A full year after the WSBA Board of Governors suspended in-person meetings, Immediate Past President Rajeev Majumdar and I were back in the WSBA’s downtown Seattle headquarters for the March 2021 meeting of the Board of Governors. During the meeting, we both wore masks and were spaced 20 feet from each other. Our temperatures were taken prior to entering the conference center and we abided by all of the restrictions required by the state of Washington for a safe meeting. All of the other members of the Board of Governors appeared via Zoom.
The primary reason for the two of us to be there was to test new headsets, socially distanced spacing protocols, sound systems, and other COVID-19-generated measures in an effort to start transitioning to a hybrid model of part in-person and part virtual meetings. Soon many of us will be fully vaccinated and, while I believe we will be living with masks, hand sanitizer, and an elevated sense of caution for the foreseeable future, it is time to see what our new normal looks like. While the WSBA offices felt empty, I trust that it is only a matter of time before we will see life once again return to our corridors and the Bar headquarters humming with activity.
While I enjoyed visiting the WSBA’s offices, I’ve often wondered whether the location in downtown Seattle is ideal. For as long as anyone can remember, the WSBA offices have been located in rented space in the core of the city. In my last President’s Corner, I floated the idea of relocating the WSBA offices outside of Seattle and investing in a building. One member reached out to me directly to say that a suitable building might soon become available in Olympia. The prospect of purchasing a building for our organization is an exciting one. But it is not a new idea.
After the Board meeting last month and before heading home to Vancouver, I took some time to stop by the room where the WSBA keeps issues of Bar News going back as far as 1954. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Bar News was little more than a leaflet that reported on the happenings of local bar associations across the state. It also reported on deaths of members and contained attorney general opinions and ads for members selling or wishing to purchase relics of the past such as the Washington Reports, Remington’s Compiled Statutes, and American Jurisprudence. Over the years, the leaflet grew in pages and content. Eventually, it carried the messages of newly minted bar presidents, published the names and cities of the newest members to have passed the bar, and started to print articles about law and law practice of interest to the membership. While reading the pages, it became readily apparent to me that the adage of “everything old is new again” is just as true today as it ever was. I read about mandatory malpractice insurance, initiatives to encourage attorneys to practice in rural locations, and the pros and cons of a paraprofessional program.
One article in particular caught my eye. In highlighting the work of the Board of Governors at its annual meeting/convention in Spokane, President A.J. Schweppe (1954-55) wrote, “The matter of the association’s owning its own headquarters building was suggested and urged by retiring President F.A. Kern (1953-54), who started the ball rolling with a personal contribution of $1,000.”11 Washington State Bar News, Vol. VIII, No. 6, September-October 1954, pg. 37. In his Report of the President, Kern related how he recently read an article in the American Law Review describing how other bar associations in the United States had taken steps to own their headquarters’ building and that many were successful in reaching their goal. Kern wrote, “After I read that article it occurred to me what a wonderful thing it would be, if we here in the State of Washington put up our own home; to not have to go from pillar to post and rent a place and then stay there for a few years and then to move on. …”22 Washington Law Review, Volume 29, No. 4, pg. 312. With the help of the staff of the WSBA, President Kern surveyed the states and explored how a bar association could raise the money to fund the project. He noted that some states had created a bar foundation to take advantage of tax deductions. Eventually, these foundations would build or purchase buildings and lease the property to the state bar. President Kern urged the WSBA to organize the Washington State Bar Foundation as “an ideal way to obtain a headquarters building.”33 Id. at 317.
Kern wrote, “You might ask ‘What are the advantages in our Association owning its own home?’ Well, you have asked yourself the same question, when you decided to secure for yourself a home; a home to suit your family needs and for your enjoyment. No more moving. All betterments and additions resulting in improving your own property. All summed up in ‘Be it ever so humble there is no place like home.’”44 Id. at 319-20.
A Committee on the Foundation Fund was established and chaired by then-former President Kern. One year later, in the fall of 1955, Kern reported on the work of the committee and the progress of other states in purchasing or constructing their own buildings. Kern thought two states were doing more than any others: California and Oregon. California decided on two headquarters buildings—one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. Oregon had formed a committee and “had definitely decided to go ahead on a building program.” Former President Kern moved the adoption of the committee’s recommendation to organize a bar foundation with the aim of “steady progress towards headquarters building construction at a certain definite time.” The motion was carried, whereupon former President Kern made the initial contribution referenced in President Schweppe’s article of $1,000 to the Bar Foundation Fund.55 Now known as the Washington State Bar Foundation. Washington Law Review, Volume 30, No. 4, pg. 281.
While both Oregon and California would eventually own their own headquarters and still do to this day, Washington has not yet reached its goal. But not for lack of effort. In December 1957, the Bar News published an update on the recent incorporation of the Washington State Bar Foundation as a charitable organization and encouraged fundraising through subscriptions, bequests in wills, and memorial contributions for deceased members of the Bar. The article concluded, “Our state association, the center and heart of all legal activity in the state, should have a home,” and ended with a letter from the secretary of the New Jersey State Bar Association: “I hope that your association will finally own its own headquarters as we find ours has done us a great deal of good.”66 Washington State Bar News, Vol. XI, No. 7, December 1957, pg. 29.
Another article appearing in the May/June 1958 edition of Bar News reminded readers of the work of the Washington State Bar Foundation and informed them that:
[T]he Board of Governors will soon call on every lawyer in the state to make a contribution of some amount towards carrying out the objects of the foundation, one of which is the owning of its own headquarters building. If every member makes an initial contribution of some amount at this time, whatever the size of the gift, the lawyers of the State of Washington will know for a certainty that some time in the future they will be the owners of their headquarters building. Each member of the bar association in Kittitas County has subscribed. It is hoped that this example of 100% participation will be followed by the rest of the state bar.77 Washington State Bar News, Vol. XII, No. 4, May-June 1958, pg. 15.
In later editions of Bar News, the organization would publish updates with forms to accompany a member’s check donation and a note, “Remember, the Washington State Bar Foundation’s goal of a ‘home of our own.’”88 Washington State Bar News, Vol. XIII, No. 1, November 1958-January 1959, pg. 1. How much was raised remains a mystery, as excitement about finding a “home” appears to have fallen off after the death of its principal cheerleader. In August 1961, Bar News reported that former President F.A. Kern had passed away. In honor of Kern and in recognition of his service as president of the WSBA and chair of the Bar Foundation for seven years, past WSBA President V.O. Nichoson (1949-50) of Yakima made a contribution of an undisclosed amount to the Bar Foundation fund.99 Washington State Bar News, Vol. V, No.4, August 1961, pg. 24 and 25.
By 1965, the WSBA’s focus had clearly changed. In his President’s Corner article, President George W. McCush of Bellingham updated the membership on the progress of the construction of the new College Club building at Fifth and Madison, in which the offices of the WSBA would be located.1010 Washington State Bar News, Vol. XIX, No. 8, November 1965, pg. 56. Apparently, the “increasing inadequacies of the present offices” demanded that the Bar Association relocate with some urgency and the organization lost sight of its quest for “a home of our own.” The lease with the new College Club building was signed in February 1966—its location directly across the street from the U.S. Courthouse.1111 Washington State Bar News, Vol. XX, No. 2, March 1966, pg. 8. In the April 1967 edition of Bar News, President John N. Rupp (1967-1968), announced that the Board of Governors had hosted its first meeting in the Bar’s new offices. But instead of pride of ownership of a new building, the focus was on the brass-top conference room table that was the result of a compromise between those wanting a practical simulated wood top made of plastic and others preferring real wood.1212 Washington State Bar News, Vol. XXI, No. 3, April 1967, pg. 14.
What ever happened to the $1,000 donated by President Kern? What ever happened to the idea of “a home of our own?” What ever happened to that conference room table?
In the years since the WSBA signed that lease in 1966, the organization has occupied several rented locations in downtown Seattle. The current lease runs through December 2026. Downtown office space is expensive and I am told the WSBA spends almost $2,000,000 per year (or $166,000 per month) in total rent, leasehold excise tax, and rent escalation expenses. Perhaps that money could be better spent on a mortgage on property in a more affordable location, or multiple locations. Perhaps with a building, the WSBA could offer conference rooms and temporary office space or hoteling to members who have chosen to close their offices and work from home and are in need of such amenities. Perhaps additional space would allow the WSBA to explore the possibility of a House of Delegates that could meet and help guide the organization. Perhaps it’s time to consider once again President Kern’s dream of a “home of our own.”
1. Washington State Bar News, Vol. VIII, No. 6, September-October 1954, pg. 37.
2. Washington Law Review, Volume 29, No. 4, pg. 312.
3. Id. at 317.
4. Id. at 319-20.
5. Now known as the Washington State Bar Foundation. Washington Law Review, Volume 30, No. 4, pg. 281.
6. Washington State Bar News, Vol. XI, No. 7, December 1957, pg. 29.
7. Washington State Bar News, Vol. XII, No. 4, May-June 1958, pg. 15.
8. Washington State Bar News, Vol. XIII, No. 1, November 1958-January 1959, pg. 1.
9. Washington State Bar News, Vol. V, No.4, August 1961, pg. 24 and 25.
10. Washington State Bar News, Vol. XIX, No. 8, November 1965, pg. 56.
11. Washington State Bar News, Vol. XX, No. 2, March 1966, pg. 8.
12. Washington State Bar News, Vol. XXI, No. 3, April 1967, pg. 14.