That ’70s City

EVERETT — One of Neil House’s last acts as the official city photographer three decades ago was to drop off his 35mm slides at the library.

And there they sat in storage — until now.

A collection of 752 photos taken in 1970s Everett are available online at the Everett Public Library’s web site.

House’s work is a scrapbook of 1970s Everett, a time of economic upheaval as the city weathered both the lulls and swells of Boeing and its final years as a mill town.

“It was amazing to me, especially the pictures of downtown,” said Melinda Van Wingen, the historian who oversaw the cataloging and digital archiving of the collection.

In 1975 the city hired House, then 24, to take photos of whatever official city business needed photographing: parades, meetings, buildings, streets, projects and people.

House and his Nikon F2 were at the beck-and-call of a half-dozen departments.

House snapped photos of workers spreading asphalt and city councilmen furrowing their brows. He captured Boy Scouts clutching American flags and a grizzled fisherman squatting on a dock. He photographed aeration ponds at the water treatment plant, the city dump and the transit yard.

One story that still makes the rounds at City Hall concerns an airplane shoot over downtown Everett. After peering through a telephoto lens from the front seat of a Cessna, House became violently ill — to the detriment of the city planner sitting just behind him.

One of his more ho-hum assignments — photographing the condition of streets — offers an unintentional benefit for dozens of homeowners today, who can view their homes circa 1975.

House’s photos capture a vibrant downtown on the brink of change. The Everett Mall opened in 1974, which eventually squeezed the vitality out of downtown. His work portrays a glimpse of businesses now long gone and shoppers bustling down sidewalks.

Perhaps most marvelous are the groovy fashions of the time: the butterfly-collared jackets, the mustachioed men, the spanking-new Volkswagen bugs.

House, now a 60-year-old retiree living in Puyallup, seems delighted to see his work join the library’s collection of local historical goodies.

“I’m very pleased,” House said. “I’d never thought in a million years that anyone would look at the photos again, much less digitize and catalog them.”

In 1975, House was working at an audio-visual studio in Bellevue when he heard that Everett might be looking for a professional photographer. Scoring the job was, for House, the height of his professional photography career.

“I always dreamed about being a photographer,” he said. “I loved taking pictures.”

He paid for his own camera gear and developed photos in a make-shift dark room in a janitor’s closet across the hall from the mayor’s office in old City Hall.

While many of his assignments were far from exciting, House said he enjoyed learning about how the city worked and talking with often enthusiastic city workers. He remains amazed that anyone is excited to discuss the inner workings of water filtration.

After nearly three years on the job, grumbling about whether the City Could afford to pay for a staff photographer began to burble around City Hall. House heard them and decided he’d better find work elsewhere, eventually settling into a 28-year career with the state’s surplus property division.

The city today does not have a staff photographer on the payroll.

House still takes photos for his own pleasure with his digital palm-sized Panasonic Lumix.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or dsmith@heraldnet.com.

That ’70s City

Find the Neil House photo collection of 1970s Everett online at www.epls.org/nw/digital.asp.

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