Harbor Summer in the ‘60s
We never had much down time come June. Once school was out, we kept busy with berry picking, babysitting, swimming in our pool or horseback riding the trails near our home on Hunt Street. All the neighborhood kids took swimming lessons in our backyard pool, and I took life-saving class in the summer of my junior year, 1965. My friends loved coming to my house, and almost every summer we had our Aunt Jan, who was the same age as me, come stay for a few weeks. We sewed summer shifts in the basement and went for evening swims after dark in the pool. If we could get the car, we usually said we were going to the movies but headed out for Tacoma, crossing the Narrows Bridge and “Cruising the Ave.” looking for the boys in Tacoma.
Back then, Gig Harbor was little known, and when in Tacoma, you mentioned you lived in Gig Harbor, you usually got, “Where is that?” Bridge toll was 50 cents for car and driver and 10 cents per passenger. Gasoline was 50 cents a gallon and we would use our babysitting money to load up the tank so Mom and Dad would never know. The only gas station on this side of the bridge was Ken Marvin’s Shell right off Highway 16 down near the current Wollochet Drive exit. Interstate 16 was a two-lane road, with very few cars, and we hardly ever saw a car on the road after 9pm.
The biggest treat during summer was to attend Bellarmine all school dances in the gym each Saturday night. We went to see Merrilee and the Turnabouts or Paul Revere and the Raiders, and many other local bands, to dance and meet boys. After the dances, a group of us would go to Bush’s Drive-In on 6th Avenue where milk shakes, hot fudge sundaes and french fries ‘n’ gravy were standard fare delivered to the car by car hops on roller skates who attached a tray to the car window and collected your money.
Dairy Queen, Arctic Circle and Frisco Freeze were the hangouts on 6th Avenue for teens in summer.
I was the oldest of six children and the first one to get a car under the pretense I had a part-time job starting in my senior year. My father liked to go to the drags (drag races). He purchased a 1940 Chevrolet Coupe, black with metallic blue bucket seats, Mag wheels, a Corvette engine, and headers for drag racing. It was this car I was given to drive to school every day in order to leave school early for work. What were the parents thinking? It was a gas guzzler but the envy of every boy in the senior class. I was only allowed to drive it to work and back, but of course that was just too much temptation for a senior in high school.
It wasn’t long before I started getting the car on Saturday nights to go “to the movies” and ended up drag racing on 6th Avenue. I usually had a few girlfriends along goading me to open the headers. We would end up facing off at the light on 6th and Pearl with the Wilson High School boys in their cars right alongside. Leaving them in the dust was no problem and they were left wondering what I had under the hood and trying to find out who the girl was driving the black Chevy Coupe.
In the ‘60s, we shopped Downtown Gig Harbor at the Dime Store where Kelly’s is currently. The Dime Store had wooden flooring, very basic bench-style shopping platforms like tables set up where fabric, patterns, makeup, home-care items, buttons, thread, belts, socks, etc., could be found. Penny candy was always on the agenda. We could get gum drops, licorice, taffy, Big Hunk candy bars, Snickers, Mars, cool pops and ice cream bars. This was the first stop when we came to town, then we headed up to Keith Uddenberg’s grocery store at the Thriftway shopping center on Judson Street to grocery shop. Thriftway bakery always did our birthday cakes, and the muffin bread was the main squeeze. These were the days when the owner, Keith himself, came to relieve the cashiers when busy and would visit with his customers knowing them on first-name basis. We loaded up the entire back end of the white Pontiac station wagon with food and would come back for more in a week.
Fandell’s Clothing Store was the next stop if you needed anything in the way of clothing or shoes. Rexall Drugs was next to that and then the Post Office. The liquor store was in the building where Suzanne’s Deli is. Finholm’s was the meat market where my family purchased all their meat and fish. It is where the current grocery is now in the Finholm Market Place.
The current Sea Hag shop and the entire building was Knapp’s Auto Repair, and in high school I would take my car there to my friend Claudia’s dad, Rolland Knapp, to be checked and oil changed out for a great price. He was a jovial guy, loved to talk to us kids and always good for a laugh and a bottle of pop, orange soda or a coke. Chewing gum and talking at the same time was a habit of teenagers. Our gum of choice was Juicy Fruit, Black Jack, Clove or Beeman’s.
Scandia Guard sat on the top of Peacock Hill where there is currently a professional building on the property. This was a must-see place with everything you can imagine from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Slovenian countries. We purchased clogs, in red or blue, nice toweling, candles, Christmas ornaments, cards, fabric, aprons and many gift items including wrapping paper, cards, boxes and beautiful ribbons. It was a big white two- or three-story house that resembled a Scandinavian home; lots of bric-a-brac and charm with leaded windows.
Poggie Bait was a shop that sold ice cream, sundaes, floats and food. It was in the building that Tickled Pink is in today. Poggie Bait was one of the hangouts for the young kids in town, and many happy memories of that particular shop remain today. Tides Tavern had always been in existence. It was not as it is today, smaller, and featured Three Fingered Jack, a great entertainer who played on weekends to large crowds dancing on the current deck.
Fishing was always the main industry in Gig Harbor, but the harbor was a harbor in the ‘60s not as it is today—a narrow channel where boats are parked at marinas taking up most of the harbor. Many kids in my class of ‘67 were from fishing families, leaving for summer to fish in Alaska and returning in fall. Our small class in 1967 had many graduates who went on to college, and some left the area entirely once they graduated. Our graduating class celebrates its 50-year class reunion in August at the airport restaurant.
No one locked their doors, and kids were free to walk the streets of Downtown Gig Harbor to fish, ride bicycles, wander and meet up with friends on the fishing piers. The Harbor was a safe, clean town where everyone knew everyone, and in many ways that was wonderful, but it was also a bit too small town for some, and you only realized it when you moved away. Funny thing is that eventually you are drawn back to the place where it feels like home, and that is what the harbor feels like for many who grew up here. We lament the changes but yes, being discovered is hard on small towns everywhere. Sharing this wonderful community brings with it growing pains, but we hope to never lose the small-town charm that drew us here in the first place.