Katie Stavros; Mary; Jim Kost; Stacy Mitalas Taylor; Chris Economou; Barbara Trehearne; Deacon Perry; Father John; Father Photios; Chris George Pallis, President (standing in front of priests & Deacon); Tom Leonidas; Costa Mavromatis; Margarite Rottle Williams; Basam Bayouk, 2006
11 Cleo with Huskies Don Dow and Scott Fausett, circa 1980
12 Cleo with Coach Don James, Circa 1980
13 George and Stella Pelonis wedding, 1931
14 Prefontaine Barber Shop, George Pelonis standing at right, circa 1940
15 Eva Pelonis, circa 1938
16 Seattle Gas Company parade float (l-r) Eva, Katy Vellias, Kathy Barbas and unknown woman employee, 1953
17 Eva working at the University of Washington Husky Union Building. Circa 1980
18 Birthday party at 4438 48th Ave S, (l-r rear) neighbor boy, Nick Castas, John Argeris, Gus Argeris, (l-r front) Eva Pelonis, neighbor girl, Mary Dallas, Mary Castas, 1937
19 Cleo, Eva and Mary, circa 1991
20 Seattle GAPA, late 1940s (l-r) Row 1, Paul Cooper, Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Lavaris, Mrs. Katchikabi (Cotton), Mrs. Cooper, Tasia Cooper (Prineas), Mrs. Sevi Angel, Mrs. Pappadakis, Mrs. Forinatos, Eva Argeris, Mrs. Stavros, Row 2 Mr. Rokakos, Mr. Choumaris, Alekaki, Unknown, Christto Tolias, Louis Franges, Nick Dallas, Mrs. Livenas, Eva Batanides (Dallas), Unknown, Eva Pelonis (Tountas), Tom Ageris, Stella Pelonis, Row 3, Unknown, John Argeris, Cleo Dallas (Blackstone), Nick Castas, Gus Cooper, Paul Sava, Jerry Mulenos, Mary Dallas (Smith), Alex Castas, Edith Taylor
21 Mary with children, (l-r) Jim, Mary, Marcia, Stephanie and Angela, 2011
22 Cleo and her sons, (l-r) Marty, Nick, Steve, and Evan, 2011
23 Eva and her children, (l-r) Georgia, Louie, Eva, Barbara, 2006
Photo 1 by John Nicon, 2 and 3 Courtesy Rainer Valley Historical Society, 4-23 from Dallas-Smith, Blackstone and Tountas family collections. SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, January 2012; Batanides Family History, by Mary Dallas-Smith; www.rainiervalleyhistory.org the web site for the Rainer Valley Historical Society; A History of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and Her People, 1882-1999