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When TV came to town
More than 50 years later, William “Bill” Huntington could still recall with remarkable clarity the day in October 1949 that seemingly half the town of Sequim descended upon his family’s backyard shop at the corner of North Sunnyside Avenue and East Spruce Street.
As townsfolk crowded around the television set his father had rigged up to watch the University of Washington versus Notre Dame football game, the 12-year-old Huntington was witnessing a unique moment in local history — TV had come to Sequim.
“We had the fields just loaded with cars and people gathered around to watch that game,” recalled Huntington, noting neighbors also flocked to the shop to watch TV test patterns. “Nobody took pictures in those days. It would have been a good picture.”
While the immense local appeal of television may have come as a surprise to some, such was not the case for Huntington’s father, Carl. Already running a successful radio repair shop, the visionary senior Huntington recognized the mass-market potential of TV and transitioned his business into Huntington Radio & Television, which was located just west of the still-standing Babcock Block building on East Washington Street.
“I worked for Dad on Saturdays and I’d sell two or three television sets. We couldn’t get them fast enough. They just went out the door like crazy,” said Huntington, noting his father preferred Hoffman television sets over other brands. “I got $5 for the day, which was a lot of money in those days. Gasoline was 19 to 29 cents a gallon.”
As part of the businesses, Huntington and his father also would repair televisions, which in the early 1950s cost upwards of $200-$400. Charging a $4 per hour rate for labor, the in-demand repairmen would make house calls day and night from Blyn to Port Angeles.
“Man alive, it was like a doctor, our phone would ring all night,” Huntington recalled. “In those days, you had to repair television sets. Now you don’t even repair them, you throw them out and go get a new one.”
Before Carl Huntington pioneered the television retail business in Sequim, he was a cook for several years at one of the family’s other local enterprises — the Olympic Cafe.
The cafe, a downtown fixture and operated by Bill Huntington’s grandmother Catherine Donlon for more than two decades, opened in 1930 where Over the Fence is now located. Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner for prices that in 1945 ranged from 25 cents for a stack of hot cakes to $1.35 for a T-bone steak, the cafe would come to include Sequim’s first cocktail lounge as well as a banquet room that often held meetings, given it was one of the largest rooms in town.
“It was there for as long as I can remember growing up and it was a very nice place. We didn’t go in there much, though, because it was competition for our cafe,” said Mary Dryke Pogue, whose parents operated Dryke’s Cafe just four doors down. “There was a tavern next door that they also owned and there was a hole in the wall between the two so they could pass food back and forth if someone in the tavern wanted to order something.”
While Donlon ran the cafe, her husband, William, oversaw their adjoining Sequim Club Tavern as well as the family’s sporting goods store next door. Bill Huntington said his grandfather built the store as a front for the card room in back, where men would come to play poker.
“The card room was one of those deals where you kind of had to know somebody to get in. I used to come home from high school and deal cards back there,” said Huntington, who was senior class president of the Sequim High School Class of 1954. “The way we made money at it is when the pot got real big, I’d reach in and just take some and if I took too much, they’d slap my hand. Then I’d start dealing again, so they always had a neutral dealer.”
By the 1960s, the Huntington family’s 30-plus-year run of operating downtown Sequim businesses had come to a close, although their entrepreneurial spirit continued. Carl Huntington owned and ran a bowling alley in Port Angeles for about a decade, and son Bill, after a career in broadcasting and advertising, followed in his grandparents’ restaurateur footsteps by opening a chain of Tijuana Jail Family Mexican Restaurants with wife Mary Ann in Kitsap County in the late 1970s.
“It’s kind of like I picked it up in Sequim and started all over again,” he said.
Bill Huntington, who died on June 13 at age 76 at his home in Port Orchard, participated in two oral history sessions with the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley earlier this year to help ensure his family’s history would be recorded. For information about the MAC’s Oral History Program, contact Priscilla Hudson at 681-2257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.